Perhaps one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people in the post-exilic era was Nehemiah who led the citizens of Jerusalem in one of the most remarkable accomplishments — the rebuilding of the walls of the city in 52 days.
We know very little about this man except what has been shared with us in the book that bears his name. We know he held a prominent position as cupbearer in the court of King Artaxerxes of Persia, which informs us he had the highest security clearance. With the constant threat of assassination attempts, the “cupbearer” was to guard the royal family from poisoning, even to the point of tasting the king’s food and wine before serving it. This trusted position often developed beyond that of a butler into one of a valuable confidante and adviser.
While serving in this lofty position in the palace, Nehemiah received news that the walls of the city of Jerusalem were broken down, the gates burned, and the overall conditions within the city were deplorable. Without the protection of walls and gates, any attempt at restoring homes, businesses and houses of worship would be fruitless. The city was defenseless against marauders and thieves.
Why should Nehemiah care about the conditions in Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away? As a Jew, he probably could do more to help his people from his secure position in the palace. But he realized that if Jerusalem was not rebuilt, the restoration of his people in Israel would be greatly hampered.
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When Nehemiah received this news, he wept, fasted and prayed for many days, imploring the God of heaven to have mercy on this storied city where his ancestors were entombed.
Through his grief and intercession for Jerusalem, Nehemiah was transformed from a sad spectator across the miles to someone who cared enough to get personally involved. He became willing to allow God to answer prayer through him. He was so moved by the need that he was willing to sacrifice his position in the palace and volunteered to lead a renewed effort at restoring this ancient capitol.
As I read Nehemiah’s account recently, I wondered if I would have cared enough about conditions outside my personal interests to invest myself in trying to make a difference. Notable people of history were ordinary people who cared so much that they were motivated to practically become involved with people who are hurting. Instead of cursing the darkness, they decided to light a candle.
One of the greatest stories Jesus told was in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He replied with an account of a traveler who was robbed, beaten and left to die beside the treacherous road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Two very qualified men passed the wounded man on the other side of the road because they did not want to get involved. The least qualified man traveling that highway stopped to help because he cared enough to get involved with the condition of a stranger. That story became famously known as “The Good Samaritan,” and became the definition of being a “neighbor.”
Once again, we are approaching a holiday season when we become more fully aware of those who are in deep need and deprivation. While it is commendable to toss a few coins or dollars in a collection box, it is quite another thing to be moved with such compassion that we volunteer to invest ourselves in making a difference.
When you pray with Nehemiah about the pitiful condition of others, God may answer your prayer — through you.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.