And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine…
It was a time of great suspense, hardest of all things for human hearts to bear. The future of Jerusalem now hung on the building of the wall, and this depended on Nehemiah's personal interposition and upon Artaxerxes' pleasure. When great events depend on a single circumstance, issues deep and grave on the charge of a regiment, on the skill of a statesman, on the caprice of a king, we may well wait in anxiety. Nothing could be done now for Jerusalem, speaking humanly, without this Persian sovereign's consent. There was -
I. ABSENCE OF OPPORTUNITY. More than three months intervened between Nehemiah's receiving the tidings and his appeal to Artaxerxes. Whence this delay? Undoubtedly the actual or virtual inaccessibility of the king. Either he was not called to the royal presence, or the sovereign was obviously not in the mood. How unlike this to the ever-open throne of grace to which at any time, and in any place, we may go, sure of an attentive hearing from "him who giveth liberally and upbraideth not."
II. DIPLOMACY. Nehemiah showed great skill -
1. In the introduction of his cause. How should he ask to be sent elsewhere when he was already "standing before the king"? This was regarded as the height of a man's ambition, as our Scriptures plentifully intimate. To "stand before kings," to stand in the "king's presence, before his face, was the acme of hope and satisfaction. To ask to be dismissed was discourteous and dangerous. It was, indeed, going in this direction, to seem otherwise than joyful (vers. 1, 2). But Nehemiah ventured thus far; he did not disguise or restrain his sorrow; it was evident in his countenance. This would be a forceful appeal to the king, and still more so to the queen, who was present (ver. 6).
2. In his lament. It was the "one touch of nature that makes the whole world kin," to allude to "the city of his fathers' sepulchres lying waste" (ver. 3): this would strike a chord in any human heart; it did within the king.
3. In his request. He was mentally prepared for utterance; he had even calculated the necessary time (ver. 6), and the materials, etc. he required for the work (vers. 7, 8). We must not expect to succeed in any delicate enterprise unless we enter upon it with calculation and care. There are things to be done for God which may be wrought by sheer an& simple earnestness; but there are times when, if we cannot furnish it ourselves, we must give place to the man who can bring to the task refinement, delicacy, tact. We must give way to the Nehemiah of our Church or society; he will succeed admirably where we should fail ingloriously.
III. PRAYER. "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (ver. 4). This is a beautiful and suggestive parenthesis. Between the king's question and the courtier's reply there was a momentary appeal to heaven. "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; as rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1). An excellent thing is it for a man so to walk with God, to live so near to him, that at any moment, and at any time of special need, he can ejaculate a prayer; so that it will be natural for him to withdraw for a brief interval from this world and from man, and lift up the heart to heaven. This is one way in which we may be "praying always" (Ephesians 6:18), "without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
IV. GRATITUDE FOR SUCCESS. "The king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me" (ver. 8). Nehemiah, like all praying men, was grateful. He ascribed success not to his own ingenuity, but to the "good hand of God." Men that are undevout are necessarily unthankful and self-complacent; they congratulate themselves instead of blessing God. Far more beautiful and appropriate is it to realise that the hand of the Supreme is controlling all issues, and thus conferring all good. With some prosperity leads to pride and spiritual injury, while in others it inspires gratitude and devotion. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.
WEB: It happened in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, when wine was before him, that I took up the wine, and gave it to the king. Now I had not been [before] sad in his presence.