Nehemiah 2

Nehemiah 2:  Be Prepared

In chapter 1, Nehemiah is told of the state of disarray that Jerusalem and her people are in by Hanani.  Saddened by the news, Nehemiah is moved to tears and mourning. He then begins to fast and pray and volunteer to be involved in rebuilding what has been broken down. We should note also that the underlying cause and concern that is the impetus for Nehemiah’s desire to get involved is to revere God’s name.  As we close the first chapter, Nehemiah, the King’s cupbearer asks the Lord to give His servant success by granting him favor in the presence of the King. Thus the first chapter ends in December.

Nehemiah is the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, a position of importance and absolute trust. If a King was to be assassinated, one of the methods was to poison the king either through what he ate or drank. The cupbearer tasted all wine before the king drank it to make sure it was not poisoned.  Remember in Genesis both the baker and cupbearer had ended up in prison under Joseph’s care. We are not told the specifics, but that they had angered the Pharaoh. Possibly rumors of a plot to poison him had surfaced and he imprisoned the two suspects while uncovering the truth of the plot. We know the cupbearer was released and the baker was executed. In any case, one can be sure, the king was always concerned if his cupbearer was concerned or if the look on his face was different.  If he suspected anything was wrong, that someone had bribed the cupbearer or that the look on his face was different it was reason for the king to notice. Such was the case on this day in April; four months after Nehemiah had begun praying.

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of the heart.” (Nehemiah 2:2)  Nehemiah had been praying for four months that God would grant him success in the presence of the king. Let us look at Nehemiah’s response. First we are told- “I was very much afraid…”  Why was he fearful?  If the king suspected his cupbearer was not honest or that there was a plot to do him harm, Nehemiah would not be the first subject to face the wrath and punishment of a paranoid king.

But Nehemiah is prepared. Four months of praying have allowed Nehemiah to think through exactly how he would handle this moment. He had practiced exactly what he would say, what he would ask for and he had done his research as we will see.  In Matthew 6, the Lord Jesus teaching on prayer tells us: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to pray standing in synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The musician who sits at the piano and plays a difficult piece with great skill and interpretation so that is moves the audience in public does so as a result of hours and even years of practice in private solitude.  Tiger Woods winning a tournament with an unbelievable shot is asked about that shot. He tells the reporter he has practiced that shot over a 1000 times for a situation like this. Dirk Nowitzki the star of the NBA finals last year amazed many with his off balance, one-legged shots.  His shooting coach said he had been practicing them every day since he was 16 years old- 17 years of practice in private. Over 1000 times hitting that same difficult golf shot in private practice.   Quite often our public performance or public actions are a result of the hours and years of private practice- or private prayers.

Been praying for something to happen in your life or the life of a loved one for years?  Don’t give up-for we are told to wait on the Lord and do good. Patience is a fruit of the spirit and very important tool used by God to mature our faith. Perseverance is necessary. Listen to this verse: “ We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” ( Hebrews 6:12)

These four months of prayer have been a time in which we will see, Nehemiah has thought through exactly what he will need and how he will make his requests. He even knows the name of the keeper of the king’s forest for the timber he will require. Nehemiah is prepared. And it is through the private practice of prayer that God had prepared him.


Notice Nehemiah’s prepared answer:  : “May the king live forever! “( A good response coming from a person who is responsible for the king’s well being and safety.) Then listen to the well-thought out reason Nehemiah gives for his sadness.  “ Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried  lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

In his four months of prayer and preparation, Nehemiah had spent many hours in prayer to God and thought through prayerfully what he would say at this moment.  He does not mention the name of the city, Jerusalem. Jerusalem is and always had been a trouble spot. He speaks of the city  where his fathers are buried and the disarray and destruction there.  Nehemiah knows the king and all kings revered their ancestors. Burial of ancestors and the condition of the places they are buried are to be revered.  Look at the pyramids and you realize how important it was to these kings that their final resting place be an place of honor and memorial to their lives.

Verse 4:  “ The king said to me, ‘what is it you want?’

Watch what Nehemiah does before he answers the king. He shoots up a quick arrow prayer- so brief –  we are not even told what he said.  But we can all imagine, can’t we?  For we all have shot up those quick arrow prayers- in critical times like this- simple, urgent prayers- HELP!

Many of you know what it is to prepare and to practice for something: a recital, a game, an important sales presentation, a speech or a report.  Your audiences may have been small, medium or large. The audience may have been average people or it may have been important people who could make decisions impacting your life. You know what it is to experience fear and doubt, just as Nehemiah did at that critical moment.  Every time before I speak or teach, I ask the Lord for help. I have prepared, I have practiced, I have researched, and I have prayed. My wife also prays for me.

We must be prepared. And preparation takes time and practice in private. I have been speaking to groups and teaching Sunday School for over 20 + years. It took the Lord 12 years after I was saved to prepare me for the ministry he had for me as a teacher. It took almost 20 years in my career to prepare me for what I do now. We are so impatient aren’t we?  Yet wise philosophers have told us- haste makes waste. When we are told to wait on the Lord and do good- doing good means among other things- to do the work of preparation.

Dr. V. Raymond Edman used to say:  “ It is always too soon to quit!”

The king has asked Nehemiah the question he has anticipated and prayed that he would ask him. So in four months of prayer, research and contemplation- the Lord has given Nehemiah the answers.

“ I answered the king: “ If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so  I can rebuild it.”

Nehemiah has also anticipated in his time of preparation what the king would ask him and how he would respond. “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back? It pleased the king to send me, so I set a time.”  Nehemiah had planned his time. It was after all, a 800 mile journey to reach Jerusalem.

Nehemiah has asked the king for permission and now he will ask for provisions. He says send me and equip me.

Nehemiah knows he needs  kingdom authority and supplies that only the king can provide. Nehemiah is now bold and encouraged in the presence of this earthly king because of the time he has spent in private with the King of Kings, Almighty God.

Let us observe his careful planning:  letters of safe conduct to the governors whose countries he must pass through; a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest for timber for the reconstruction. Do you see that Nehemiah has done the research to gather such details as the name of the person in charge of the king’s timber. He also has a detachment of the king’s soldiers to provide safety during his travel and arrival. God had used this four month waiting period to prepare Nehemiah for the work that lie ahead. The Lord Jesus said-‘ who when he decides to build a tower, does not first sit down and figure the costs and make sure he can finish what he has started-lest he run out of resources’ or have not planned for possible problems and interruptions.

A season and time of private prayer and devotion are essential to prepare one for the work that lies ahead.


There is trouble in Jerusalem when Nehemiah arrives – trouble with a capital T and stands for Tobiah, the Ammonite and  Sanballat the Horonite who ‘ are very disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.’ ( Nehemiah 2: 10)  Watch the caution that Nehemiah uses as we are told Nehemiah did not tell anyone what his God had put in his heart to do for Jerusalem. He went out by night, alone, to inspect the walls and gates without telling any of the officials or Jewish people what he was planning.

He was making a careful inventory of what needed to be done. He was once again, prayerfully and privately planning  how he would go about doing what God has placed in his heart to do. Only after a careful review of the problems, did Nehemiah then call together the people and the officials together to lay out his plans- which were the plans God had given him. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart.  God had given Nehemiah the desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. To restore this city, Gods’ city to its previous state. Nehemiah’s dream for the future of Jerusalem and her people was motivated by the values of her past.

He would not be able to duplicate the past, but would build on the past. Only in breathing life back into  those values which had lighted the way for Jerusalem and Israel would they once again be the city and country that revered God’s name.

Nehemiah does not sugar coat the problems. He is realistic in his assessment. “ You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem is in ruins; and its gates have been burned with fire. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “ let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arab heard it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?
It is almost as if Nehemiah anticipated this very reaction for he responds:

“ The God of heaven will give us success.” ( If God is for us- who or what can be against us?)

“ We his servants will start rebuilding…” Rebuilding the wall was Gods’ work, the Jews were His servants.

“But as for you, you will have nothing to do with it.”

So the stage is set for the drama to unfold.


When we look at our lives today, or the lives of our loved ones, when we look at our community and our country we often see areas that have broken down; troubled, blighted areas that once were full of life and now are in ruins.

The story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls is a story of practical help on how to reclaim ruined areas of our lives, our family, our community and nation.

In the first chapter, we see the initial steps of restoration. If we are to restore an area in our own lives, we must take an honest look at our lives. Quite often we look at others and judge our own life by comparing it with others. Almost always our tendency is to look at those whose lives are in more trouble than ours and pat ourselves on the back as to how we are not in as much trouble as they are.  We rationalize our sin or area of ruin by looking at the good areas of our life or excusing our behavior as a minor sin and more of a bad habit than anything else.

Nehemiah did not blame  the problems on just the sin of his fathers, he confessed he also had sinned.  He did not rationalize his sin- he said he( and his fathers) had acted wickedly and disobeyed God and his instructions.  Nehemiah admitted he was a sinner who had behaved wickedly and as a consequence of their sinful behavior that were in this condition of ruin.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, I came face to face with my problem and admitted I was an alcoholic. At every meeting, we repeated our fault everytime we spoke- I would say ‘ I am Tim and I am an alcoholic.’ We must do the same in our lives if we are to reclaim and rebuild an area of ruin. We must face the facts as they are, name them, and acknowledge to ourselves and others we are sinners. We must not cover or excuse our actions in any way.  “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.: ( I John 1).  It begins with an honest assessment of our lives.  It was an important and necessary step for Nehemiah to realize it was his sins and his wicked behavior that had helped create the ruins as much as the sins of behavior of his ancestors.

Remember God’s instructions in 2 Chronicles 7?  First step for God’s people in the beginning of restoration- Humble themselves.  It was a humbling experience to recognize and confess to my wife, my boss at the time and others, including my children, and later my church, that I was an alcoholic. You see this is what Nehemiah did in his prayer,he confessed he was a sinner. He did not blame his problems on his ancestors and others. The blame game has always been around since the Garden of Eden.

God’s next instructions are to pray and seek his face. Nehemiah did that and so must we. I look back now and am amazed I lived a life without prayer because I did not have a relationship with the God of the universe. I knew about Him, but I did not know Him personally. No wonder my life was in such a mess and I had ended up hopeless. To be in this world without God, is to be without hope, for He is the God of all hope.

Then comes repentance and true repentance is always going to involve a change of direction. John the Baptist called people to repent and to do works in accordance with repentance. Repentance is a series of steps that allow us to turn our lives around and head in a different direction.

Nehemiah had taken into account what steps were necessary in order to repair the ruins. In doing so, his story shows us a principle that  we must not forget. First you begin with an inventory of what is required. In this inventory you make an honest assessment of the conditions. Only then can you begin to take the steps in order to restore what has fallen into ruin in your life.  AA had a 12 step program that my sponsor helped me walk through.These steps included taking a brutally honest assessment of the problems. He told me if I was going to get sober and stay sober I would have to work these steps diligently and constantly.  Nehemiah did this, he looked at the problem. Saw what his role was in causing the problem and confessed it and began to work the steps of recovery.  When we do this – we too can begin to work the steps of recovery from ruin.

Nehemiah  also encountered opposition. One can expect opposition when one begins to work God’s program of recovery. The temptation is there to return to the habits of the past. We were after all slaves to sin. But sin is no longer our master and we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness.

The sanctification process of the Christian life is really working the steps of God’s program of recovery.  We are to do our part and we can trust God to do His part. He has promised us He will not allow us to be tempted about that which we are able to bear, but will with the temptation make a way out so that we can stand up under it.

What did Nehemiah say to this unholy trio of Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem, the Arab?  Nehemiah answered them and said, “ The God of heaven will give us


So far we have seen these steps:  a deep concern about the ruin that led Nehmiah to mourn, pray, fast and step up to the plate to begin the process. Facing his situation honestly, he took an inventory of what steps need to be taken. We must do likewise and trace these steps of recovery in our lives.

Let us then begin the process, the steps of recovery with confidence that God can enable us to rebuild and recover what has fallen in our lives. “ Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and  lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.{ Proverbs 3}

It is God who gives us faith in order to lead us to total dependence on Him.

Jesus in teaching us on prayer intended for prayer to be a conscious, voluntary act of our will to open our lives to God to invite Him into our lives to accomplish His will. Jesus promised us if we would seek the Kingdom of God first and His righteousness that all we needed would be supplied. Our Lord is in effect saying He will manage the affairs of our kingdom. When we attempt to manage the affairs of our kingdom ourselves- we become fearful and worried, because we have no power to control many of life’s circumstances. After all who can do anything about a situation by worrying about it?  Do you see the Rx for worry and troubled hearts?  Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.

All your heart- because half-hearted efforts never work

Be Prepared.

And remember: “ It always too soon to quit.”

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14