A. V1, 4 of praying later the day Nehemiah was waiting for. Part of serving the king meant that you could not appear before him until summoned, and speak unless asked. It is possible that Nehemiah had to wait 4 months until the opportunity presented itself to speak to the king about what was on his heart.
1. “In the month of Nissan” The date is important for two reasons;
a) First, it shows us that Nehemiah was a man who waited on the Lord in prayer for the right time. Although he was grieved and burdened with the desires of the Lord on His heart he was willing to wait until the time is right.
b) Secondly, the date is important prophetically since from this date you can calculate, to the day, when the Messiah will arrive in Israel. The brilliant British astronomer and mathematician Sir Robert Anderson calculated that it would be 173, 880 days from the going forth of the command to rebuild (Nissan, or March, 14, 445 BC) until Messiah the Prince arrived (triumphant entry on April 6, 32 AD). He did this using the Babylonian measurement of years (calendar) and makes a strong case that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in Daniel, based on the date given in Nehemiah to the day.
(1) Prophecy is the internal evidence of the Bible that God gave us to prove that it is true. God asks for faith, but He doesn’t ask for blind faith.
2. “Had never been sad in his presence before” Nehemiah had never been sad in the presence of the king because it was against the law to be sad in the presence of Persian Monarchs.
a) “As was true in the courts of many ancient kings, it was forbidden to be sad in the presence of the king. The idea was that the king was such a wonderful person that merely being in his presence was supposed to make you forget all of your problems. When Nehemiah looked sad, it could have been taken as a terrible insult to the king.” –David Guzik
b) “To be sad in the presence of the king was punishable by death!” –John Brown
c) Best case scenario the was in a good mood and only insulted by Nehemiah and would banish him from the kingdom. Worst case scenario the King would interpret his sadness as reasonable cause for treachery and would have him executed, perhaps even on the spot.
(1) Esther 4:1-6, helps us to better understand the Laws of the Persians, we were talking about how it was against the Law to be sad in the presence of the Persian King, but more then that you can not even enter the King’s Palace if you are morning “for no one [might] enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.” Mordechai would be in danger for just entering the Palace with sadness, but Nehemiah was breaking the law even more so being sad in the very presence of the king.
B. V2, Therefore the king said to me, “Why [is] your face sad, since you [are] not sick? This [is] nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid,
1. The King was able to tell that there was something wrong, he could see it in his face. He was sad despite the Law forbidding Nehemiah to be sad in the presence of the King, even though it could mean death or exile. This shows us how deeply Nehemiah was burdened for others and how much he cared for the plight of those whom he had likely never met, he was a man who grieved when others grieved and suffered because others were suffering.
2. “sorrow of heart” We must remember that the translators chose the best possible words to translate things, after all they are the Hebrew and Greek scholars. Sorrow is the best way to translate this word and it tells us how much Nehemiah’s heart hurt. That said though looking at the Hebrew definitions to the word helps us to gain a bit more insight on what kind of sorrow the king might have interpreted from Nehemiah.
a) Sorrow here is “Roa” and can be defined (Strong’s) as 1) badness, evil a) badness, bad quality willfulness c) evil, badness (ethical) d. sadness
(1) Nehemiah’s heart was full of sorrow, but often times if a cupbearer was feeling sorrow it is p ossible that he was feeling guilty for poisoning the King. Thus it is possible that the king would interpret this as badness, or evil sadness, of heart.
3. “So I became dreadfully afraid”
a) As to Jack’s perspective that this fear could have been emotional, due to the possibility of loosing his job or failing people he loved and my assertion that it was a fear of loosing his life, I think that we are both right.
(1) There is a real danger here of the King misinterpreting Nehemiah’s sadness, being that it was against the law to be sad in the presence of the king, Nehemiah’s sorrow of heart could be interpreted as evil intentions to poison the king, he was going to ask the King to rebuild the walls of a city that had been ordered cease building due to accusations of rebellion (some commentators think it was Artaxerxes himself who had commanded the building to cease) and his request may be interpreted as a form of treason.
(2) Also though, his heart had been extremely grieved and burdened for the people of Jerusalem. This was his only chance to speak to the king, and it was the chance that Nehemiah had been praying and waiting four months for. The fear of offending the King, and the fear of letting down his people would have been emotionally immense.
(3) Fear in Hebrew “yaré” to fear, revere, to be afraid. Fear here is the same word used for fear in Gen. 3:10, when Adam hid in fear from God when he sinned. The Old Testament usage of fear is often fearing the judgment and power of God. You revere Him because of the power that He wields and what He could do to you if He wanted to. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. You don’t learn the wisdom of God until you first recognize how powerful He is and His righteous judgment. We are told that we as Christians do not need to fear God anymore like they did in the Old Testament, because Jesus took all the judgment and wrath of God upon Himself when He died upon the cross (1 John 4:18). This does not mean you should not respect God and revere His power (Jesus fulfilled the Law but did not abolish it), but to those who are in Christ we do not need to fear His judgment in that way anymore, because Christ has taken that judgment and we are free to know the fellowship and love of God in full. In the Old Covenant you needed for revere God because He could judge you in His wrath, now in the New Covenant of grace you should respect God out of love instead of fear.
C. V3, “May the King live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, [lies] waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
1. The first words out of Nehemiah’s mouth are words to comfort the King that he has no intentions of poisoning him, in fact he blesses the king. This may have been a motto for cupbearers, but it was more then just a motto since the life of a cupbearer was connected to the life of the cup-drinker. If someone was going to die from poison it would be Nehemiah first, so wishing the king a long life would be equally beneficial for the cupbearer. It also shows that Nehemiah gave the proper respect due to government officials.
2. He answers the king’s question with a question. He had to choose his words very carefully and questions are a great way to disarm people and help them to settle down, and it makes them think about what you are talking to them about. Some commentators wonder if Nehemiah did this to engender compassion from the king, noting that he did not tell the king right off the bat which city it was that was in ruins and stating that the place of his fathers’ tombs had been desecrated. He found common ground by stating it was the place of his fathers’ tombs, since almost all people and especially ancient peoples have respect for the dead and consider tombs sacred.
a) Some people wonder if Nehemiah’s family had originally been from Jerusalem and that he was of the line of Judah since he calls Jerusalem the place of his fathers’ tombs. Whether fathers meant a distant or close connection we do not know. If he was of the line of Judah then it is just more evidence for how much of a type of Christ Nehemiah was.
III. Neh. 2:4-6 Nehemiah Prays then Asks.
A. V4, “What do you request” This was the open door Nehemiah was waiting for. The King could have said, what is your sorrow have to do with me, off with your head. Instead, the Lord gave Nehemiah favor in the sight of this man (as he had prayed for) and he asked Nehemiah for his request. When a King asks you what do you want, you can say just about anything and he can give you just about anything. People in the Empire would have died to have the king ask them this, maybe they would have asked for riches, but Nehemiah asks for the good of others. (This is like winning the lottery then giving all the money away).
1. “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Before Nehemiah makes his request to the King of Persia, he makes a prayer to the King of King. This shows us that Nehemiah has the right perspective in life, knowing that God is sovereign. God is the God of Heaven, which makes Him higher then a king of earth.
2. Nehemiah couldn’t have had a lot of time for this prayer (being that a powerful emperor was awaiting a response, and a delay could be misinterpreted), and maybe it wasn’t even spoken out loud but he lived his life in constant prayer. Maybe it was just the cry of his heart upward, since God knows our prayers before they are even on our lips. Remember though that Nehemiah spent 4 months praying night and day before he went before the king, so this is not an excuse to skip private prayer time. We should have both private prayer time and also pray throw up instant prayers throughout the day, abiding in an attitude of prayer. This is prayer without ceasing, both private prayers and sending second long prayers up throughout the day.
a) One thing that I do is I try to train my thoughts so that I am constantly keeping in mind the presence of God in my thoughts. This way I am not just thinking to myself on things but thinking with God on things. That way all of your thought life becomes a prayer life.
B. V5, Nehemiah showed humility and respect “If it pleases the king”. Although he may have felt called by God to do something it didn’t mean he was going to be a jerk about it. This King was as pagan as it gets, he probably had a harem and more than one wife. Being that he was a King it meant he did not share much of his power and held rule with an iron grip. Persian Kings were known for being lovers of pleasure and valiant in battle.
1. Correlation: 1 Peter 2:11-17, We are told to be a good witness by submitting to the authority of governments, while at the same time abstaining from the lusts of the flesh. Had the Persian King commanded that all bow down and worship him, as did the King of Babylon before him, I am sure that Nehemiah would have refused. But, even though the King likely lived in the lusts of the flesh, Nehemiah showed the proper respect and honor to the king being that it had not affected his freedom to worship the true and living God alone. We should learn from this. We may disagree with earthy leaders, but that does not mean we should not treat them with respect and honor. If you treat them with respect and honor, while at the same time maintain integrity and abstaining from the lusts of the flesh, you will be a good witness to people and an even better witness to those in authority. You don’t want the government to think, those Christians are such bad citizens, it is too bad. We should be known for being the most loyal of citizens, the most orderly and submissive of people, helping to bring unity and love to countries. Yes, of course if you must choose between obeying God and men then you must choose God, but remember that a large part of obeying God is obeying men, provided you still have the freedom to abstain from sin and worship God alone.
2. “Send me, that I may rebuild it” Here is where Nehemiah shows his faith, because his faith has works. He is willing not only to ask and pray about God’s will being done, but he is willing for God to use him to do it. Actions speak louder than words.
C. V6, Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
1. The King responds, and the Queen was sitting next to him. The Queen was not always in the presence of the King, in Esther 4:11 Esther says that it had been thirty days since the King had called her in to his presence. The presence of the King could have been part of God’s blessing, perhaps the Queen was a woman of compassion and would want to help Nehemiah. Or maybe it helped since the King could make himself look good in front of his woman (we men always want to impress our women). Maybe the Queen was a friend of Nehemiah. Or the opposite could have been true, the Queen could have been someone who could have potentially opposed this plan. If that was true, then it shows the power of God to overcome the schemes of the devil. We don’t know exactly why Nehemiah decided to include this note of the Queen’s presence, but either way we can see God’s hand with Nehemiah, giving him favor.
2. “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” The King doesn’t say no to Nehemiah, and this is his way of saying yes. The King’s questions to Nehemiah is telling of Nehemiah’s character, the King wants Nehemiah to return. Sometimes when people leave our lives, or leave our workplace, or perhaps leave a ministry, we are outspokenly thankful that they left. But when you someone tells you they are leaving and you ask, “When are you coming back?” it means you are going to miss them and you would rather them stay. Nehemiah was a blessing to the King, a loyal and trustworthy servant of the Empire. He was a man even secular people could count on.
3. “Pleased the King to send me” Nehemiah asked to be sent, and the King sends him. Nehemiah knew that what he wanted to do was something he couldn’t do alone, he was going to need help. It is not wrong to ask people for help, and as a missionary it is not wrong to ask people if they want to help send you. Nehemiah had a heart to help people, and here he asks the King if he wants to be a part of the work of helping people by sending him, financing him. This pleased the King and he joins in on God’s work of rebuilding the wall. How amazing is that? God uses a pagan King to get His work done, and Nehemiah has no problem accepting this help. God can get things done even using non-believers (Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart [is] in the hand of the LORD, [Like] the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.)
4. “I set him a time.” Nehemiah was a man with a plan. He told the king that he would someday return, when the king asked him how long he would be gone for Nehemiah already knew how long it would take to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah didn’t just spend all his four months of praying in petitions, but he also used that time of prayer to listen to the Lord and form a plan.
a) Forming plans in times of prayer and waiting is extremely Biblical. If God always changes your plans, and you have to throw out all your study notes for every sermon to be “led by the Spirit” what in the world are you doing during your study time? As a teacher of God’s word you are supposed to be asking and listening to the Lord for instructions on how to teach His Word. Sure once in a while maybe you didn’t hear God right and He may want to change your plans… but if it happens all the time I would question if you are really able to hear God or not.
b) It is Biblical to prayerfully make plans, then always keeping yourself yielded to God to change those plans. But planning is a good thing. Proverbs 21:5 “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”
c) “Sometimes it may seem that God blesses a lack of planning, and sometimes it seems God does a blessed work completely different from what we have planned. But in every case, God works through planning – if not our planning, then His planning. But as a general principle, God wants to train us up into the work of being planners, just as He is a planner.” –David Guzik
IV. Neh. 2:7-8 The Details of Nehemiah’s Plan
A. V7, Again “If it pleases the King” Nehemiah doesn’t stop respecting the King once he knows the King is going to give him what he wants, he continues to ask in humility and respect.
1. Nehemiah already knew exactly what he needed. His time of prayer was spent also in planning since you see here he has done his homework. He knows he will need a passport so to speak, letters that will allow him to pass through till he comes to Judah.
B. V8, In humility and respect Nehemiah tells the King how he can help. He shows his diligence and wisdom in that he knows exactly what they will need and who can give it to help (wood was scarce in the area surrounding Jerusalem, they would need access to the resources in the King’s forest.) Nehemiah shows prudence in that he even knows the name of the keeper of the forest.
1. He then tells the king specifically what he plans to rebuild and specifically what the wood would be used for. Nehemiah had thought this plan out well, he must have known that should he ever get this chance to speak to the King about this he would have to make his words count. The more prepared you are the less you have to say.
C. V8b, “And the king granted [them] to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” The king granted all this to Nehemiah, but Nehemiah doesn’t give the king the glory. He gives the credit to whom the credit was due, it was because of God’s favor the Nehemiah had received favor with Artaxerxes.
1. We must remember to give God glory in all things, even if the answers to our prayers are answered through human instruments.
A. Nehemiah had been praying and waiting for four months until God opened the door for him. Despite the danger he was willing to walk through the door once he saw it open by telling the king what was on his heart.
B. Nehemiah was a man who knew how to pray and wait in private, but that didn’t mean he didn’t pray throughout the day. He was a man of both public and private prayer, and I believe it’s important to do both. Sometimes we don’t have time for big long prayers and we have to cry from our heart short instant ones, but these prayers are most effective when they have been reinforced through private prayer ahead of time.
C. Nehemiah didn’t do nothing when he was praying and waiting on the Lord. He used that time to ask but he also used that time to listen and prayerfully form a plan of action. He knew what was needed, who could provide the help and even about how long it would take.
D. Nehemiah knows he can’t do this on his own, and receives the very pratical help that God sends him, even if the help is in the form of a Pagan King. Nehemiah is characterized by humility and respect, even to non-believers and he is not too proud to ask for help.
E. Nehemiah gives God all the glory and credit, knowing that the King of King is in control and it is due to God’s hand being upon him that he was able to do this.