Nehemiah has spent most of the first chapter in prayer over Jerusalem. We see the weight of the situation on his heart, and we know that he had an office where he would have influence with the king, and so one could have expected that the next thing we’d read would be Nehemiah approaching the King asking for something to be done. Instead, we find something different:
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. 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. 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?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 2:1-4
Waiting on the Lord
So, we expected him to go right to the king, but this is not what he did. Back in Nehemiah 1:1 we read that he got the report in the month Chislev– which would have been the November/December time frame for us. We see here in chapter 2 that he still hadn’t done anything and now we’re in the month Nisan– the March/April time frame.
What can we learn about this? What strikes me as interesting is that even though Nehemiah was a person of authority and influence, even though he was the man for the job and would eventually lead the children of Israel in this great undertaking, he waited.
This seems odd to us in the impatient culture we live in. Nehemiah prayed and then waited for God to do something. He didn’t take not hearing anything from God for a day, a week, a month, to mean that God wasn’t going to answer or do anything therefore he had to do it himself. He waited on God and His timing and was blessed because of it.
This challenges me to think about how often I wait on God for an answer or try to rush ahead of God to do what I think He’d want in a given situation. Maybe the reason that we don’t see God working as much in our lives as these people did is that we’re too busy guessing what God wants us to do that we aren’t standing back to let God do it. Who gets the glory then?
The Look on Your Face Echoes the Heart
However, this waiting was affecting Nehemiah. The record in Nehemiah 2 says that for the first time while serving the king, he looked sad. I don’t think that we can understand how important the demeanor of court individuals was at that time. Thinking about what we know about Kings in history, we think of the king that put away his wife for failing to come before him and kings that hired jesters to make sure they were always happy.
However, I think there’s more here because of Nehemiah’s position. As someone who was a cupbearer and part of whose job was to test food to make sure that it was fit for consumption, a sad look on the face of this man could be life or death to a king. So it’s not surprising that the king would ask why the expression on his face was that of being sorry.
The king could tell right away that Nehemiah wasn’t sick, and that it was something weighing on his heart, so he calls him out– which frightens Nehemiah. He responds with the truth– that the condition of Jerusalem is causing him sadness. The king responds by asking Nehemiah what he wants, and Nehemiah
responds by saying that he wants to be king in Jerusalem prays to God.
Always Go to God
By now we pick up on a theme for Nehemiah. Like David, he goes to God with everything– even when standing before the king! Nehemiah wants God’s words and God’s will first and foremost. And I’m sure he’s also asking for God to spare him, because the king might be upset and not want to do what Nehemiah asks!
How about us? When a situation arises– good or bad– do we tell the truth and go to God to get Him glory? Are we moved by the things that matter to Him that we express them emotionally? Does sin grieve us?
Nehemiah is a great example to us of how we should live in Christ– that our reactions need to echo those of our Father in Heaven.