Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king in the Persian winter palace in Susa. The king of Persia had previously stopped the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, possibly perceiving that the Jewish people could become a threat as they returned from exile in Babylon. He even made a statement of authority by having part of the initial work torn down. Until he gave the approval for the building to continue, the walls would remain in tatters, and the people of Jerusalem would be vulnerable to predators. Hanani, Nehemiah’s brother, brought Nehemiah a bad report of the state of affairs in Jerusalem. He explained the condition of the city, emphasizing its vulnerability to attack.
Upon hearing of Jerusalem, Nehemiah immediately wept, fasted, and prayed to God about the news that burdened him. We can apply his example to our own lives by asking ourselves what our response is when we hear of distressing news. Do we turn to God in prayer or try to manipulate and fix it with our own passion and strength?
Nehemiah immediately associated the negative report regarding Jerusalem with the sins of the people. His reaction was more than a response of sorrow; it was a plea to God. God placed a burden on Nehemiah’s heart, and Nehemiah prayed and wept in response. Nehemiah was sensitive to God’s call. He prayed day and night. His prayer was a prayer of confession on behalf of his people. He recalls the favor of God and then prays to God to grant him favor in the presence of King Artaxerxes.
His prayer was continuous—one source suggests that the prayer continued for nearly four months before Nehemiah had an opportunity to share his concerns and plans with the king. How often do we rush things and hope that they happen in our own timing? We must exercise the same patience of Nehemiah and respect those whom God has placed in authority over us.