I was again planning on reading all the way through Nehemiah before making any comments, but something stood out to me in chapter 4. The book is about its namesake, who is a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. He is one of the Jewish exiles (the term Jew comes from this time when the exiles had gone back to resettle Judah), and inquires how his brethren are doing back in Jerusalem. He is told that, “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” This puts him in a funk. He goes before God and confesses his and Israel’s sin. What impresses about he and Ezra is that they know God’s word, and they plead with God based on his covenant promises, and God answers.
The king asks Nehemiah what’s wrong with him because it’s obvious on his countenance, and he tells him. He asks if he can go back to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls, and the king not only allows him to do this, but provides safe passage. Once there, he inspects the walls and comes up with a plan to rebuild them. Once they start the process, bad guys, of course, don’t like what’s happening and threaten to stop, and kill, them. In the midst of this, Nehemiah prays, and I love their response to the situation:
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
They prayed and posted guards. This is always how the people of God work. It is not one or the other. We don’t pray and then sit around expecting God will do something and we nothing. On the other hand we don’t do and ignore God as if our own efforts work in isolation from his. God uses means, and that often means us.