Nehemiah served an important role, selecting, serving, and tasting the king’s table in order to make certain that no food or drink was poisoned.
King Artaxerxes’s father had been murdered in his bed by one of his personal attendants1, so the king would be careful to select an honest, trustworthy, loyal man as his cupbearer.
In fact, it was also possible that Nehemiah was a confidant, and possibly a sort of adviser to the king.
Nehemiah’s fast and prayer
Nehemiah’s brother and companions came from Jerusalem to see him, and Nehemiah questioned them about Jerusalem’s condition.
They explained that the people were in great trouble and disgrace.
The walls were broken down, and the gates destroyed. Local enemies could easily break in and conquer the people.
The people in danger were Nehemiah’s family.
Nehemiah writes: “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven2.”
Humility. Fasting. Praying. How often do we humble ourselves, fast, and pray for our country?
You can read Nehemiah’s prayer here. In short, he 1) praises the great and awesome God of heaven, 2) confesses the sins of his country, his family, and himself, then 3) asks God for favor in front of the king.
Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed for days. After some time (about four months1), God granted him his opportunity.
“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart,” said King Artaxerxes to Nehemiah one day when Nehemiah served him.
Nehemiah tells us that he was “very much afraid.” And for two good reasons:
- By edict, no one was to be sad in the presence of the king.The king held enormous responsibility, and anyone expressing sadness in his presence could be banished, or worse.
- King Artaxerxes made the very rule that Jerusalem should not be rebuilt3!
Nehemiah needed wisdom to reply honestly, but also with tact.
Nehemiah replies: “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
“What is it you want?” asks the king.
Pause and pray
Before replying, Nehemiah sends up what Pastor John Soper calls a “Quick prayer1.” Or as another pastor might say, he stopped to “Pause and pray4.”
Nehemiah tells us “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king.”
Nehemiah asks to be sent to rebuild the very walls that the king did not want rebuilt, and it “pleased the king” to send him.
Emboldened after witnessing God’s provision, Nehemiah also asks for letters of safe passage, plus timber from the king’s own forest to rebuild the gates and walls.
“And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me,” Nehemiah says, “the king granted my requests.”
In fact, the king even sent army officers and cavalry with him! It’s true that God “directs the heart of a king like a watercourse, wherever he desires5.”
Nehemiah had been fasting and praying, and God answered.
God moved King Artaxerxes to overturn his previous ruling.
Then God moved him to send Nehemiah, one of his top government men, away for 12+ years to rebuild the city, equipping him with official letters, the king’s own timber, and a cavalry.
What to remember from this post
Nehemiah was a Godly man, serving in government. When terrifying news came to him, he 1) humbled himself, 2) fasted, and 3) prayed.
He did that for days, perhaps even all four months.
When God finally gave Nehemiah his opportunity, the first thing Nehemiah did was to “Pause and pray.”
I wonder: could we humble ourselves, fast, and pray? And in an emergency moment or when God presents an opportunity, could we pray so often that it’s habit to “Pause and pray?”
To read more about Nehemiah, here you can see his prayer and our short post, Nehemiah: Fasting, Praying, and Daily Living.
1 – Pastor Soper’s Audio commentary at Mission119.org – see week 74, day 5.
2 – Quoted scripture taken from Nehemiah 1 and 2, NIV (1984).
3 – Ezra 4:6-23.
4 – Pastor Ross Owens.
5 – Proverbs 21:1; God also directed King Darius of Persia’s heart, who ruled over the Israelites but one day decided to send them back to their homeland to rebuild the temple. And of course the king had people give them silver, and gold, and goods, and livestock, and other gifts. Check it out in Ezra 1:1-4.