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July 2021 Devotion

by Melissa Stone


Ezra, the priest and scribe, and Nehemiah, later the governor, were contemporaries. At the time of Nehemiah’s writing, Cyrus (who ruled from 560-530 BC) had already given the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. (See 2 Chronicles 36:15-20; 22-23.) Ezra was overseer during the rebuilding, completion, and dedication of the temple; however, its walls were still in disrepair.

During the temple rebuild, Nehemiah was serving in Shushan as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I who ruled from 465-424 BC. While there Nehemiah received a visit from his friend, Hanani, and some other men. He inquired about the remnant returning from exile and about Jerusalem. His friends told him, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (1:3) This occurred in the month of Kislev. Observe Nehemiah’s response to this information: “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (1:4)

Nehemiah knew he had to do something. Having the ear of the most important king of that time, he prayed for favor in the king’s eyes to share what was on his heart. When Artaxerxes asked what was wrong, verse 2 of chapter 2 says Nehemiah was “very much afraid.” After all, the king could have him killed for any reason. When the king asked what Nehemiah wanted from him, Nehemiah surely expelled an inward sigh of relief followed by anxiety. But it’s worth noting that before Nehemiah answered the king, he prayed. God had given him the opening he needed, but he still asked for direction before addressing the king’s question. After that prayer, he laid out a plan for inspecting the wall and what he would need to accomplish that purpose. In verse 8, Nehemiah writes, “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”

It is worth noting that this conversation occurred in the month of Nisan four months later than Nehemiah’s prayer upon first hearing of Jerusalem’s distress. Nehemiah prayed, but the answer he apparently received was “Wait.” Indeed, his burden for Jerusalem no doubt attributed to his “sadness of heart” (2:2). Nehemiah was just a man. And he knew he was disposable as cupbearer to the king: he tasted the wine as a prevention for the king. If it was poisoned, he’d die in the king’s place.

I can imagine the accusations that Satan threw at him: “Who are you that the king would listen to you? Do you really think you can do anything about the walls? You’re a SLAVE! Artaxerxes isn’t going to send a slave to Jerusalem with his blessing! Bah! And besides, you’re not equipped; all you do is test the king’s beverages.” But God sent Nehemiah to fulfill his calling with Artaxerxes’s blessing and provision. His first two prayers were answered.

The Church is in shambles much like that wall. Many hearts no longer burn with Holy Spirit fire, and some are content for it to remain that way. We hurt for the Church, and we want to do something about it. Prayer is where it all begins. When you begin to pray for revival, expect Satan to push back: Who are you? How can you restore anything when your own life is in shambles! When was the last time you really prayed?

Nehemiah is our example. He was scared, but it is for this very reason he prayed. We can sense he was a man of humility. But he was also a man of action. Hearsay was not good enough for him; he went to Jerusalem and inspected the walls for himself. After his inspection he spoke to the priests, nobles, and officials: “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.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. Then they replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So, they began this good work.” (2:17,18)

When we feel a call, when we have prayed and fasted and wept over that call, and when we decide to act upon that call, we can expect spiritual warfare. We already have! Nehemiah, too, was ridiculed right away. And we can say to Satan what Nehemiah said to his mockers: “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!” (2:20)

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