Nehemiah 2:1–8, 11–18comment (0)
March 5, 2009
By Thomas Fuller
Related Scripture: Nehemiah 2:1–8, 11–18
Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
Nehemiah 2:1–8, 11–18
Conviction and passion are wonderful things. God has used people with firm convictions and noble passions to accomplish mighty works in the world. A common danger of possessing such passion, however, is the temptation to rush into action and bypass important steps of preparation. As Nehemiah’s heart was captured by the needs in Jerusalem, he immediately gave himself to God in prayer (Neh. 1). This week’s lesson reveals other first steps Nehemiah took to lay a vital foundation of preparation for the work that lay ahead of him. Stepping up to serve the Lord and our neighbors requires us to move beyond passion with prayerful consideration of what the task involves and how we should respond.
Invest Your Heart (1–3)
Approximately four months passed from the day Nehemiah learned of Jerusalem’s plight to the day he shared his passion with King Artaxerxes. Considering Nehemiah’s heartache over Jerusalem’s disgraceful situation, we might ask, “Why did he wait so long to act?” There are several possibilities but we cannot know the answer with certainty. What we do know is that he mourned, fasted and prayed “for days” before speaking to the king (Neh. 1:4). The condition of Nehemiah’s heart was every bit as important to the task at hand as the words he planned to speak and the plans he devised to carry out. What the king observed was a genuine outward expression of what was in his cupbearer’s heart. And despite the fear Nehemiah felt at the prospect of sharing the truth with the king, he could not help but confess the tremendous grief he felt for the city of his fathers. Only God can cultivate such passion for people and causes that are not immediately relevant to our own well-being. Others may not always agree with us, and our efforts may not always meet with the success we hope for, but when we truly share from the deep places of our hearts, it will be evident to all. What must we do to allow God to “fill up the tank” of our hearts before we set out on the road to change the world?
Set Clear Goals (4–8)
The preparation of many weeks spent on his knees in prayer before the King now allowed Nehemiah to stand before a king and offer his proposal for action. Even as Artaxerxes asked, “What are you requesting?,” (4) Nehemiah first “prayed to the God of heaven” before responding. Nehemiah knew that God would supply the words when the right time presented itself. This did not preclude his giving thought beforehand to his proposal or the words he would use to make his request. Our humble, but responsible, planning and God’s providence often work in a mysterious tandem to bring about the very best results.
When Nehemiah responds to the king’s question, his request reflects the careful thought he had given to the work to be done. He clearly stated his desire to rebuild the city (5), provided a timetable for the work (6) and requested letters from the king to ensure safe passage to his destination (7) and for building supplies that would be needed for the work (8a). The detail in Nehemiah’s request is a model of careful thought and planning. We do well to follow his example before launching into service (Luke 14:28–32). When our plans are bathed in prayer, God honors our efforts: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me” (8b).
Enlist Support (11–18)
Nehemiah’s preparations continued even upon his arrival in Jerusalem. He made a nighttime inspection of the walls and gates of Jerusalem, not wishing to receive questions about his plans until he had firsthand knowledge of the situation and could speak in specific terms about the work to be done. This allowed Nehemiah to make a persuasive case to the people for their support in the project. He grounded his plea in the personal testimony of what God had placed on his heart and how God opened doors for him. But Nehemiah needed the help of others. Christ has purposefully gifted His people with a variety of talents (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12) so that we might rely on and cooperate with one another in His Kingdom work.