Hi friends, this is Rachal, and today we’ll highlight a few things from today’s reading and then end with an application.
We begin chapter 2 in Nehemiah by looking at the last phrase in Chapter 1: At the time, (at the end of the prayer) I was the king’s cupbearer. As the cupbearer, part of Nehemiah’s job was to taste the king’s wine to make sure that it wasn’t poisoned. That sounds like a high risk occupation! But this role also meant he had frequent access to the king, and it appears that he had favor with the him as well.
After the prayer recorded in chapter 1, Nehemiah waits, not just one verse like we read it - but actually four months. I wonder how many prayers he prayed, how much work God did on Nehemiah’s heart in those months? We also can deduce that he did some thinking and planning. Because when Nehemiah finally speaks with Artaxerxes, he knows what he’s going to say and what he needs to ask for. First, in his response: May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire? “(Nehemiah 2:3) He addresses the king respectfully and then he appeals to the “city where my ancestors are buried in ruins,” This was strategic because the Persian rulers went to great expense to build tombs for their ancestors. This appeal was meant to get a sympathetic response from the king.
And, then Nehemiah asks for time away from his position, for royal documents, for military protection, and for supplies. All of those were granted. Well thought through Nehemiah!
As we read today, we also meet three voices of opposition: Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem. We’ll encounter them again, but for today notice that although Nehemiah states that “the gracious hand of God was on me,” (v8) he still had to deal with naysayers and those opposed to this good work.
So, for the application today, a little story:
One of my kiddos has a very complex heart that has required multiple surgeries and interventions. Recently at an appointment with his cardiologist, they ran the typical tests and asked the usual questions about daily activity, illness, and overall quality of life. And then, the doctor pushed pause; he extended the previous timeline for the next intervention. Why? Not because of test results, all of those were the same. But based on his overall observable health, his appearance, his activity level. Even with all the testing, the physical appearance is extremely valuable in determining heart function and health.
Now, how does that tie into Nehemiah, and specifically into our reading today of Chapter 2? Glad you asked. Let’s start with Nehemiah 1:3 -They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.”
The remnant is in trouble and disgrace. What is the evidence that they are in disgrace? It’s that Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down. Clearly a broken city wall does not bring protection or a sense of pride to the community. But could it be that this is also an outward sign of an inward heart condition. As we saw in Ezra and we'll see again in Nehemiah, there remnant not only is dealing with a broken wall, but also with misalignment in priorities and worship, symptoms of a broken heart. It makes me wonder if that’s part of what Nehemiah is so passionate about. As he tells the people Nehemiah 2:17 - So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” The physical task is to rebuild the actual wall. In the process though, some of the inward disease and disordered living will be revealed. The physical appearance of the city is valuable in determining the heart condition of the people within.
As we continue to read Nehemiah, let’s remember that the fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the new covenant and the kingdom of God was (and is) Jesus.
And, today let’s ask ourselves the questions: Are there outward signs in my life that give clues as to the state of my own heart?
Let’s pray - Gracious, Holy, Merciful God. Show us this day where the overflow of our hearts is not of you, where Your fruit is not evident. May we be a people known by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen