Nehemiah Makes Most of Opportunities
“MAKE the most of your opportunity, for these are evil times,” the apostle Paul counseled the Ephesians, as recorded at Eph 5:16, An Amer. Trans. The servants of Jehovah today have particular reason for taking this Theocratic admonition to heart, for never before have they had so many opportunities for service as now and never have the times been so evil. All such will therefore note with interest and profit the example of one who zealously made the most of his opportunities, and that in evil times, namely, Nehemiah.
The record of Nehemiah is in the form of an autobiography. Its simplicity and straightforwardness stamp it as truth. Without doubt God’s active force directed him to write such things as God wanted recorded for the benefit of his servants now. And though it does not appear that Jehovah displayed any supernatural phenomenon in Nehemiah’s time, as he did in the days of Moses, Joshua and others, neither can there be any doubt that he was active on behalf of Nehemiah, guiding and blessing his efforts, even as Jehovah is guiding and blessing the efforts of his servants today.
Little is known of Nehemiah’s genealogy, aside from the fact that his father’s name was Hacaliah. However, it is quite apparent that his parents were God-fearing Jews, for the name they gave their son means “Jah is comfort”; and from Nehemiah’s own course it is clear that he had been brought up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord”.—Eph. 6:4.
Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes III, ruler of the Persian world empire in the middle of the fifth century B.C. While Nehemiah could hardly have wished for a more honorable and lucrative position, he was one of those faithful exiles who preferred Jerusalem ‘above his chief joy’. (Ps. 137:5, 6) Receiving word that some Jews had returned from Jerusalem, including his kinsman Hanani, he eagerly made inquiry, and to his sorrow learned that the survivors there were in great misery and reproach and that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were still in ruins. Hearing this bad news, Nehemiah wept, fasted, and prayed to Jehovah. In his prayer he recounted what Jehovah had promised to do for his people if, after having been scattered because of disobedience, they repented and obeyed his commandments. He claimed this promise and asked Jehovah to bless his efforts to bring this matter to the attention of the king. How Nehemiah longed to go to Jerusalem and rebuild those walls!
Unexpectedly, the opportunity came one day as the king noticed that Nehemiah was sad, and he inquired why. He told the king of the sorry state of affairs in Jerusalem, the city of his fathers. The king gave him a sympathetic ear, and asked what he could do for him. Nehemiah, first inwardly praying to God, requested: “If it please the king, . . . send me to Judah . . . that I may rebuild it . . . and [give me] a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s park, that he may give me timber to furnish beams for the gates of the citadel, which belongs to the temple, and for the walls of the city, and for the house that I shall enter.” (Neh. 2:1-8, An Amer. Trans.) Alert Nehemiah certainly made the most of this opportunity; also note that his first concern was the temple, then the walls of the city, and then his own dwelling. God answered his silent prayer, causing the king not only to grant his requests but also to provide him with an escort of army officers and horsemen.
In this Nehemiah, though doubtless without realizing it, was being used by Jehovah to bring about a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel (9:25) regarding the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, and which was to mark the beginning of the seventy weeks relative to the Messiah’s coming. Thus that year, 455 B.C., became an outstanding one in Bible chronology.
Three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah made a night inspection tour of the city’s walls, carefully examining in detail their condition. He did this secretly, for he had not yet told any man what God had put in his heart to do for Jerusalem. Gossip might misrepresent the matter. Then, evidently to a gathering of the rulers and the people, he first revealed his purpose to rebuild the walls, told of God’s blessing upon it, and of the king’s cooperation with it. Their enthusiastic response was: “Let us arise and build.” And “they took courage for the good work”. When envious neighbors questioned his motive Nehemiah replied, “The God of the heavens, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.”—Neh. 2:11-20, An Amer. Trans.
Such an extensive construction project required efficient organization, and Nehemiah made the most of this opportunity also. In the Ne third chapter of his book he records the details of all the assignments made; each group going forward with the work given to them, with the exception of the nobles of the Tekoites, who refused to bend their necks in the service of the Lord.
Noting all this activity the envious neighbors, Sanballat the Samaritan, and Tobiah the Ammonite, began to ridicule: “Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish heaps? . . . if a fox should go up he would break down their stone wall.” Looking to God, Nehemiah prayed: “Hear, O our God—for we are despised—and turn back their reproach upon their own head.” So the building work continued and soon the walls were joined together to half of their height, “for the people had a mind to work.”—Neh. 4:1-6, An Amer. Trans.
Seeing that ridicule did not discourage the builders, their enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah, and others, conspired to make war on Jerusalem. Ten times Nehemiah received reports to that effect from the Jews living in the outskirts of the city. But instead of quitting because of fear, Nehemiah states: “We made supplication to our God, and set a watch as a protection against them day and night.” Arming all the workmen, organizing a corp of guards and an alarm system, he encourages them: “Remember the LORD, who is great and terrible, and fight for your kinsmen,” further assuring them that “our God will fight for us”. So they continued to build in troublous times, even as was foretold, each man with a tool in one hand, and with the other he held a weapon.—Neh. 4:9-23, An Amer. Trans.
Though occupied with directing such a great building project, and commanding an army as well, Nehemiah was not too busy to show his love for his humbler Jewish brethren. Hearing their complaints that they were being oppressed by the rich Jews in the matter of usury, he took action. Calling a great assembly he exposed this evil and admonished, “Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God?” Then he made them go on record that they would no longer exact interest from their poor brethren. In striking contrast with the course of these rich nobles and rulers was that of Nehemiah. “Because of the fear of God” he bore all the expenses of maintaining the governor’s mansion, which among other things involved the feeding of more than 150 men daily.—Nehemiah chapter 5, An Amer. Trans.
Obviously the Lord was blessing Nehemiah, and his enemies, noting that neither sly innuendo nor ridicule nor even threat of war had any effect on him, schemed to lure him away from his work and assassinate him. But alert Nehemiah answered them: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” After four such vain attempts his foes sent a letter telling that rumors were abroad that he was plotting sedition against the king, and suggesting that he meet with them to take counsel. Immediately seeing through their schemes, he plainly told them that this was just one of their inventions. Trying still another trick, his enemies hired a Jew to warn Nehemiah that a plot was afoot to kill him and that therefore he should hide in the temple. But Nehemiah would not hear of such a thing. “Should a man like me flee?”—Neh. 6:1-11, An Amer. Trans.
Nehemiah, by being alert and fearless, made the most of his opportunities, permitting absolutely nothing to interfere with the great building work. As a result, in the incredibly short time of less than two months, fifty-two days, to be exact, the entire wall around Jerusalem was completed. And all to Jehovah’s glory: “When all our enemies heard of it, all the nations round about us feared and fell decidedly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been done with the help of our God.”—Neh. 6:15, 16, An Amer. Trans.
The wall being completed, Nehemiah then gave his attention to the work of organizing the temple servants. Next he placed two men in charge of the city, one of whom he describes as “a faithful man” and one who “feared God more than many”. He also gave instructions regarding the opening and the closing of the city’s gates and the guarding of them.—Neh. 7:1-3, An Amer. Trans.
Now was a suitable time for assemblies, and so Nehemiah arranged for a series of these to be held in a comparatively short period of time. Each of these furnished an opportunity to advance the worship of Jehovah; and Nehemiah made good use of them. At the first one he checked the genealogies and arranged for contributions for the temple service. Nehemiah set a good example, and the heads of the families and the rest of the Jews responded to the extent of more than one-third of a million dollars. (Neh. 7:5-72) Another assembly featured instruction from the law of God. The people were told to rejoice for “the joy of Jehovah is your strength” (Am. Stan. Ver.). This assembly led to the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, which lasted for eight days.—Nehemiah 8.
Two days later Nehemiah called the people together for another assembly, to which they came clothed in sackcloth, and fasting. In a prayer to Jehovah the people heard the record of his loving-kindness and mercy from Abraham’s time to their own day, and a covenant was proposed to which they all subscribed. They bound themselves to faithfully keep the law of God, not to intermarry with the heathen, to observe the sabbath day and year, and to bring their offerings to the temple. (Nehemiah 9 and 10) After this lots were cast and one out of ten dwelt in Jerusalem.
The dedication of the walls called for another assembly. For this Nehemiah summoned all the Levite musicians, both singers and instrumentalists with their harps, cymbals and lyres. Two groups were appointed to give thanks to Jehovah, each under the direction of a leader. “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced; for God had made them rejoice with great joy; . . . so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”—Neh. 12:27-43, An Amer. Trans.
After twelve years of governorship Nehemiah returned to Shushan the palace, but not to stay there. “After some days” he again asked leave of the king and came back to Jerusalem. And what a condition he found! Israel had backslid; the temple was being polluted, its service neglected, the sabbath was being profaned and there was intermarrying with the heathen. He cast all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the great temple chamber that that enemy of the Jews had appropriated for himself with the connivance of a priestly relative; had the temple chambers cleansed and the vessels and offerings returned to them. Noting that the Levites had gone back to their farms because of lack of support, he brought this to the attention of the rulers, recalled the Levites and provided for the faithful distribution of the tithes. He also enforced the keeping of the sabbath and took punitive measures against those who intermarried with the heathen, especially the priests and Levites, not mincing matters one bit.—Neh. 13:4-30.
Nehemiah was indeed an alert, discreet, fearless and unselfish servant of Jehovah God. With zeal he ‘made the most of his opportunities’ to build and to fight, and to organize the true worship and to keep it pure. At all times he looked to God to direct his ways and ascribed all honor to him. Soon God will answer his prayer, “Remember me, O my God, for good,” by giving him a resurrection to life on earth, with princely service in the new world. (Neh. 13:31) Are you, as Nehemiah did, making the most of your opportunities?