The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written as one book. Read together, these books reveal essential information on building God’s temple today—spiritually! The name Nehemiah means “the Lord has comforted.” The temple reconstruction was being thwarted by Gentile guerrilla attacks on the people. God comforted His people by calling Nehemiah to restore the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was violently opposed by the Gentile nations surrounding Jerusalem. He was successful in enlisting the help of the entire population to rebuild the broken fortresses. Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt in 52 days. Studying into Nehemiah’s life is very inspiring. No one today may be able to match Nehemiah’s zeal. He worked very hard and extremely fast.
Nehemiah was a very emotional man. He had deep feelings for the reconstruction work going on in Jerusalem. “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 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. 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” (Nehemiah 1:1-4). Learning of the serious difficulty that was happening in Jerusalem made Nehemiah greatly upset. He was deeply moved by the afflictions of his people. He wept for the remnant in Jerusalem. He mourned, fasted and prayed to God for them.
Nehemiah—a Man of Repentance
Like Ezra, Nehemiah was a deeply repentant man. Study Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 5 through 11. It is very similar to Ezra’s prayer which is recorded for us in Ezra 9. In order to gain God’s attention, Nehemiah prayed for God to forgive the sins of the entire nation (verse 6). In his deeply moving prayer, he recounted Israel’s corrupt past (verse 7). He reminded God of His great commandments, promises and redemption (verses 8-9). Nehemiah remembered God’s law. He recognized that the nation had been scattered because of the people’s law breaking. That is our same warning to the Laodicean brethren (Malachi 4:4). All of God’s people must remember the law given through Moses or we will be scattered through the nations.
Nehemiah also prayed that God would use him to help with the efforts in Jerusalem. “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. For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11). Nehemiah greatly feared God’s name. He prayed for all the servants of God that desired to fear His name. The people who desired to fear God’s name were suffering great opposition. Nehemiah knew that only God could prosper them.
To be able to go and assist in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was going to need the blessing of King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah held a very responsible position within the king’s court. He was the king’s cupbearer. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary shows that the cupbearer was an officer in the king’s court. His main job was to protect the king from assassination. Nehemiah held a position of considerable rank and importance. He would have had frequent access to the king’s presence.
Nehemiah earnestly prayed that God would give him favor with this very powerful man. He prayed for favor so he could do the work. What an example! Nehemiah’s heartfelt prayer was not for himself, but for the work of God.
Importance of Prayer
God quickly responded to this kind of prayer. “And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, And 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? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:1-4). God worked it out so that Artaxerxes noticed Nehemiah’s deep sadness over the troubles in Jerusalem. The king spoke to Nehemiah about his very visible sorrow. Nehemiah became afraid when the king took notice of his melancholy. A cupbearer had to remain alert and keep a sharp focus in order to protect the king’s life. Artaxerxes was an extremely powerful man and could have had him executed for even small mistakes.
But the king was only concerned for Nehemiah. Artaxerxes wanted to know if he could help Nehemiah in any way. What was Nehemiah’s response? Before asking favor of the king, He prayed again—immediately—on the spot!
Nehemiah’s request to return to Jerusalem could have meant life or death for him. He instantly took the situation to God. This shows us the extreme importance of prayer. How often do we pray? How detailed are our prayers? Do we pray immediately when the need arises? When we face major trials and tests in our lives, do we take them to God before we act? Or do we act and then take the consequences to God? The Apostle Paul admonished the Romans to be “instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Instant, faithful prayers get immediate results!
The Good Hand of God
Nehemiah courageously asked to be relieved of his cupbearer duties, temporarily, to be able to help in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:5). What was the answer? “And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) 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” (Nehemiah 2:6). The king and queen responded favorably to his request. Nehemiah also asked for letters of recommendation from the king to the governors of the territories that he would pass through on the way to Jerusalem. Nehemiah needed not only Artaxerxes’ favor, he also needed the support of the governors submissive to the king.
Nehemiah also requested a special letter written to the “keeper of the king’s forest.” He intended to secure Jerusalem by building an impenetrable wall. “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. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me” (verse 8). The walls around Jerusalem needed to be very strong. Only top-quality timbers would do the job.
The king (and queen) granted all of Nehemiah’s requests. Why did they do so? Nehemiah recognized that it was God who had given him great favor. Even though the king and queen physically supported him, their support was directly inspired by God. Nehemiah stated, “the good hand of my God [was] upon me.” Again and again God greatly blessed His work at that time through this carnal king. It is truly miraculous how often God used this king to help both Ezra and Nehemiah. We must always look to God for the help we need today. God will always come to our aid—even through people outside of God’s Church. We see a lot of this kind of help today with regard to our television program. There are many talented people, not part of this Church, who are giving the pcg very loyal support. This is from the good hand of God! As we persist in looking to God, the miracles will continue to come for this little flock.