PRAY, PLAN, PREPARE & PROMOTE: And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart." So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?" Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 2:1-4)
Nehemiah served as the cupbearer of the Persian King Artaxerxes, which was a very influential position. Even though he was in a position of power in a foreign country, he was cognizant of Israel, his country of origin and was eager to know the current state of affairs of his country. So, when he encountered one of his brothers (Hanani) who had just returned from Judah, he inquired the whereabouts of the Jews and the city of Jerusalem (1:2). The news that he heard was horrific – the remnant Jews were in great distress, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates of Jerusalem were burnt with fire (1:3).
When Nehemiah heard the distressing news, there are four specific things that he did about this matter:
- PRAY: As soon as Nehemiah heard the news, he sat down and wept bitterly. He then continued to mourn for many days, and during this time he also fasted and prayed to God for answers and deliverance. Nehemiah’s initial prayer is transcribed in 1:5-11 that gives us an indication how he was praying to God while confessing his sins as well. Prayer was important as it helped Nehemiah to wait in God’s presence, cleared his vision, quieted his heart and activated his faith to take the necessary action. He also prayed a brief silent prayer before he answered the king & detailed his request (2:4b).
- PLAN: Even though the scriptures do not mention about Nehemiah’s planning, when we see how he answered the king with specific requests, we can assume that Nehemiah must has thought over the matter carefully & planned about how to approach the king at the right time. We should note that Nehemiah heard the news in the month of Chislev (Kislev), the modern equivalent of Nov-Dec (1:1). However, he took time to approach the king, which he eventually did in the month of Nisan (Nissan), the modern equivalent of Mar-Apr (2:1). So, Nehemiah had about 3-5 months to plan his next step.
- PREPARE: While Nehemiah was praying and planning, he was also preparing himself regarding how he would go about the task. He decided which specific date he would appear before the king with a sad face (2:2). He calculated the time he would need to make the journey, oversee the repair work and return back to the palace (2:6). He made a list of what items he would need for the mammoth task ahead – letters from the king to the governors beyond the river for travel pass (2:7) and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest for the necessary wood materials (2:8).
- PROMOTE: Finally, after Nehemiah surveyed the damage of the walls and gates of Jerusalem in person (2:11-16), he approached the Jews, priests, nobles and officials to promote his project plan with these words: "You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach." (2:17). They enthusiastically responded: "Let us rise up and build." Then they set their hands to this good work. (2:18)