We meet Nehemiah as he receives and update from the people of Judah. And what hears does NOT bring him joy.
Nehemiah receives a report from visitors from Judah. He does this 13 years after Ezra returns to Jerusalem. This all happens during the reign of Artaxerxes I. He reigned in Persia for 41 years. This is also 103 years after Cyrus allowed the first of the Jews to return home to Judah.
Nehemiah and Ezra were both servants of Artaxerxes I. Ezra was his scribe and we will see in our next reading that Nehemiah was his cup bearer. They both must have been very favored servants because of how the king responds to them. We already saw how the king gave Ezra whatever he wanted, and then some. We will learn more later of how he treated Nehemiah.
Even though Nehemiah served the king, he was not isolated from his fellow captives. I don’t know why he was in Susa because we are not told. According to Google, the capital city of the Persian empire was Persepolis. Susa though is said to be the favorite city of Darius I. It is also were the story of Ester takes place and king Xerxes I ruled from. It appears that Artaxerxes I may have ruled from there too, until it was destroyed by fire during his time. It may be that we encounter Nehemiah before the fire.
However Nehemiah was in Susa, he was approached on purpose. His brother Hanani came to him bringing men from Judah. This may have been an innocent introduction or it is possible that Hanani may have brought these men of Judah to Nehemiah so he could hear their stories. Maybe Nehemiah had expressed some interest and his brother was responding to that. Or maybe his brother was appalled by what he heard and wanted to bring it to Nehemiah’s attention.
The report Nehemiah received focused on one thing; the wall of Jerusalem. The state of the wall must have meant a great deal more than just a ‘broken fence.’ It appears as if its very state reflected on the people themselves. “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (verse 3).
To me this report speaks of a people who, even though free, live in defeat. Their city offers them no protection or sense of pride. They exist there but they don’t live.
This reminds me of when I moved into the house I currently live in. It is the house my husband grew up in. It was in need of MUCH repair. I was ashamed to call it my home. I’m NOT a snob or used to extravagant places. It was run down, had one room that was stocked floor celling with old junk, and simply felt creepy. At one point I even told my husband that I didn’t want to put pictures on the walls until something changed. I existed in it but I didn’t enjoy it. It has since been remodeled to a great degree, including having a consistent heat source put in. There are things that still need done but it is now my home and not simply a house I exist in.
Nehemiah could hear that same hopeless despair in the words of his visitors. He KNEW he needed to do something about it.
Father God, thank You for providing me with a home, even if it wasn’t what I wanted for a while. Thank You for helping me feel a little better about it as the years went by. Thank You even MORE for providing a way for it to become more of a home. Thank You for also helping me relate to Your story. You made it real to me.