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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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blogstephen216

Pastor of The King's Church Boston Spa.

Nehemiah 2:11-12: The womb of the spirit

“11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. 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

It’s not surprising that there was a three day gap between Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem and this ‘reconnaissance’ mission. It may be that he needed some time to rest after a long journey. It’s estimated that it would have taken at least two months to travel from Susa to Jerusalem.

These verses make explicit what, I think, has been implicit for some time. God had put something into Nehemiah’s ‘’heart’’ – probably during that long period of prayer. It wasn’t simply that he had a bright idea.He had a burden from God.

But here’s an important principle to observe. You may carry something from God in the ‘womb’ of your spirit for some time before it shows. It may not be wise to blurt out the news to all and sundry early on. There are some things best kept to yourself in the initial stages, and then there will be a judgment call as to the timing of who you should tell and when.

‘Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working when others are resting. Nehemiah didn’t want the enemy to know what he was doing, so he investigated the ruins by night.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: Old Testament Commentary, p.757.

PRAYER: I pray for a heart open to receive your dreams and visions, and for wisdom to know how to handle what you show me.

Nehemiah 2: 10: ‘We wrestle not…’

“7 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 royal park, 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 on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

10 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

 

The book of Nehemiah not only teaches important principles for spiritual builders, it also reveals vital insights about spiritual warfare. Someone put it in this way: ‘When the church says, ‘’Let us arise and build’’, the enemy says, ‘’Let us arise and oppose’’ ‘. Building and battling go together. It’s interesting that the great Victorian preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, called his publication company ‘The Sword and trowel.’

The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:!2: ‘’For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’’

 Time and again we will find ‘Sanballat’ and ‘Tobiah’ and their forces playing against us. They will go in hard, committing many a foul, trying to kick us off the pitch. But we need to always remember that our real fight is not with them. Others are pulling their strings.

We need not fear the battle, but neither should we belittle it. Thankfully, we have armour to wear (Ephesians 6:10-20). Don’t neglect to put it all on.

PRAYER: ‘I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side, nor wander from the pathway, if thou wilt be my guide.

 

 

Nehemiah 2: 4-9: More than you can ask or think.

“4 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 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. 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 royal park, 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 on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.” NIV

I believe it is a character in the wonderful Winnie the Pooh stories who declares, ‘Thinking’s not my strong point.’

As we have seen, prayer does not preclude planning. Prayer and thought go together. When the king asks Nehemiah, ‘’What is it you want?’’ (4), it becomes obvious that Nehemiah has thought about it – a lot. Warren Wiersbe says that basically his request was two-fold: ‘Send me’ (4-6), and ‘Give me’ (7, 8a). Nehemiah had done his research well. He even knew the name of the ‘’keeper of the king’s forest’’ (8a).

Furthermore, Nehemiah was clear that he got what he asked because of God’s intervention (8b. Note that he had shot up one of his many ‘arrow’ (or ‘telegraph’) prayers in verse 4b). But he had also been praying and fasting intensively for some time.

As I read this, I believe Nehemiah got more than He asked or thought (9). I don’t see any evidence that he’d asked for the ‘’cavalry’’. Again and again we find ourselves amazed at the Lord’s abundant generosity.

‘The king’s response is evidence of the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations…While it may be helpful to have believing officials like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, we must remember that God is not required to use only believers.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘Old Testament Commentary’, p.756.

Prayer: ‘’Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’’ (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

Nehemiah 2:4-5: Coming to the King

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 favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’ NIV

How amazing when the king says, ‘’What is it you want?’’

 Well, Nehemiah knew. He’d had time to think everything through carefully. He had not only prayed; he had also planned. Some people plan without praying; some people pray without planning. Nehemiah did both! He recognised that in God’s work, these two are not ‘singles’; they are married!!

Artaxerxes, rich and powerful as he was, also happened to be limited and human. But how wonderful that our Almighty Heavenly King, who is unlimited and divine, bids us come and ask of Him. (See Hebrews 4:14-16. The word ‘’boldly’’ in verse 16 means ‘freedom of speech’).

‘Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.’

Warren Wiersbe says of Nehemiah: ‘He was not content merely to get answers to prayer: he wanted to be an answer to prayer.’ (From ‘With the Word’).

In his Old Testament commentary, Wiersbe also writes:

‘The king’s cupbearer would also have to sacrifice the comfort and security of the palace for the rigours and dangers of life in a ruined city. Luxury would be replaced by ruins, and privilege by ridicule and slander. Instead of sharing the king’s bounties, Nehemiah would potentially pay for the upkeep of scores of people who would eat at his table. He would leave behind the ease of the palace and take up the toils of encouraging a beaten people and finishing an almost impossible task.’ (P.755).

Like Isaiah, he was saying, ‘’Here am I. Send me! (Isaiah 6:8).

In His willingness to go, he reminds us of Jesus, who sacrificed more than anyone to get God’s will done on earth, as in heaven (See Philippians 2:1-11).

PRAYER: ‘I will go Lord, if you send me. I will hold your people in my heart’.

Nehemiah 2:2b-3: ‘…afraid, but…’

“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 for ever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’NIV

There’s a book by Susan Jeffers entitled, ‘Feel the fear and do it any way.’ I haven’t read it, but I think it’s a great title. As I see it, courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to do the right thing, even though you may be frightened.

‘’I was very much afraid, but I said to the king…’’

 This was Nehemiah’s moment. He had been waiting for it; praying for it; looking for it. He wasn’t going to let understandable fear rob him of the opportunity. How often have I let fear have the last word? But Nehemiah did not; he would not.

Emotion has a part to play in the life of a believer. It may not always be chirpy, bouncy, chandelier- swinging emotion either. We don’t have to wear fake, superficial smiles all the time. It is right to feel sad about many things in this world. For example, whenever we see the broken-down state of the church in any setting, should this not move us? Ought it not to be fuel for prayer and action?

Prayer: ‘Soften my heart, Lord, soften my heart. From all indifference set me apart.’ (Graham Kendrick).

 

Nehemiah 2:1-2: Noticing

“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.’ ” NIV

It seems some time elapsed between Nehemiah beginning to pray and this moment. During that period, Nehemiah just got on with faithfully doing his job. While you are involved in one area of work/service, God may put into your heart a vision for something else. But between the sensing that there’s another ministry for you to take up and the actual doing of it, there may lie weeks, months, even years, of patient waiting. So, until God opens the door for the new thing He’s calling you to, keep going in your ‘lane’. Do your best in the work you are currently doing.

Eastern potentates were to be protected from seeing anything unpleasant. Nothing was to come into their presence that might threaten, or dilute, their happiness (see, for example, Esther 4:2). Nehemiah was taking a big risk by looking sad. Not that he could help it. His heart was mirrored in his face. But, you know, whether or not I’m right to be, I’m touched by the thought that this powerful king noticed. ‘Well,’ you might say, ‘it was obvious was it not?’ Yes it was. But it wasn’t just the noticing; it was his kindness in asking. He took the time to be interested in Nehemiah’s pain.

Are we too busy to notice the signs of stress in someone else’s features; too self-absorbed to care?

PRAYER: Lord, may I not be in such a hurry that I fail to see the heartaches of others; may I not be so selfish that I insulate myself against their pain.

Nehemiah 1:11c: Special assignment

11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’ I was cupbearer to the king.NIV

Nehemiah had a special assignment:

‘’I was cupbearer to the king.’’

 As previously noted, Nehemiah had an influential role at court.

Warren Wiersbe writes: ‘That Nehemiah, a Jew, held such an important position in the palace speaks well of his character and ability (Dan.1:1-4). For nearly a century, the Jewish remnant had been back in their own land, and Nehemiah could have joined them, but he chose to remain in the palace. It turned out that God had a work for him to do there that he would not have accomplished elsewhere. God put Nehemiah in Susa just as He had put Esther there a generation before, and just as He had put Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. When God wants to accomplish a work, He always prepares His workers and puts them in the right place at the right time.’ Old Testament Commentary, p.752.

I read a quote from Oswald Chambers where he was saying, wherever God dumps you down, whether in a slum or a desert or wherever, He has a purpose for you. Wherever you find yourself, pray. You may or may not want to be where you are, but God certainly cannot use you where you are not!

In Persia, Nehemiah had a special assignment.

But in his heart he felt the call to another special assignment. It would take him back to Jerusalem, and an appointment with destiny.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord that I am not where I am by accident. Help me, here in this place, to pray to you, and see what assignment you have for me. As you led Nehemiah centuries ago, I pray you will lead me today.

Nehemiah 1: 11b: Be specific

“8 ‘Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”10 ‘They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’ NIV

 

‘We should deal much more successfully with men if, like Nehemiah, we dealt more largely with God.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.205.

‘’In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.’’ Proverbs 21:1.

Nehemiah’s request was clear and definite. He was to receive a specific answer

The idea of ‘’favour’’ comes up a number of times in the Bible. Think about the story of Joseph in Egypt. In Esther chapter 2 you can read about the ‘’favour’’ Esther found in the Persian court.

It was a big thing to ask: ‘’…favour in the presence of this man’’, because ‘’this man’’ – King Artaxerxes, had previously ordered the work on Jerusalem’s walls to stop (It is worth taking the time to read Ezra 4:8-23) You had to tread very carefully with despots like these!

Nehemiah needed a mountain moving, but he knew it was possible.

Nehemiah 1:5-11: ‘Pray until you pray’

“5 Then I said: Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. ‘Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” 10 ‘They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’I was cupbearer to the king.”NIV UK

F.B. Meyer says of Nehemiah: ‘The secret of his efficiency lay in his constant bringing of all the problems before God…’ He goes on to say Nehemiah reveals ‘…the mighty power that can be exerted by one who has no purpose in life and no power that is not centred in God.’ ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.204.

There are other details in this prayer we haven’t spent time on. For example, Nehemiah reminds God that Israel is ‘’your people’’(10). The Lord bought them. He delivered them at great cost and with tremendous effort.

There is also the thought that he recognises other people are praying about the situation (11a – Maybe there were even other people joining him in prayer?)

But the prayer eventually arrives at this one one focussed request:

‘’Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’’

 Someone said, ’Pray until you pray.’

I heard one preacher say something like this, ‘When you start out praying, it might take a little while to get a sense of direction, then suddenly ‘the gears mesh’ and you’re away.

I don’t know whether Nehemiah always knew he was going to pray this particular prayer, or whether it gradually dawned on him, or came to him in a flash of inspiration. But I do know that sometimes it is after a lengthy time of prayer that you get a strong sense of what it is you ought to pray. You seem to feel a special ‘anointing’ – a power, a conviction – on this particular request.

‘Pray until you pray.’

PRAYER: Lord, there is so much about prayer that is a mystery to me. Lord, please, teach me to pray

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