17 June 2015

Nehemiah 2:1-20

"And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me." (v.8)

Psalm: Psalm 24


The relationship of an exiled people with those in power is profoundly complex. The people are exiled through no choice of their own because they have been taken as captives. The story of exile and captivity is indeed at the heart of much of the Jewish Scriptures. A faith that depends so much on place, on God's presence made real and concrete through the Temple (which was thought to be the throne of God), is now to be experienced far away where there is no Temple and no certainty. The liberty of God's chosen people, to whom God has promised faithfulness, is experienced and understood at this time in their history in captivity and through abandonment. In such circumstances, help comes from unexpected places. Captor and captive connect as King Artaxerxes allows his slave and cupbearer Nehemiah to rebuild his homeland. In his surprise, Nehemiah remarks that "the gracious hand of my God was upon me".

It is curious that such a mighty king should notice the feelings of a captive forced to serve at his master's table. Nehemiah's sadness in verse 1 is noted because it is so unusual. That in itself is curious. How hard Nehemiah must have worked at being cheerful, if the king (who it is hard to imagine would care that much about such an insignificant person) might notice when he was not.

A connection has been made between the two men, one that transcends nationality, status and religion. The profound sadness of the exile far away from home is noticed and the king has compassion. How strange that God's care for Nehemiah should be expressed through the ruler of the country that has caused the hardship in the first place.

The sense of Psalm 23 comes to mind: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me" (verse 4).

To Ponder

  • Help comes from unexpected people in strange ways. How good are you at noticing this?
  • How do you behave before your enemies?
  • Where are the dark valleys for you at the moment? Take time today to ask God to help you through them.

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin

Born in Africa to missionary parents, Mark Wakelin is a Methodist minister, He was the President of the Methodist Conference 2012/2013, and before that worked for the Connexional Team, as the secretary for internal relationships. He is now the minster at Epsom Methodist Chuch.