During the month of Chislev (9th Jewish month) in the twentieth year of the king, word came to Nehemiah that the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem were in great distress. Even though the temple had been rebuilt and work had started toward rebuilding the city’s wall, that part of the work had been stopped by King Artaxerxes about twenty years earlier. Therefore, the wall was still broken down and the gates had not been replaced. In the eyes of their enemies, Judah’s God was unable to help them. Upon hearing that report, Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for many days.
Nehemiah, a prominent Jewish servant was serving as King Artaxerxes’ cup bearer at the time. One may put on a “happy face” and try to conceal his anxieties, but it is difficult to completely hide all evidence of sorrow. Artaxerxes observed Nehemiah’s sad countenance and inquired about his sadness. As the Jewish servant knew of the previous actions of the king regarding Judah, he was afraid and prayed to God. With his faith in God’s deliverance, he asked for letters of authority to be given to him that he might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall and gate. “And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes to be governor of Judah.
After being in Jerusalem three days resting, observing various conditions and keeping his mission quiet, Nehemiah took other men with him in the night and surveyed other areas and gates around the city. With general conditions in his mind, he revealed to the priests and other leaders how God and the king had given him that work to do. Their response was, “Let us rise up and build.” However, most good works have their opposition. Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, area governors of ancient enemy nations were their chief opponents. They began to ridicule their plans. Nehemiah responded, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us…”