Published February 26, 2009
Neh. 2:1-8; 11-18
Related Sunday School Lesson, Bible Studies for Life, Mar 8
Nehemiah claimed God’s promise to bring His people back to the Promised Land, then declared himself available (Neh. 1:11). The task before him seemed impossible. Thirteen years previously Ezra traveled to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.
After some success Rehum, a Persian officer, encouraged by the enemies of Israel, wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes making false accusations against the Jews stating they would not pay taxes, tributes, or duty. He further implied that a rebuilt city would incite rebellion (Ez. 4:11-16). After receiving the letter King Artaxerxes ceased the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ez. 4:18-22).
However, Nehemiah, in his position of cup bearer, was prepared to make his request known to that same king. It is unclear why a Jew was trusted with the life of the king. The fact that Mordecai saved King Ahasuerus’ life (Artaxerxes’ father), and Esther was the king’s step-mother may have inclined the king to select a Jew.
Nehemiah’s request - Nehemiah 2:1-8
Nisan (March-April, the beginning of the Persian New Year) was a festive event in which the cupbearer would be needed to inspect the king’s wine. Nehemiah had four months to prepare a plan for his meeting with the king.
During previous occasions Nehemiah had projected a positive and cheerful spirit before the king. Today Nehemiah, demonstrating his leadership abilities, took a risk and allowed the king to witness sorrow on his face. Nehemiah was fearful since the king was responsible for the termination of the restoration. The king may have thought that Nehemiah was ungrateful for his good fortune which could result in the loss of his position, freedom, or life (v. 1-2).
Nehemiah’s response to the king demonstrated his diplomacy and ability to communicate. He first established his loyalty to the king when he requested that the “king live for ever.” Nehemiah admitted his sadness was based upon the condition of the city in which his fathers were buried, while never mentioning the name of the city. He desired the king’s sympathy before giving the details (v. 3).
Nehemiah received the king’s sympathy and asked Nehemiah to make a request, which was common for a king during festive events. After a quick prayer Nehemiah felt it was time to ask if he could go to Judah to rebuild the city. The king’s response was basically “How long will you be gone?” We do not know Nehemiah’s response; however, he was governor for twelve years (5:14).
During Nehemiah’s prior four-month preparation he realized the need for official papers that would provide him safe passage to the city, the authority to acquire materials for the building of the walls and gates, and to supervise the construction. After his short prayer he was convinced this was the right time.
The king granted Nehemiah’s request (vs. 7-8). However, Nehemiah was convinced he was involved in a God thing since his success was due to God’s sovereign, good pleasure as Ezra had done several years prior(Ez. 7:6).
Nehemiah’s return - Nehemiah 2:11-18
Some might have thought that Nehemiah would have arrived in Jerusalem making a show of his arrival and authority, perhaps holding private interviews with the city leaders, or setting up alliances with the leaders of the surrounding cities. But this was not his leadership style.
Nehemiah spent the first three days doing nothing but resting and preparing. He informed no one of his reason for arrival or what God was leading him to accomplish. He selected a few men to ride with him at night (when most people would be asleep) with only the one beast he was riding (so there would be little noise) to inspect the walls and gates that had been consumed with fire (vs. 11-15).
Nehemiah was making a full inspection in preparation to plan what materials would be needed and which walls and gates took priority. Preparation is the secret to any successful construction program. Nehemiah purposely said nothing to anyone in the city until he was able to prepare a plan (v. 16) knowing that the people would more likely follow him if he was able to convince them that he had the construction all planned out.
With his inspection completed Nehemiah was prepared to meet with all the people at the same time as opposed to meeting with a small group, expecting them to deliver the challenges to the others. This helped guard against the possibility of being misunderstood since a small group could have miscommunicated the words.
During his preparation Nehemiah was convinced that he must identify with the people, therefore, he made sure to use the words “us” and “we.” Once he identified with the people he stressed the seriousness of the situation, being realistic and honest and asserting the facts while convincing the people that he was committed to taking definitive action (vs. 17-18).
As a mark of a great leader Nehemiah inspired confidence. He took this opportunity to inform his listeners that King Artaxerxes had lifted his opposition against rebuilding the city walls and gates and now was sanctioning the work. But most importantly he revealed his testimony of the goodness of God and how the Lord favored their effort and would help them accomplish this great goal.
The four months that Nehemiah had before his meeting with the king, the time it took him to travel to Jerusalem, and the three days he spent inspecting the walls and gates, along with much prayer, helped Nehemiah prepare to meet the people with compassion and conviction while sharing his vision. We will witness that the people will respond and that Nehemiah’s vision will be transformed into social action.
· Discuss Nehemiah’s leadership style while sharing how you may incorporate some of his examples into your own life.
· Discuss the importance of preparedness.
· How can you be more prepared to meet life’s challenges?
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