Nehemiah has become one of my favorite books of the Bible and Nehemiah has become one of my favorite personalities in Scripture. A captive in Persia, he had become cupbearer to the king, a position of trust. The cupbearer would often be required to sip from the king’s cup before giving it to the king to be certain that it had not been poisoned. The cupbearer often developed a strong relationship with the king because of this level of trust. It was obviously, also, a position with some risk – if the king’s cup had been poisoned, the cupbearer would be the one to suffer the consequences.
As long as there were no great threats to the king, the role of cupbearer could be one of privilege. But Nehemiah was concerned for his own people – for those who had escaped the exile and were still in Judea and for Jerusalem. When he heard that the people were in “great distress and reproach” and that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, he wept.
Scripture tells us, “I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” He agonized in prayer, not just for their distress and the condition of the city but because of the realization of sin. It was not their captors but their sin that had brought about the captivity, the distress, and the destruction of the walls. Nehemiah knew that they had experienced a taste of God’s wrath and judgment. The problem was spiritual, not political and so Nehemiah cried out to God in repentance on behalf of the nation.
The greatest agonizing prayer in history took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was in such agony that we are told “His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” He prayed that the Father would “take this cup away from me. “The cup” in Scripture is often a metaphor for the wrath of God. While Jesus most likely dreaded the thought of the cross, it was “the cup of God’s wrath” that weighed heaviest on His heart.
“So Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God in our place. He endured the unimaginable spiritual agony we deserve so that we would be saved by Him from the wrath of God. We will never appreciate Jesus’ agonizing prayer in Gethsemane; we will never appreciate His sweating, as it were, great drops of blood, until we grasp in the depths of our beings that Jesus was staring at the wrath of God we deserve.” – Jerry Bridges
All around us are people who are in the grip of an enemy who has robbed them of all that God intended for them. Many will one day face God’s wrath unnecessarily because of their sin and unbelief. Jesus drank of that cup of wrath so that man would not have to taste it.
We need an army of Nehemiahs who will agonize in prayer on behalf of a world that is in distress and reproach; living under the grip of an enemy who is relentless.