King's cupbearer became governor of Jerusalem

Nehemiah was born to Jewish parents in Persia during their exile from Jerusalem. He held an honored and influential position, that of cupbearer to Artaxerxes, king of Persia. (Neh. 2:1.)

The office of cupbearer brought Nehemiah into close and confidential contact with the king. As cupbearer, one of Nehemiah's duties was to guard against anyone poisoning something the king might drink.Nehemiah 2:2 suggests that Artaxerxes looked upon Nehemiah with some degree of respect or, at least, concern since he asked the cupbearer why he looked sad one day as he took him his wine.

The cupbearer explained that his sadness resulted from word he had received from fellow Jews who had returned from exile to Jerusalem. They found themselves "in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." (Neh. 1:3.)

Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem, which was then a subdivision of the Persian government. The king also provided an escort and wrote letters to governors of provinces through which Nehemiah would pass, giving the cupbearer the authority to receive supplies from the governors. The king even commissioned Nehemiah to act as governor of Jerusalem. (See Neh. 2:6-9; 5:14.)

Upon arriving in Jersualem, Nehemiah found the city was in a defenseless state, open to attack by enemies, among whom were the Moabites, Ammonites, Arabians and Ashdodites. These groups had fought among themselves but were united as a common enemy against the Jews.

When Nehemiah gathered his people to work on rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, their enemies became malicious. For protection, he instructed each worker on the city wall to labor "with one of his hands . . . and with the other hand (to hold) a weapon." (Neh. 4:17-18.)

Their enemies used various tactics to discourage the Jews. They taunted them, saying that the wall they were building would not be able to support even a fox. (Neh. 4:4.)

When Nehemiah and his people had built the wall, completing all the work except setting up the doors and gates, their enemies persisted. Two of them sent a message to Nehemiah, suggesting that they meet together in one of the villages. Suspecting that they thought to do him mischief, Nehemiah sent a message back to them:

"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" (Neh. 6:3.)

When all other efforts to draw Nehemiah out failed, Gashmu, one of the leaders of his enemies, sent another letter stating that he would send word to Artaxerxes that Nehemiah and his people were preparing to rebel against the king so that Nehemiah might become king. Nehemiah sent a response that indicated that he recognized that this was a threat to make his people afraid. His enemies knew his people's hands would be weak from the work they had been doing, but Nehemiah called upon the Lord to strengthen his hands. (Neh. 6:8-9.)

Two of Nehemiah's enemies hired Shemaiah to persuade Nehemiah to go with him into "the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee. . . . " Nehemiah "perceived that God had not sent him" and refused to go with him. (Neh. 6:10-13.)

The wall was completed. "And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God." (Neh. 6:16.)


Articles on this page may be used in conjunction with the Sunday School gospel doctrine course of study on the Old Testament, lesson No. 47; Nehemiah 1-2; 4; 6; 8. (Ezra 1-8 will be featured in the Nov. 28 issue of Church News.)

Information compiled by Gerry Avant

Sources: Elder Nelson's comments, Conference Report, April 1994, page 91, or Ensign, May 1994, page 69; Bible Dictionary, 1982 LDS edition, King James Bible.

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