Grace For The Journey
We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD. The definition of “rebuild” is “to build again something that has been damaged or destroyed.” Nehemiah is rebuilding the damaged and destroyed walls of the city of Jerusalem.
The Book of Nehemiah is not just about
Rebuilding walls, but about rebuilding souls.
Many of us are rebuilding our lives, rebuilding our marriages, or rebuilding our walk with the Lord. Like us, Nehemiah is a follower of One True and Living God. Nehemiah, along with all of the exiles, had been living for years in exile in Babylon. Because of their own sin, the sin of unfaithfulness to the One True and Living God, God raised up a foreign king named Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His children. God used Nebuchadnezzar to carry away His God’s people into Babylonian captivity. God loves His children, so He disciplines His children.
After 70 years of discipline, God works through the hearts of various human leaders to change the events and the people begin to gather back in the land, little by little. Eventually the Jewish temple was rebuilt in the year 516 BC. While the rebuilding of the temple was complete, in the decades that followed the walls remained unfinished. There were stones scattered all around the city and the gates of the city were still broken down having been burned and destroyed.
When Nehemiah gets word of this, he is heartbroken. He hears about it in the year 445 BC. He is 1000 miles away in the Persian capital city of Susa, the Washington DC of the Persian Empire. He has a job as cupbearer to the now reigning king, the Persian King Artaxerxes. As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah was entrusted with tasting the king’s wine to ensure it wasn’t poisonous. It was a position that required the highest degree of integrity and trust. God is going to use Nehemiah and Nehemiah is going to trust God to use him, trusting God to do the work of getting Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to lead a massive rebuilding project for the glory of God.
In Chapter 1 we learned that Nehemiah heard about the condition of the walls in Jerusalem and verse 4 says he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days” … “fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Then we read about Nehemiah’s prayer. It contains . . .
Adoration of the Savior,
Confession of sin,
Recitation of Scripture.
We talked about our own prayers following this model of adoration, confession, and the recitation of Scripture. I trust we all are seeking to memorize Scripture that we can use as we call upon the Lord in prayer, speaking God’s words back to Him.
In essence, Nehemiah prays, “God, remember Your Word, the Word You spoke through Your servant Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. You said that if Your people living in exile, scattered all across the land, return to You, confessing their sins of unfaithfulness, You would return them to their land! Remember Your Word, Lord! Here we are, Your people! Here we are confessing, repenting, and asking that You restore us to the land!”
And Nehemiah has been praying like that for quite some time. His heart is heavy and the burden is great. Chapter 2 shows us what happens next.
After serving the Lord for 15 years in Pakistan, missionary Warren Webster was invited to speak at the famous Urbana Missionary Conference held annually now in St Louis, Missouri. Part of Webster’s message included these words, he said: “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of people, because you have not changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of people.” Nehemiah is a man whom God uses to change the lives of people. And God can do the same in your life, too.
Nehemiah is a man
Wholly committed to
The Lord’s service,
Seeking to walk by faith,
To use his life to advance
The Gospel and the kingdom of God.
His life is a life lived by faith. He shows us how we too can live by faith this week and in the weeks to come.
We are going to be learning from Nehemiah this morning. He will be teaching us as we read his story. We are going to be learning Principles for Living by Faith. Really simple points that surface from the verses, rising up from the text and into our ears and hearts.
Before we look at the first principle, let us remember the year is 445 BC. We know that because Nehemiah tells us chapter 2, verse 1 that it is the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes. This happens in the month of Chislev, toward the end of the Persian calendar, roughly mid-November. Nehemiah learns about the walls being broken down a thousand miles away and he weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays “for many days.” Time has moved along. Nisan is the beginning of the Persian and Jewish year, new year, and is roughly equivalent to our month of April. Chapter 1 opens in November 445 BC and Chapter 2 opens in April 444 BC. Four months has gone by. Four months of weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying. Here is the first principle . . .
1) Sometimes We Just Have to Wait.
We said before that the Book of Nehemiah is like Nehemiah’s own personal diary. Reading the Book of Nehemiah is like reading Nehemiah’s journal or memoirs. Nehemiah’s diary has no entry for four months. There is nothing to write down because nothing happened. Perhaps he hoped to hear from fellow Israelites that things have changed down in Jerusalem and the walls are being rebuilt! But nothing.
Sometimes we just have to wait. Nehemiah has been weeping and mourning for four months. He has been sad. He says in verse 1 he says, “Now I had never been sad in the presence (of the king). I had never been sad in his presence before.” In other words, Nehemiah was concealing his sadness whenever he was around the king. Why is that? Because, in those days, you were expected to always have a cheerful countenance in the presence of the king. You were always to be “up” and you were always “on.” The powerful king has a lot going on and if you ever appeared before him in any way other than cheerful, positive, and optimistic, you could literally be killed.
Nehemiah has been concealing his hurt, his heaviness, and his burden. He has been going in every day and putting on his “game face;” smiling through the hurt, grinning and bearing it, keeping it together. Some of you know what that is like. Something has happened and you have been hurt but you have got to keep going. You do not want to, but you have got to. Everyone is counting on you. You are pushing through, smiling through the hurt and pain, waiting for things to change. You cannot stop. You have got to keep going. Sometimes you just have to wait. In the meantime, you keep going forward, keep trusting, keep believing, and living by faith in the God who is in control and always does what is right. Your faith keeps you moving forward when your heart is broken.
We are going to see that Nehemiah has a plan. He has been praying for four months. He has been thinking this through. He has been anticipating this very moment. In fact, when you go back to the last verse of chapter 1, verse 11, you see there that all of his praying over the months culminates in this statement where he says, “… Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man,” this man being King Artaxerxes. He adds for our understanding: “For I was the king’s cupbearer.”
Nehemiah has a plan – He is planning on asking the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding project of the walls. He has been praying for four months now and He is trusting God to do the work of turning the king’s heart. Nehemiah will not know until he asks, so here we go, the day has come!
Verse 2 says, “Therefore the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.’ So I became dreadfully afraid.” We know why he became “dreadfully afraid!” He could die for this, being sad in the presence of the king. The king knows Nehemiah is not sick. He says that. He wonders what is going on with Nehemiah. The king could have even suspected an evil plot on the part of Nehemiah. Kings in those days killed people if ever their throne was threatened. So, he asks Nehemiah, why he is not looking like he usually does. He wonders if there some evil intent in your heart. Nehemiah says, “So I became dreadfully afraid.” By the way, I like honest leaders, don’t you? He is writing his own memoirs. He could have edited it to make himself look good. He’s honest,
Verse3 says, “And said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!(that is something people always said to the kings, a word of favor, even today, ‘long live the king, or long live the queen’) Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’” Then, Nehemiah waits. What will the king say in reply? Will he call for the guards to come carry him away? God gives Nehemiah favor before the king.
Verse 4 states, “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’” Now we are going to see that things get better for Nehemiah. But not before waiting four months and be engaged with weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying. Four months.
Sometimes we just have to wait.
How many times did the psalmist
Say, “I waited up on the Lord?”
You keep waiting.
Living by faith often means
That sometimes you just have to wait.
Trust that God is working on
A timetable that may not be yours,
But it is His and He
Always does what is right.
So . . . In the words of the gospel song, “Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning!” We can rest assured that God is faithful even if it is after much mourning.
When the king says in verse 4, “What do you request?” Nehemiah says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Verse 5 says, “And I said to the king, ‘if it pleases the king” … “let me return to rebuild.” Do not miss that quick prayer there in verse 4. Normally, when we read something like this in the Bible, we want to quickly move on to read what that prayer is. But notice what happens here – There is no prayer. Why? Because this is one of those quick prayers – Bullet prayer or arrow prayer. Shooting up a quick prayer like an arrow to the Lord. This is the kind of prayer you pray when someone pulls out in front of you on a crowded highway! I imagine Nehemiah’s prayer was something like, “God, guide my words.” An arrow prayer.
Notice the second principle for living by faith . . .
2) Arrow Prayers Flow From Kneeling Prayers.
Nehemiah was a “praying man.” He spent a lot of time on his knees in prayer.
The depth of consistent prayers,
Give rise to arrow prayers.
If all we pray are arrow prayers – “God, help me! Get me out of this! Help me pass this test!” – if that is all we pray, then our prayers are pretty flimsy arrows, launched from a shaky hand and bow.
The time you spend on your knees
In meaningful prayer will result in
A daily walk where arrow prayers
Become much more meaningful –
They are launched from
A steady hand and bow
That have spent much time
In the stability of careful
Study and reflection.
That is just a important principle to remember this week as you live by faith:
Arrow prayers flow from kneeling prayers.
Nehemiah has prayed and he makes his request. He says in verse 5, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” And he waits for the response from the king. The first time you ever read this, you are waiting, too! What is going to happen next?!
Verse 6 tells us, “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), ‘How long will your journey be? And when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” God gives Nehemiah favor before the king. It goes well for Nehemiah.
That leads us to the third principle for living by faith . . .
3) God Can Work Through A Pagan’s Heart.
Who holds the king’s heart in His hand? The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. Like courses of water, He directs it wherever He wishes.” God can work through a pagan’s heart. I have to smile when I read that parenthetical statement there in verse 6. “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him) …” When you read that, I am sure you wondered, “Why is that there?!” To show us that God works through the king and the queen. Sometimes God works through the queen to get to the king. I see King Artaxerxes like most men. He is calling the shots, but the queen is there next to him and, perhaps he is peripherally seeking affirmation, the way we men do sometimes. Our wives often bring out the best in us, don’t they? Every husband says, “Amen!.”
Nehemiah knows that God is in control. Nehemiah is trusting God to do the work even through an unbelieving employer. Do not say God cannot work through your unbelieving boss. He can. God holds the human heart in his hand and directs it like rivers of water wherever He wishes. God is ultimately in control of every single circumstance. By the way, if you really believe Proverbs 21:1, you will never worry about your political leaders. Pray for them, but do not think God is absent. The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.
Nehemiah must have been a good worker to the king. He says, “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” I think it does not do injustice to the text to think that the king is saying to Nehemiah, “I need you! You add value to the organization here!” Because of the lack of diligence and dedication of some today, if they asked off work for an extended time, because we are not the best workers their boss might be inclined to say, “Go! Take all the time you need! In fact, don’t come back!” Learn from Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a good worker. A man of integrity, honesty, and propriety.
Nehemiah told him how long he would be away. But then – Nehemiah’s been thinking about this for four months! – So he does on to make further requests.
Verse 7 says, “Furthermore I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah.’” Nehemiah knows that the only way he will have success on the journey is to have the king’s total backing. To show the king backs Nehemiah, he will need hard copies of that backing. He wanted letters that he can show people on the way, a letter from the king that I can show governors (or leaders) of the region across the Euphrates river, that they must permit me to pass. When Nehemiah is on his way and somebody stops him he can show them the letter and who it was from.
Verse 8 tells us he requested another letter, “And a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy. And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
There it is . . .
An acknowledgment that God
Is the one making all this
Happen through Nehemiah!
Verse 9 states, “Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.” Not only does the king give Nehemiah a bunch of letters he can pull out and show folks along the way, but Nehemiah adds the king also “sent captains of the army and horseman with me.” He gives Nehemiah a powerful entourage of many men and horses for the journey. This would have been quite an impressive sight! God can work through a pagan’s heart!
Notice the fourth principle for living by faith . . .
4) Confident Faith Leads to Confident Prayer.
When the king asks Nehemiah, “How long will your journey be?” Nehemiah replies by setting a time, and then asking for additional letters, letters regarding his travel, and the materials he will need. Very specific by the way in verses 7 and 8. This leads us to conclude that Nehemiah had really thought this thing through.
Nehemiah had been visualizing all of this in his prayers for four months . . .
- Everything involved before even starting the rebuilding project.
- All the rebuilding materials that would be needed.
- Believing the time would come when he would make his request.
He had confident faith that God would work through Him in answer to his prayer. He saw it all first before it happened. That is praying in faith.
The presence of faith
Does not mean
The absence of planning.
Nehemiah was thinking
All this through as
He prayed to the Lord.
When you pray, do you think it all through? Do you have confident faith that leads to confident prayer? As you are praying are you thinking, “And what if the Lord gives me favor here? What will it all look like?” Do you pray looking to God to answer your prayer? Nehemiah did.
Confident faith leads to confident prayer. Everything is going so well. Nehemiah is clearly in God’s will. God is answering his prayers. He is on his way to REBUILD, rebuilding the walls. Everything is great.
Then we see the final principle for living by faith . . .
5) God’s Will Often Includes Opposition.
Verse 10 says, “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.” These two guys always appear when everything is going well. They come and cast a long dark shadow upon Nehemiah and the work. Every time they enter, you can almost always expect something is amiss. We will read more about them later. Just know for now that God’s will often includes opposition. Do not assume that criticism and negativity mean you are outside of God’s will. God’s will often includes opposition.
We will see later that Nehemiah responds biblically to the opposition. He will say in verse 20 of chapter 2, “So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us …” Nehemiah is not worried about the opposition. He knows the One True and Living God, the God of heaven Himself, will be with him, will protect him, and see that the work is completed.
When you face opposition this week, just turn it over to the God of heaven. That is what Jesus did. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:23, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
The good hand of God upon Nehemiah is . . .
- The good hand that guides Nehemiah to the good work: the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem.
- It is the same good hand that guided Ezra to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
- It is the same good hand that guided the people of God to worship Him in that temple through so many sacrifices that prepared them for the ultimate sacrifice to come: the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
The gracious, good hand of God gives to us Jesus Christ to take away our sin, to live for Him, to “rise up and build” for Him this week as we live by faith. He gives us grace, grace greater than all our sin!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”