Nehemiah 2 Wine and Pleas

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Questions: How do you start a revolution — without rebelling? What is the balance between prayer and preparation? How should we display emotion to dangerous men? How do we show mercy to discouraged men? “Read More” to pursue answers in Nehemiah.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Nehemiah 2:1-20

in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, [that] wine [was] before him: and I took up the wine, and gave [it] unto the king

My understanding is that as cupbearer, Nehemiah was not so much butler as head of security: “food-taster”, if you will. Come to think of it, that’s probably how our modern office of butler originated. Anyway, this account shows that Nehemiah had a hard head to go with his soft heart. First, he uses a subtle signal to gain the king’s attention (and sympathy):

Now I had not been [beforetime] sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why [is] thy countenance sad, seeing thou [art] not sick? this [is] nothing [else] but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,

Clearly, being sad in the king’s presence is not something one does lightly — if at all. But despite the taboo, and his fears, in short order Nehemiah lays out:

* His concern for the city of his fathers (Neh 2:3)
* His request to go there and rebuild it (Neh 2:5)
* The length of his journey (Neh 2:6)
* What he’ll need to travel safely (Neh 2:7)
* The supplies required to do the work (Neh 2:8)

And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me

Not bad! I’ve managed enough projects to recognize the skill and foresight needed to concisely yet comprehensively batch all your requests at once during that brief moment of executive attention. It is also a testament to the trust Artaxerxes has in Nehemiah: not just in giving him what he wants, but in trusting his staff to maintain security in his absence.

Of course, not everybody loves Nehemiah:

When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard [of it], it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.

Of course, there will always be people who don’t understand our mission, and oppose us out of confusion or pride. But then again, there are people who are deeply invested in other people’s misery, who understand exactly what we are trying to do, and will go to any lengths to prevent us from saving them. Sanballat and Tobiah are such men, as we’ll see throughout Nehemiah.

So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

What’s interesting is that, despite his exalted status, Nehemiah starts out so low-key:

And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I [any] man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither [was there any] beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night…

Another point in his favor. He knows very well what God wants, but that doesn’t stop him from doing his own reconnaissance. In my experience, God (like a good manager) gives us a mandate, but we have to come up with a plan. And woe to those who confuse the two!

He’s also careful not to expose the unfinished plan to those who have not yet bought in to the mandate (though he apparently knows in detail the different groups he’ll need to win over):

And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told [it] to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.

Instead, he waits until he has a comprehensive pitch, and lays it all out as one complete story:

Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we [are] in, how Jerusalem [lieth] waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.

I love his inclusive use of ‘we’ (assuming that’s translated fairly). Rather than badger them in their shame, he promises hope. And backs it up with personal testimony:

Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for [this] good [work].

Yeah! A happy ending, with everyone on board and of one accord. Right?

Um, not quite:

when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard [it], they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What [is] this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?

That’s got to be the most infuriating type of opposition: when someone makes a damning charge — which would be horrible if it was true — that they know perfectly well is not true. I learned a long time ago that if people hate you, they will find some excuse to justify their hate. The best we can do is make them work really hard to invent something (rather than give them legitimate grounds for offense).

Nehemiah, of course, will have none of their guff. He knows what (and Who) he stands on.

Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem

You tell ’em, Neemy!

Prayer

God, thank you so much for the example of a man like Nehemiah. A man who didn’t scheme his way into a cushy job, but made a dangerous job safe enough to leave — so he could take a riskier one! A type of Christ, who gave up a seat in the greatest throne room of his age to bring salvation to a lost and broken city. A men of great skill and means, who yet did not lord it over those who were weak, but used his strength to build them up. A man who took every reasonable precaution, but never showed the least fear to his enemies — who were many, and powerful.

God, make me a man like that. Amen!

About the Title:

Today’s title is a (weak) play on the phrase “Wine and Cheese”

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