Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 1-7, Psalm 129 & 132
Ezra and Nehemiah’s stories are quite similar. While Ezra was now in Jerusalem teaching the people and unifying them in repentance, Nehemiah was still back in Persia serving as the cupbearer to the king. When news arrived that the Jews in Jerusalem were experiencing opposition, he mourned on their behalf. The Temple had been rebuilt in the midst of the opposition but the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates had been burned. There would be no protection for the city without the walls. Nehemiah desired to go to Jerusalem to help the people rebuild the walls.
Nehemiah interceded for God’s people: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you…O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me” (Nehemiah 1:5-6,11).
As we learn in the book of Esther, no one can approach the king of Persia with a request without first being invited into a conversation. Nehemiah would be in the presence of the king as his cupbearer but could not ask for permission to travel to Jerusalem without the king first speaking to him. But Nehemiah was a servant. An intervention of God was needed in order for Nehemiah to have the opportunity he wanted. God saw the desire of Nehemiah’s heart to serve his people and faithfully answered his prayer. The king noticed that Nehemiah had a heavy heart and asked him if he was troubled, giving Nehemiah the opportunity to ask for some time off to return to Jerusalem. Again, just like Ezra, the king granted his request generously because the gracious hand of God was on him (Nehemiah 2:8).
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he inspected the condition of what was left of the walls. He went back to the Jewish leaders and said:
“You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work (Nehemiah 2:17-18).
Now that’s leadership! Nehemiah sets a great example for us. He saw a need, prayed for the need and then allowed himself to be part of the answer to that prayer. That last part is where we sometimes miss out on an opportunity to be used by God. Nehemiah saw God’s movement, recognized that the gracious hand of God was on him and testified to the rest of his people of God’s faithfulness. His bold requests, his intercessory heart and his testimony of God’s grace are what gave the people courage and inspiration to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, starting with its walls.
Now things did not go easily as they rebuilt the walls. They faced opposition. The people would mock, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Neh. 4:3) Their response was to pray but eventually they became discouraged. Day after day they heard the voice of defeat saying that it could not be done and they began to listen to that voice. “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves” (Neh. 4:10).
Nehemiah had to do the same thing that we have to do daily – he had to drown out the voice of defeat! “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” – Neh. 4:14
After this, they changed their plan. While half the men worked, the other half would stand armed with swords against the attacks. Some of the laborers used one hand to support the load while the other hand held a weapon. They carried their weapons with them at all times!
We have the same weapon against the voice of defeat and opposition to God’s work – God has given us the same armor to protect ourselves and stand strong!
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body of armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Father God, help us to be more like Ezra and Nehemiah – seeing a need and being willing to be part of the answer to that need. And when things get tough, when we face opposition, clothe us with your armor and give us the faith needed to drown out the voice of defeat. We love you, Lord. Amen.