Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]
There are not many places in Scripture where someone asks to go and do God’s will, from a place of comfort and security to danger and chaos. Moses didn’t ask to lead the people of God out of Egypt. He was told to. David didn’t seek to become King of Israel. Samuel sought him out and anointed him because it was God’s will. David was so young his own brothers were incredulous at his being chosen by God. Moses said “no” to God but went anyway. David wasn’t old enough to understand what the anointing meant.
Nehemiah is a different story. There is no indication Nehemiah had ever seen Jerusalem or lived for any time in Israel or Judah. He was probably born and raised in exile. Yet, his identity was so completely Jewish that when he heard of the condition of Jerusalem he wept and fasted.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. [Nehemiah 1:1-4 ESV]
He was the cup-bearer to the king. What does it mean to be a cup-bearer to the king? He was the chief servant of the king in charge of serving the wine at all times whether alone with the king or at great banquets. As a servant of the king it was his responsibility to ensure the kings health and safety from the possibility of poisoning. He would taste the cup, the wine or drink before giving it to the king. Perhaps he had the ability to smell or taste poison which helped qualify him for the position. If anyone tried to kill the king by poisoning his drink the cup-bearer would be the first to die. Nehemiah was willing to die for his king. Because of his position, Nehemiah probably rarely left the side of the king. He was closer to the king than anyone else. This pagan king trusted Nehemiah absolutely which means he had proven himself trustworthy long before his appointment as chief cup-bearer. Nehemiah had shown himself a true servant.
God worked in Nehemiah’s heart throughout his life and placed him in a position of authority as a servant to the king. Nehemiah knew his place before the king, knowing the kings moods and preferences, seeing the meaning behind his gestures and facial expressions. After hearing about the destruction of the city of God whom he served by caring for the king whom he served, God gave him the courage to ask to go to Jerusalem to repair the broken walls. He knew his position before the king and still took a calculated chance asking to go rebuild the walls of a city known for rebelling against pagan authorities. Why would a king allow his closest, most trustworthy servant to go back to a place known for rebelling against kings? He granted Nehemiah permission to go because God compelled him, though he did not know it, to allow Nehemiah to go.
There are a number of characteristics which define Nehemiah. He was a true servant, looking out for the best interests of his king. He knew and understood authority. Like the Centurion in Matthew 8, when the king said “go” he went expecting absolute obedience. Being a servant trained him in the skills of leadership.
Nehemiah prayed. He knew from where his strength originated. He knew without God nothing he could do would be successful. Given an opening, Nehemiah seized the opportunity, praying while making his request.
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. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. [Nehemiah 2:1-6 ESV]
Here is a man who relied completely upon God to work through the ordained authorities to answer prayer regarding the people of God, His mercy, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, considered the city of God. Nehemiah was a great leader because he was a loyal servant. He recognized sin, his own and those of his nation, showing his poverty of spirit. He recognized sin and the just consequences of sin against the rebellious nation of Israel in the just destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the people of God. He mourned over the consequences of sin, trusting God throughout because of the promises of God to restore the nation. He was meek, having God’s strength in him under God’s control. The man did not jump ahead of God, but when God said go he went with every ounce of his will. He did nothing for himself but poured himself out for God and the people of God.