The Sovereign God
Doing a Great Work for God
And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Often in the work of God it is easy to wonder whether God is aware of our situation. Perhaps Nehemiah wondered whether God had heard his prayers and his request to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after almost 4 months had passed. Perhaps he wondered if God had forgotten about the whole matter. Perhaps he wondered, when the king of Persia had asked about his intentions as he made his final prayer (verse 4), whether this was really the will of God. Whatever doubts or fears he may have had, it is likely they were all vanquished by the end of his conversation with the king, for his testimony was that all that had now transpired was "according to the good hand of my God upon me" (verse 8). Nehemiah was now sent, safe, and supplied by the hand of God. In this there is a great lesson for the Christian worker: God is in control of His work! Our situation may get rough at times and we may be full of fear and doubt, but let us learn this important lesson. God is not asleep, but rather He knows exactly what is going on. When we get involved in a great work for God, take comfort that we are never alone, for it is truly God's work.
Later in verse 12, we learn that Nehemiah knew for sure that God had sent him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, for he testified that God had laid this work on his heart. This brings up some issues for us to consider.
Was the opportunity that Nehemiah had and the strong desire to rebuild the walls enough for him to take up the great work? Remember the great lesson from our text: God is in control of His work. Therefore, it must be God who chooses who will and will not take part in His work. Neither an opportunity for work, nor a burden should be considered as a substitute for the will of God. Paul told the Romans, "I long to see you" (Romans 1:11), but it had to be the will of God for him to visit them (verse 10). He wanted to return to Ephesus, but only according to God's will (Acts 18:21). On his second missionary journey, he wanted to go into Bithynia, but "the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts 16:7). There are three requirements that must be met before we can follow an opportunity or a desire for a work:
Paul remarks many times that he was an Apostle by the will of God (e.g. Ephesians 1:1). In fact, his commissioning is recorded in Acts 13:2 where the Holy Spirit expressly said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them".
Paul told Timothy that if a man desired to become a bishop that was great, but there were some qualifications that had to be met first (1 Timothy 3:1-7). There are some works that a person cannot take part in because he is not eligible. One of the greatest sorrows for a Christian is to have the desire to do some great work, but lack the necessary qualifications. This is one strong incentive for young people to be careful lest they ruin their chances for future service and end up wandering in the wilderness the remainder of their lives.
Moses knew that God had called him to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, but he had the means and timing all wrong (Acts 7:25). Nehemiah had to wait at least four months before he saw the fruit of his desire.
Though a burden and an opportunity are not sufficient for one to take up a work for God, they are often the very instruments that God uses to get us involved in His work. Nehemiah may never have considered going to Jerusalem had he not been presented with the great need there. He may never have left Persia had his great burden not left him with a sad countenance before the king (Nehemiah 2:2). So, how can we know if we have been chosen and the time is right? Again let us return to the great lesson from chapter 2: God is in control of His work!
Sometimes we forget this simple truth as we begin to reel to and fro with doubts and dismay. If God is in control of His work, He will let you know how and when He wants you to be involved. If you are open and seeking His will, He will see to it that you know what to do (Proverbs 3:5-6). If there is any doubt, take the first step and see if God stretches forth his hand to stop you. We know that Paul tried to go to Asia Minor and Bithynia and in both cases, God would not allow him to go.
God has a way of putting us in the right place at the right time in order to accomplish His work. The fact that Nehemiah had a brother who had visited Jerusalem and seen the need there, that he was the king's cupbearer, and that he was in the presence of the king in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, were all, in his words, "according to the good hand of my God upon me". Mordecai could put this no better than when he asked Esther, "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Let us firmly trust in the sovereignty of God!
Nehemiah clearly had some fear for his safety when he saw that the king had perceived his unhappiness (Nehemiah 2:2). We know from the story of Esther (Esther 4:11) that the Persian court was a place of respect and reverence. Sometimes we worry for our safety when we decide to undertake some great work for God. Missionaries must often travel with their families into places of disease and unrest. Sometimes pastors must take a stand that puts themselves and their families at risk. Even an evening of church visitation can present danger.
Let us remember the Sovereignty of God - He is in control of His work. Nehemiah not only survived the request to go to Jerusalem, he was also given letters of recommendation that would see him safely through the entire empire of Persia. If God has called you to do a great work, He will also see to your safety. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. It was not just the hand of God of which Nehemiah would testify; it was the good hand of God (Nehemiah 2:8).
Having stated this, we must understand that the sovereignty of God does not necessarily guarantee safety for our lives; it is the work of God that will remain safe. Thus the sovereignty of God does not always prevent the following:
Though Nehemiah was safe, danger was not eliminated. There were many enemies in Jerusalem that he would have to face. David mentions walking through the valley of the shadow of death and eating in the presence of his enemies (Psalm 23). Without the presence of danger we might not seek God, and we would not see His wonderful power to preserve us.
Trials and tribulations are part of the Christian life even when doing a great work for God. These disasters are used for our good though, to make us into mature Christians (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Sometimes death is part of doing a great work for God, yet this does not preclude God's sovereignty. God allowed Stephen to be martyred, but perhaps this had some influence later on Paul. William Borden died in Egypt at age 25 before he ever got to the work he had planned, yet God used his death to stir up hundreds of young people to foreign missions.
Whatever other fears Nehemiah may have faced, he did seem to grasp the fact that God was in control when it came to the material needs of the work. He showed remarkable faith in that he did not stop with just a request to return to Jerusalem; he also asked the Persian monarch for a grant to the timber that would be needed to rebuild the gates and walls. This request was granted "according to the good hand" of God. What other Jew would have been in a better position to have made such a request than Nehemiah? The sovereign God is in control of His work and was able to put Nehemiah in just the right place in order to obtain the supplies needed for the work.
Perhaps more than our safety, we often worry about how God is going to meet the material needs of the work. What a needless worry! We must never forget that the work is God's work, and He will supply the needs. God supplied Israel with the things they would need to build the Tabernacle before they even left Egypt (Exodus 11:2). He supplied Himself and Peter with tribute money for the Temple in an incredible way (Matthew 17:27). Let us always remember that God owns the world (Psalm 24:1, 50:10) and He is able to do more than we could ever dream of (Ephesians 3:20).
Let us not misunderstand this truth and think that we can drop a missionary in the jungle, expecting that God will magically supply him, or that we do not need to provide for our pastor because God will mysteriously take care of him. God often works through us to supply material needs.
As we conclude this lesson, it is worth noting that much of Nehemiah's success could
probably be connected to his trust in his God. He gives himself no credit for the outcome
of his conversation with the king. Any good intentions on his part were because God had
laid the desire in his heart, and any good that was received was because of the good hand
of his God. We may safely say that the character of a servant of God ought to be marked
with a reliance upon and acknowledgment of the sovereign God of Heaven.