“The King asked me ‘What are you requesting?’. So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ greaves, that I may rebuild it.’ And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), ‘How long will you be gone, and when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time”
The rebuilding of Jerusalem by Nehemiah is one of my favourite accounts in the Bible, even more so now that we are in the process of “reviving ancient stones.” In many ways, Nehemiah provides us with an example of leadership and strategy that is still very relevant to all sort of environments even today. He was indeed the heart, mind and vision behind the rebuilding of a city and a nation that would otherwise be extinct today. And yet, as I read those words for the umpteenth time, my attention was not caught by this prominent character or the tense conversation he had with King Artaxerxes, but by an almost imperceptible remark – the queen sitting beside him. Most of us would brush this detail as non-important but, when we realise that every line and every word of Scripture is there to make a point or, at least, contribute to a significant message, we are somehow called to stop and ask ourselves why that comment was included and why is it significant.
Now, the queen sitting beside the king in that very pivotal moment, one that would either cost Nehemiah’s life or a granting of his request, was Queen Esther – someone who herself knew the danger of addressing the King the way Nehemiah did.
Only few years earlier, in fact, Queen Esther entered the throne-room completely unannounced to unveil a plot designed for the total annihilation of the Jewish race. As it turns out, that was ultimately the reason why God made a path for this exiled teenage Jewish girl to become the wife of the man heading up the Medo-Persian empire (the superpower of the day).
With regards to the King Nehemiah was talking to, we do not know for certain whether it was Esther’s husband himself (also known as King Ahasuerus or Xerxes the first), or her son. What we do know is that Nehemiah’s request was presented in Esther’s presence.
As a devout Jew, her heart was for the resurrection of Israel, but she was in no position to make it happen for herself. Yet, she devoted her life to facilitate it when the opportunity arose – and that was it!
This detail is not included, but one may well imagine it. As Nehemiah presented his request to the king, one can almost see Esther’s tenderly stroking her husband’s arm or her foot gently tapping him under the table. An almost imperceptible gesture that was however charged with her life’s mission.
We may not realise this, but the rebuilding of Jerusalem was as much Esther’s achievement as well as Nehemiah’s. For during her years as Queen, Esther didn’t just save the Jews from genocide, but also warmed the king’s heart to her people. It was because of her quiet faithfulness and long obedience in the same direction that Nehemiah was not only given permission to return to Jerusalem but also provided with all the materials and resources he needed out of the Royal assets.
What an inspiring story for the many “Esthers” out there, men and women who have been quietly but steadfastly serving God’s interests in very unassuming ways. Parents determined to raise their children in God’s ways, husbands determined to lead their house with God at the centre, wives determined to be shining examples to their husbands, scores of individuals serving Churches and people heart and soul in many unassuming ways for years, men and women tirelessly standing on that same street corner giving out Christian tracts, or running a small prayer-group in their house, or talking to desperate people coming in their food-bank. You may not see it now, but one day you will look back and realise that, just like Esther, you were called to “such a time as this.” One day you will be able to look at your years of quiet faithfulness from the standpoint of God’s bigger picture and see how crucial your efforts have been, how they laid the foundations for radical acts of God in the nation. Here is the encouragement not to despise “the day of the small things”, or the unassuming service. It is all purer than God in the sight of your master and, one day, you will see it with your own eyes.