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…
The patriotism of Nehemiah was based on religion; and hence the interest which he discovered in his far distant but afflicted countrymen, and the sacrifices which he made for their welfare. The love of country, because it is the country of our birth, and of countrymen, is no narrow-minded bigotry, as some shallow infidels in their pretended love of universal mankind have imagined. It is a principle of human nature implanted in our hearts for the wisest purposes. There is a patriotism which is quite selfish in its nature. Their own aggrandisement, or that of their friends and partisans, is the sum and substance of their patriotism. True patriotism, like every other great virtue, must be founded in true religion. Had not Nehemiah been a pious man, and loved the God of his fathers with all his heart, and loved his countrymen because they bore the image of God, he never would have relinquished his high advantages in the palace of Artaxerxes, and sacrificed so largely for their benefit. The true way to love man is to begin by loving God. On hearing of the affliction of his countrymen, who he might have expected by this time would have been in prosperous circumstances, Nehemiah betakes himself to prayer. All this shows Nehemiah's acquaintance with his Bible, and also the warmth of his piety. We might have expected that living at heathen court, remote from the means of grace, with few to strengthen or encourage him, he, though a good man, would have discovered in his piety the disadvantage of the circumstances in which he had been placed. But no — God can and often does compensate in richer effusions of His grace, for an adverse outward situation. And here let us mark the course which he pursued in seeking to relieve and restore his afflicted countrymen. He did not say, as many would have done, in a proud, vaunting spirit, "I am the king's cup-bearer. Backed by his authority, and armed besides with wealth and power, I will soon reduce Jerusalem and its people to a right condition; I will soon quell all opposition, rebuild the wall, and set up the gates, and make the city glorious as of old." This had been the spirit of man flushed with the pride of power; but he had been taught of God, and so begins with humility and prayer. Let us, and let all, follow his example. All are occasionally in the providence of God required to discharge great duties. Important undertakings, involving the glory of God and the good of others, ever and anon call for our services. How should we engage in them? In a spirit of pride and self-confidence? No. But in a spirit of prayer and penitence. We are apt to despair of an undertaking when it is suspended on the will of man, and he is high above us, and we have ground to apprehend his hostility. Let this encourage us to be much in prayer for a good cause, even where it seems to hang upon the will of man, and that will appear hopelessly opposed. Nehemiah having thus prepared himself by prayer, is not slow in setting out in his work. Here we may notice the prudence and piety of this excellent Jew. He showed prudence in addressing a motive to the mind of the king for his journey, which the monarch could understand and appreciate. He did not ask leave to go to Jerusalem for the sake of his religion, but for the sake of his fathers' sepulchres. This was an argument to which even a heathen would defer. With regard, again, to his piety, he did not only pray to God for counsel before making his request, but he strengthened and emboldened himself by prayer at the very time he stood in the presence of Artaxerxes. And then, after he had been successful in the petition, he did not refer the success to his own wisdom, or to his services as a faithful servant, but to the good hand of God upon him. He arrogated nothing to himself; he ascribed all to God. How much piety is here, and how beautiful is the union between piety and prudence! Considering the difficulties with which Christians have to struggle, well may the Saviour exhort His followers to be wise as serpents, at the same time that they are harmless as doves. It is worthy of notice, that deeply prayerful and dependent on God as Nehemiah was, he was not unmindful of the duty. of using all legitimate means to secure the important object which he had in view. Prayer rightly understood does not destroy the use of means; it only strengthens and regulates its application. Prayer without means, and means without prayer, are equally presumptuous. Duty lies in employing both, but keeping both in their right place. This excellent man now set out on his journey, received the aid of the heathen governors upon the way, and soon reached Jerusalem in safety. With his usual prudence he did not, in the first instance, inform any one — priests, nobles, or rulers — what his intentions were. He wished to see the city with his own eyes, and draw his own conclusions, before acquainting them with the object of his mission. This enabled him to speak from personal observation, and so to speak with greater effect.
(J. G. Lorimer.)
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.