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March 8: Prepare

Nehemiah 2:1-8, 11-18


Wiley Richards is a retired professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.

The accomplishments of Nehemiah ought to be an inspiration to all of us whose lives are more or less, well, hum-drum. Here is why. No miracles are recorded in the book in which God super-naturally acted in any respect. Further, not once does the prophetic formula, “The Word of the Lord,” come as it does throughout the other prophets as in Ezekiel 1:3, Hosea 1:1, Joel 1:1 and so forth. Instead, Nehemiah begins his book with the statement, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.” In other words, he recorded the marvelous way God can use any person who genuinely wants his life to count for God. He now shows how he dealt with the current crisis.

Before he began his journey to Jerusalem, he went before the king with an official appeal (vv. 1-3). In his appeal to the king, Nehemiah had more going for him than one might think. We know that Isaiah had prophesied about 150 years before the event that Cyrus would signal the ending of the 70 years of captivity (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). God was not through with the Persian kings. King Artaxerxes, under whom Nehemiah served as cupbearer, was suited to continue Israel’s return to Canaan. Nicknamed “Long manus” because his right hand was longer than the left, historians say he was a weak administer who was kind and gentle hearted. On the other hand, a self-obsessed monarch would have paid little attention to a cupbearer’s sadness. Nevertheless Nehemiah was “sore afraid” when the king inquired about his sadness.

Seizing his opportunity, Nehemiah boldly set forth a specific request (vv. 4-8). In recounting his brief prayer before telling his request, he breathed a prayer for guidance. His consistent prayer life was a part of his style, as can be seen throughout this book, as in 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 13:14. Obtaining strength and courage, he requested permission for a journey to Jerusalem to visit his family burial grounds in Jerusalem to restore it. The King’s only rejoinder was a question of how long the project would take. Gaining the king’s permission, Nehemiah then requested written travel credentials for safe passage to present to various governors along the way. He also obtained written permits to cut down timbers from the “gates of the palace,” the royal park in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s request was granted because Persian kings strengthened local governments under their control to contribute to a healthier empire.

After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah quietly took three nights to make a careful assessment (vv. 11-15). The reason for the unannounced investigation revolved around local politicians whose personal influence was threatened by the presence of a personal representative from the king. We know from non-biblical sources that Sanballat, the governor of Syria, and Tobiah, the governor of Ammon, saw the threat to their governing power if Nehemiah was not handled carefully.

Nehemiah’s log of his discoveries along the wall of Jerusalem reveals his intimate awareness of conditions. Along the south wall he traveled parallel to the Valley of Kidron from what he called the “dragon well,” near the pool of Siloam, to areas so broken down his animal could not walk over the rubbish. He traveled by the brook Kidron to the northeast corner, allowing him to evaluate the damage to be corrected.

Nehemiah realized the success of his restoration project depended on popular enthusiasm (vv. 16-18). In the planning phase he made his plans without regard to the Jews, priests, nobles, rulers, and most of those who would conduct most of the work (v. 16). After a period of time he apparently called for a general meeting to call attention to the sorry conditions of the wall. He did not explain the “distress” found by the city, but the people seemed to be apprised of the unnamed threat. To encourage then, he gave a detailed explanation of the way God had led him to gain the king’s support. They immediately urged him to start the work. In the language of today’s football games, the momentum had shifted in their direction.