1And 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.
1And 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.
In the month Chislev, the third month of the civil year, Nehemiah heard the message concerning Jerusalem (Neh 1:11The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, [in] the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol,). Here we are in the month Nisan. That is the seventh month of the civil year, with us March/April. Four months have passed since his prayer and still he has not received an answer.
He does not know in advance how long he has to wait for the answer. Yet he patiently waits. He leaves time in God’s hand. He is content that God determines the right time. He does not rush into the task he sees before him. In the meantime, he continues to do his work faithfully in the place where the LORD has brought him.
It may happen that one hears of a need. Overwhelmed by pity some go straight to work without waiting for God’s voice and time. That is not the way God makes His work happen. Seeing need is not a vocation. First a need must have penetrated deep into the heart. Then we become aware that it is not we, but only God Who can provide for that need. First, need must become a burden so heavy that the only way out we see is the Lord Jesus, Who has said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:2828“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.). This verse is certainly important for the gospel, but it is also very important for those who want to be servants.
Perhaps Nehemiah prayed that God would remove the burden from his heart. Maybe he has prayed or God wants to make that burden even heavier, so that all that remains for him to do is to act. This is how we may do it if we are told something about a need. The need has remained in his heart. We can imagine him wondering if he should talk to the king about his need and if so, when, or if he still has to wait for God.
He will have had peace of mind at the thought that God can bring him into the king’s favor by a miracle when he calls him to do a work in Jerusalem. God turns the hearts of kings like channels of water (Pro 21:11The king’s heart is [like] channels of water in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
). We will get these deliberations of faith if we increasingly perceive that the Lord wants to use us for a particular work.
Nehemiah has never been sad in the presence of the king. This indicates that he is now and also that this is visible. Showing sadness does not fit in the presence of mighty rulers who see themselves as distributors of blessing. These people only want happy faces in their immediate surroundings. As an exile Nehemiah will always have had sorrow in his heart (Pro 14:1313Even in laughter the heart may be in pain,
And the end of joy may be grief.), but will always have been able to keep it hidden. However, the traces of fasting and praying cannot be denied.
Nevertheless, Nehemiah will also have done his work with pleasure. The Lord brought him there and charged him with this work. That is how he will have seen it. It is important for us to be able to say the same of our job in society. We may also enjoy our daily work while thanking God the Father through the Lord Jesus (Col 3:1717Whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.).
Nevertheless, at the same time we realize that the earth is not our ultimate goal. We do not belong here, heaven is our home. As a cobbler, who whistled, once said: “I am on a journey to heaven and on the way I make shoes. The Lord Jesus was known as “the carpenter” (Mk 6:33Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.). Before He began His travels through Israel, He worked as a carpenter. You can be sure that He loved His work and did a good job.
Until the Lord calls us to do a work for Him, we must remain faithful in our earthly profession and find full satisfaction in it. Dissatisfaction with our job in society or the reward for it, or a difficult relationship with colleagues in the workplace, should not be a reason to give up that job in order to serve the so-called higher things. That is a great self-deception that will certainly result in great dishonor for the Lord Jesus.
1. When we have brought a matter before the Lord in prayer, we must learn to wait patiently for further instructions from Him. That does not mean that we should sit and wait with our arms crossed. Each of us must “remain in that calling in which he was called” (1Cor 7:2020Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.) and do what belongs to that calling. While we are busy like this, we may look forward to His answer to our prayer (Hab 2:11I will stand on my guard post
And station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
2. That time of expectation is a time of inner exercise in which many questions will impose themselves on us. It is good to undergo such exercises, which often involve struggle. If they really are exercises of faith, they will throw us upon the Lord. We will be purified by them.
2So 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.
It doesn’t escape the king that his cupbearer doesn’t look as glad as usual. He notices that it is because of something that hurts his heart. He asks Nehemiah about it. The king’s question is the introduction to the radical change in Nehemiah’s life that he so fervently desires. The king must have often asked Nehemiah something or said something to him. Not once, however, has this made his heart beat faster, because these are general questions or remarks that do not touch his heart. What the king asks now does make his heart beat faster.
The reason for the king’s question and remark is what he sees on Nehemiah’s face. The king then sees the effect of prayer and fasting. On his face the condition of his heart can be read (cf. Gen 31:22Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not [friendly] toward him as formerly.). The king notes this. He has an eye for his staff.
Do we also have an eye for what is going on around us? We easily ask: ‘How are you?’ We answer just as easily: ‘I am well.’ In doing so, we are more polite than expressing real interest or allowing others to share in what concerns us. Reading faces is important. Eyes can tell a lot. The eye is the mirror of the soul. Real attention for people makes us look deeper than the surface.
The king’s remark means a great danger to Nehemiah. As said, kings do not tolerate sad faces in their presence. It could cost him his job and even his life. Hence his fear. There is another reason for his fear. That fear relates to God. Is this the moment God gives to reveal what has occupied him for four months?
Nehemiah doesn’t have to think long about the answer. He doesn’t have time for that either. He can’t retreat for a moment to reflect. He immediately realizes that the king’s question has to do with his prayers. On the one hand he is overwhelmed by the question, on the other hand he sees that God might open a door. When God sees that we are ready to take up a service for Him, He opens the doors.
1. Can we ‘read’ faces? Do we look deeper than the surface? Do we listen between the lines what someone really wants to say? Do we listen behind someone’s story his real need?
2. When we, like Nehemiah, are busy day and night with a particular work in our minds, we will immediately notice when the Lord begins to answer our prayers.
3I 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?”
With words indicating that he knows his own place and showing respect for the king’s position, Nehemiah speaks to him. In almost passionate terms, he makes the king a partaker of what occupies his heart and what can be read on his face. From the fullness of his heart, he tells about the city to which the heart of every Israelite goes.
It is as if Nehemiah can finally give air to a secret that he has carried with him for so long. His feelings for ‘the city’, instead of becoming weaker, have only grown stronger. His love for ‘the city’ does not depend on the fame and wealth it once possessed, the great kings who ruled it, the impressive past that the city has. His love concerns the city itself because it is the city of God, because he knows and believes in the future of this city.
That is why he speaks of the city as “the place of my fathers’ tombs”. His pious ancestors all wanted to be buried in the land of promise, because they believed in the resurrection. They believed – and so does Nehemiah – that God will fulfill all His promises. They all died in the faith that He will do so (Heb 11:1313All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.).
Nehemiah is concerned about the present situation in which the city finds itself because he believes in the future of that city. He sees God’s plan for that city before him. He also sees how sharp the contrast is between the glorious future and the present situation. His desire is to work to ensure that the present and the future are more in harmony.
If we want to do a work for the Lord, we can only do so if we have a view of the future. What is important is that we see the church as it will be blameless before God in the future. The difference with the current situation of unfaithfulness, lukewarmness, and worldliness of the church on earth will affect us. There will be a longing in us to be used by God to make believers committed to Him again.
View on the future of the church puts the present state of the church in the true light. The Lord Jesus has given Himself for the church in order to sanctify and cleans her. He wants to present to Himself the church having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph 5:25-2725Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.). His love for the church must fill us to be used.
4Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
After the moving testimony of Nehemiah’s love for Jerusalem, the king asks another question. He does not ask any further about the circumstances, but asks the question that for Nehemiah is God’s answer to his prayers. The king will have noticed in Nehemiah’s answer a deep desire to do something for Jerusalem. God controls his heart and gives him the question in his mouth. In this way Nehemiah is, as it were, given his answer to prayer on a silver platter.
Nehemiah receives the hearing of his prayer in the daily circumstances of his life. This also often happens to us, for example when the Lord allows us to meet certain people. Sometimes He also lets us hear certain comments that are not even addressed to us personally, but in which we hear God’s voice.
For months now Nehemiah has been carrying the burden of what he has heard from his brother on his heart. He knows that he can only go if the king allows it, and this will only be the case if the Lord wants it. The answer to his prayer comes in a way and at a time when he might least expect it. It can be the same with us.
Although Nehemiah knows what he wants, he does not immediately answer the king’s question. First Nehemiah speaks to God, then to the king. God is here, as in the book of Ezra, “the God of heaven”. Because of the unfaithfulness of the people He no longer lives on earth in the temple.
1. A sincere, moving testimony of what is in us for the Lord Jesus and His church is never without consequence. It opens doors, brings about changes in circumstances and in people’s hearts. The same goes for John the baptist who, when he sees the Lord Jesus, wholeheartedly says: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:3636and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”). As a result, two of his disciples leave him and follow the Lord Jesus (Jn 1:3737The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.).
2. It remains necessary, even as the door opens further and further, to remain dependent on the Lord and ask Him what to do or say next.
5I 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.”
Full of confidence, but with due respect, he addresses himself to the king. What he says shows his acknowledgment of the king’s position and his own position. He asks for the king’s benevolence. Without his benevolent consent, he can forget his purpose. The fact that God seems to open the door does not make Nehemiah so overconfident that he wants to open the door with a wild move. He remains the servant dependent on the king.
Yet he is also so bold as to point out to the king his behavior as a servant. He asks in so many words if the king is satisfied with him. He can do so because, as a dutiful man, he has always served his lord to his full satisfaction. Without self-exaltation Nehemiah points this out to the king as a possible reason to grant him his request.
Nehemiah is open about his purpose. He has sketched the ruins. But he is not someone who stands on the sidelines shouting all kinds of cries about how bad things are, while he is not prepared to roll up his sleeves. No, he’s sketching a real picture, but he’s also determined to give all his strength to the city that’s in ruins, no matter what it costs him. He wants to rebuild the city, which he again connects to “my fathers’ tombs”. His heart is full of it.
1. When people to whom we are subject invite us to make a request, we may do so boldly. We may see it as a work of God in their hearts.
2. We do not need to present things more beautifully than they are.
3. We do not have to present ourselves worse than we are, as long as we can sincerely point out the quality of our work. Those who have always been honest in their work can say this quietly if the situation demands it (cf. 1Sam 12:3-43Here I am; bear witness against me before the LORD and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore [it] to you.”4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.”)..
6Then 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.
God also uses external circumstances to fulfill His plans. The remark that the king has his wife sitting next to him seems such a circumstance. Men among themselves can be harsh and insensitive. It is often noticeable that those same men behave much more courteously in the presence of their wife. As far as Artaxerxes is concerned, it seems that the presence of his wife makes him mild-mannered and therefore even more inclined to grant Nehemiah’s request.
The influence of women on the decisions of prominent persons can be for the better, but also for the worse. We see an influence for the better in the case of Esther (Est 7:1-101Now the king and Haman came to drink [wine] with Esther the queen.2And the king said to Esther on the second day also as they drank their wine at the banquet, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.”3Then Queen Esther replied, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request;4for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.”5Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?”6Esther said, “A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!” Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.7The king arose in his anger from drinking wine [and went] into the palace garden; but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king.8Now when the king returned from the palace garden into the place where they were drinking wine, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, “Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?” As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.9Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who [were] before the king said, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”10So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.). An influence for the worse is seen in Herodias (Mt 14:1-121At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus,2and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”3For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.4For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”5Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet.6But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before [them] and pleased Herod,7so [much] that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.8Having been prompted by her mother, she *said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”9Although he was grieved, the king commanded [it] to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests.10He sent and had John beheaded in the prison.11And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.12His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.). A case in which someone wants to use her influence for good, but to whom her husband does not listen, we see in Pilate’s wife (Mt 27:1919While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him [a message], saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”).
What influence does our wife have on us? It may be useful to find out how we behave in the presence of our wife and how we behave when she is not there. If honest self-examination reveals a difference, let us confess it to our wife and the Lord and change it.
The king’s questions make it clear to Nehemiah that God is opening the door further and further. His questions concern the duration of the journey and when he will be back, so how long he thinks he will be absent. The absence of Nehemiah is, of course, of great importance to the king, because there has to be a new cupbearer for that period of time.
The “definite time” that Nehemiah has given is twelve years (cf. verse 11And 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.; Neh 13:66But during all this [time] I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king,). The building of the wall is finished in fifty-two days (Neh 6:1515So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of [the month] Elul, in fifty-two days.), but that is with much help. Has Nehemiah assumed that he should not count on much help for the work? God has given it to him in his heart, but what about the remaining ones? Are they as full of zeal as he is? He doesn’t know that.
In our calculations, we too shouldn’t include dependence on others. God can give helpers, but He is not obliged to do so.
1. A woman’s influence on her husband’s decisions is great. The husband should also be open to it. He has to judge whether that influence has a good effect or a wrong one.
2. In a work that the Lord asks of us, we should depend only on Him and not on others. He calls persons, not groups, although He may form those persons into a group.
7And 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, 8and 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. 9Then 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.
Nehemiah has permission to go. This permission does not make him overconfident, but bold. All his thoughts are with the work that awaits him in Jerusalem. The fact that he can go, however, doesn’t put him in a rush, making him busy to leave as soon as possible. He remains pragmatic. He doesn’t leave on the off chance. Not only does he think about Jerusalem, he also thinks about the journey to Jerusalem and the problems he may encounter during the journey. He asks for things he will need, both for the journey and for his stay in Judah. He gets what he asks for and even more than that.
So he thinks that when crossing borders one will ask what he is planning to do. Letters from the king will guarantee him a free passage (verse 77And 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,). So he asks for a valid passport. He also asks for a letter that will assure him of the necessary materials for reconstruction (verse 88and 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.). He also thinks of his own accommodation. After all, he comes to a country where he has no possession whatsoever. Nehemiah asks with great boldness for everything he thinks he needs. He asks in faith. He does not ask too much. He recognizes the king’s possibilities. Thus we may ask God to provide a solution to practical problems.
It is good to realize that Nehemiah does not know what the king will answer to his questions. For us the tension is gone because we know the outcome. But to learn from Nehemiah’s actions, we will have to realize how exciting it must have been for him to ask all this.
Nehemiah gets everything he asked for. He sees in it “the good hand of my God”. He doesn’t forget that God works behind the scenes. He knows God as his personal God. This personal bond with God is necessary to notice His hand. After the deep soul-exercises and a door that opens more and more, he gets a view on the way God wants him to go. God uses the king to provide Nehemiah with what is necessary for the journey. If we are dependent on the Lord, we will see what we need and may count on Him to provide for it.
Nehemiah goes on his way, straight to his goal. The letters are doing their work. With everything Nehemiah has asked for, he also gets something he has not asked for. He has not asked for accompaniment, but if the king wants to send it along, he accepts this escort (verse 99Then 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.). Perhaps the officers of the army and horsemen should reassure more the king that Nehemiah will return safely, rather than that it is about Nehemiah personally and the task he has to perform. God can use anything to carry out His plans, including the possibly selfish motives of a king, and thereby protect His servant.
1. Not only the goal is important, but also the way to that goal. What we need on that path, we may boldly ask the Lord. He has everything ready and will gladly give it in answer to our prayer. When He gives it, it is another proof of “His good hand” over us.
2. In order to do the work we want to do, the Lord also wants to give us what we need. When we think about that work, we will see what we are lacking. The Lord wants to provide for this.
10When 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.
Between the preparations for the journey and the arrival in Jerusalem, we hear something about people who are not particularly happy with Nehemiah’s action. Sanballat is Nehemiah’s main political opponent. The addition “the Horonite” indicates that he comes from Horonaim. Horonaim is a city in Moab (Jer 48:3434From the outcry at Heshbon even to Elealeh, even to Jahaz they have raised their voice, from Zoar even to Horonaim [and to] Eglath-shelishiyah; for even the waters of Nimrim will become desolate.). In his footsteps we find Tobiah, from Ammon. The place of origin of these two opponents lies in the darkness of a cave. Their origins are as dark as the cave: begotten by a drunken Lot from his two degenerate daughters, who invented this way of conceiving offspring in their depraved minds (Gen 19:30-3830Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters.31Then the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth.32Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.”33So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.34On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.”35So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.36Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father.37The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.38As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.).
Nehemiah has made his first steps toward the work that God has given him in his heart. We can be sure that wherever someone wants to do God’s work, the enemy will also become active. Opposition in the work for the Lord is often the proof that we are indeed working for the Lord. Otherwise the devil would not be trying so hard to obstruct that work and try to prevent it.
The enemy knows exactly what Nehemiah is planning. Nehemiah does not seek his own benefit, but the welfare of the Israelites. In doing so, he is causing the anger of the enemy. The enemies want to keep Jerusalem in misery. The inhabitants of Jerusalem are not harassed by the enemy. They are no threat to the enemy. All the time they live there they are content with the situation as it is, insensitive to the defamation inflicted upon the LORD. That is to the taste of the enemy. But when Nehemiah comes, a living declaration of war against the prevailing conditions appears in him, in his attitude and intention.
Satan does not worry about the church in general. But if there are those who want to dedicate themselves completely to Christ and to do His work for the benefit of the church, then he comes into action. Similarly, following the Lord Jesus also gives rise to opposition (Mt 8:19-2719Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”20Jesus *said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air [have] nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”21Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”22But Jesus *said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”23When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.25And they came to [Him] and woke Him, saying, “Save [us], Lord; we are perishing!”26He *said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.27The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”).
The opposition of the enemy is there even before Nehemiah has announced any of his plans and while there is still no reaction on the part of the people. The enemy has more feeling for the work of God than God’s people. Does the devil also have to work overtime because of our dedication? If our goals are the same as God’s, his opposition will be noticeable. If our goals are different than God’s, the enemy will leave us alone.
1. If we want to do a work for the Lord, opposition can be one of the proofs that we are really engaged in a work for the Lord.
2. An open door and opponents belong together (1Cor 16:99for a wide door for effective [service] has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.).
3. Sometimes unbelievers are more aware of the importance of God’s work than believers, and are more active in disrupting it than believers in promoting it.
11So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12And 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.
When some six hundred thousand Israelites and their families leave Egypt (Exo 12:3737Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.) to go through the desert to Canaan, God accompanies them with perceptible signs. This is very different in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. They too travel from the land of captivity to the promised land. But no outward signs accompany them as proof of God’s presence. They must be content with the means of travelling customary for that time and under those circumstances.
Not only the accompanying signs are less conspicuous. Also the numbers are decreasing. Zerubbabel returns with just over forty-two thousand persons; with Ezra about eighteen hundred persons return; Nehemiah goes by himself. As church history continues, there is less and less of the original manifestations of God’s presence. However, God still wants to be with the individual who wants to work for Him.
Nehemiah will have seen Jerusalem in the distance with mixed feelings. There he sees the city of God to which his heart has gone out. The more he approaches it, the faster his heart starts beating. At the same time he is aware that this city does not correspond to God’s thoughts about it. That is precisely why he went there, full of longing to dedicate the city to God again.
When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he does not immediately set to work. He waits three days. It is good to first calm down from the journey, which has been an undertaking in itself. It is important to have peace of mind before starting the actual task.
Nehemiah is a born leader, but has a withdrawn nature, someone who does not act in a hurry. He wants to calculate the costs well. If he goes to work, there will be no return. Then he doesn’t withdraw his hand until the work is done.
In order not to cause a sensation, he goes to inspect at night (verse 1212And 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.). He doesn’t make a publicity stunt out of his research. He only takes a few men with him, without telling them why he’s travelling at night. He doesn’t want to be influenced by people’s various opinions. The Lord’s commission is a personal one, and he does not allow anyone else to interfere. It is a command that “my” God has given in “my” heart.
Who, by the way, should he take with him? All those who live in Jerusalem can apparently sleep peacefully. When it comes to research, they don’t have to come along. They’ve seen the ruins so many times. Instead of making them pray and fast like Nehemiah, they have reconciled themselves to the sight of it.
He can’t use anything or anyone from the king’s escort on this inspection trip. He has his own riding animal. That is all he needs. It is not a matter of impressive display or something customary among people. That doesn’t fit the job he’s doing. His method of working is not the result of busy deliberation. It’s not a question of the right number of people to make an inventory. Without being conspicuous, without striking actions, Nehemiah goes out to survey the state of affairs. It is a matter between his own heart and God. Because God has given it in his heart, he will also be able to carry out this work.
It is good to have spiritual friends, but it is dangerous to have the heart on the sleeve. Sometimes it is good to consult first, but if a matter is clear to the Lord, consultation will only make the Lord’s work more difficult. There will be well-intentioned counsel, but just as many objections: Is it the right time, is it the right way, do we have the right means, what are the chances of success? These considerations lead to doubt, which in turn results in the cancellation of the enterprise that God has commissioned.
1. A person who is entrusted by the Lord with a work need not advertise it. Several times the Lord Jesus avoids the crowd if they want to follow Him because of a miracle (Mk 1:38,4438He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”44and He *said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”; Jn 6:15,2615So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.26Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.). The Lord has not sought the support or admiration of the crowd; neither should a worker for the Lord.
2. Before the actual work begins, it is good to take ‘three days’ of rest. These ‘three days’ are a reminder of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Only from that perspective, in which all trust in one’s own ability disappears and everything is made dependent on Him, will we succeed in our task.
3. When personal faith is asked for, it must be acted upon. Others do not have this faith and will only create obstacles if they are asked to cooperate. When the time comes to work, helpers may be asked. Until then, faith will keep its secret between itself and God.
13So 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. 14Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. 15So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned.
Nehemiah wants to familiarize himself with the extent of the destruction of the walls, and to take it in. The natural heart would give up courage at the sight of so much ruin. For Nehemiah it only makes the necessity of rebuilding clearer, while at the same time he knows that only God can enable him to do so. He goes out at night. When the others are asleep, he is wide awake. He does not go dreamily along the ruins. In full awareness of what he sees, he is goes along the walls. As he drives on, the extent of the work will come towards him more and more. It will all have looked even bleaker in the night.
Whenever there is a work to be done for God – a solid and not superficial work – the servant, like Nehemiah, must undertake such an inspection trip beforehand. He must spend the night mourning amid the ruins. It is foolish to deny the ruin and not to see the hopelessness of the situation as it is. The full extent of the task must come to us. Have we ever sacrificed an hour’s sleep for the spiritual state of the church or our surroundings? Have we ever consciously stayed awake while others slept soundly and peacefully? Do we ever become restless from the fact that countless people are lost forever?
Before God gives a revival, He wants to break our hearts. That happens on the route Nehemiah takes. The “Valley Gate” speaks of lowliness, humiliation. This is where the investigation begins: with humbling oneself “under the mighty hand of God” (1Pet 5:66Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,). The “Dragon’s Well” is a reminder of satan, “the great dragon” (Rev 12:99And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.). He is the instigator, the source of all misery among the people of God. The “Refuse Gate” is reminiscent of what has no value whatsoever. Through this gate, all useless and dirty objects are brought out of the city. In the same way we have to clear out of our lives what has no value and what fills our lives. These are the first stations we have to pass on our way to examine the walls and the gates.
Once all the useless and harmful things in our lives have been removed, we can proceed to the “Fountain Gate “. Here we may think of the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the fountain of living water. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus receives Him (Jn 4:1414but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”; 7:38-3938He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet [given], because Jesus was not yet glorified.). Through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God becomes a “King’s Pool”, the next station.
We will discover in the Word of God, of which the water of the pool is a picture (Eph 5:2626so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,), through the working of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God’s King, the Lord Jesus. When He comes to our attention, everything that we still trust in will disappear. There is no room left for anything else. We are then ready to give our full attention to the task that the Lord has given us in the heart.
After this inspection tour, Nehemiah returns to the “Valley Gate”. Humiliating himself stands at the beginning and at the end of his investigation. In order to be used by God it is necessary that humility constantly characterizes us. That is not to say that sometimes it is not necessary to take firm action. We will see that in Nehemiah.
1. Before we can begin a special work for the Lord, we must have proven that we do not like our rest. Are we always open to people who are really in need? Are we prepared to sacrifice a night’s rest or a meal for them?
2. Following the Lord Jesus begins by denying ourselves (Mt 16:2424Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.). Then we are able to humble ourselves.
3. We have to get rid of what is hindering the work of the Lord. This includes sins, but also things that are not sinful, but which nevertheless take up so much of our lives that they are an obstacle (Heb 12:11Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,).
4. 4. It is necessary to humble ourselves, see the power of the enemy, and do away with everything in our lives that is not good. However, it should not be limited to that. Then we would only be focused on ourselves and on the enemy. Then the Holy Spirit must be given the room to present the glory of the Lord Jesus to us.
5. The greater He becomes, the more everything that could still give us some carnal support falls away.
6. Humility can be learned from the Lord Jesus, who says: “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:2929Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.). He always is.
16The 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. 17Then 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.” 18I 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].
Nehemiah has already told them that he did not inform any man of his intentions (verse 1212And 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.). He did not seek any support from the people or their leaders of any rank or standing (cf. Gal 1:16b-17a16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.; 2:66But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.). He does not wish to bind their influence to the work he wants to do. In this way he remains free, without in any way committing himself to them.
However, as soon as he feels the time has come to inform them, he seeks their cooperation. He is not so stubborn as to think that he does not need them. His request for cooperation is proof that he acknowledges his brothers in their position and appreciates them in the capacities they have. A personal vocation is the starting point, but this must never degenerate into individualism. God wants to use each one in connection with others. We are all fellow workers of each other (1Cor 3:8-9a8Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.9For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.).
Nehemiah has three motives for his penetrating appeal for their cooperation. First, he points to the condition of the city and the walls. They know about it, but so far they have done nothing about it. He doesn’t say this in a patronizing way. In his voice there are no reproaches. He uses the word “we” twice. He makes himself one with them. The misery of Jerusalem is the misery of her lovers. Secondly, he can bear witness to the good hand of God over himself. Third, he refers to the King’s support.
His moving speech comes across. The people are convinced. They declare that they will prepare to rebuild and add the deed to the word: “They put their hands to the good [work].” Godly thoughts and understanding are not enough. They have to get to work. So do we. The encouragement of faithful people who carry a burden of God on their hearts is a great incentive for others to get to work.
Nehemiah has given them courage (cf. Heb 12:12-1312Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,13and make straight paths for your feet, so that [the limb] which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.). His conviction has come across. They have heard a man who believes in his mission. That task is no less than building a wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s compassion and commitment are contagious to his listeners. They are being won for the work of the LORD by the work of God in their hearts following the speech of Nehemiah and thus become fellow workers in this work. If we are engaged in a work for the Lord, He will also give us the necessary helpers.
The temple, the house of God, has already been rebuilt, but stands in a ruined place, the walls of which have largely been broken down and the gates burned. The day mentioned in Zechariah 2 has not yet come (Zec 2:55For I,’ declares the LORD, ‘will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’”). That is why a wall is needed. When it is rebuilt, the city will once again be seen as a place where God has established His Name. Through the wall His house, in type, will be separated from the impurities of the surrounding world (Eze 42:2020He measured it on the four sides; it had a wall all around, the length five hundred and the width five hundred, to divide between the holy and the profane.).
1. A calling is personal. You do a job with several people. Each has his own part in it for which he is responsible.
2. Someone who is convinced of his task and wants to go all the way for it, is able to make a warm plea for the necessity of his task. That appeals to others. They are motivated to cooperate.
19But 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?”
Of the opponents mentioned here we have already met Sanballat and Tobiah (verse 1010When 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.). The Arab Geshem has joined them. In the enemies we find next to the representatives of Moab and Ammon now also a representative of Edom. These three nations, who are all brother nations of Israel, are the most hostile nations of Israel (Dan 11:4141He will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many [countries] will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon.; Isa 11:1414They will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west;
Together they will plunder the sons of the east;
They will possess Edom and Moab,
And the sons of Ammon will be subject to them.
They are fiercely displeased with the coming of Nehemiah (verse 1010When 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.), but they have not yet made themselves heard or taken any action. This does not mean that their enmity and opposition have diminished. Their displeasure is not transient. Now that Nehemiah begins to build, they are making themselves heard.
Their first pinpricks with which they treat Nehemiah and his co-workers consist of mocking remarks. As much as Nehemiah’s speech encouraged the people, so much so the mockery of the enemies is meant to take power away. It takes a great deal of faith strength to continue a work for the Lord under constant mockery.
When engaging in an activity for the Lord, we must take into account the “hostility by sinners against” us (Heb 12:33For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.).
20So 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.”
The first clash between Nehemiah and his enemies sets the tone for all further clashes. Nehemiah does not appeal to the king’s permission in the face of his enemies. He seeks it higher up, He involves “the God of heaven” in the work. Mockery is only effective if we see ourselves in connection with the mockers. It has no effect if we see ourselves in connection with God. Nehemiah sees himself and those who help him in connection with God (Rom 8:3131What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [is] against us?).
Nehemiah acts very firmly and leaves no room for compromise. He does not sell hotcakes, but speaks with authority. He places the mockers outside the work of God and draws a sharp line between himself and his opponents. He openly declares where his opponents stand: they have “no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem”.
1. They have “no portion” in Jerusalem, because the portion of the enemies is in this life (Psa 17:14a14From men with Your hand, O LORD,
From men of the world, whose portion is in [this] life,
And whose belly You fill with Your treasure;
They are satisfied with children,
And leave their abundance to their babes.
) and not in the things of God.
2. They also have “no right” to have a place in Jerusalem or a say in what needs to be done – their opinions and thoughts are worthless.
3. Finally, there is also “no memorial” of them in God’s city. They have contributed nothing that has any lasting meaning and is remembered by God. They will be outside forever.
1. It is important not to give in to opposition from the start. The strength to resist lies in the conviction to be called by God.
2. Measure the strength of your opponents by the strength of God and not by your own strength.
3. See the opponents in their relationship with God. They have no relationship with God and therefore no interest or share in God’s work. If they do not repent, they will be without God forever.