Ninety-three years after the angel Gabriel brought Daniel the vision of the seventy weeks and the coming Messiah, God set in motion the event that would begin the process – the decree of King Artaxerxes to complete the rebuild of the city of Jerusalem.
Artaxerxes was a king of the Medo-Persian empire, which under Cyrus the Great had defeated and replaced the declining remnant of what had been Nebuchadnezzar’s great Babylonian empire. (Artaxerxes’s successors would face a similar fate for their own government. They would take on Alexander the Great of Greece, and in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, would lose badly in the process).
King Artaxerxes would issue an important decree, one that would initiate a change in the governance of the universe. He would start the clock for the prophecy on the timing of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes reign in 444 BC, he would perceive a sadness in the face of his wine cupbearer, and casually ask him what the problem was. This would cause the spark to kick off the next phase of God’s eternal plan – the offer of salvation to all peoples of faith through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But like many of His endeavors, God likes to partner with and share His work with humans to achieve His will. In this case, God chose Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, as a ministry partner. And as with any effective ministry, Nehemiah would begin his work with prayer.
After encountering some of his fellow Jews returning from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asked for news of how the reconstruction had been going there.
3 They said to me, “The remnant who have survived the captivity there in the province are in great distress and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.”
4 Upon hearing these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days. I prayed and fasted before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3-4 (TLV)
Upon hearing the discouraging report, Nehemiah responded to the bad news by immediately taking it to the Lord in prayer. What a great example for us to follow today! Nehemiah then shared the specifics of his prayer:
(Note: Mitzvot – means a commandment given by God to Moses to be obeyed, Bnei-Yisrael – means the children of Israel).
5 Then I said:
“Adonai, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps the covenant and lovingkindness with those who love Him and keep His mitzvot, 6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant that I am praying before You today both day and night on behalf of Your servants, the Bnei-Yisrael. I am confessing the sins of Bnei-Yisrael that we have sinned against You—yes, I and my ancestral house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You. We have not kept the mitzvot, the statutes, nor the rulings that You commanded Your servant Moses.
8 “Please recall the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you act unfaithfully, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to Me and obey My mitzvot, and do them, then even if your dispersed people are at the ends of the heavens, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place where I have chosen for My Name to dwell.’ Nehemiah 1:5-9 (TLV)
Similar to the prayer of Daniel, Nehemiah sought forgiveness for his own sins and for the sins of his people. He acknowledged the reason for their exile to Babylon and pleaded with God to forgive them and to complete the reconstruction process that had come to a halt in Jerusalem. God needed to step in because they were not getting it done in their own strength – a Power greater than themselves was required.
God would answer Nehemiah’s prayer by providing great favor when the matter came before King Artaxerxes. God often uses favor with human authorities to advance His will and to bless the lives of believers.
Where has God used favor with human authorities to provide a blessing for you? I can think of several occasions in my own life, usually in the form of a positive response where I had expected something much worse.
This does not mean our road with authorities will always be smooth – quite the contrary, it is often rocky. But when we turn to God in our most difficult times, He will make a way for us to pass through, just as His people crossed through the Red Sea when escaping the chariots of Pharaoh. God loves us and will always be there to lean on for comfort in times of sorrow and rescue in times of trouble.
Lord, we thank You that You are always there to bless us, both in our joyous moments and in our times of great need. Grant us comfort and favor when we need it and help us to share You and Your countless good blessings with others. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.