Following their exile in Babylon, a remnant of Jews had returned to Jerusalem and, under the leadership of Ezra, were rebuilding the temple. The rest of the city however was in ruins and, with the city walls destroyed, Jerusalem would not be secure and therefore not habitable. Nehemiah is in exile in the Babylonian city of Susa.
Bible Reading: Nehemiah 1:1-4, 2:2,4-6
One of my brothers came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, "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." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
King Artaxerxes asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart. 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 favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it." 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.
Sometimes we hear of a tragic situation, maybe the murder of an innocent or vulnerable person, and our response is emotional; we can’t find words to express how we feel to anyone else or to God. Nehemiah was like this. When he gathered news about the desperate situation back in his beloved hometown of Jerusalem, words failed him, and he sat down and wept.
I find it encouraging that, when we can’t find the words to pray, God hears our cries and sees our tears, and he interprets them as heartfelt prayers. For Nehemiah, though, this was only the beginning, and there is something about prayer that I think we can learn from his situation.
For several days Nehemiah mourned; he didn’t do anything but fast and bring the situation to God in prayer. It was following this time that Nehemiah found himself before the King of Babylon, the one person who could do something about it. Spending time before God enables us to discern his will in a situation and allows him to guide us forwards.
In humility Nehemiah presented his request to the king and was miraculously given permission to go and start the rebuilding of the walls. He became the means to answering his own prayer. What started as a fact-finding exercise developed through an emotional response, to prayer, to communication of a need and to appropriate action.
We have a God with infinitely more compassion that the king of Babylon. Let us come to him with the things on our hearts, let us spend time with him in prayer, let us allow him to work behind the scenes and let us be prepared to become part of the answer.
Lord, give me the compassion to care and the persistence to pray so that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Before the throne of God above