Before we read that passage, let’s get the background that led up to it. Nehemiah was living in Shushan (the capitol of the Persian Empire) where he served King Artaxerxes as his cupbearer. He received the following message from a Jew who had survived the captivity in Jerusalem, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned” (Nehemiah 1:3…NKJV). Nehemiah wept at this news and “mourned for many days…fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (verse 4). His prayer was simply and heartfelt; in it he confessed the sins of the children of Israel and reminded the Lord of His promise to gather those who are scattered back to the land if they return to Him. He ended his prayer with these words, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

James 5:16 tells us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” and thus God answered Nehemiah’s prayer. In the next chapter the King asked him why he looked so sad and he replied, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I MAY REBUILD IT” (2:5). He also asked for letters granting him safe access along the way and for wood for rebuilding the city. At the end of verse 8 we read, “And the king granted them to me according to THE GOOD HAND OF MY GOD UPON ME.”

In verses 9-16 we read of his safe journey, how he and a few men secretly surveyed the damage to the walls. Now let’s read verses 17-18, “Then I said to them (his Jewish brethren), ‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’ And I told them of THE HAND OF GOD WHICH HAD BEEN GOOD UPON ME, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build’.” Nehemiah set before them a real CHALLENGE but he also gave them the needed ENCOURAGEMENT to meet that challenge by testifying of God’s gracious Hand being upon him. His words had their desired effect, for the people responded in faith and zeal by saying, “Let us rise up and build.” Nehemiah was a godly, humble man, but he was also a BORN LEADER, and the “Hand of God” was using him to “move the hands of the people to rebuild their beloved city.”

One can be sure that when God moves His people to serve Him, there will be opposition from the enemy (see 1st Corinthians 16:9 as a perfect example of this). Verse 19 reads, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king’?” They thought they could hinder God’s work by mocking them and they even resorted to an outright lie by suggesting their construction project would be an act of rebellion against the king. But had not the king signed on to Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the city? He surely had, but Nehemiah’s response to his persecutors is very instructive, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Instead of informing them of how the king had helped him all along the way, he points them to “his God” and how He would surely “prosper them.” It is beautiful to see this true MAN OF FAITH cleaving to His God and not to men, a lesson every believer needs to learn. If we do look to Him alone to give us the victory, we can rest assured that THE HAND OF GOD WILL BE UPON US! His last words to them must have really put them in their place, for he reminded them that “you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” They were NOT part of God’s chosen people and thus they had no claim whatsoever on God’s sacred city. (287.7) (DO)