Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
The Book of Nehemiah is an autobiographical account of his participation in the rebuilding of the wall surrounding Jerusalem after the Babylonians under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the city 150 years prior and forced the Jews out of Judah into exile.
The story was written, it says, in the month of Kiselv in the 20th year, or approximately 445 BCE. These were difficult times for Israel: persecution was rampant, affliction and struggle the norm.
Over the years three men played important roles in the rebuilding of Jerusalem: Zerubbabel, the prince, who represented the political side; Ezra, a priest and scribe; and finally, Nehemiah, the layman. Although the prince and priest played their roles well and rebuilt much of the city, the walls of Jerusalem had remained in disrepair and the temple unclean.
The walls were important not only for protection and separation, but they stood as a symbol for God’s glory, and also served as a fulfillment of a prophecy – that the walls would be rebuilt for the coming of the Messiah. So, God whispered this plan to the heart of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had a good government job inside the Babylonian king’s palace in Susa, or Shusha Persia. He was a layman and the cup-bearer to the king. It was an excellent position, like being a bodyguard or personal assistant. He tasted the king’s food first and had to be handsome, cultured, and educated. He held the king’s highest trust and was moral, honest, and beyond the reaches of bribery.
Nehemiah’s position granted him many luxuries: he ate the way the king ate, dressed the way the king dressed. The king liked Nehemiah, and because he had daily access to him, Nehemiah had some influence over the king.
Nehemiah was a Jew, so when he heard that the wall surrounding Jerusalem lay in rubble, and how his fellow Jews were being treated, it affected him deeply. Nehemiah could have been concerned about Jerusalem from afar and remained in Persia. But when confronted by the King what as to what was wrong, Nehemiah asked if he could go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. He also asked if he could take materials and soldiers for safe passage. The king granted his request.
Nehemiah’s story is filled with personal hardship, including discouraging sarcasm, personal verbal and physical attacks, slander, and disunity. There are important lessons to be learned from his journey and character as we face our own challenges. I will simplify these lessons into the Five C’s: Care, Cause, Confidence, Cooperation, and Courage.
Care is the first ‘C’. This entire journey began because Nehemiah cared about God’s plan. He cared about the plight of those people and their lives who were affected by Jerusalem’s devastation. The walls in shambles meant the people lived in danger. He cared about the things of God and the children of God.
If our hearts are closed to love, shadowed by selfishness and intolerance, we are not open to spirit’s movement through us. If Nehemiah had not cared, he would not have been open to God’s guidance or heard the whisper of God’s still small voice. It is caring, not apathy, that opens our hearts to God.
The second ‘C’ is a Cause. Despite the comfort of his life, Nehemiah was willing to travel over a thousand miles to a place he had never been before, to help people he had never met, and face great peril, all because God moved his heart. Nehemiah allowed himself to be concerned with the plight of people, and embrace a cause placed in his heart by God. He committed himself to this great purpose in life and was more devoted to God’s plan than to his own welfare. Nehemiah rejected any self-glory and abandoned excuses to shirk his duty; he acknowledged that he was needed for God’s plan to unfold. It was a goal, seemingly impossible, that consumed him.
Because of his focus and faith, confidence, the third ‘C’, flowed from Nehemiah, beginning with asking the pagan king for permission to leave Babylonia and travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. Confidence and trust in God dictated every decision.
His confidence came from prayer, and he prayed about everything. Watching, working, and praying characterized this man. In this short book, we have 14 of his prayers. Before he set out on the project, Nehemiah prayed. As our opening Bible verse stated, when he approached the king, he prayed. When he was in trouble, he prayed. Nehemiah is a fabulous example of how to get something done. Pray before we start. Pray as we go. Pray when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Philippians 4:6 says: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
Pray about everything; it leads to confidence. God will guide us through prayer. Just know that God is not going to lead us all in the same manner. We have different skills, talents, and dispositions. God led Ezra back to the land with no support whatsoever, and He led Nehemiah with half of the Persian army with him. What was true for them is still true for us: God will guide each of us in the way that is most effective, depending upon who we are and what we need. As Jeremiah 29:11 teaches: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. We each will receive guidance, leadership, and instructions supporting our plans and path. In that we can be confident.
Although Nehemiah trusted God, and was confident in God’s guidance and cause, he did not expect God to do all the work. He wanted to do whatever he could to help God; he wanted to cooperate, the fourth ‘C’ after Care, Cause, and Confidence. Nehemiah was not only confident that God’s plan would unfold, but he was also confident that because of his efforts, his cooperation, his partnership with God, success would result.
And it was not just with his cooperation with God, but from the efforts of others who God inspired to help Nehemiah. This attitude of cooperation is so important today – to see the world around us, recognize the challenges, and be willing to cooperate with each other in resolving issues is of paramount importance. If Nehemiah had remained in Susa, and been unwilling to cooperate, the walls would never have been rebuilt.
Courage, the fifth and last ‘C’ on our list, was demonstrated in everything that Nehemiah did. He traveled those many miles, inspected the gates and convinced others to help him rebuild the wall. He became the leader, placating the fears and discouragement of the Jews and handling the barbs of slander, lies, and ridicule from the Babylonians. He set aside timidity and faced every challenge courageously.
Nehemiah was immovable and unstoppable. Even when his enemies hired someone from within Jerusalem to foment doubt and discord and try to get Nehemiah to leave for fear of his life, Nehemiah refused to abandon his mission. Nehemiah 6:11 tells us: But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it! It is through courage that we finish our work, God’s work, God’s plans for us. Even though we face difficult challenges, personally, as a state, nation, and world, we cannot dodge them. Nehemiah would not compromise God’s will and would not be intimidated. He finished his work – God’s work – in 52 days and all that saw the wall knew that God’s hand had helped.
Care, Cause, Confidence, Cooperation, and Courage. As we commit to serving God, we will be faced with great obligations and duties. May we call upon God so that we are strengthened in each of those areas. My prayer is that we are willing to leave our comfort zone to embrace the opportunities that God sets before us. May our hearts be opened to God’s guidance and direction, and may we recognize that through an attitude of cooperation we are not facing the difficulties alone. And whatever challenges rear their imposing heads, may we face them boldly, with the confidence and courage that Nehemiah exhibited.