Chapter 9: Nehemiah

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by Ian McKee, N. Ireland











Consideration of persons in Scripture who received God’s call to service should surely be instructive for us today.  In this chapter we shall consider Nehemiah.  His call to God’s service was unlike that of most characters considered in this book, but should not be disregarded for that reason.

The “God of glory” did not appear unto Nehemiah as He had unto Abraham.  Nor was there any ‘burning bush’ experience in Nehemiah’s life as in that of Moses.  A revelation of the “captain of the host of the Lord” was given to Joshua, but not to Nehemiah.  Similarly, no “angel of the Lord” appeared to Nehemiah as experienced by Gideon.  Nehemiah was never anointed by a prophet as David was, nor did he ever see the “chariot of fire” and obtain a predecessor’s mantle as per Elisha.  Isaiah had a transforming vision of “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up”, Jeremiah received personal encouraging promises and Ezekiel
was given visions of living creatures and ‘wheels within wheels’, but Nehemiah received none of those revelations.  The apostles were directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul had his Damascus Road experience and Timothy had “prophecies which went before on [him]”, plus public endorsement “with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” and by Paul.  Again, Nehemiah had no parallel experiences. 

Nehemiah, like ourselves, had the Scriptures then available, and personal exercise with God.  However, there is no algorithm or aptitude test that can be applied to adjudge suitability for any particular service, and a call cannot be determined by use of a questionnaire and central sift process.  Such may be of merit in selection for positions in a multi-national corporation, but the work of God requires nothing less than specific Divine commissioning and approval. 

The only other character being considered in this volume whose background and circumstances broadly equate to those of Nehemiah is Daniel.  Both men lived in the time following the exile of Judah to Babylon, both were employed in the imperial civil service of either Babylon or Medo-Persia, each achieving official recognition and high office, and being similarly diligent in their employment.  Additionally, Daniel and Nehemiah each had an overriding interest in the welfare of God’s people.

While Daniel received Divine communications in dreams and visions as well as revelations from Gabriel, Nehemiah knew nothing of such.  Yet Daniel was told of Nehemiah’s day: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” Dan.9.25.  Thus, the date when authority was given to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem would be when God’s ‘prophetic clock’ would restart, leading inexorably to the precise time when the Lord Jesus Christ would die: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off” Dan.9.26.

While knowledge of the prophetic programme was revealed to Daniel, the responsibility was given to Nehemiah to rebuild the wall and city of Jerusalem.  Those rebuilt walls and reinstated gates were the very ones viewed by the Saviour during His first advent!  On the day that He rode into Jerusalem the Pharisees appealed to Him to restrain the acclamation of His followers; however, “He answered and said unto them, ‘I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out’” Lk.19.40.  At the outset of our consideration we should learn that our service for the Lord is under His all-seeing eye; a sobering yet encouraging thought.


We should note Nehemiah’s double reference to “Hanani, one of my brethren” and “my brother Hanani” Neh.1.2; 7.2.  It is probable that Hanani was a full brother of Nehemiah, although the phrases used could refer to a relation generally, or a close friend.  However, Hanani played a very important part in the sequence of events that led to the development of Nehemiah’s exercise.  It was “in the month Chisleu [December], in the twentieth year [445 BC], as I was in Shushan [Susa] the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah” Neh.1.1,2.

Many of those exiled from Judah to Babylon and remaining successively under Babylonian, Median and Persian rule had become assimilated into those societies.  However, true hearts like Daniel, Ezekiel, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and now Nehemiah could never forget Jerusalem: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” Ps.137.5,6.

The return of Hanani and his companions from Judah was, therefore, a seminal moment in the experience and subsequent exercise of Nehemiah, representing a nexus between prophetic purpose and practical outworking.


There were intensely personal exercises by which Nehemiah was prepared for the call to his work.  His circumstances were advantageous for one from the tribe of Judah.  Although born in captivity, he rose in the Persian imperial civil service to the responsible and influential position which he eventually discloses with becoming modesty: “For I was the king’s cupbearer” Neh.1.11.  He was no mere functionary.  He was one who enjoyed the full confidence of, and intimacy with, the great King of Persia1.  To hold such high office indicates that Nehemiah was respected and valued by his sovereign; he was a man demonstrating administrative acumen, personal integrity and professional trustworthiness.

1 Artaxerxes Longimanus, 465-425 BC. In the seventh year of his reign (457 BC) Ezra returned to Jerusalem with royal approval, Ezra chapter 7. In the twentieth year of his reign (445 BC) he authorised the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and appointed Nehemiah as the civil governor, Nehemiah chapter 2, et seq.

It is a feature in Scripture that those whom God entrusts with special service for Him have first been tested and proven in either secular duty (including stewardship, shepherding, etc.) or in religious duties (as priests or understudies to established leaders or prophets, etc.).  Those who are lazy, incompetent or haphazard never feature in God’s call to greater service, whether that service is accorded the appellation ‘full-time’ or otherwise.  Committed involvement today in the exercise of the local New Testament assembly should help clarify, confirm and authenticate spiritual gift and aptitude. 

The royal city of Shushan was the winter residence of the Persian emperor.  Every luxury imaginable was to be enjoyed in the palaces of this imperial city.  Extravagant wealth, political prestige and personal advancement were the glittering baubles exciting many in Shushan.  But Nehemiah, while never neglecting his responsibilities to his monarch, had a transcending interest in the people of God at Jerusalem.  Those who have a heart for the welfare of God’s people and interests are often those entrusted by God with a greater service.

Here at Shushan there would be matters of protocol, administrative responsibilities, discussions on internal imperial affairs, foreign policy, etc.  However, there was nothing at this time to compare with this pivotal conversation between Nehemiah, Hanani, and certain unnamed and unnumbered men of Judah.  One wonders if this meeting took place in the opulent surroundings of Nehemiah’s private quarters toward the close of the day?  Perhaps, like Daniel long before, that chamber had a window facing directly west towards Jerusalem.  As the men settled themselves and as questions were asked and answered, there was begotten an ever deeper interest in the heart of Nehemiah for the welfare of a people in a decrepit and beleaguered city 765 miles due west: the city of God’s purpose.  It was also the city of a greater King than that of Persia.  “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.  Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” Ps.48.1,2.


“I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem” Neh.1.2.  What life-changing events followed this question and subsequent conversation!  This interest to ascertain the facts indicates that Nehemiah already had a deep and genuine interest in the welfare of God’s people in Jerusalem.  Spiritual conversations can be life-changing, leading to a fundamental redirection of life’s subsequent course for the better.  Such conversations are also very precious to God: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name” Mal.3.16.

Nehemiah’s initial question indicates that his primary focus is on the welfare of God’s people.  Asking “concerning the Jews that had escaped” Neh.1.2, may refer to the descendants of those not deported some 140 years earlier to Babylon: “But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time” Jer.39.10.  It would certainly embrace interest in those who had returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Jeshua some ninety years previously, and those who had returned with Ezra some twelve years earlier, Ezra chapters 1 and 7 respectively.  Nehemiah wishes to add to his knowledge of the situation at Jerusalem by seeking specific details.  This is neither a casual nor a transient interest.

But if he is concerned about the people, he is also concerned about the place.  So he asks “concerning Jerusalem” Neh.1.2.  The answer provided by Hanani and his delegation is stark: “And they said unto me, ‘The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire’” Neh.1.3.  Some have suggested that the condition thus described might imply that Ezra’s commission had expired, Ezra 7.14,25, and that he was no longer in power in Jerusalem2.  However, Ezra was never a wall-builder.  The robust work Nehemiah was called to do was not one for which Ezra the scribe was suited.  He was a man who “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” Ezra 7.10.  Although there is a reference to a wall in Ezra 9.9, that is a figurative reference to God being their protector, enclosing Judah as well as Jerusalem as His own property. 

2 Rodgers, W. “Back from Babylon” . T.S.A. Milne, Richmond, B.C., Canada, 1982.

The “great affliction” was due to the low moral state of the people.  There was a ‘stop-go’ attitude displayed by the remnant that returned from Babylon; indeed, with much more ‘stop’ than ‘go’!  The spiritual enterprise to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, which started so brightly with Zerubbabel and Jeshua, Ezra chapters 1-3, ossified in the face of pressure from adversaries.  Years of inertia followed, until the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah reenergised the population, leading to the completion of the Temple, Ezra chapters 4-6.  Ezra and his companions came later to Jerusalem to reinvigorate Temple worship there, but the people, including priests and Levites, had lost their separated position, due to intermarriage with those of heathen nations and “doing according to their abominations” Ezra 9.1.  That had to be remedied, with great emotional strain upon Ezra.  While Ezra is to be commended for all that he did achieve with God’s help, nevertheless he seemed to be ever dealing with a people who, at the least opportunity, would resile from their privileged position as God’s distinct people in covenant relationship with Him and as custodians of His royal law.  Soon Nehemiah would have to contend with the very same people who oscillated from exercise and enthusiasm to discouragement and spiritual lassitude.

They were also in “reproach” from the nations around.  Compromising attitudes and actions never secure respect from those looking on.  The intermarriages and business entanglements with heathen neighbours indicated weakness, not strength.  The distinctiveness of their testimony was eroded.  While the people were living at Jerusalem, they were not living in the good of all that God had for them.  They were in the right place, but in the wrong condition.  They were spiritually impoverished.

As well as the people being in “great affliction and reproach”, Nehemiah is given the report that “the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down”.  This was a historical fact, the result of Babylonian conquest: “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof” 2Chr.36.19.  Rebuilding of the walls was prohibited by royal decree, Ezra 4.11-24, with the hostile people surrounding Jerusalem able to exert their will and thwart any such rebuilding plans, which, in any case, were not according to God’s timing, Dan.9.25.  Meanwhile there was no clear demarcation between the within and the without.  Separation and protection were gone.

In addition, “the gates thereof are burned with fire”.   This falls far short of God’s intention in relation to Jerusalem: “thou shalt call thy walls ‘Salvation,’ and thy gates ‘Praise’” Isa.60.18.  The city gates were to be the location of civil administration and judgment: “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment” Deut.16.18.  Gates are also to provide controlled access.  Regulation was gone.


The impact of Hanani’s report was crushing: “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” Neh.1.4.  Nehemiah had never experienced the hardships of God’s people at Jerusalem but he identifies and empathises with them.  The burdens of the children of Israel in affliction had the effect of detaching Nehemiah from the Persian court as surely as they had Moses from that of Egypt.  Revival must commence with God using a single, broken-hearted man on his knees in dependence upon Him and feeling his abject weakness.  The call of God to service impacted upon the totality of Nehemiah’s being: physically, intellectually and emotionally.  Remember that Nehemiah, like Jeremiah and Daniel, had no wife with whom to share the exercise.  Therefore, his repeated use of the personal pronoun “I” does not denote egotism, but personal loneliness.

Nehemiah’s “I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days” shows that he fully owns the sorrowful state of the Jerusalem inhabitants.  He manifests concern for God’s cause, recognising that He is being dishonoured.  This was no effervescent emotion but a settled state which persisted for an indeterminate “certain days”, likely a period when he was ‘off duty’.  It truly was “purely the grief of love according to God”3.  Nehemiah, of course, is not the last person to weep over Jerusalem; the Lord Himself did so, Matt.23.37-39; Lk.13.34,35; 19.41-44. 

3  Kelly, W. “Lectures on Ezra and Nehemiah” . Bible Truth Publishers, Illinois, USA, 1946.

During this time Nehemiah fasted.  This was a voluntary act, denying himself the luxuries of the palace kitchen so that he might devote his time solely to the cause of God. However, if he denied himself that which otherwise was legitimate there was also the positive seeking the mind of God in prayer.  He “prayed before the God of heaven”, which seems to be preparatory to his recorded prayer in Neh.1.5-11.  It also characterised him for the next four months.  Prayer was not the last resort of Nehemiah.  It is significant that he addresses “the God of heaven”, not ‘the God of Israel’.  He recognises that the nation had forfeited any claim on the “God of Israel” title as a result of their waywardness and idolatry, which had led eventually to their captivity and dispersal.  The emotional burden upon Nehemiah is great; but then the “cheerful, self-absorbed … are not likely to be so led”4 into God’s will.

4 Packer, J.I. “A Passion for Faithfulness, Wisdom from the book of Nehemiah” . Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995.


The prayers of Nehemiah are a subject in themselves and have been considered to profit in a previous volume in this series of books.5  However, Nehemiah’s first recorded prayer gives valuable insight not only into his character, but also his knowledge of God and the Scriptures.

5  Palmer, J. “Chapter 7 – The Prayers of Nehemiah” , in “The Glory of Prayer” . Assembly Testimony Publications, 2011.

The prayer commences, “I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments” Neh.1.5.  Nehemiah is acutely conscious of the august majesty of God.  He recognises God’s self-existent and eternal character, a God to be revered and feared, a God of unconstrained power.  In his weakness and insufficiency, he repeatedly beseeches God, vv.5,8,11, drawing upon the testimony of Scripture that God is faithful and that His promises are totally reliable.  While Nehemiah knows that God will never renege on His covenant with His people, nevertheless he knows that God’s attitude to His earthly people depends upon their obedience to His Word, and their conduct, Deuteronomy chapters 28-30.

Hence Nehemiah shifts the focus of his prayer from God’s supremacy and sovereignty onto the people’s sin: “Let Thine ear now be attentive, and Thine eyes open, that Thou mayest hear the prayer of Thy servant, which I pray before Thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel Thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned” Neh.1.6.  Nehemiah is here interceding with God on the basis of the terms of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, 1Kgs.8.22-53; 2Chr.6.12-42, terms that had been ratified by fire from heaven consuming the burnt offering, the glory of the Lord filling the Temple, and the Lord appearing to Solomon for the second time, 2Chr.7.1; 1Kgs.9.2.  His employment of the precedence and promise did not in any way engender pride; he is but the Lord’s servant.  It is with the Lord’s interests that he is absorbed.  He is not seeking place or prominence for himself.  Indeed, his exercise is leading to hardship and unimaginable stress.  There is nothing casual about Nehemiah’s praying: he is persistent in prolonged, private intercession.  Also, there is nothing clinical about his prayers.  Nehemiah is not praying with a detached and aloof attitude: he identifies himself and his forebears fully with the sins of the people.  This is not just acknowledgement of sin in a congregational sense: Nehemiah feels his own part the more because of his faithfulness to God; he can personally identify with the failure.  He is like Daniel and Ezra in this intensely personal association with the sin of the people, Dan.9.3-19; Ezra 9.5-15.

Nehemiah’s prayer becomes even more specific: “We have dealt very corruptly against Thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses” Neh.1.7.  He says “we”, not ‘they’, in solidarity with this sinful people, sharing in the shame of their condition, looking at matters in the way God views their corrupt dealings.  Nehemiah adopts no superior attitude: the leader and the people are of the same constitution.  There is realism in his assessment.  He acknowledges that they all fall far short of the intention God had for them, with the provision He made for them when they exited Egypt and were led by Moses.  Nehemiah had no burning bush experience, no rod of power, no pillar cloud or fiery pillar, no miraculous endorsements, no manna in the wilderness, no water from the flinty rock, no voice from the sanctuary, no Tabernacle plan to follow, etc.; and neither have we!  Unlike us, Nehemiah had no indwelling Holy Spirit, nor did he have the completed canon of the Holy Scriptures.  Yet he was able to draw upon God’s earlier dealings with His people as recorded in the Scriptures, and with an ever deepening interest and burden God led Nehemiah to the crowning task of his life.  Nehemiah is like Moses in that he is providentially delivered, is linked to a captive people in reproach, and is brought into a palace; yet love for the people of God brings him out again as their leader. 

In his prayer Nehemiah’s focus centres on God’s dealings with Moses: “Remember, I beseech Thee, the word that Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses, saying, ‘If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations’” Neh.1.8.  This refers to a repeated warning given by God to the people via Moses, for example, Lev.26.33; Deut.4.23-28; 28.64.  Nehemiah is pleading on the basis of God’s faithfulness to His own word, the relationship between the Lord and His people based on redemption, and God’s mercy.  The passage of Scripture most on Nehemiah’s heart seems to be Deut.30.1-5.  The appeal for God’s remembrance is not because God has in any way forgotten, but to lay claim by faith upon God’s spoken word.  He is thus dealing with God in faith on the basis that He always stands by what He has said.  Nehemiah asserts that this was demonstrated by God’s scattering of Israel among the nations.  If God fulfils that of which He has warned, surely encouragement can be taken in relation to His earlier promises, such as, “Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land” Lev.26.42.  Nehemiah is reaching beyond the claims of law, to God’s unconditional and inviolable covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God’s scattering the people among the nations had come to pass: the northern tribes by the Assyrians; and the southern tribes by the Babylonians.  God was true to His word.  However, rather than creating despondency it encouraged hope, and Nehemiah in his prayer leaned hard upon God’s parallel promise: “But if ye turn unto Me, and keep My commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set My name there” Neh.1.9.  If the judgments for disobedience were fulfilled to the letter, then why not the blessings in Deut.30.1-5 when God’s commandments are kept?  Nehemiah, presently located 765 miles due east of Jerusalem, must have felt as if he was at the uttermost part of the earth.  Yet God has asserted that His remit and promise extend to the “uttermost part of the heaven”!  Far horizons present no problem to the Almighty.  God is also compassionate and merciful: “I [will] gather them from thence”.  Nehemiah had a developing exercise on behalf of God’s people at Jerusalem and for God’s gathering centre, Deut.12.5.

Nehemiah is so like Moses interceding with God on behalf of His people: “Now these are Thy servants and Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power, and by Thy strong hand” Neh.1.10; compare Deut.9.26-29.  If God responded in mercy to the pleadings of Moses after incidents as serious as those related to the golden calf, and many times subsequently, surely He will give heed again, particularly as the request is being made on the grounds of Deut.30.1-5.

Nehemiah is looking back some one thousand years, to Moses’ day and to the deliverance from Egypt.  Times have changed; it is not now Egyptian slavery but Persian domination that is the issue, but God has not changed!  In considering God’s past dealings with the nation Nehemiah saw parallels in his day and took encouragement.  The exodus from Egypt was the outstanding miracle in the Old Testament.  If God acted with such power on behalf of a slave nation, could He not act on behalf of a few individuals and an exercise to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and reinstate her gates?

So he pleads for an answer: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayer of Thy servants, who desire to fear Thy name: and prosper, I pray Thee, Thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” Neh.1.11.  Nehemiah needs to have meaningful dealings with God before he can broach the subject with the king.  If he has been basing his appeal on the example of Moses, he now turns to beseeching, according to the precedent of the petition of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, 2Chr.6.40.  Nehemiah’s prayer is Scriptural, specific and urgent.

In addition, we must note that Nehemiah associates others with him in the request, similarly to Daniel, Dan.2.17,18.  He is not alone; Hanani and the certain men of Judah were evidently exercised in the same manner.  They were men who, essentially, “desire to fear [His] name”.

Nehemiah prayed that God would prosper him “this day”.  However, “this day” would be delayed for around four months.  He was available, but was reliant on God’s timingHe did not push a closed door.  He needed the king to rescind an existing prohibition on rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, Ezra 4.21.  Evidently a plan was forming in Nehemiah’s mind.  While authorisation required the endorsement of the king, when Nehemiah was in the presence of God in prayer, in comparison with God and His greatness, the king of Persia was seen in his true light, as “this man”.  However, Nehemiah is not in any way disrespectful, but he knows that if he is to be prospered in his exercise then Divine mercy must be experienced at an appropriate moment involving “this man”, which is really the conclusion of Nehemiah chapter 1.

Above thine own ambitions here
Another voice is sounding clear;
It is the call of God to thee:
“Oh, leave thine all and follow Me.”
The call of God, it is so clear,
But friendships call, and home is dear;
Ah, lonely was the path He trod,
Then wilt thou not go on with God?
The price is high, severe the test
For those who would enjoy God’s best;
Surrender all, then take the road
With those who will go through with God.
                                                       (Noel Grant)


A second time point is given: “And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year [445 BC] of Artaxerxes the king” Neh.2.1.  This is a very significant time point.  It is the very day on which Daniel’s “seventy weeks” commences; and in 483 years from this date Messiah would be cut off, Dan.9.25,26.  Some four months after the events recounted in Nehemiah chapter 1, we have a conjunction between God’s sovereign purpose and the free exercise of human will.  The earnest persistent prayers of Nehemiah and his companions were accompanied with patience.  We are encouraged to “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” Col.4.2, recognising that even when praying in the will of God our prayers are not necessarily answered immediately.  The apparent delay was not indicative of Divine disinterest, far from it, but it proved the reality of the exercise and gave opportunity to consider, in God’s presence, the magnitude and complexity of the endeavour.

Nehemiah did not force the issue and the opportunity presented itself to apprise the king of his exercise, with the circumstance being such as to confirm that God was in control.  While engaged in his duties Nehemiah discloses, “Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence” Neh.2.1.  This was not a contrivance; such would be absolutely foreign to the honourable and forthright character of Nehemiah as consistently disclosed in the book that bears his name.  The inclusion of the parenthetic insert, “the queen also sitting by him” Neh.2.6, may suggest that it was acuity of female observation that alerted the king to a subtle change in Nehemiah’s demeanour and possible appearance; after all, he had been burdened in private prayer for four months!  In any case the initiative to open the opportunity was with God, and the king said, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” Neh.2.2. 

Need by itself never constitutes the call, as there is so much need, both in quantity and variety, for any one person to have the time, capacity and energy to address it!  Nor is it a recognition of the need, and a prayerful interest that the need be met, that is indicative of any call.  But when a person, such as Nehemiah, has an interest, a prayerful interest, with a burden which increases and becomes all-absorbing, then it is clear that a crisis decision is coming.  Even then it is necessary to be certain that it is the call of God and is not self-misdirection or self-delusion.  Assurance in the steps leading up to the crisis and the unique circumstances associated with it will be needed.  Clarity is required in relation to God’s superintendence of all the details: “When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shall not stumble” Prov.4.12.  A free translation of that verse is, ‘As thou goest, step by step, I will open up the way before thee’, which is exactly Nehemiah’s experience.

The king’s observation had the effect upon Nehemiah that he “was very sore afraid” Neh.2.2, which confirms that he was not manipulating the situation or contriving the circumstances.  Lest he be suspected of treachery Nehemiah “said unto the king, ‘Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?’” Neh.2.3.  Nehemiah does not mention the name of the city and is careful to couch the matter in personal and not political terms.  Artaxerxes, however, was not unacquainted with Jerusalem: it was he who permitted Ezra to return to build the Temple and had given gold and silver to assist in the project, Ezra 7.11-26.  The long-prayed-for opportunity then arrives: “Then the king said unto me, ‘For what dost thou make request?’” Neh.2.4.

Go through with God, thy vows to pay,
Thy life upon the altar lay;
The Holy Ghost will do the rest,
And bring to thee God’s very best!
                                                (Noel Grant)


As we shall see, Nehemiah knew exactly what it was that he wished to request, but before he speaks to an earthly monarch, he speaks to God: “So I prayed to the God of heaven” Neh.2.4.  The four months of waiting and praying allowed him to analyse the problems facing him, clarify what assistance he would need, etc. but, as ever, he always prioritises reliance upon God.  There is no delay in his silent prayer: while it lacked length it demonstrated dependence.  Nehemiah’s daily communion with God assured him of instant access; for him, Divine resources were only several heartbeats away.  Nehemiah seems to anticipate God’s Millennial intention: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” Isa.65.24.  Artaxerxes was not aware of any hesitation as Nehemiah answered: “And I said unto the king, ‘If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it’” Neh.2.5.  In this concise request Nehemiah was a submissive subject, showing due respect to his monarch.  There is no substitute for a good character, diligence in service and the display of good manners.  There is no arrogance in Nehemiah’s attitude or speech.  Yet the king was absolutely certain where Nehemiah’s heart lay and what it was he was requesting.

Artaxerxes’ response is both instantaneous and favourable, moving quickly to establish the parameters of his permission: “And the king said unto me … ‘For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?’  So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time” Neh.2.6.  Agreed in the queen’s presence is the duration of Nehemiah’s reassignment of duties, clearly demonstrating that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” Prov.21.1.  The king not only granted Nehemiah’s request but appointed him governor of Jerusalem, Neh.5.14, and gave him a military escort and personal guard, Neh.2.9.

As a result of the previous four months of persevering prayer and detailed consideration Nehemiah had additional request to make: “Moreover I said unto the king, ‘If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; and a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into’” Neh.2.7,8.  Nehemiah had his plans prepared and had made an assessment of his timber requirements with a view to getting supplies provided for his arrival at Jerusalem.  He had already researched the name of the man, Asaph, a Jewish name, the warden of the royal forests of Lebanon.  He had already assessed how to reinstate the fortress or citadel, later known as the tower of Antonia, for the governor’s residence; as well as for the city gates and other necessary structural supports.

Success is recorded: “And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me” Neh.2.8.  Nehemiah does not forget to acknowledge God Who answered his prayer.  Faith not only depends upon God, but also sees His gracious hand, and gives glory to Him.

So Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem with a Persian cavalry escort and with imperial warrant to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  He has enemies to face, work to accomplish, civil society to regulate and difficulties in keeping the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem aligned with the law of God, but “the good hand of … God [was] upon [him]”.


Finally, we should note that the work of God is multi-generational: God does not entrust the outworking of all of His purpose to one servant.  The earlier decree of Cyrus, Ezra chapter 1, authorised Zerubbabel and Jeshua to return from Babylon to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, as was prophesied by Jeremiah, Jer.29.10.  Artaxerxes’ decree in Nehemiah chapter 2 authorising Nehemiah to return from Shushan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem fulfilled God’s word to Daniel, Dan.9.25.  While God’s call is to personal service in one’s own time and place, different people are called to perform specific tasks and contribute to the outworking of the whole, which is known only by God. 

The exilic and post-exilic heroes of faith: Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi and the many others listed in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah all had their part to play.  There is no place for rivalry in the work of God.  Responding to God’s word in whatever sphere ought to enable our personal and complementary contribution to an all-encompassing purpose being outworked by God.  Each of those named could be counted upon when their time of contribution came. 

Child of My love, fear not the unknown morrow,
Dread not the new demand life makes of thee;
Thy ignorance doth hold no cause for sorrow
Since what thou knowest not is known of Me.
Thou canst not see today the hidden meaning
Of My command, but thou the light shall gain;
Walk on in faith, upon My promise leaning,
And as thou goest, all shall be made plain.
One step thou seest – then go forward boldly,
One step is far enough for faith to see;
Take that, and thy next duty shall be told thee;
For step by step thy Lord is leading thee.
Stand not in fear thy adversaries counting,
Dare every peril, save to disobey;
Thou shalt march on, all obstacles surmounting,
For I the Strong, will open up the way.
Wherefore go gladly to the task assigned thee,
Having my promise, needing nothing more
Than just to know, where’er the future find thee,
In all thy journeying I go before.
    (Author unknown)