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Nehemiah's Prayer of Compassion Answered - Nehemiah 2:1-8

Posted on January 27, 2019

Nehemiah’s Prayer of Compassion Answered

Nehemiah 2:1 – 8

Scripture Reading

Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

Introduction: illustration: Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, was raised in an evangelical Christian household. Soon after winning the Super Bowl in 2011, Rodgers began questioning his faith. Rodgers told ESPN he no longer identifies with a religious affiliation and now believes "organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance."

Contrast: If you want to contrast Rodgers spiritual journey with another NFL player, consider using the story of a lesser-known player named Ryan Succop, a field goal kicker was the last overall pick (256th) in the 2009 NFL draft. The media label the last pick "Mr. Irrelevant" because last picks rarely make it. Succop, though, is in his ninth season as a placekicker and entered this season ranked 20th all-time in career field-goal percentage. Succop thanks God for his success: "Every gift and ability I have obviously comes from him." Kicking field goals can be a high-stress occupation: "When you're performing before 75,000 fans out there and you mess up, everyone knows." He reads Philippians 4:6-8 before every game and recites it in his head before every kick: "Every time I read that and pray that, the Lord has blessed me with peace and ability. God makes clear that he doesn't want us to be anxious. Every time we're anxious about something, we're not trusting in him."

Quote: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace; It is so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” – Martin Luther

Purpose: Every Christ follower must learn to wait on God in persistent prayer to find God’s best for us on a daily basis.

Transition: How sure is your faith today in God? How have you dealt with doubts in the past? Today, we will see how Nehemiah’s strong faith in God sustained him and empowered him to ask the king to help him carry out the vision God had for Nehemiah.

Nehemiah had the faith to wait on God’s timing – Nehemiah 2:1-3; Hebrews 6:12; Isaiah 28:16; Exodus 14:13; Ruth 3:8; Psalm 46:10; Proverbs 15:13; Galatians 6:9

  • Faith with patience – James 1:2-8; Romans 5:3-5

Nehemiah 2:1 – 3

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

  • Four months had gone by since chapter one.
  • How do we know that? Well Nehemiah kept accurate records for us in his book.
  • We began in chapter one with our calendar equivalent to what was November / December and now in chapter two we pick up the story in March / April
  • We are still in King Artaxerxes reign of 20 years because they measured his reign from the time, he began his reign in September / October
  • Nehemiah was busy doing his job day after day. He was faithful in his service to the king as his personal cupbearer.
  • The text says that Nehemiah came to the king in his court with a sad face
  • I want to stop here and note that Nehemiah was patient in his prayers and his waiting on God to answer in His time and in His way

Ecclesiastes 4:1-8; 11a

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time

  • We get it so wrong so many times. God is not working on our timetable but we are working on His and if we could only remember that, we would not get so frustrated with life and circumstances
    • Waiting to be old enough to get your driver’s license
    • Waiting behind a school bus picking up kid after kid for school and making you later and later
    • Rushing into the grocery store to grab one or two items quickly and get in the wrong line which is usually the shortest line. Go figure!!

Illustration: Dawson Trotman – drowning in a lake. His immediately new widow quoted Psalm 31:15 a “My times are in your hand”.

  • When I am working hard and trying to get all these things done, I reflect back that one day, I will pass the baton on to someone else, I will never get it all done, and the journey is the destiny. I am just passing through and someone will be taking this job someday.
  • Nehemiah wept and prayed but he also waited and prayed
    • He was not wasting time but investing into time, God’s time
    • God was preparing him and the circumstances of his life so he would be ready for the vision God was going to give him and the strength to carry it out.
    • Verse 2, the king asks Nehemiah why he was sad? You are not sick?
      • Notice the level of attention the king paid to Nehemiah. It shows they have a great relationship. The king knew the heart and personality of Nehemiah. He could tell when he was sad and joyful
      • Nehemiah was very much afraid the text says because he knew this was the time of risk, to share with the king the burden of his heart
        • Very – exceedingly, strongly, extremely
        • Much – greatly, considerably
        • Afraid – frightened, dismayed, made to be afraid
  • Why was Nehemiah afraid
    • A servant never is to show negative emotions in front of a king. You were always expected to be upbeat and optimistic before the king.

Proverbs 15:13

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

  • A servant rarely made personal requests of the king
    • The king could reject your request, banish you from his presence forever, put you in prison or have you executed on the spot. See John the Baptist
    • Nehemiah was concerned because he was going to ask the king to reverse his previous edit and decree to cease building the wall
      • He was risking his life and it was wise for him to pray over it for four months, waiting for an opportunity to make his request known to the king
      •  The hardest thing for us to do in our Christian life is to wait or as they said in the old days, tarry in the presence of God. The more technology, the busier life becomes, the less time we have or feel or even want to, to slow down and listen to God
      • Sometimes when we are in a trial or painful time in our life, that one thing we want God to do is to rescue us out of it immediately. But God often times allows it to continue on so that we can grow closer in our relationship with Him.
      • Quote: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” ― A.W. Tozer
      • Sometimes the hardest thing is the waiting. Waiting for God to answer our prayers. Waiting on an answer about an important decision to make. What am I supposed to do while I am waiting on God?

While I Am Waiting by Josh Waller

I’m waiting

I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I am hopeful

I’m waiting on You, Lord

Though it is painful

But patiently, I will wait I will move ahead, bold and confident

Taking every step-in obedience While I’m waiting

I will serve You

While I’m waiting

I will worship

While I’m waiting

I will not faint

I’ll be running the race

Even while I wait, I’m waiting

I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I am peaceful

I’m waiting on You, Lord

Though it’s not easy

But faithfully, I will wait

Yes, I will wait

  • Are you peaceful and obedient while you wait? While you wait for the storm to pass over, while you try to wait patiently for God to intervene in your finances, for God to work things out in your relationship issues that keep you up at night, for your kids to return to the Lord
  • Waiting is a test of our trust in Him.
  • Faith with presence of mind – Philippians 3:20; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Colossians 3:2-4

Nehemiah 2:3

3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

  • Notice what Nehemiah did not say. He did not use the name of the city “Jerusalem” because he thought it might strike a political nerve with Artaxerxes since one of his commanding officers petitioned him to stop the rebuilding of the city and the wall.
  • Instead, Nehemiah wisely appealed to the king’s sense of respect for the departed. The king respected ancestors who had passed on.
  • Nehemiah also appealed to the king’s heart of compassion by describing his hometown. His kin folk were vulnerable and in an unprotected situation.
  • 71 years before Nehemiah talked with the king, the temple had been rebuilt and a remnant of God’s people had returned but they were not safe from enemy attack.
  • Nehemiah had the presence of mind to know what to ask and how to ask it because he had an eternal perspective in mind. This was more than building a wall but restoring a people to their God and thinking with eternity in mind.  That is how and why he could ask Artaxerxes for what he was about to ask him for.

Philippians 3:20

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ

Colossians 3:2-4

2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

  • He was God’s messenger about to take the risk of His life on behalf of God, His people and God’s kingdom work
    • There are times in our lives that we are faced with important discussions at work with our boss
    • It may be with our wife or husband about a very important decision to make
    • There are other times, our decisions would be life altering     
  • We need to have our heavenly perspective in mind as we ask those life altering questions or make big and small decisions.
  • Go to God first as Nehemiah did.

Application: Committed citizens of heaven seek out their marching orders from the Commander in Chief in heaven.

Transition: Now, Nehemiah knows that this is the time God has appointed to talk to the king on behalf of his people. God has raised him for this particular opportunity.

Nehemiah had the faith to risk it all by asking the king for help – Nehemiah 2:4-8; Proverbs 21:1; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Daniel 9:24 – 27; Matthew 10:9; Song of Solomon 2:4; Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 15:7,10; I Thessalonians 1:6

Nehemiah 2:4 – 8

4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Video: All In with Al Pierzinski

  • Nehemiah prayed- Hebrews 4:14-16
    • Have you ever had those times when you needed to shoot up a quick arrow prayer to heaven? When you did not have time to spend in deep prayer with God?  You are on the spot and you need help right now?
    • That was Nehemiah’s situation. I’ll bet his heart was beating like it was going to burst through his chest. His hands might have turned sweaty. He was nervous but resolute.
      • Reminder for us that Jesus is at the right hand of the throne of God praying for us and bringing our petitions from the Holy Spirit to the Father

 

Hebrews 4:14- 16

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

  • Nehemiah was talking to the King of all Kings at the very throne of all thrones
  • With Artaxerxes, in his conversation with him, Artaxerxes saw the face of Nehemiah and responded but God knew Nehemiah’s heart and He responded
  • With Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had to be careful what to say and not say but with God, we can say anything to Him and He invites us to even if we are mad at Him.  God tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace
    • Nehemiah was also relying on his faithful service to the king.
      • His role and his position to help him

Illustration: His Needs / Her Needs by Willard Harley – Love Deposits and Withdrawals – True in marriage, true in relationships, true in the workplace

  • Nehemiah had the intellect to do the job he was asking to do.
  • He had acquired wisdom through all of his past experience in life and in serving the king
  • He had a good relationship with the royal court and those he worked with. He had a great reputation with all who he teamed with for the king.
  • Nehemiah was a patriot – He was committed to God’s people - Hebrews 11:13 – 16

Hebrews 2:5

And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.”

  • The Rabbi’s used to answer a question with a question and Nehemiah takes the same approach to the king’s question.
  • Nehemiah avoids as stated before mentioning Jerusalem by name
    • You see his humility (servant)
    • You see the appeal to his dead fathers’ graves
    • You see the desire to rebuild the city. A pagan king could care less about someone rebuilding a city and furthermore it could become a threat to their kingdom, but the appeal to deceased ancestors strikes home
    • Nehemiah planned – Psalm 127:1; Psalm 20:7; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 37:5; Proverbs 16:3

Nehemiah 2:6-8

6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

  • It must have been a private gathering because it was not customary for queens to appear at formal gatherings
  • The king asked for how long and when he would return after granting the request
  • Notice that Nehemiah gave him a time frame showing as a leader, he had been planning and strategizing about his vision for a while now.
  • In verse 7, Nehemiah takes an even bigger risk. He asks the king for letters giving him permission to pass on the west side of the Euphrates River to get to Jerusalem
  • In verse 8, Nehemiah asks for a letter that he would give to Asaph who was the man in charge of the forest nearest to Jerusalem
    • Nehemiah had done his homework
      • He knew Asaph was the guy in charge of the king’s forest near Jerusalem.
      • He needed wood to rebuild the gates for the fortress / citadel (in some translations) of the temple, the city gates and wood to build his own home as he governs Jerusalem
      • He asked for an edict / decree
      • This was a momentous occasion according to God’s prophecy. This decree began the time clock on Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 9:24 – 27.
      • Daniel’s 70 - week chart on the front of the program
  • The king granted his request. Why?

a)    Nehemiah manipulated the king because of his relationship

b)    King Artaxerxes owed him from Nehemiah protecting him all of those years

c)    Artaxerxes did not want Nehemiah mopping around the palace

d)    God worked in the heart of Artaxerxes to use Nehemiah to carry out God’s kingdom work

2 Chronicles 20:6 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer

And said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

  • Nehemiah had done his part to prepare to talk with the king
    • He prayed, fasted, mourned, contemplated, meditated, connected with God
    • As God revealed the vision, he planned and strategized what to do step by step
    • Nehemiah used unusual wisdom in his sharing of the burden of his heart with the king
    • Ultimately, Nehemiah knew that it all depended on God to help him

Nehemiah 2:8

For the good hand of my God was upon me.

  • Good means – pleasant, agreeable, beautiful, beneficial, best, favorable
  • Hand – assistance, allegiance, authority
  • Upon – over me

Song of Solomon 2:4

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Illustration: Luke 15:7,10 – A party in heaven when you came to faith in Jesus Christ

  • You and I, we can do all the planning, all the homework, all the preparation but if God is not in it, it will fail

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 127:1

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

Psalm 37:5

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Application: Living by faith is walking in the calm assurance that God’s promises are always true and you can bet your life on it.

Transition: How is your faith? Faith today, here and now?

Quote: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace; It is so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” – Martin Luther

Key Thought: Will we wait on God’s timing to speak words of influence in someone’s life?

Closing Illustration: It’s interesting where we learn about faith and how we learn to have faith.

Writer David Briggs offers a moving meditation on what he learned from his father's example. David's father was an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life, working at a screen-printing company in New Haven, Connecticut, but David was permanently shaped by his father's example of humble faith and faithfulness. He writes:

“Before I was old enough to go to school, he often took me into work with him on Saturdays. I watched him sweep the floor before he began, and soon I had that job. He was hired to sweep floors, and even after he became president of the company or worked [on projects for famous clients], it was important to him not to lose sight of the dignity of all work.

Faith was just part of life. Some of the best memories I had from childhood were [attending mid-week or Sunday worship services], or the adventure of walking together down a long hill with snow up to my chest during a heavy storm to be greeted by a surprised pastor on Sunday morning. He would not miss Sunday worship.

And where there might have been self-pity, there was joy in his life … And still, there was something more. I did not really pick up on it at first, but as the years went by I noticed my father would not speak a bad word about others. At the dinner table, he talked about customers who defrauded him by asking for large amounts of work in advance and skipping out on payments. But there was never talk of revenge or fighting back. He just said he would no longer deal with them.

For almost my entire time growing up, a lot of it during the 1960s when racial tensions boiled over in cities like New Haven, he delivered food once a month to the poor in the city, telling me when I came along to stay in the car while he walked up to the top floor of apartment complexes to make sure families received their groceries.

In a letter to my father [as he lay dying], I spoke of our walk to church during the snowstorm. But I told him the lesson he taught me about faith "came from seeing you live your life. You genuinely loved everyone."

My father was born into poverty, lived a humble life, and died in bleak, spare surroundings reserved for veterans with limited resources. His was a Christmas and Easter story combined, testifying that true happiness lies within us.

So what do I want to do with the rest of my life? I want to be like my father.”

Let’s pray

Questions to Ponder This Week

1.    Have you wept and prayed over a burden that God has placed on your heart recently?

2.    Have you waited patiently in prayer over next steps in your walk with God?

3.    Do you have the calm assurance that God’s timing is best to answer your prayers?