Facing Failure with Faith
Context of the Passage:
Nehemiah chapter 2 takes place 4 months after the events of chapter 1. God did not immediately send Nehemiah when Hanani told him about the condition of Jerusalem. Nor, did Nehemiah immediately ask for permission to go. But, Nehemiah was waiting for God’s perfect time. God always and only works at the right time (see Gal. 4:4).
Outline of the Passage
2:1-2 – The King notices Nehemiah was sad
2:3-5 – Nehemiah makes his request of the King
2:6-8 – The King asks for further details and grants Nehemiah’s request
2:9-10 – Opponents hear about Nehemiah’s plan
2:11-18 – Nehemiah surveys the city and challenges the people
2:19-20 – Opposition begins
Exegesis of the Passage
2:1 – I had never been sad in his presence before
- While Nehemiah was faithfully doing his job
- The Lord opened up the opportunity
- I had never let him see my sad …
- A face that the king had never seen before
- Nehemiah was depressed – lit. I was never sad before the King
2:2 – The king sensed something was wrong
- They know each other well enough for the King to notice, but there are still boundaries
- King – why are you sad? Are you unwell? Are you sad of heart?
- Nehemiah has been formulating his plan for some time – crystallizes when he arrives on scene
- In chapter 1, Nehemiah had confessed Israel’s sin; their failure
- Failure in itself is not necessarily defeat – but failure to deal with failure is!
- Well, Israel has failed!
2:3 – Though he had not yet seen the condition of Jerusalem, Nehemiah reported to the king what his brother had informed to him about the city.
2:4 – Nehemiah prayed to the Lord as he spoke to the earthly king.
2:5 – Nehemiah doesn’t just ask to “go” to Jerusalem, he asks to be “sent” to Jerusalem
2:6-8 – When the king pressed for further details, Nehemiah had thought enough about the situation to know what was needed.
- Nehemiah was prepared with the amount of time he would need to be gone
- He was also aware of the specific needs that he would incur
- Nevertheless, Nehemiah credits his favor w/ the king to the good hand of God upon him
- See Neh. 2:18 – as Nehemiah recounted for the people all how the Lord had given him favor with the king (“I told them of the hand of my God upon me.”)
- See also Ezra 7:9; 8:18; 8:22 for similar uses of this phrase
Exp. Nehemiah asked for protection and provision
- Permission to go
- Letters for their personal safety
- Materials to accomplish the work
=> King granted them all!
App. When God’s time was right – provision was certain and protection was guaranteed!
2:9-10 – Not everyone was pleased at Nehemiah’s quest
- Vs. 9 suggests the possibility that Sanballat and Tobiah were governors
- See Breneman, “According to an Elephantine Papyrus, Sanballat was governor of Samaria in 408 b.c. Since his sons were acting for him at that time, he probably was elderly.”Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 178.
- Breneman also suggests the possibility that the Tobiah mentioned here may have been a descendant of the Tobiah mentioned in Ezra 2:60, who was excluded from the Jewish community because he could not prove his Jewish lineage. If so, that would explain his animosity towards the Jewish community and their welfare.Ibid.
2:11 – Nehemiah spent 3 days observing the situation in Jerusalem before he made any public comments
2:12-16 – Nehemiah kept his inspection and his plans private
2:12-14 – Interesting topographical description of the land – apparently still suffering from destruction at hands of Babylonians – Places his animal cannot pass!
2:17 – You see the situation we are in!
- In Hebrew – something of a play on words – word for see and word used here for bad are pronounced same
- Literally, you see the bad!
2:17 – Let’s rebuild!
- Nehemiah’s challenge was based upon 3 results: 1 negative and 2 positive
- We will no longer a reproach
- The hand of the Lord is upon the work
- The encouragement he had taken from the word of the king
- Nehemiah’s comments are encouraging and challenging
- Israel’s situation is full of hope, but in need of help!
- Nehemiah suggests that their absence of security was a source of reproach
2:17 – “No longer a reproach”
- To understand this word, see its use in Gen. 30:23, 34:14; Josh 5:9; 1 Sam. 17:26
- The word carries the idea of shame
2:18 – Let’s rise up and rebuild
- The people accept Nehemiah’s challenge and respond using his same words
- The sense of the passage is a corporate commitment – “Let’s do this!”
2:19-20 – Sanballat and Tobiah respond in 3 ways:
- They laughed at them
- They despised them
- They accused them of rebelling against the king
2:20 – Nehemiah’s response supports the possibility of Tobiah’s association with Ezra 2:60
- He responds by stating that God will give them success and they do not have heritage or right on Jerusalem
Sermon on the Passage
Confronting Failure with Faith
- Wait on God’s time
- Seek the Lord for wisdom
- Plan accordingly
- Assessed carefully
- Challenged the people to trust
- Confessed faith in the Lord
2:20 – Nehemiah expressed absolute confidence in God
Cf. 1:8-11 – God, you said this would happen if we failed you – but you also said, IF WE RETURN – you would forgive!
- Faced opposition courageously
“There will always be a Sanballat or a Tobiah to get you off track.”  O. S. Hawkins, Rebuilding: It’s Never Too Late for a New Beginning. Annuity Board, 1999, 56.