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Series:  Up Against A Wall - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 10, 2000

This morning we’re continuing our two part series of messages from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. I invite you to turn with me to Nehemiah chapter two and we’ll come there in a minute.

We have been looking at what we can do when we come up against people that seemingly go out of their way to tear us down or make unreasonable demands on our lives. How do we handle impossible situations - disease - circumstances - walls impossible to go through - too high to go over - too wide to go around - impossible to dig under? How do we keep going when inwardly we’re crumbling and just can’t go on?

Nehemiah was a man like us - who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition - in a desperate situation with the odds stacked against him. We’ve been looking at what Nehemiah did as an example for us - what we can do to move forward in difficult times.

Before we come to the text - I’d like to share some of the background of Nehemiah’s situation so that we can see just what Nehemiah was up against.

In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured the northern Kingdom of Israel. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off the southern Kingdom of Judah. When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they leveled it - the temple - the walls of the city - the fortress areas - anything of value. Then they marched back to Babylon with their captives and treasure.

Some 140 years later - Nehemiah - who is a part of this forced Jewish Diaspora - Nehemiah is in Susa - in southwestern Persia - the winter capital of the Media-Persian Empire. Hanani - one of Nehemiah’s brothers and some others have come back from Judah - from the homeland - and Nehemiah asks them what’s happening in Jerusalem. Its a natural question - like we would ask someone coming back from Armenia, “How are things in Yerevan?”

Hanani tells him, “Its not good. The people are in misery. They’re suffering in every way you can imagine. The city is defenseless against its enemies - the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.” (Nehemiah 1:3)

Nehemiah, when he hears the report begins to weep and mourn for days. Hearing what conditions are like in Armenia today - the poverty and corruption - we can come close to understanding Nehemiah - after all that has gone on - the massacres - communism - the earthquake - the war with Azerbaijian - now this. The frustration - the sadness - the sense of hopelessness. What can be done?

Last week we looked at Nehemiah chapter one. Nehemiah’s first response to all of this was to go to God in prayer. Today - we want to look at the second part of Nehemiah’s response.

Nehemiah 2:1-8: And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes - who was the king of the Media-Persian Empire - that wine was before him, and I - Nehemiah - took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So, the King said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city - Jerusalem - the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Here’s the second step of what Nehemiah did. UP AGAINST A WALL - of opposition - he PREPARED FOR GOD TO MOVE.

Preparation means first, WAITING ON GOD.

There’s a story about a salesman who had a flat tire. It was a dark rainy night and he was on a stretch of road way out in the middle of nowhere. Much to his dismay he found out that he didn’t have a lug wrench so he couldn’t get the tire off to change it and he was out of range on his cell phone. Off in the distance he saw the single porch light of a farmhouse. So, he set out on foot with the expectation that the farmer would have a lug wrench.

As he was walking the salesman began to think to himself. Will the farmer even come to the door? And if he does, he’ll probably be furious at being bothered. He’ll say, “What’s the big idea of getting me out of bed in the middle of the night?” Which made the salesman think to himself - what kind of selfish farmer is this that he won’t help me on a night like this. So, on and on the salesmen walked thinking to himself about what he could expect from the farmer.

Finally, the salesman reached the farmhouse. Frustrated - drenched - and angry, he banged on the door. “Who’s there?” a voice called down from a window overhead.

The salesman yelled back, “You know good and well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your old lug wrench! I wouldn’t borrow it if it was the last one in the county.”

What do we expect from God? When we pray about a situation or a person - should God operate in our time frame - in the ways we understand - to bring the fulfillment we think is best? Or, are we prepared to do what God calls us to do in the way and time He calls us to do it?

Notice that in Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah receives the report about Jerusalem from Hanani in the month of Chislev. Then he prays. And, in Nehemiah 2:1 - when Nehemiah finally makes his request to the king its the month of Nisan. According to the Hebrew calendar, Chislev corresponds to our December - Nisan corresponds to our April. 4 months of prayer and fasting go by from the report to the request.

In our world of instant everything - its very hard for us to pray and wait on God. We’re very hasty - impatient creatures.

I was recently speaking with someone from another church who was having some difficulty with an individual in the church. I asked him, “What did you do about it? What did you say to him?”

He said, “Nothing, I just prayed and asked God to change the person. And, God did.”

I said, “Well, how long did that take?” I thought - imagining what would seem like a long period of time - maybe it took a couple of months. He said, “Two to three years.”

There are people in this congregation who have been praying for situations - for people - for children - for years. And, we’re waiting. But, we know that God is working and we need to trust Him for His timing and His victory. That’s tough.

Second, preparation means COMMITMENT - being available for God to work in us and through us in His way.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. (Nehemiah 1:11b) The cupbearer tasted the wine before the king drank it - tasted the food before the king ate it. If someone tried to poison the king - no more cupbearer - but, long live the king.

It was a position of intimacy and trust. The cupbearer had to be with the king during confidential discussions. He had access to the royal presence in a way that would have been death for anyone else. Its even been suggested that, apart from the queen, the cupbearer had the greatest influence on the king.

So, no one else in the kingdom was in a position to speak to the king about Jerusalem like Nehemiah was. And at some point - in his conversations with God - Nehemiah must have understood this. God had placed Nehemiah there for a reason.

In 2:8 - after his conversation with the king, Nehemiah says that he was successful - why? - “Because the good hand of my God was on me.” Like God putting His hand on Nehemiah’s shoulder and saying, “You’re the one. I will do this through you. I want you to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

I’ve read that in ancient Greece, to prevent foolish politicians from proposing idiotic laws, lawmakers were asked to introduce all new laws while standing on a platform with a rope around their neck. If the law passed, the rope was removed. If it failed, the platform was removed. How committed are we to God’s plan of action?

Its easy for us to complain about our boss - to gossip about people in the church - to back stab people in the community - to gripe and moan about the way things are. How many of us are prepared to act - choosing to do what God calls us to do in the way He wants us to do it?

This is hard. It wasn’t easy for Nehemiah. In 2:2 - coming before the king - he says, “I was very much afraid.” In 2:4, when the king asks him what he wants, Nehemiah says he prayed to God - “HELP!” It wasn’t easy for Nehemiah. It isn’t easy for us. Up against a wall we need to be prepared - choosing - committed to do what God calls us to do.

Third, preparation means PLANNING.

There are a tremendous number of subtleties in how Nehemiah speaks to King Artaxerxes and I’m not going to go into all of them this morning. But, we can imagine - just thinking about what it would be like - coming and speaking to the absolute ruler of the world’s most powerful empire. The tone and wording of our speech would have to be very careful. All of that is here. Nehemiah has thought all this out.

Verse 2 - the king asks Nehemiah: “What’s wrong?” “The city of my father’s tombs is desolate - empty - in ruins.” Notice he mentions tombs - something the king will relate to. Think about the pyramids in Egypt and how important tombs were to these ancient kings.

Verse 4: “What do you want to do?” “To rebuild it” Notice, he never mentions the walls.

Verse 6: “How long will it take?” And, Nehemiah gives him a definite time period.

And, Nehemiah had thought out everything he would need. He had to. Imagine - he’s facing a 1,600 mile round trip through hostile territory to fix the walls of a city - to fortify a city that the rulers of the area would rather have in ruins.

He asks for letters to the governors of the provinces that he would have to pass through - letters with the king’s signature guaranteeing safe passage. He needed supplies so he asked for letters of requisition - with the kings signature - asking for timber from the king’s own forest.

Nehemiah knew what he was going to say and how he was going to say it well before he was called on to say it. He had answers to the kings questions and a plan to be put into action.

Praying in faith is not a substitute for careful planning. God honors orderly thinking. Jesus said, “When a man wants to build a tower, does he not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:28,31) Think it through before you commit yourself to something. Be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into.

With God - praying and waiting is always an adventure - never passive - always productive - a time of preparation. To think through our commitment to God’ purposes. To evaluate the resources He’s given us. To consider the possibilities and how they can be realized. So, that in God’s way and in God’s time we will be ready to move as He leads us forward.

Years ago I heard a story that has always stuck in my mind. A pioneer town in one of the desert areas of the southwest had gone through months of drought. The cattle were dying. The crops were dying. The well was drying up. Soon, the people would die.

So the whole town decided to go out to a little rise just outside of town and pray and ask God to send rain. So out they went. Along the way the noticed a little girl with an umbrella. So, they asked her, “What are you doing with an umbrella? It hasn’t rained in months.”

The little girl answered, “You said we were going to ask God for rain. I wanted to be prepared.”

No human being could have opened the heart of King Artaxerses to the request of Nehemiah. But, God did. God brought Egypt to its knees before Moses. God preserved His people through Esther. He wants to work in our lives - with the people and situations we face. Will we pray? Will we prepare - expecting God to move us forward in His time and in His way?




Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.