Lord's Day Evening Meditations March 9, 2003

Nehemiah 2:1-18

Permission From the King

When the king asked Nehemiah the reason for his sadness, he replied, "Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?" That is how he referred to Jerusalem to the king, but when quoting what God had said, it was "The place that I have chosen to set My name there." (ch. 1:9). That place of God's choice was where the people were to meet with their God; the place where they were to bring their sacrifices. God had chosen the place - Jerusalem. Because of this, a faithful Jew delighted in that sacred spot. Read the thoughts of the faithful remnant in Psalm 137 and 122. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." Also, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee."

Jerusalem, God's chosen center at that time, was a geographical location. When the woman of Samaria spoke about worshipping in the mountain of Samaria instead of Jerusalem, the Lord replied, "The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him." John 4:21 - 24. So, though Jerusalem is no longer God's chosen center at the present time, the Father still seeks worshippers, and it still holds true that God has a chosen center where He looks for the worship of His people. That center is His own dear Son. God's divine center for gathering today is given us in Matt. 18:20. "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." That verse is very misunderstood and very misapplied, yet the Spirit of God gathers the people of God around the Person of the Son of God, and in His name alone. I will not go into all that that involves tonight, but just simply say that God still has a divine center today; the choice is His, not ours, and if we desire to please Him in this matter, we must allow the Holy Spirit to gather us to His center, not to one of our own choosing.

The king's next question was, "For what dost thou make request?" Nehemiah's first reaction to this was, "So I prayed to the God of heaven." v. 4. See Nehemiah's instant and apparently habitual recourse to prayer, even when he stood in the presence of the king. He didn't get down on his knees and close his eyes, but in his heart he looked to the Lord for the answer to this question. What an excellent practice that is! Besides, Artaxerxes was probably the supreme power on the known earth at that time, but before asking him for something, Nehemiah went to a yet higher power-"the God of heaven" -for help and direction.

Notice Nehemiah's frequent reference to "the God of heaven" in these two chapters. God had His throne on the earth in the days of the kingdom of Israel, but due to the sin and corruption of that people He had abandoned His house and His throne and returned to heaven, leaving the government of the earth in the hands of Gentile kings, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord Jesus came to earth to present Himself to His people as their king, but they rejected Him and crucified Him. Having accomplished the work of redemption He has returned to heaven and waits there during this time of "the kingdom of heaven" in mystery, while the Holy Spirit is down here, preparing the Bride for the moment of the Lord's coming.

Nehemiah presented his request, and the king accepted it. He said, "I set him a time," and we find in ch. 5:14 that he was away for twelve years. Nehemiah received everything that he asked for, and he was very careful to give the credit to the One to Whom it was due: "according to the good hand of my God upon me." It is good to see this in Nehemiah, and it is good for us to practice it ourselves. Did Nehemiah want to rebuild the walls? It was "what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem." Was Nehemiah successful in obtaining permission from the king? Permission was granted "according to the good hand of my God upon me." And then finally, when the work was done, Who deserved the credit? Even the enemy "perceived that this work was wrought of our God." ch. 6:16.

Verses 9 - 11 very briefly record Nehemiah's journey and arrival at Jerusalem. Though accompanied by a military escort, there is no record of any other Jew with him. He was alone. This is very instructive as to the course of dispensations in Scripture. When Israel left Egypt for the promised land they were 600,000 footmen, and the whole way was accompanied with miracles and signs of Divine power. That was the beginning. The end of that dispensation was quite different. Zerubbabel returned to Judah with a company of approx. 50,000. Ezra returned with a company of approx. 1800. Nehemiah returned alone. Do you see the decline? The very end of the time of law is described in Luke 1 and 2 where we see Zacharias & Elisabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon & Anna, a few shepherds, and a few unnamed ones, still faithful, and still waiting "for redemption in Jerusalem."

The time of grace is the same. It began with great power and great numbers, as we see in the Acts, but the decline had already begun before the apostles died. Now we are almost at the end of the time of grace, and the Lord, knowing how it would be, made provision for the weakness of these days when He said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Evil increases and faith decreases, but we are told that we must not despise "the day of small things," We can take Nehemiah's example who was full of zeal, and who tried to be faithful to the end.

Verse 10 introduces the enemy. You can be sure that when the Lord begins to work, the enemy will begin to work also. We have seen Nehemiah, a man who was very concerned about the welfare of the people of God. Here were two men who were "grieved exceedingly" that there was someone who sought their welfare: strange attitude that clearly shows the enmity of the world to the Lord and His people.

When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem he didn't tell anyone at first what he had at heart to do. He went out at night and viewed the ruins of the wall. Then he exhorted the people. Notice that he didn't hire engineers, get an estimate of the cost of repairs, and form a committee to raise money and organize the work. Sad to say, that is what many believers do in the Lord's things. That is the way of the world, but that is not the way of faith. What he saw on that tour of inspection would have been totally discouraging, naturally speaking, but Nehemiah was a man of faith, and he set about this task, by faith, not by worldly methods.

He addressed the people: "Ye see the distress that we are in come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach." The people replied, "Let us rise up and build." The faith and zeal of Nehemiah awakened faith and zeal in the others so that they were ready, and "strengthened their hands for this good work." v. 17, 18. The first part of the Book of Nehemiah concerns this rebuilding of the wall, a story that the Spirit of God has put on record for us, because we also have some wall rebuilding to do. What does the wall of Jerusalem speak of for us? Remember that the wall of Jerusalem was her protection against her enemies, so the first thing that we have to do is to identify the enemies. There are three: 1) the flesh, 2) the world, and 3) the devil, and I've arranged them in the order of their influence. They have also been described as the internal (flesh), the external (world), and the infernal (Satan) enemies. Keep in mind also that, as the example before us is a city, we are speaking more of the collective aspect of things, for us, the assembly, rather than the individual aspect, though that holds true also. S.L.