So the king asked me, “Why does your face look sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
“Sadness of heart.” That’s how King Artaxerxes described what he saw when his cupbearer Nehemiah approached him with a cup of wine and a countenance that was not full of cheer.
In Nehemiah’s response in the second chapter of this Old Testament book, we hear that his heart is indeed weighed down due to the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, prior to his interaction with the king Nehemiah had petitioned the Lord after he heard about the Jewish remnant who were in “great trouble and disgrace” in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall. He tells us in Nehemiah 1:4:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
Then Nehemiah presented his request to God:
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’”
Nehemiah then asked the Lord to grant him favor when he went before King Artaxerxes to make this request:
“If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried, so that I can rebuild it.”
We know in the verses following that Nehemiah was granted his request, and he went on to oversee the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
Today, the wall surrounding the Church is no different. It has also been broken down, and “its gates have been burned with fire.” We are the members who are “unfaithful” and have been scattered “among the nations.” We have each turned our own way and gone far, far astray.
So astray, in fact, that the impact of the Church is lessening. The saltiness of believers has lost its flavor. It’s virtually undetectable in our society. And the classification of “Christian” has pretty much been watered down to “I’m a good person.” Period.
But all is not lost. There is a remnant of believers. And God’s Kingdom is not and will not be destroyed, despite its ruined and rubbled walls that are mirrored in our hearts.
Perhaps, as a believer in Christ, your heart is burdened today by what you see around you. Maybe, like Nehemiah, you have “sadness of heart” and want to see God’s people come together and faithfully serve him once again as citizens of a Holy City instead of worshipping empty gods of a dying world.
“You see the trouble we are in,” Nehemiah said to the officials when he first inspected the walls. “Jerusalem lies in ruins . . . come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Will you help rebuild? Will you join with today’s Nehemiahs—the dedicated leaders God has raised up to rally and bring people together—and do the work that needs to be done to help restore unity and distinction and holiness that is called for in the body of Christ?
Prayerfully consider your response today. And may we all be moved to say, “Let us start rebuilding,” as we yield to God and his working through us to restore his Kingdom in our hearts and in our land.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Before the rebuilding process, Nehemiah carefully and quietly inspected Jerusalem’s walls. What represents weakness or “ruins” in your heart, making you vulnerable to sin? Ask the Master Builder to do a thorough inspection and fortify you for his glory!