2 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.
(Nehemiah 2:1-8 NIV)
Nehemiah, a Jewish exile, was second in command to King Artaxerxes, the ruler of the Persian kingdom. When Nehemiah’s brother came and gave a report of his recent trip to Jerusalem, Nehemiah was heartbroken. It had been 140 years since the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem, and the city was still unprotected and its Jewish inhabitants were still in distress.
Nehemiah does not deny his feelings over this news but rather takes his broken heart to the Lord in prayer and fasting.
Now, approximately four months of prayer and fasting later, Nehemiah’s outward appearance had changed and the king took notice. Nehemiah had likely put on his “professional face” or his “happy face” in the presence of the king, masking his heartbreak over the brother’s news of Jerusalem and its people.
When the king recognized Nehemiah’s sadness, Nehemiah was terrified of the consequences. The king could remove him from his position or even kill him if he chose to do so.
When the king asked about the reason for Nehemiah’s sadness, Nehemiah replied wisely, speaking of his homeland (the land of his ancestors) without specifically mentioning Jerusalem. Remember that King Artaxerxes had stopped the rebuilding in Jerusalem sometime prior to this time (Ezra 4:8-23). Nehemiah was using his skills of diplomacy to show concern for his homeland without triggering any fears of disloyalty.
The king implicitly granted Nehemiah’s request by asking how long the trip would take and when he would return. Nehemiah then requested letters of safe passage to all the regional governors, as well as a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest requesting lumber for the rebuilding. The king granted Nehemiah’s requests.
Nehemiah recognized the king’s willingness to grant his requests were not because of the king’s benevolence, but rather because of God’s sovereignty over the king.
Today’s passage shows us Nehemiah’s faith in the Lord, as he prayed then put together a game plan to do something about this heartbreaking situation. This was not just an emotional response; this was a response to meet the human suffering and need of his Jewish “family” in Jerusalem. When God opened the door, Nehemiah was prayed up and prepared for the meeting with the king. Nehemiah then took a bold step of faith, showed great courage, put his life and reputation on the line, and made his request to the king.
What grips our hearts and compels us to spend extended time in prayer and fasting?
When the Lord lays a burden on our hearts like He did Nehemiah’s, what is our response?
Are we prayed up and prepared for the Lord to open the door to our request?
When He does open that door, do we walk through it with courage, knowing that we can commit ourselves and the results to Him?
May today be that first step on the journey to seeing God work in and through each of us.