And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” 6 Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.
9 Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.
Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Walls
11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. 13 So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. 14 Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. 15 So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” 18 I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
Remember that we are reading Nehemiah’s journal, so this all started in Dec, now we are in the month of Nisan, which is more like March / April on the Jewish calendar. So we are looking at four months of patience while he waits on God in prayer. This chapter begins on a normal working day for Nehemiah. His job is to be the wine tester for the King. He gets the answer to his prayers not while he’s on his knees but while he’s at his work. If that doesn’t make sense to you, well, read the passage again. We like to believe that really spiritual people get a revelation from God while they are on their knees, but that was rare even in the Bible.
Nehemiah is at work, and the King looks over at him. Remember what he does for a living. The king is pretty concerned with the good health of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the canary in the mineshaft as far as the condition of the wine the King is about to drink. So the King inquires when he sees something is not quite right with his right hand man. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”
Do you think the King might be suspicious of a plot? Certainly Nehemiah didn’t want the King to pursue that thought, so his response is appropriate. “Let the king live forever.” Another way of saying, it’s not the wine, and on the heels of that, he follows up quickly with – Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” One thing that is not possible is to hide your countenance from someone who knows you. The surprise at the King’s response surely caught Nehemiah off balance. This is one of the lessons from prayer that I think is so important to know – God doesn’t usually answer your prayer requests according to your solution. Oswald Chambers puts it like this: “Never make the blunder of trying to forecast the way God is going to answer your prayer.”
His Approach to Opportunity:
The King makes the offer – “What would you request?” This seems to come from nowhere but never forget that God has often used people who have no concern for Him to accomplish His purposes. So Nehemiah shoots off a very quick prayer. He could have just thought to himself, this is what I want, access to the King’s riches, but instead Nehemiah shows his total reliance on the Lord and prays a quick prayer. Nothing should ever look so good that you don’t need to pray about it before taking that next step. We are quick to pray for when things go sour, but we need to teach ourselves to be just as quick to pray when things are looking really positive, that we don’t take missteps even while it appears to so obvious that it is God’s will.
His Appeal to the King:
Nehemiah doesn’t get into the details, and maybe that is because of his prayers, God gave him the wisdom to skip over that part. He asks humbly and very straightforwardly for the longing of his heart – but notice first his humility. If , then the request: send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Interesting that Nehemiah is sure that God is control but he asks the King to send him to Judah. Nehemiah sees clearly that the hand of God works through the authority of the King. But there appears to be another person in the room when Nehemiah makes his request. Notice that what happens next? Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” Remember the epoch is such that it is very likely that this is the Queen Mother, and the King’s stepmother could have been Esther. Some sources say she was his stepson, others, his grandson. But it is amazing that this small note is inserted. The books of Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered a collection of this time frame in Israel’s history. Upon the King’s questioning, Nehemiah provides more details. And then gives the plan that God has given to him which involve two things:
1) A signed Note from the King that gives him the authority to act.
2) The means to do something – money. (In this case, supplies)
I think we feel close to the same way when we hear that King County wants to give us money to buy a new, top of the line freezer for the Monday night dinner. Seems almost unreal, especially with our King County. Because we know the animosity of this King County government against anything dealing with the work of the churches. However it is worth noting that this is the same King who stopped the work of Ezra while he was rebuilding the temple.
Nehemiah’s Response to the King’s offer:
I want you to see clearly who Nehemiah credits the offer to and his response. And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me. Who did the praying? Who did the asking? Who deserves the credit? God does. It is not the force of your prayers but the power of the One to Whom you pray that brings the change you pray for.
Getting to the Work:
Gather the Scope – First, Nehemiah tries to gather the scope of the project. This is very much a Project Manager handbook on how to accomplish huge things in a short amount of time. Before beginning anything, you need to know present state and future state, or where you are going. There are few things as frustrating in life as trying to hit an undefined target. Verses 13-16 tells about the moonlight ride of Nehemiah. While others sleep, he is trying to understand where things are now and what will we do to get them to the right place? The rest of town sleeps while a few key leaders overlook the city. Leaders and Parents often lose sleep over their charges.
Find Your Workforce – This is a speech from Nehemiah that will bring the people of Jerusalem together under the same banner called “Purpose”. He begins with
1) Honesty – You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Things are not good around here. This is obvious but needs to be stated. In the world of Project Management, this is identifying the present state.
2) Identification – Nehemiah brings in himself into the problem by his use of the pronoun “We” and “Us”.
3) Proposal – Let’s build a wall because it will glorify God – let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” In other words, we are a laughing stock and we represent God. By the way, that was the same motivation about the painting of the church, the getting the new sign. There are a lot of nicer, prettier buildings in the area, but we wanted the church to be glorifying to God. We were also that way about the putting in of the elevator. At the time, no one saw how it was possible. $20,000 dollars was not kept on our books back then. But in an act of kindness towards those who could not climb the stairs but still deserved the right to come to the worship service, we had this elevator installed.
4) Imparting Hope – Nehemiah fills in some of the gaps about the story of God’s leading him and with that, gives the Israelites an idea of what God has already done. They get to hear the rest of the story. What happens when he does this is the people begin to realize that there is more at stake than they thought and they know that God is in this project, which gives them great hope for the completion. I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me.
When God begins a work, be assured that there will be opposition to God’s work. It is a packaged program. Some things you wonder how anyone could find a problem with, but things of good values seem to enrage them. I heard about a couple last week that was refused the permission to foster children because they attended church. Like church would corrupt the child? This opposition takes a few different forms but they are all intended to be in opposition to God’s cause. You might come across some other form of opposition, but it might also look like this. They mocked (vs 19a) and the attempted to tried to intimidate (vs 19b-20) – you’re in big trouble now buddy.
Nehemiah was prepared to respond to this by letting them know that God is in this work. Verse 20 is his response.
Davey tells this story about intimidation: A quote by Jack Handey, from his book entitled, Fuzzy Memories, was quoted in, Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching. He writes: There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day at school. Since I was smaller than he was, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons. But then the karate instructor told me I owed him five dollars a lesson. So I just went back to paying the bully. Too many people feel it is easier just to pay the bully than it is to learn how to defeat him.
God never assigns you a task and then abandons you to get it done alone. God will empower His children to accomplish His tasks. But we forget that.
Quotes on Prayer
Pulled these from (https://www.preceptaustin.org/prayer_quotes_devotionals_illustrations). There are more.
- If God is your Father, please call home.
- Prayer is the stop that keeps you going.
- God is easier to talk to than most people.
- He stands best who kneels most; he stands strongest who kneels weakest; he stands longest who kneels lowest. Bent knees mean strong backs.
- The most powerful position on earth is kneeling before the Lord of the universe.
- The best remedy for a knotted stomach or a pounding head is the bent knee.
- Bending our knees in prayer keeps us from breaking under the load of care.
- Adversity should never get the Christian down—except on his knees.
- When you are swept off your feet, you need to get on your knees.
- When life knocks you to your knees, you’re in position to pray.
- He stands best who kneels most.
- When we bend our knees to pray, God bends His ear to listen.
- Kneel before you leap.
- A church stays on its feet when its members get on their knees.
- Stay on your knees before God and on your feet before men.
- Keep praying, but be thankful that God’s answers are wiser than our prayers.
- Prayers can’t be answered unless they are prayed.
- True prayer does not begin when we kneel, nor does it cease when we rise.
- Prayer is an open line to heaven. No busy signals! No recorded messages!
- The devil laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.
- The devil enjoys hearing a prayer that is addressed to an audience.
- The purpose of prayer is not to get what we want, but to become what God wants.
- Praying is to the soul what breathing is to the body!
- Pray to God, but row toward the shore.
- “Prayer changes things” is more accurately rendered “Prayer changes us!”
- Take notice of what you pray for it is a good check of your spiritual health.
- God pours His love into our hearts that it might flow out to others.
- Pray as if everything depends on God; Work as if everything depends on you
- When you say, “I don’t have a prayer” in fact a prayer is the one thing you did have!
- One of the great tragedies of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.
- When you come to the Lord, there is no waiting line—His ears are always open to your cry.
- Prayer: Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change—and when we are right, make us easy to live with.
- Sign outside a Dallas church: “Last chance to pray before entering the freeway.”
- Sign in front of a church: “Our church is prayer-conditioned.”
- Never make the blunder of trying to forecast the way God is going to answer your prayer.