Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that . . . some men from Judah came.
To understand the story of Nehemiah, we have to understand the historical context in which it was written. First of all, let’s look at Nehemiah’s situation. “Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came” (Nehemiah 1:1-2). Nehemiah was a Jew who was living in Susa, the capital of Persia. What in the world was a Jew doing in the capital of Persia? Remember, Israel had a civil war and split into two parts. There was the Northern Kingdom, which went by the name of Israel, and then you had the Southern Kingdom, and they became known as Judah. The Northern Kingdom had nineteen kings and every one of them was rotten to the core. Because of that, God disciplined them first, and they were overtaken by the Assyrians.
Because the Southern Kingdom had some good kings along with some evil kings, they lasted longer. But the prophets said, “If you do not turn back to God, what is going to happen to you is exactly what happened to the Northern Kingdom.” The Southern Kingdom did not repent, and they too fell in 586 BC to the nation of Babylon (and then Babylon was taken over by Persia). Look at what happened when the Babylonians entered Jerusalem: “They burned the house of God and they broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire” (2 Chronicles 36:19). Everything was burned to the ground, and it was a result of God’s judgment. But the prophets not only prophesied Judah’s destruction, but they also looked to a future day when God would restore Judah back to Jerusalem. Beyond God’s discipline would be God’s blessing. So after seventy years of captivity, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom” (v. 22). This proclamation said, in effect, “Jews, you may now return to Jerusalem.” Was Cyrus a believer who was having his quiet time every morning? Not at all. He was a pagan, but notice how God stirred in his heart to accomplish His purpose. God can work in the life of an unbeliever just as easily as He can a believer. God stirred up Cyrus and said, “Let the Jews go back to Jerusalem.” So over the next hundred years or so, the Jews started returning to Jerusalem. That was the period in which Nehemiah lived.
Second, let’s look at Nehemiah’s position. In chapter 1 verse 11 he said, “Now I was the cupbearer to the king.” That does not sound like much, but the cupbearer was responsible for tasting the wine or the food the king would eat, to make sure that it was okay to eat. This was a position of great prominence. Nehemiah was not there by accident, just like you are not in the place you are in by accident. God has placed you there for a purpose, not to advance your agenda, but to advance His agenda. That was Nehemiah’s position.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Living Your Dreams” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.