Nehemiah – Cupbearer to the King
by John C. Westervelt
The Hebrews of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, were exiled to Babylon 150 years before Nehemiah’s time. The Hebrews had been in captivity for seventy years when the Persians under King Cyrus overthrew the Babylonians in 539 B.C. The new king established a policy of letting foreigners return home. Cyrus issued a decree saying the Hebrews could return to Judah and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Fifty thousand Jews accepted the offer to go home.
Nehemiah’s grandparents and many others elected to stay in their homes and jobs in the new Persia. Powerful Persian kings, Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, followed in succession. As an intelligent and loyal worker in the court of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah rose through the ranks to become cupbearer to the king. Besides certifying that wine served to Artaxerxes was safe, Nehemiah was a confidant and counselor to the king.
When Nehemiah asked some men who had come from Judah about the Jewish homeland, they said, “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah’s father, Hacaliah, had instilled a love of Judah in his son. So when Nehemiah heard the news about Judah, he wept and mourned for days and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then Nehemiah reminded his God of His promise, “Remember the word which You gave Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling place for My name.’”
The next time Nehemiah brought wine to Artaxerxes, the king asked, “Why does your face look sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of the heart.”
Nehemiah responded, “I am sad because the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire.”
The king asked, “What is it you want to do?”
“If it pleases the king, send me to Judah so that I may rebuild the city of my fathers.”
Artaxerxes, with the queen sitting beside him, granted Nehemiah his request. Because of his love for Nehemiah, the king gave Nehemiah letters to the governors of the land he would cross, as well as an armed escort.
After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah arose in the night for a secret inspection of the wall. The next day he spoke to the people saying, “Come let us rebuild the wall, so our city will no longer be a disgrace.” While the leaders of neighboring countries tried to intimidate Nehemiah, he was resolute in his belief that God would give the people of Jerusalem success in rebuilding the wall.
The priests, goldsmiths, perfume makers, rulers, women, and merchants worked hand in hand to rebuild the wall. Rumors circulated that nearby warring nations were coming to destroy the Jews working on the wall. Nehemiah ordered half his bodyguard to remain armed while the rest worked on the wall. The workers were directed to keep a sword by their side. Trumpeters were placed at strategic locations along the wall with instructions to sound the alarm if the enemy approached. Adrenaline coursed through the veins of every man, woman, and child as they carried stones of all sizes to fill in the wall. With the Lord’s help, the wall was completed in fifty-two days.
Nehemiah brought all the Levite priests to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication of the wall. The singers came from the region all around Jerusalem. Nehemiah assembled the leaders and the singers on the top of the wall. He appointed two great choirs.
The first choir and half the leaders proceeded to the right on the top of the wall toward the Refuge Gate. At the Fountain Gate, they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.
The second choir and the other half of the leaders proceeded to the left on the wall above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall and above the Gate of Ephraim. Then they continued on to the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, and the Tower of the Hundreds as far as the Sheep Gate, and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard.
The two choirs then took their stand in the house of God. The priest played the trumpets and the choirs sang to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps, and lyres. Besides the men, the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.
Copyright 2002 by John C. Westervelt
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