An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah (part 3 of 6)

June 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

This post is part three of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.


Nehemiah offers a sincere and heartfelt prayer to God asking for God to show favor to him and to the Persian King who Nehemiah serves:

O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.[1]

Nehemiah knows things in Jerusalem are not the way they are supposed to be, and a vision is born in his heart to do something about it.

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah

One scholar describes Nehemiah as “a man of vision. He knew who God was and what He could do through His servants. Nehemiah was not, however, a visionary, but instead was a man who planned then acted.”[2] During this time period Jews such as Nehemiah knew the Scripture well. He references God’s promise that “if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them. . . . I will bring you back to the place I have chosen.”[3] That promise is important enough to Nehemiah and other Jews that it moves them to action.

Additionally, Nehemiah knew King Cyrus and King Artaxerxes had allowed some of the Jews to return back to their homeland. There was hope and a little bit of momentum for Nehemiah to maybe be able to do something about the situation his fellow Jewish countrymen were in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s position as a cup bearer to the king plays a role in allowing his vision to be realized.

The importance of being cup bearer becomes evident when we learn that Nehemiah, as a cup bearer, “would have been well trained in court etiquette . . . . was probably handsome . . . . would know how to select wines for the king to drink . . . . was probably a companion to the king who was willing to listen to the king at all times . . . . would be a man of great influence because he had closest access to the king and could determine who could see the king [and] . . . . was someone who the king trusted greatly.”[4] With this important historical information in mind about Nehemiah’s relationship to the king as his cup bearer, we can now understand what happens when Nehemiah has his opportunity to share his vision with the king and queen.

When Nehemiah is serving the king his wine the king notices Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah tells it this way, “Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, ‘Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.’ Then I was terrified.”[5] It is obvious that time has passed since Nehemiah’s prayer when he writes, “early in the following spring.”[6]

Also, Nehemiah regularly served the king his wine, but this time was different because Nehemiah appeared sad. Perhaps Nehemiah’s heart is worn down as more time passes with no progress on the repair to the walls torn down and the gates burnt. He feels God has put a vision on his heart to do something about those walls, but he is not able. Nehemiah replies to the king’s inquiry about the origin of this uncommon sadness by saying, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”[7]

Nehemiah has a chance to share his vision with the king when the king replies, “Well, how can I help you?”[8] Nehemiah reflects on the experience saying, “With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, ‘If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”[9] Then the king and queen both give Nehemiah permission, resources, and people to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.

Question: How do you think a vision is born in a leader's heart?

                [1] Nehemiah 1:5-11

                [2] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1980): 304.

                [3] Nehemiah 1:9

                [4] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1980): 296-297.

                [5] Nehemiah 2:1-2; emphasis added.

                [6] Nehemiah 2:1

                [7] Nehemiah 2:3

                [8] Nehemiah 2:4

                [9] Nehemiah 2:4-5

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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