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NEHEMIAH AN EXAMPLE OF RELIGIOUS PATRIOTISM.
NEHEMIAH ii. 3, 4.
“Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place
of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what
dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven." NEHEMIAH, the author of the book which goes by his name, was the son of one of the captive Jews whom Nebuchadnezzar had originally brought to Babylon. His father Hachaliah did not return with those of his brethren who availed themselves of the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple; and he himself remained at Shushan, which was now become the capital of the empire, to the twentieth year of king Artaxerxes. He was advanced, it seems, to the office of cup-bearer to this monarch, and held thereby a place of trust and honour, and one, moreover, which brought him into much familiarity with the king, with whom he appears to have been a favourite. He was comfortably settled
a therefore, and perhaps thought only of spending the rest of his days at his post in wealth and peace. But Almighty God had work for him, and by his providential arrangement was secretly preparing him for the service of his people. In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, certain persons arrived at Shushan from Jerusalem, probably on public business, and, of these, Nehemiah inquired respecting the condition of his countrymen, and was answered that they were in much distress. “The remnant,” so it was replied, “that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." This intelligence grieved Nehemiah greatly, and the first chapter of the book tells us how he proceeded in consequence. It did not satisfy him merely to sympathize in his inward mind with the sorrows of his people. He wept and mourned indeed, but he did not give himself altogether to idle lamentations. Something, possibly, might be done for them, and he would attempt it. He did not, however, proceed to his undertaking, inconsiderately, or in his own strength. A resolution seems to have come instantly into his mind, that he would make use of such interest as he possessed with the king, on his country's behalf; but, prompt as his desires were, he must refer the matter to God before he moved in it a single step. He set himself for certain days solemnly to seek the Lord by fasting and prayer. And in the first chapter, from the fourth verse to the end, his prayer is recorded. He confesses his own sin and that of his people, justifies God in allowing them to be so grievously afflicted, but pleads the promises made by Him to Moses, if in their affliction, which they had merited, his people should humbly turn to Him; and he concludes thus : “Now these,” that is, the distressed Jews at Jerusalem, “are thy servants and thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: (for he was sure that other pious people must be making like prayer :) and prosper, I pray Thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight
of this man. For (such is the note of explanation which he adds) I was the king's cup-bearer.”
This prayer he doubtless continued in substance for some time, for he began to seek God in this matter in the month called Chisleu, which answers to the latter part of November and the beginning of December, in our reckoning; and his opportunity for acting did not arrive till the month Nisan, which coincides with the latter part of March and the beginning of April. In that month he ministered as cup-bearer to the king; and, in the execution of his office, he found the opening he had been waiting for. Up to this time he had never appeared sad or dejected in the king's presence, but now his grief of mind affected his countenance and deportment; and the king, who had a liking for him, took notice of it with much kindness; and “ Why," he asks,“ is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick ? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart.” “ Then,” says Nehemiah, “I was very sore afraid.”
, Though he had been strengthening himself by waiting upon God, and his endeavours had not been fruitless, yet a natural dread came over him, and his heart beat, as a resolute man's may and is wont to do, when the first step is actually to be taken in a great adventure long contemplated, and on the good success of which much depends. However, there was no stopping now. The king waited for his answer; and, prefacing it, therefore, with the usual form of salutation, “ Let the king live for ever,” he replies in the words of the text, with an implied appeal to the king's humanity and generosity, “why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire ?” The king saw his meaning, and taking it for granted that he had a petition to prefer if he dared, rejoined in an encouraging manner, “ For what dost thou make request?” Here was another step to be taken, and an anxious one; he must not offend this absolute potentate by any rashness, but propitiate him, if possible. There was no time however to think. But Nehemiah
walked habitually with God, and had sought Him diligently with reference to this matter, and therefore he could at once gather his desires together, and mentally put them before the Lord, and he did so; “I prayed,” he says, “to the God of heaven.” It was the work of a moment, but it was enough. The Searcher of hearts“ knoweth our thoughts long before,” and He heard him. And then comes his petition to the king, in which he plainly makes known his wish ; “Send me,” he says, , unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it.” The king had but one objection: he was attached to Nehemiah, whose services were very acceptable to him, and accordingly he was loth to spare him. But he showed a generous and true friendship on this occasion, and would not selfishly keep Nehemiah to minister to himself, but took a pleasure rather in helping him to the fulfilment of the pious and good purpose which he had so much at heart. He asked him when he would return, and set him a time to do so: but, as it should seem, allowed him as long a season for his work as appeared reasonable; and then Nehemiah took
courage to press his petition further; “ Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; and a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into.” And all this “the king granted, according,” says Nehemiah, “ to the good hand of my God upon me.” He had asked success from God, and, having obtained it, gave God the glory.
The rest of the second chapter tells how he came to Jerusalem, and saw what was wanting; and that, though he met with difficulties and opposition, he did not suffer himself to be daunted. Certain persons who had long been his country's foes, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, affected to despise him, and misrepresented his designs. But the same faith in God still supported him. “The God of heaven,” he replies to his adver
. saries, “ He will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” “But,” he adds, (these same persons offering to make common cause with him, that they might circumvent him by treachery,) “ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem ;” and in this prudent and resolute manner he rejected all their overtures, and refused their interference to the last. The third chapter relates summarily the success of his undertaking; all the Jews were not hearty in the cause; for of some it is said, that “they put not their necks to the work.” And every body knows how hard the task of public men is wont to be when they would get a multitude to act together for any common purpose. Nehemiah, nevertheless, carried his point. Eliashib, the high priest, with his brethren, undertook to begin the building at a gate called the sheep-gate; another party took the adjoining portion of wall; a third succeeded them, till, in spite of some defaulters, the fortifications were completed, and the wall brought round to the sheep-gate again? The adversaries did all they could to weaken Nehemiah's hands, and corrupt the people under his rule, to bring him into contempt by their scoffs, to overreach him by cunning, and to attack him by surprise as he laboured; but he kept too strict a guard for this to succeed. He would not so much as put off his clothes night or day, nor allow his servants to do so. He had sentries posted at every point; and the builders had every one his sword girded by his side, and wrought in the work with one hand, and with the other held a weapon :. “So," continues Nehemiah, “the wall was finished in " the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God 4."
? Neh. iii. 3 See Neh. iv. 17, 18. 23. 4 Neh. vi. 15, 16.