Nehemiah was caught between two worlds. How do you resolve that tension?
Nehemiah lived a secure, safe, comfortable, powerful life when we meet him in chapter 1 of the Old Testament book that bears his name. As cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, the most powerful man of his day, Nehemiah tasted the king’s food and drink before the king. The cupbearer was an influential political position due to his daily access to the King. For 445 BC, life doesn’t get much better.
Then Nehemiah’s kinsman brought him news of the Jews living in Jerusalem after the exile.
“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” – Nehemiah 1:1-3
Those who went back to Jerusalem forfeited safety, security and comfort to live in the promised land. They lived in a city without walls, surrounded by extensive rubble from war and vulnerable to attack.
What’s Nehemiah to do? He is both cupbearer to the king and brother to the exiles. He is safe, rich and comfortable while his kinsmen suffer in distress and danger.
Many of us are familiar with this tension. American believers live in comfort and luxury compared to our christian kinsman in the foreign countries who often face extreme persecution and danger. Most of us enjoy some level of security, freedom and comfort. And yet we know people working in the broken cities, evangelizing in areas where they are threatened, and putting their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel.
What are we to do when we are rich and our fellow believers are suffering?
When faced with this tension, there are two common misguided responses. First, is the “strap on my six-shooter and blaze out of town“ approach where we rush into action. Thus we start a committee, do a study and issue a report. We generate a lot of paper and activity, but not much change.
The other natural inclination is to give up. The task is too great to solve or change. It is too complex and too many questions need to be answered. It’s beyond me to figure out how to make a difference. God must be calling somebody else.
But Nehemiah didn’t choose either of those natural options. Instead he sought the presence of God in a profound way.
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. -Nehemiah 1:4
Nehemiah’s response was four months of prayer.
At first, Nehemiah didn’t know which path to take. God had put him in the Persian court. He was raised in exile and he succeeded. He was cupbearer to the king for good reasons. Now Nehemiah learns his kinsmen are suffering.
Should he stay or go? Perhaps like Esther he was put in the palace for “such a time as this (Esther 4:14).” Or maybe like Zerubbabel (Ezra 1) and Ezra (Ezra 7), he should take a group back to Jerusalem to tackle the problem. While the dilemma is common, the answer is not obvious. God calls His people to live different lives. Some are called to “go” and some are called to “stay.”
Whatever the answer, it is found by seeking God through prayer — but not by a pray-once-and-forget-it prayer; not by opening his bible pointing blindly to a random verse; and not by going through the motions of a dry routine. Nehemiah spent “some days” (4 months in his case) in focused thoughtful prayer (a summary of which he gives us in chapter 1). After that time, Nehemiah knows God is calling him to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.
When faced with difficult choices and when circumstances pull us opposite directions, Nehemiah shows us the way to discover answers: spend focused, honest, lengthy, serious time with God in His word.
If you have difficult choices to make, are you willing to follow Nehemiah’s example? Are you willing to spend this kind of focused time with God with this level of passion, humility and expectancy? Are you willing to study the scriptures and the promises and the character of God, to find the wisdom necessary to discern the answer God gives?
If you want answers, you have to go where Nehemiah went. Ask yourself, not what is the answer to my situation, but do I understand what Nehemiah did? Am I willing to begin the same process? Am I willing to invest myself in God to find out?
02 Nehemiah 1:4-11 - Caught between 2 worlds (Nehemiah 1:4-11)Krisan Marotta, September 20, 2006
Part of the Nehemiah series, taught at a Wednesday in the Word Bible study
Nehemiah is caught in the tension of living between two worlds. He needs an answer from God as to how to resolve the dilemma.
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4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king. (ESV)