"In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, 'Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.' I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, '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?'" NIV translation
In chapter one, we saw how Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed for this meeting. Now, he is going about his job as cupbearer and the king notices his sadness. We are told that he had never been sad in the presence of the king before. That is striking as basically Nehemiah was a slave but he had not been sad in the presence of his master before. That is an example for us of faith in action as Nehemiah held on to the promises of God even in the midst of difficult times. Because he had been the faithful man of God and not been sad, the king noticed the difference and asked what was wrong. You see, he was not allowed to just bring the subject up and talk about it with the king. The king had to bring it up and allow him to speak. Once the king asked, he was able to share the trouble on his mind.
Nehemiah 2:4 & 5
"The king said to me, 'What is it you want?' Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, 'If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.'" NIV translation
If only we could all do like Nehemiah did here in this passage. After the king asked him what he wanted and before he answered, he prayed to God. We are not told of the words he prayed but I can only imagine him saying something like "God speak through me and guide me". Then, he simply trusted in God and asked the king to send him to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
"Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, 'How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?' It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time." NIV translation
Answered prayer! Nehemiah prayed for favor with the king and was faithful in telling him what God had placed in his heart. God worked in the king and granted Nehemiah's request.
Nehemiah 2:7 & 8
"I also said to him, 'If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?' And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests." NIV translation
This passage tells of God providing much above what Nehemiah probably ever imagined. You see, when he first started praying, he simply asked for favor with the king. Now, God gave him the courage to not only ask the king to let him go but also to protect him on the way and provide building materials. God takes care of his own and we see that in this passage as well as throughout every part of the Bible. That fact should give us all encouragement each day.
"So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and calvary with me." NIV translation
God takes care of his own and it is usually above and beyond what we expect or even ask for. Here, Nehemiah had asked for letters to the governors of lands where he would have to travel so that he would be protected. God had the king to not only grant that request but to also send the army with Nehemiah for protection.
"When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites." NIV translation
Sanballat was the governor of the province of Samaria and Tobiah was the governor of Ammon. These areas were a part of the Persian empire. When they heard about someone coming to help build up the city of Jerusalem and to help the Israelites, they were not happy. The thing about it was that Tobiah had a business thing going in the Temple and was making money and Sanballat was his friend and his daughter had married the grandson of the high priest (Eliashib). Tobiah had married the daughter of a priest (Shecaniah). So these guys had a good thing going with the temple and the leaders and didn't want anyone rocking the boat. Sadly, there is much of this same corruption in the "church" of today as it seems that many have their own interests and they do not necessarily match the will of God.
Nehemiah 2:11 & 12
"I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on." NIV translation
Nehemiah left the city with a few men to travel around the outside of the city. God had told him to rebuild the city walls and gates but he had not told that to anyone else that was there. He was letting the group of men see for themselves and trusting God to speak to their hearts. This is a good example for us as Nehemiah could have arrived in the city and held a big meeting to declare what God had told him. This would have been a big chance to make himself look like the big believer but instead he quietly was obedient to God. We too can be the humble servant and allow God to use us and trust him to speak to others.
"By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire." NIV translation
Nehemiah and his group began their inspection of the walls of Jerusalem. He tells us that he left the city through the Valley Gate. This gate was on the west side of the city in the neighborhood of the present Jaffa Gate. In the Bible, a valley usually symbolizes a place of sorrow, trials, and humbling so it seems very fitting that this is where Nehemiah would start. Physically, it was a long distance between this gate and the other gates. The Dung Gate was the gate where all of the trash was taken out of the city to be burned.
Nehemiah 2:14 & 15
"Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate." NIV translation
Nehemiah continued his examination of the situation regarding the security of the city of Jerusalem.
"The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work." NIV translation
Nehemiah had not told anyone of what God had told him to do instead he went out and surveyed the situation. While he was doing that, he was allowing God to show him what he wanted and to speak to his heart. This is a good model for us as well in that, when God tells us to do something, we do not need to check with anyone else. We simply need to listen and obey.
"Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.'" NIV translation
Now that God has shown Nehemiah what he wanted him to see, Nehemiah can share the vision with the leaders of the people. He simply asks them to look around and then calls on them to join him in what God had told him to do.
"I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work." NIV translation
Nehemiah not only asked the people to join him in the vision but he also explained how God had worked to provide for the plan. The people were inspired and energized because they could see God at work. This verse can serve to remind us to tell others what God has done and is doing in our lives. This is called a testimony and is a very important tool in reaching the world.
"But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. 'What is this you are doing?' they asked. 'Are you rebelling against the king?'" NIV translation
It seems that there are always people that will oppose the work of God and this is what Nehemiah faces in this verse. Those that do not know God will not understand his ways and so there will be opposition. There is a pattern throughout the Bible of people mocking God's servants (Jesus himself was mocked before he was crucified). We should expect the same thing.
"I answered them by saying, 'The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.'" NIV translation
In the face of the opposition, Nehemiah reminds them that it is God who is in control and will give them success in the rebuilding efforts. The fight over Jerusalem as described in this book may seem as just a part of history but the same struggle is going on today. The city is divided but, just as Nehemiah said, those that are opposed to God and Jesus Christ have no claim to the city. We must remember that the city of today is only temporary and God has promised a new Jerusalem when Jesus returns.