Next to King David, Nehemiah is my favourite Bible character.
Somehow the rare first person narrative voice (ooh this echoes finals and all the essays I've been writing) really made me connect with him. As you read the book of Nehemiah you find yourself identifying with and rooting for this tough, purposeful, hard-working, incredibly brave man (even if you discern a kind of no-nonsense personality and intensity that probably wouldn't make him the most fun person to have around; but then. Nehemiah's life work didn't exactly encourage cheerfulness and jokes. And I suppose you couldn't become the king's cupbearer without having plenty of nasty palace politics and intrigues to depress you along the way.)
I love how he could come straight from the luxury of palace life, the inactivity of a job that was basically just being the guinea pig for someone's food and drink, and waiting on the king with bated breath, to the roughness of life among the ruins of a city trying to rebuild itself, and taking command of a whole race and culture of displaced, aimless people. Not everyone can transition so rapidly and effectively between such different worlds. Clearly Nehemiah was one of those steady, secure people who remained the same under changing circumstances.
Towards the end of chapter 5 there's this interesting bit where he tells about the demands he could have made on the people in his official position as governor, and how instead he footed the expense of feeding all the people working for him. He doesn't brag about it. In fact one of the most striking things to me about Nehemiah's record is how matter-of-fact he is about everything--the good and bad. He states it in a straightforward, factual manner and then moves on. The way we write in our diary, not bothering to explain or take pains that it should come across in a particular way; versus the way we tell it to a friend, when we get a lot more self-conscious and self-involved. It reflects the way he addresses God directly, making the whole book seem like a personal, direct account to God, rather than a historical record that he was aware people might be reading still hundreds of years later. I think that's one of the reasons the book of Nehemiah fascinated me so much when I first read it--it came across as a direct, personal, honest account to God; a private dialogue between Nehemiah and his God. That's how he sounded like when he concluded chapter 5 with
"Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people."
Similar to verse 15's "...but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
I appreciated the reminder that that's the way we ought to live as Christians. Our generosity, our kindness, should be based simply and completely on our fear of God. Not based on expectations that others will give us approval or support in return, have it reflect well on us. Simply because we know that God is real, and we actively live out that knowledge, applying it in our respective roles and positions, as Nehemiah did in his--both as a cupbearer and governor. Even when it requires sacrifice; perhaps of what we could rightfully have demanded, but forfeit out of empathy for others. Simply doing what we know is right, in being a trailblazer even when it seems impossible, when it seems too hard. Nehemiah risked his life, dedicated his life to fulfilling what seemed an impossible dream to the other Jews in their scattered and disempowered state.
What he did right, and the wrong he didn't do--both stemmed from the same reason.
Simply because we fear God. Whatever that may mean for you and I in our respective contexts today.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are