James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 2:4 - 2:4

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James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 2:4 - 2:4

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘So I prayed to the God of heaven.’


Our thoughts are now upon that moment of ejaculatory prayer, and its lesson for our own faith and our own prayers.

What has Nehemiah to say to us?

I. He bids us cherish and cultivate the habit of ejaculation.—In other words, he bids us “tell Him all,” freely while reverently, at all times and in all places. What an unspiritual environment was Nehemiah’s at that moment! What an unspiritual position and office were Nehemiah’s amidst that scene! It was not the position of the great trusted adviser, like Daniel, sharing the cares of empire with his prince; still less was it the prophetic position of a Daniel preaching righteousness to the frightened revellers from the text upon the wall. Yet there and then he knew the way to God, and instantly he took it; the communication was open, and it worked as effectually in the Persian palace at the hour of wine, as if Nehemiah, like Hezekiah, had been kneeling in the temple with his eyes upon the sanctuary.

The message is direct to you and me. ‘Strength and calm for every crisis come with telling Jesus all!’ And ‘every crisis’ implies occasions whose outside is altogether secular, surroundings which seem to be entirely unreligious, if not actively hostile to religion. Where is the Lord God of Nehemiah? He is here now. He is with you on the journey, in the drawing-room, in the counting-house, in the shop, in the study, amidst the company from which you shrink, but in which it is your duty to be. He is with you while you hear or read the assault upon the Bible, upon the Gospel, upon the Lord; the question which puts some anxious problem of practical right or wrong before you. ‘So I prayed unto the God of heaven,’ who was also the God of Nehemiah, and the Master of Artaxerxes and his will. For you, as for Nehemiah, that ‘way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’—that blessed way of escape, into the heart of the Lord Who lives and hears—is wide open, anywhere and everywhere.

II. Another message which this servant of God brings us is concerning the answers which come to such prayers.—In Nehemiah’s case nothing ostensibly supernatural occurred. This whole book records no miracle, nor does that of Ezra. No finger wrote upon the wall to tell Artaxerxes what to say, and to alarm him into a consciousness of Nehemiah’s relations with the Eternal. The king thought the matter over, consulted the queen beside him, asked another simple question, felt a sympathy with Nehemiah’s plans and wishes, saw no reason to the contrary, and gave him exactly the leave he wanted. The God of heaven answered at once, and to the very purpose; but He answered through the channel of the Persian’s mind and volition, not forced but sovereignly manipulated by Him ‘who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.’

We read such an incident in the Bible, and we accept it as true, and perhaps let it pass as true; true for days when ‘the miraculous’ was in the air. But it is just such an incident as offers itself for the closest repetition now. There was no miracle in that air, save the miracle of the presence of the faithfulness, of the power of God, and of His welcome to His servant to ‘tell him all.’ Then let us each be a Nehemiah, in intercourse with God in our twentieth-century surroundings, and accept His answers as they commonly come through His silent handling of those surroundings, and of us amidst them.

III. But Nehemiah’s messages from the king’s palace are not all delivered. One, and a most important one, remains.—This prayer of ejaculation is not the first prayer recorded in the book; the first chapter gives us another, which is long, deliberate, imploring, and in secret. ‘I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven’; the last petition in that prayer being that God would ‘prosper His servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.’

Let us ponder this. That secret and sustained intercourse with God prepared Nehemiah for the momentary prayer in the strange publicity so soon to follow. His ejaculation was the prompt utterance of a soul which cultivated beforehand, in holy readiness for instant use, the sense of the blessed Presence, and by faith abode in that invisible sanctuary. It was habitual prayerfulness in special action.

So it must be with us too in the common hours of life, so pregnant with deadly perils and temptations if we are not men of prayer. We must prepare in secret for our spiritual victories out of doors. We must make time for deliberate confession and supplication alone, if we are to be ready in the social circle, to dart our word-long petition unerringly to the throne of grace, and bring the blessing down. We must pray, if we would pray. It shall not be in vain for us, any more than for Nehemiah.

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.