Nehemiah 1:11 – “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy…”
Nehemiah occupied a strategic position in the foreign court of the Persian King Artaxerxes, who was the third son of Ahasueras and Vashti, who are mentioned in the book of Esther. A brutal man, “Artaxerxes killed Artabanus and murdered his older brother Darius, the rightful heir to the throne. He then defeated his other brother Hystaspes in battle…Artaxerxes suppressed two major rebellions in the early years of his reign.”(1)
In Nehemiah’s example, we learn the two ways God’s people can occupy strategic positions in business and government. One, they can rise as leaders. Two, they can attach themselves to rising leaders as faithful and trustworthy assistants who humbly come alongside a leader. Nehemiah, much like Joseph in Egypt or Daniel in Babylon, is an illustration of the latter. Although Nehemiah is essentially a slave, his proven character and loyalty elevated him to the inner circle of the king’s most trusted assistants.
Assassination attempts against a king were common and so a cupbearer ensured the safety of the king. Overseeing the purchase and storage of a king’s wine collection, they also sample the wine to ensure its safety. This dangerous job required a most trustworthy person as the life of the king was literally in Nehemiah’s hands. One Bible dictionary adds, “Cupbearers could also have other duties, as indicated by Tobit 1:22: ‘Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet ring, administrator, and accountant.’” (2)
Nehemiah’s role may have required that he be castrated, as was often the case (e.g. Daniel according to Isaiah 39:6-7 and Daniel 1), and would explain why he was allowed frequent access to the queen (2:6). Not knowing that one day God would use his government position, Nehemiah humbly and faithfully served a godless man for years with character and integrity which allowed him to later be released to rebuild Jerusalem: “The Persian king likely appointed Nehemiah as governor of Judaea because he wanted a loyal subject to govern this powerful area located directly between Babylon and unstable Egypt.” (3)
The point of the first chapter is that the character tests we face today are preparing our character for our testimony tomorrow.
How have you seen a character test in a difficult season of your life be used as part of your Christian testimony later in life?
(1) Israel P. Loken, “Nehemiah, Book of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
(2) Elliot Ritzema, “Cupbearer,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
(3) Israel P. Loken, “Nehemiah, Book of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).