Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nehemiah (2) again!

My second part in the series on Nehemiah mysteriously disappeared! I now understand that Blogger went down last weekend and several blogs published during this period (including my own) went missing. The problem was that I did not have "an original" and it has taken me until this afternoon to find the time to re-write it! But, here it is! Part 3 will appear tomorrow sometime, perhaps. Maybe!

Nehemiah, a high-grade slave in the Persian royal palace, is what Bunyan might have called a Mr. Giant-at-Prayer. Frequent communion with God in prayer made him what he was and in this he has much to teach us that will help and hurt. We would do well to follow his example for, as many have had cause to repeat, “There is nothing that tells the truth about us as Christians so much as our prayer life.” The short-lived but useful servant of God, Robert Murray McCheyne, gave expression to this though by saying, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is—and nothing more.” God has given us men like Nehemiah as “witnesses:” rebuking, exhorting and encouraging as the Holy Spirit sees fit (c.f. Heb. 12:1).

Four words spell out what we need to learn. The first of them is:


The opening chapters of Nehemiah underline the importance of prayer in the life of God's children. It comes “spontaneously” to Nehemiah—spontaneous because it reflects something of the disciplined nature of Nehemiah’s life. “Spontaneous” prayer reflects a habit of disciplined prayer. He prayed like this in a moment of crisis because he was always praying. He grew to be the man of prayer that he became because he was always climbing.

One day Nehemiah hears bad news about the construction work in his home city of Jerusalem. The delegation, which included a man called Hanani (who may have been Nehemiah's biological brother [Neh. 1:2; c.f. 7:2]) brought news of enemies—Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem to give them their names. Eighty years had passed since Cyrus' decree granting exiles the right to return to Jerusalem so that the temple and city walls might be re-built. Sixty years later came another expedition led by Ezra to enforce the law of Moses in the city. Twenty years have passed, and the delegation to Babylon reports the ruined state of Jerusalem's walls. Hinderers are to partly to blame. God’s people have been cowed by their threats.

Nehemiah is sad and he shows it. As the cupbearer to the King—Artaxerxes—it was Nehemiah’s business to look cheerful! Nehemiah probably was unaware of Assyrian imperial policy to allow subject cities to regain their self-respect by having autonomy as soon as possible. When Nehemiah made his request to King Artaxerxes that he be allowed to return to Jerusalem he was, quite literally, taking his life in his hands; he became 'dreadfully afraid' not knowing then that this was perfectly in keeping with what the King had planned. Thinking the moment right, though potentially life-threatening, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4). The moment could only have lasted a few seconds at most. More than likely he did not close his eyes or make any outward impression of prayer. He simply sent up an “arrow-request” to his Father in heaven.

For Nehemiah, it was the most natural thing to do.

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