"Seeking the Welfare" (Whole Service)
Shawnee Bible Church Sunday May 10, 2020 “SEEKING THE WELFARE” (Nehemiah 2:1–10) Turn in your Bible to Nehemiah chapter 2. We’re going to read and study the first half of this chapter where we see Nehemiah, the initiative taker. We’ll see him acting in a high-stakes situation, sending up split-second prayers to God, and then fully employing the means that God provides. The more I read and study Nehemiah, the more I see him as audacious—he’s not afraid to ask and then he doesn’t shy away from using what he’s been given. Nehemiah 2:1–10 In contrast to Ezra who comes across as a little sensitive to asking too much (remember he felt he couldn’t ask the king for any military support for his return to Jerusalem), we’re beginning to see that Nehemiah has no qualms about asking, and receiving, and using! He’s one who takes initiative. He’s a man of action. However, notice his driving motivation. I think it’s summarized for us as readers in verse 10: Nehemiah was seeking the welfare of the sons of Israel. I think that’s crucial to notice in order to understand his boldness: he’s not audacious and forthright for himself… but for others. That’s a crucial distinction. On the one hand, we’ve all met persons who are brash and forceful for their own gain—it’s an ugly thing. On the other hand, we’ve all probably enjoyed the protection of someone in a place of position or privilege who was aggressive on our behalf, and it was remarkable thing! Nehemiah is the latter. We saw in chapter one that he’s just a layman (not a priest or Levite)—he’s just a layman with a government job, but he’s a fierce worshipper of Yahweh. He cares about God’s glory! He cares about God’s name! He cares deeply about God’s people! Think about that in light of how easily he might have just enjoyed the good life in the king’s palace—not bothering himself about what’s going on “over there”—not concerning himself with those “old ways” and that “old place”! Or, think of how easily he could have cared but not to the point of actually being willing to take risk and do something about it! That’s not Nehemiah: I think something like Psalm 86:8–12 was what pulsated through his heart on a regular basis. He’s driven to action for God’s glory, which drives him to seek the welfare of God’s people. We do well to take note that, in contrast, people who just want to be comfortable are not used by God. The first thing that’s remarkable about his drive and initiative is that for Nehemiah… 1) SEEKING ISRAEL’S WELFARE MEANT OVERCOMING FEAR (vv. 1-2) We’ve already seen from chapter 1 that he’s not a man stoically unaffected by the world around him. Since the first time Nehemiah heard the news about Jerusalem, he’s been praying and caring deeply about the problem for months (4 months between chaps 1–2) But being cupbearer, it was evidently a breach of etiquette to show one’s emotions before the king—who was constantly having to make decisions. You didn’t just waltz into his presence airing your personal matters and wearing your emotions on your sleeve. As cupbearer, you did your job! But time was also being lost. It seems that in the passage, Nehemiah had made up his mind the day had finally come when he would risk his own wellbeing seeking an opportunity to speak with the king. He lets his heart’s sorrow show up on his face. I don’t think he’s being manipulative here; he’s creating a situation where if the king notices and asks, then Nehemiah has a much higher chance of actually being heard! As we read, we’re holding our breath to see how this will go. The king does notice, and he asks what’s going on. And all of a sudden, the moment presents itself! The type of moment when the heart starts beating faster, the palms start sweating, the stakes are high, you need to decide, am I actually going to go for it?? It’s like when you’re a Bible college student and Spring Banquet is coming up; the girl you want to ask is right there! By the providence of God, she’s leaving the dining hall the same time you are! And she’s alone. You’ve wanted to ask her for two weeks now—here’s your opportunity! But the first thing you say is something dumb like, “Boy, that was some good meatloaf, huh?” And she doesn’t particularly connect with you on that, so you move on to some other safe topic of discussing when all the while you know you need to get to the point! And your buddies are all watching through the window wondering—is he getting to the point?? Nehemiah will get to the point, but not without being “very much afraid” (v. 2). What could go wrong? He could mess up the situation and lose any further opportunity The king may not appreciate his request and turn against him (death) The king may specifically remember his previous decree (cf. Ezra 4:21) The king may feel manipulated by him and turn against him (death) Nehemiah the go-getter is not exempt from fear—none of God’s people are—but he didn’t allow his fear to keep him from fulfilling his responsibility (which in this case meant “going to bat” for the city of Jerusalem). But next, notice that Nehemiah’s efforts at… 2) SEEKING ISRAEL’S WELFARE MEANT PETITIONING GOD AND MAN (vv. 3–8a) Verses 3–4 He’s been petitioning God for four months already (since he heard the news), but now the opportunity arises to actually talk to the king about the situation, which Nehemiah does so with skill and diplomacy (not “dumping” all over the king!). I love the glimpses we get into Nehemiah’s head throughout the whole book. We see one in verse 4, where he does a lightning prayer—“so I prayed to the God of heaven.” We’ve all been there in those “God-please-help-me” situations! But remember, Nehemiah has been praying about this moment for a while already! One of the commentators is helpful here: “Quick prayers are possible and valid if one has prayed sufficiently beforehand. In this case, Nehemiah’s prayer is evidence of a life lived in constant communion with God. Nehemiah had prayed for months, but he knew he was completely dependent on God’s work in the king’s heart at this moment.” (Breneman, NAC: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 176) This is NOT a “God-bless-my-mess” type of prayer. How easily are ours’ reduced to that? We get in a bind, and then we feel compelled to pray when we didn’t care to pray for months, weeks, days, or hours leading up to the situation. Now to be sure, sometimes we have no advanced warning and all we can do is pray in the moment; but Nehemiah has been praying about this conversation for a long time—and now comes the point where he just needs to lay it out. Verses 5–6 This was the moment where Nehemiah needed to clearly say what he was thinking. I don’t think King Artaxerxes would have taken too kindly to him just skirting around his request with hands folded behind him, drawing circles on the floor with his toe. He petitions the king with a clear and consequential question: “Would you, king, be willing to let me go back and rebuild Jerusalem?” It would seem the king really likes the work he does as cupbearer because he wants to know how long he’d be gone—when he’d be coming back. But remarkably, the king agrees to the plan. After securing the basic green light for his plan, then Nehemiah continues right on to ask for the specific resources he’ll need. Again, the commentator summarizes helpfully for us: “If we are impressed with the realism and boldness of these requests, so too was the king. Vagueness, at this point, would have shown up the project as a mere dream or sudden impulse; but Nehemiah had prayed long enough (see verse 1), and had had faith enough, to visualize the operation in some detail, even to the building technique he would be using for the wall…” (Kidner, Ezra-Nehemiah, 81) He asks for permission—it’s given to him. He asks for authority—it’s given to him. He asks for resources—they’re given to him. There’s only one explanation for this, and it’s the dominant salvo that we will hear ringing throughout the book of Nehemiah. 3) SEEKING ISRAEL’S WELFARE MEANT TRUSTING GOD’S GOODNESS (v. 8b) Nehemiah was a bold pray-er and a bold initiator who knew that the real reason he would have any successful at all could only be the goodness of God. I think we see in Nehemiah the principle lived out that when we are committed to God’s glory—to see him magnified, to see his people and his work flourish—then we will see his good hand upon our lives—not in every way we ask or desire, but it will be there! Many of you could give testimony to this already. In recognizing the good hand of God upon the situation, Nehemiah is giving God the credit. If he were alive today, I think he would love the song we just sang: Should nothing of our efforts stand, No legacy survive, Unless the Lord does raise the house, In vain its builders strive. To you who boast tomorrow's gain, Tell me, what is your life? A mist that vanishes at dawn, All glory be to Christ! Nehemiah was a man of prayer, petition, recognition, and now action: 4) SEEKING ISRAEL’S WELFARE MEANT DISRUPTING THE STATUS QUO (vv. 9–10) Verse 9 I can’t help but imagine this scene in our time: Nehemiah rolling into town with an entourage of Hummers filled with soldiers and a black Suburban SUV, which he steps out of wearing a crisp black suit and sunglasses—and under his arm he’s got all the paperwork that allows him to come in and set up shop. Legally he can’t be challenged. He’s asked God, he’s asked the king; and having been given authority, he now confidently moves forward with the process of disrupting the status quo which was set against the Jewish people. Naturally, this doesn’t sit right with everyone. We’re introduced in verse 10 to the ones who will prove to be his bitter antagonists and adversaries. Verse 10 Clearly the status quo was against the welfare of Israel. In the minds of local and regional authorities, this exile community did not deserve priority, privilege, or protection. Two men are named in particular: Sanballat: most likely the governor of the province of Samaria. Tobiah: most likely the governor of the province of Ammon They are essentially neighboring governors to Nehemiah, who, as we shall see with time, assumes the position of Governor over Judah. Summing up Nehemiah: he was a man of prayer and action. CLOSING APPLICATIONS Many times, what we fear never really comes to pass. Nehemiah doesn’t demonstrate that God helps those who help themselves, rather God uses those who have a passion for his glory! Are you one fervent in prayer for God’s glory and then resolute in action under God’s goodness?