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THE PREPARATION OF THE WAY.
In the first chapter we have seen the secret exercises by which the vessel is fitted for the special work in hand. Now we are to see the good hand of God in preparing the way before His servant.
Before receiving an answer to his prayer, Nehemiah has to wait for a period of four months. God's people must not only pray, but watch unto prayer. God hears and God answers, but it will be in God's own time and God's own way. And God's answers often come in a manner, and at a moment, little expected by ourselves.
Nehemiah was pursuing his everyday duties as cupbearer to the king when the opportunity is given to open his heart before his royal master. Seizing the occasion, he tells the king that the sadness of his face reflects the sorrow of his heart, for he says, "The city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire." The king, apparently interested, at once replies, "For what dost thou make request?"
This brings to the front a fine feature in the character of Nehemiah - his habitual dependence upon God. After four months exercise before God, Nehemiah surely knew what he desired; nevertheless, before expressing his desire, he tells us that he "prayed to God of heaven." Then it was that he replied to the king on earth, and asks to be sent to Jerusalem to build the walls. In reply the king grants his request, sets him a time, and gives him letters to the governors and the keeper of the king's forest to help forward the work. At once Nehemiah recognises that the ready compliance of the king was the result of the good hand of God. Before making his request Nehemiah had turned to God, and now that his request is granted he acknowledges the good hand of God. We may remember to turn to God in our difficulties and forget to acknowledge the goodness of God when they are met. It is well to enter a difficulty in a spirit of prayer, and to come out of it in a spirit of praise (1-8).
The details of Nehemiah's journey to Jerusalem follow. He is accompanied by captains of the king's army and horsemen. We are expressly told that the king sent the captains and the horsemen, not that Nehemiah had asked for them. Nehemiah was travelling as the king's cup-bearer, and probably the king was thinking more of his dignity than of Nehemiah's safety. Even so, God can use the dignity of a king and the requirements of royalty to provide for the welfare of His servants. That the circumstances demanded some such protection is manifest, for we are at once told of the enemies of God's people who are grieved exceedingly that a man had come to seek the welfare of God's people (9, 10).
It is noticeable that as dispensations wear to their close, there is less and less public intervention on part of God. Israel's six hundred thousand take their journey from Egypt to Canaan accompanied by the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night; and every stage of that wondrous journey is marked by miraculous interventions of God. It is far otherwise in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. They, too, take their several wilderness journeys from the land of captivity to the land of Jehovah, but no visible and overshadowing cloud protects them by day, and no pillar of fire lights their way by night. They must be content to use the ordinary means of travel such as the time and country supply. Moreover, as the days advance, the outward circumstances grow weaker. Zerubbabel leads back a goodly company of forty-two thousand; with Ezra there are only one thousand and eight hundred, and now Nehemiah must be content to travel alone. In his day if any escaped from captivity, it was as solitary individuals. Yet if there are no outward and direct interventions of God, if the circumstances are weak, it becomes a greater occasion for the exercise of faith. Hence we see faith becomes brighter as the day becomes darker.
Arrived at Jerusalem, Nehemiah tarries three days. He has a great and serious work before him, and he will take no precipitate action nor show undue haste. He is about to bear testimony to the distress of God's people and the ruined condition of Jerusalem. He is about to arouse the people of God to action, and direct them in their work. But he must first witness for himself the desolations against which he is to bear witness, so that he may do so in the spirit of the Servant who at a later date could say, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen."
Thus it came to pass that Nehemiah arose by night and some few men with him, and without informing others of what God had put in his heart to do, he makes his way to the gate of the valley, and from different points he "viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down," and the gates that were consumed with fire. He will acquaint himself with the extent of the ruin. He pursued this mid-night journey until there was no place to pass. Faced with such desolation the natural heart might well conclude the case to be hopeless, beyond the power of man to remedy. For man, as such, it was indeed hopeless; but God had put it into the heart of Nehemiah to undertake this work, and God can enable a man to carry out that which he puts into the heart to do. It was the assurance that God had given him this work to do that was the secret of Nehemiah's power. There was no need to consult with any man about a work that God had given him to do. Counsel from men could add nothing to God, but might well weaken and discourage Nehemiah. Men would probably have told him that it would be wiser to let the matter alone, he would only distress himself by looking at the ruin, and stir up trouble among the people of God, and opposition against them, by attempting to rebuild the walls. Thus it was that Nehemiah takes his night journey in secret, to acquaint himself with the desolations of Jerusalem, and neither the rulers, nor the people, knew whither he went or what he did (11-16).
Having made his inspection the time has come to speak before the elders. He bears witness to the distress of the people, and the desolations of Jerusalem with its walls waste and its gates burned, and he encourages them to arise and build the walls that reproach be removed from the people of God (17).
Moreover Nehemiah tells them the hand of God was good upon him. The hand of God in government had used Nebuchadnezzar to break down the walls and burn the gates, but the hand of God in goodness was upon Nehemiah to build the walls and set up the gates. Having heard of the hand of God the rulers say, "Let us rise up and build." "So they strengthened their hands for this good work." Nothing will so strengthen our hands for a good work as the recognition of God's hand directing the work. God has put it into the heart of one man to do the work, and now God strengthens their hands to carry out the work (18).
But, alas, there are others who are ready to oppose the building of the walls, and such treat Nehemiah and his companions with scorn and contempt. The leader in this opposition is not a heathen but a Samaritan ( Neh_4:1 ; Neh_4:2 ), one whose religion was a corrupt mixture of idolatry and the worship of Jehovah. In the eyes of the world he would doubtless be viewed, according to his profession, as a true worshipper of Jehovah. Nehemiah, however, is not deceived, for he says, "Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem" (19).
As then, so now, the greatest opposition to the maintenance of separation between the world and the people of God comes from the professing Christian who is in alliance with enemies of God's people.
Nehemiah, however is not to be laughed out of carrying out God's work, nor deterred by the contempt of men. Nehemiah realizes that if the men of the world oppose, the God of heaven will prosper the work (20).
In our day also, may we not say, that in spite of the ruin and desolation among the people of God, and In spite of all opposition, those who seek to build the walls and set up the gates for the maintenance of the holiness of God's house, will have the God of heaven to prosper them?
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter