In answer to Artaxerxes’ enquiry as to the reason for his sad face, Nehemiah replied, “Let the king live for ever! Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lies waste, and its gates are consumed with fire?” (Neh. 2: 3). Nehemiah could not be indifferent and unmoved by the terrible breakdown on the part of his beloved people, and the desolate condition of the city that should have been the glory of the whole earth. He might have simply washed his hands of the whole matter and concluded that because grievous failure had come in, he was therefore justified in giving up all concern about the testimony committed to Judah. Indeed, he could have stood proudly aside and denounced them for their backslidings. But he did none of this. His was a grief deep and genuine, but it was a grief that also led to exercise before God, and an earnest desire to be an instrument in the Lord’s hand for the recovery and encouragement of the feeble few who had broken down so sadly. That is why when the king inquired, “For what dost thou make request?” (v4) he did not answer until he had prayed to the God of the heavens. What an atmosphere of prayer surrounded Nehemiah! It was his constant resource throughout all his varied experiences. Assured of the Lord’s mind, he made a request for permission to visit the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem, that he might “build it” (v5, my emphasis). Morally, this is beautiful. He desired to build, or, in NT language, to edify. Anyone with a small measure of discernment can stand off and either bemoan or criticize the failures of others, but one needs to be in touch with God to be a true builder.
Many there are who have written pamphlets on the failure of their brethren, disheartened at the breakdown on the part of those who seem less devoted, and less intelligent than themselves. So they stand off and lament the divided condition, the worldliness and the cold–heartedness that has come in among those who claim to be walking in separation from the prevailing apostasy. But to what end? Such a course profits neither those who judge, nor those judged. Better to rise up in the spirit of Nehemiah, and throw oneself in the breach as a builder. The heart may be grieved and the countenance sad, but there will be a deeper joy in seeking to enlighten, instruct, and edify weaker brethren. As the days darken and the dispensation fast hastens to its close, it is men of the Nehemiah stamp who will be of real value to the people of God—men who are building for the Lord.