Nehemiah was cup bearer for King Artaxerxes living in the capitol city of the Persian Empire. He received this word about his countrymen who had escaped captivity and remained in Jerusalem:
“The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”
“When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven…”
Nehemiah petitioned the king and was appointed governor of Judah with authority to rebuilding and bringing order.
Nehemiah’s first-person story of returning to Jerusalem is filled with intrigues, plots, gradual successes and witness to the difficult work of rebuilding. Rebuilding not just a wall and a city but also restoring the religion and culture of a people who had lost their way over many generations.
Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest worked together alongside many persistently faithful Jews against the hardship and persecution that has characterized this people of God throughout the centuries.
On a day of re-dedication, the story says:
Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Jews to this day summarize their history with this clever saying:
They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.