Right Place, Right Time
The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 2:1-6.
Have you ever been at the right place at the right time and seen God do something miraculous in your life. I recall looking for a job to supplement my Army Retired Pay in 2012. I was hoping to go back to teaching half time, but registration numbers at the college limited my opportunity to part time, not half time.
I was a bit anxious about making ends meet before either Nancy or I arrived at the golden age of 62. Having prayed about the situation, I headed off to put out applications. I had some misgivings about the second location on my list, and almost did not stop there. The manager showed a little hostility to those who did not love a dirty joke, or did not enjoy putdowns in the work place. Nevertheless, I had a prompting to stop by, since it was on the way between my planned stops one and three.
As I walked in, I asked for the manager. The man at the counter said “I am the manager.” I asked where the former manager was, and a voice down the aisle said, “I am the owner, I fired him yesterday. Can we help you.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I am looking for work, my hobby is woodworking, and this is a well known woodworking store.”
“I have several of openings right now, as some of the manager’s ‘cronies’ (his exact words) left with him.” I left a half hour later with a job. I was in the right place, at the right time, all orchestrated by God, not my scheming and planning.
Our story about Nehemiah is much like that. He is a pious Jewish man working for the King of Persia as one of his trusted “chambermen.” Upon hearing from his brother that Judah and Jerusalem, “those who had survived the exile,” were in a bad way. They were oppressed by their neighbor city-states in the Provence of “Trans-Euphrates.” The city had no wall to protect it, or give the city prestige among its neighbors. Nehemiah was heartbroken. “The God of Heaven’s” reputation was at stake for His worship center was maintained in a village with no wall, no protection, and no status.
He began to pray. Now, that was last week’s message, and I am not going to repeat it, except to note that he also prayed that God would make him part of the solution to the situation. He got the news in the month of Kislev (late November to early December). Our story today takes place in the month of Nisan (late March to early April). He had been consistent in his prayers.
Nehemiah was a chamberman to King Artaxerxes, son of the famous Xerxes who invaded Greece in the days when Socrates was a child. Xerxes is also the King who married Esther, the Jewish maiden, and made her his second Queen. Artaxerxes was the richest of all the Persian Emperors, with an empire that stretched from India to the East, Southern Egypt and Ethiopia to the south, and Northern Greece to the West.
Our story today probably takes place in a drawing room near Artaxerxes’s banquet hall. Several times a week the kings of the ancient world would have banquets at the dinner hour. They would carry on business at these banquets before the large gathering of guests. Before the banquet, the king would wait in a drawing room with a small number of individuals who would be seated at the “head table.” Wine was served and informal casual conversations would go on. A chance for the King to relax before his “business dinner.” When all the banquet guests arrived, and the meal was ready to be served, the chief butler would escort the king to the banquet hall, and announce him and his party, with some pomp, to guests.
Modern Biblical scholars believe that probably is where our story takes place. In the drawing room during the wine service, while Nehemiah was serving the wine to the King. About this time, he also tested the wine to ensure it was not harmful to the King or the party. It was a rule that the serving staff was to be pleasant, optimistic, and happy while serving the King. Governing involved a lot of “unhappy” decision making. The banquet to follow was often a stressful time, as the king debated issues of the day. The King did not need additional “drama” from his household staff. Happiness was the rule of the drawing room. Failure to do so could lead to demotion, dismissal, or even death.
Artaxerxes, however, noted that his trusted chamberman was “down hearted,” but not physically sick. When he asked Nehemiah what was wrong, Nehemiah’s reaction is interesting. Look at verses 2 & 3. “I was afraid,” . . . [and replied,] “May the King live forever, should not my face look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
Nehemiah literally took his life in his hands as he replied. God had put a burden on his heart for the city of Jerusalem. But it was risky to step out in faith and do something about it. You see Nehemiah had prayed not only that someone would rebuild Jerusalem, but that he too could be involved in that process.
Now God was answering that prayer!!! But Nehemiah has to speak to the King at the risk of his own job and maybe even his own neck. Fortunately, or more accurately, God had moved the heart of the King. Remember Prov 21:1, “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD” (NASV).
In the Army, we have a phrase, “never volunteer.” Often, we get in over our heads when we do that. But Nehemiah immediately requests to be sent by the King to rebuild the city. Additional requests are found in verses 7-10 for letters to neighboring “city-state” rulers and for timbers to do the rebuilding from the royal forest. Nehemiah was preparing for a mighty journey to do a task for God. And God was honoring that request. He to was praising God for His activities. He was not taking credit for his work, only for God’s provision.
The next paragraph has a particular line of interest. As the King grants Nehemiah his request, the text remarks “. . . the Queen sitting by him (the king).” “Queen” can be used to refer to several different people in court. A Queen could be a ruler in her own right, like the Queen of Sheba. A Queen most often refers to the wife of the king, usually the “primary” wife. However, it can also refer to the “Queen-mother,” mother (or grandmother) to either the King or primary Queen.
Many scholars believe this phrase refers to the Queen Mother Esther!!! The Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote many unfriendly remarks about Persia and Xerxes in particular, says of Xerxes, that after his defeat in Southern Greece, he returned to Persia and “greatly enlarged his harem.” The “Persian Chronicles” tell of his “beauty contest,” but only the Bible tells us that Esther was the winner, and Xerxes crowned her as his second Queen.
The “Persian Chronicles” also speak of the greatness of Artaxerxes I. His very name meaning son of Xerxes. But it never mentions the name of his mother, which is unusual. It is very logical that Esther was indeed the second Queen of Xerxes and the mother of Artaxerxes. And Nehemiah makes his request to Artaxerxes while the great Jewish heroine of the Persian era is sitting by the King. Many Biblical scholars believe this line is there to tell us that.
Antisemitism, as seen in the OT books of Esther, Ezra, & Nehemiah, could well be the reason a Jewish queen might be omitted from the official history of Persia.
The application for us in this story is, are we willing to pray about the ills of our world, in such a way we also pray about how to be part of the solution?Next, are we willing to risk all to follow God’s leading as we endeavor to be the solution God wants us to be to resolve the ills of our world