The Features of Nehemiah's Travail
Nehemiah saw how things ought to be, and how things really were; and then he saw his own position. There he was, away there in Shushan the palace, cup bearer to the king. He was an exile, and he was virtually a slave, one who had been taken on as a servant in the palace. From the standpoint of that palace, and from the standpoint of Babylon, it may have been an honorable position; but from his own standpoint he was like a slave in the world: he was spending his time in the world, the business of this world, and his whole soul was groaning. 'Here am I in the business of this world, having to go to work every morning and finishing late at night, and this is repeated day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year - and my soul cries out to be doing something about the purpose of God and the situation of the Lord's people.' This cry against his own position was a feature of his travail.
God is sovereign even in that. Perhaps that touches you who are reading these lines. You are going to work every morning and coming home every evening, and by far the greater amount of your time and strength is occupied with serving this world. You feel like a slave to this world, and you say, 'Oh, that I might be free to do something for God!' My dear friend, there is value in travail like that. There were many in Babylon who had settled down and accepted the situation, who were taking up business and earning wages, and were making this now their life. They saw nothing more than that, or other than that. But not so Nehemiah. His soul revolted against his position in the world. 'Oh, to be free to do something for God!' That travail meant something to God. That travail was the birth pangs of something for God.
If you are not knowing something of that - the drudgery of the home life, perhaps you might call it 'the trivial round, the common task', the going to work by morning and coming home by evening - and there is at the same time in your soul no cry for the interests of God, you are a tragedy indeed. But it may be that all the time, in and through it, you are longing to be able to do more for the Lord. Let me say that that is the kind of travail that is going to be fruitful. It is going to be fruitful in some way or other. It will come out -it will come out in some way or other. Something will come of that. I am not going to say that the day will come when you will be released from your worldly occupation and set free for what you call 'full-time service.' I think it is a very real mistake to talk about the service of God in that way, for you may in your own travail be serving God in a potential way where you are. There may be tremendous potentialities in this travail in your heart as you go about your daily work, all the time more concerned for the Lord's interests than for this world.
I think it must have been like that with Nehemiah. 'Here I am, the king's cup bearer!' How little he thought of this - because how much more the Lord's interests had become to him! That man, that ruler, that king, was a great man, the greatest man in the world at that time. It was no small thing to be his cup bearer, and to be in the palace of Shushan, the same place where Esther and Mordecai were. You know all about them from the Book of Esther, and all that was represented there. Yet when Nehemiah came to the point of answering the king's question as to why he was sad of countenance, his prayer to the Lord was not couched in language of great respect and honor for the king. "Prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man" (Neh. 1:11). A great king - 'this man!'
Oh, this was all so meaningless compared with the Lord and His interest! He could not accept this, he was in travail. You see, the greatest honors that this world can give, the highest position that we may occupy here, are just nothing to men and women who have seen what the Lord is after! All honors, all degrees, all positions, are as nothing when once you have seen the on-high calling. 'I count them as very refuse,' said Paul. (Phil. 3:8), 'these things of honor and glory in this world.' He had seen the Lord and the heavenly calling. Nehemiah's position was, I am sure, one great factor in his travail.
And then there was the long delay. 'Oh, the time is so long! Oh, that we could do something!' The Lord is demanding such patience; we kick against the delays of the Lord. We are so deeply tested by deferred opportunities. Is it not true? Nothing opening up; no way. But the point is - are we really in travail about this thing? I am sue that the Lord uses delays and deferments in order to test us as to our real concern. Some people have not to be put off very much before they give up altogether. Some people can have only a little discouragement, a little trial of patience, and they say, 'Well, it is not worth it,' and they quit. Here is a man who went on all these years in deep trial of patience, tested by the long-delayed opportunity to do something: but he held on to the end, and the fact is that he was most vigorous after all in his quest for the Lord's interests.
How is this long delay, deferred opportunity, affecting you? Is this purpose of God so deep in you that it is stronger than all other deferred hopes, disappointed expectations? This man's soul was starved - his soul was starved. I mean by that he was always anxious and eager to do something; in doing something he would have found his real gratification and satisfaction and pleasure. His soul would have one out at liberty to do things, but he was starved in his soul and brought more and more to the place whee, if every anything was going to be done at all, it would be God Who did it - 'I will never be able to do this.' That is a great place to come to. 'God has to open this door, God has to provide this opportunity, God has to see that this thing is done. I can do nothing, I am helpless!' But that soul starvation, what it costs us! If only we could do something, how much easier it would be,or if we could do more, how much more satisfaction we would have! But that is a part of our preparation. Indeed, it is out of that that real spiritual values come.
(continued with # 2)