January 18, 2018 | Serious Stress, Serious Response

During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, so the king said to me, “Why are you sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but depression.” I was overwhelmed with fear and replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king asked me, “What is your request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven and answered the king…
[Nehemiah 2:1-5 HCSB]
Serious stress
Nehemiah’s situation at the beginning of chapter 2 contains layers of danger that we struggle to understand. Most of us grew up with a western, independent understanding of personal freedom. The Declaration of Independence runs deep in our DNA. Our ideas of liberty are very individualized.
That is extremely different from what Nehemiah lived under in Persia. Even people today who grow up under modern totalitarianism don’t grasp the full power of the Persian monarchy. The medieval idea of “divine right” kingship gets close, but the Persian Emperor ruled by more than mere divine allowance. He was understood more akin to how Roman Catholics view the pope.
The Persian word for this was Farr-e-Izadi. It’s a special grace bestowed upon the king by the gods – a blessing which endows him with strength and insight, enabling him to overcome the forces of evil.The Greek historian Herodotus, living in the same age as Nehemiah, called the Persian view of kingship “mystical and singular in the world.”
One did not get ill in the emperor’s presence, nor could one be depressed. Such was supposedly impossible because the king exuded mystical health and wellness that overcame evil and made negativity unreasonable. Anyone who was negative in the presence of the great king was killed. They had to be removed as they were obviously demonic or defective if the Farr-e-Izadi didn’t work on them.
Serious response
Thus, we understand why Nehemiah was rightly fearful when the king noted he was upset. This is life or death! So, look at what Nehemiah did…
He prayed to YHWH! Specifically, he prayed to אֱלֹהִיםשָׁמַ֫יִם Elohim Samayim [Ell o heme’ Shah my’ eem] – the God of heaven or the God over all.
Lest you think that he seeks primary help from the most powerful man on earth, Nehemiah makes clear that he prays to God alone. This is so counter-culture! According to the Persian world in which he lived and breathed, Nehemiah is in the presence of the one person who can overcome the forces of evil. Only Artaxerxes has the power and vision to provide the protection for Jerusalem that Nehemiah wants.
But Nehemiah prays only to God. Now, he honors Artaxerxes. He gives the ritual positive greeting, “May he live forever!” He even asks the king for help. But when the king answers positively, it’s clear this blessing came from God. It was not the king nor even his possibly sympathetic queen that open the way for Nehemiah. It was God alone.
There is serious stress in nearly every life on earth? How do you handle yours? While human assistance can be important, we would be better off with we imitated Nehemiah and prayed first.