All that we know for certain of Nehemiah is found in the book bearing his name. He first appears as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes Longimanus (Neh 1:11-2:1) about 446 B.C. In that year he was informed of the deplorable condition of his countrymen in Judea, and was determined to go to Jerusalem to endeavor to better their condition. Three or four months later he presented his request to the king to be allowed to go and rebuild Jerusalem. His royal master granted his request and appointed him Tirshatha, “governor.” Accompanied by a troop of cavalry and letters from the king to the different governors through whose provinces he was to pass, as well as to the keeper of the king’s forests (to supply him with timber), he started upon his journey, being under promise to return to Persia within a given time (2:1-10). Nehemiah, without a moment’s unnecessary delay, began the restoration of the city walls, which was accomplished in the wonderfully short time of fifty-two days (Neh 6:15), 444 B.C.
In this he was opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah, who not only poured out a torrent of abuse and contempt upon all engaged in the work but actually made a conspiracy to fall upon the builders with an armed force and put a stop to the undertaking. The project was defeated by the vigilance and prudence of Nehemiah. He also reformed abuses, redressed grievances (chap. 5), introduced law and order (chap. 7), and revived the worship of God (chap. 8).
Various strategems were then resorted to in order to get Nehemiah away from Jerusalem and, if possible, take his life. But that which most nearly succeeded was the attempt to bring suspicion on him with the king of Persia, as if Nehemiah intended to set himself up as an independent king as soon as the walls were completed. The artful letter of Sanballat so worried Artaxerxes that he issued a decree stopping the work until further orders (Ezra 4:21). Nehemiah, after twelve years’ service, returned to Babylon 434 B.C. It is not known how long he remained there, but “after some time” he obtained permission to again visit Jerusalem, where his services were needed because of new abuses that had again crept in.
Nehemiah’s character seems almost without a blemish. He was a man of pure and disinterested patriotism, willing to leave a position of wealth, power, and influence in the first court of the world and share the sorrows of his countrymen. He was not only noble, high-minded, and of strict integrity, but he was also possessed of great humility, kindness, and princely hospitality. In nothing was he more remarkable than in his piety, walking before his God with singleness of eye, seeking divine blessing and cooperation in prayer, and returning thanks to him for all his successes.
In 1962, Bedouin discovered a collection of papyri, evidently from Samaria, hidden in a cave in a desolate area outside of Jericho. The papyri dated from the close of the Persian period. They were all legal or administrative documents. One of the documents spoke of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, the same Sanballat who with Tobiah and Geshem found out the walls of Jerusalem were nearly completed.
Nehemiah is the cup bearer for the king, he is comfortable and lives in the palace. Yet, he sees a need for his people and steps out on faith. Without a vision from God, without hand writing on the wall, without a voice from a burning bush, Nehemiah feels a need to go to Jerusalem. A lot of us set around waiting for that great revelation from God and it never comes. Part of our faith sometimes means stepping out on our own.
Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach, Phil Jackson, once wrote, “I sensed that there was a link between spirit and sport. Besides, winning ‘at any cost’ didn’t interest me. I’d already learned that winning is ephemeral. Yes, victory is sweet, but it doesn’t necessarily make life any easier the next season or even the next day . . . In basket ball–as in life–true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”
In the introduction to his book, Make a Life, Not Just a Living, Dr. Ron Jenson lists ten MAXIMIZES principles that will produce what he considers authentic success: Make things happen. I take charge of my life and am a difference-maker. Stop waiting for that burning bush! Achieve personal significance. I live my life with a sense of destiny. Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. X out the negatives. I embrace problems as positive opportunities. Internalize right principles. I center my life on bedrock principles. March to a mission. I passionately pursue my mission. Integrate all of life. I keep all vital areas of my life in balance. Zero in on caring for people. I put others first and honestly serve them. Energize internally. I cultivate my character and spirit. Realign rigorously. I keep adjusting to needs. Stay the course. I never, ever, ever quit.
A few years ago I attended a meeting with a group of ministers who were concerned about some issues in our public school system. I learned something in that meeting about education. When a child is a senior in high school what do we want them to know? We say we want to give them a competency test to see if they are ready for college or the world. He said, you have to decide what it is that they should know and then you set into place beginning in grade school what is necessary for them to learn that information. Where are we headed?
It is a new year, in fact a new millennium, a time to dream dreams and to seek and find God’s will for our future. I hear all of the time, “We might fail!” Thank God we live in a country where our dreams can come true, where failure sometimes is the first step to success and where success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be. James 4:7 states, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Why is that? It’s not because we’re so smart or have the power. It’s because he has been defeated by Christ at Calvary. When I was growing up, a bully moved into my neighborhood. He was about four years older than I was, and one day he decided it was time to pick on me. This bully came into my front yard and scared me to death. After a few long, tense moments, I decided the only way I could get this guy to back off was to stand up against him, so I held my ground. Much to my surprise, he became scared. He started to tremble all over! I said to myself, “Man, I’m really something!” Then I heard a noise and turned around and noticed my father standing behind me on the front porch. It’s the same way for us as believers. Except our Father isn’t standing behind us–He’s active in us through the presence of His Son and the power of His Spirit. Who could ever challenge Him and win? No one, not even Satan and all the power of hell. The devil doesn’t stand a chance.
I think that the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. — C. S. Lewis. Matt 17:20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Even building a great wall around a city in 52 days.