Period of Inactivity?
In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah gave birth to a vision. He saw a need (1:3), responded with discontent (1:4a) and prayer (1:4b-11), and acknowledged his position (1:11). All these happened in the month of Kislev in twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (1:1). (See my blog The Birthing of a Vision for further discussion).
Nehemiah 2 began in the month of Nisan in the same year of Artaxerxes:
1In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes…
How much time had passed? Let’s find out.
The months in the Hebrew calender begin in the middle of a month in our modern calendar. Kislev falls between November and December, while Nisan falls between March and April. So just how many months had passed from Nehemiah 1 (Kislev) to Nehemiah 2 (Nisan)? Answer: Four months!
What was Nehemiah doing at this time? Shouldn’t he be doing something about the vision from God? Moreover, was this four months time a period of inactivity?
I believe Nehemiah, being a prayerful man (read the whole book and you will see him always praying) spent this time seeking God. He prayed and planned. That’s why when the king asked him (2:4), he knew what to say. He really thought about the vision (to the point it made him sad; see 2:1).
We live in a world where the words “fast” and “instant” are common. If we are hungry, we go to fastfood chains of buy no-cook foods. If we want to connect to others, we use our cellphones, e-mails, and Facebook accounts. What’s my point? We want action now, fast, and in an instant. We don’t want periods of inactivity and waiting. (I can prove this by asking you to fall in line or to use a dial-up Internet connection). Ultimately, the values of waiting, solitude, and reflection are often neglected.
But not in the case of Nehemiah. He took time—four months time—to seek God about the vision he received.
If four months seems too long, just take a look at the life of the apostle Paul. We read of his zeal to persecute Christians, conversion, and transformation in Acts 9:1-25 (35 AD). Then he went to Jerusalem to get acquainted with the disciples in Acts 9:26. The time span between verses 25 and 26 is three years (Paul went to Jerusalem in 38 AD; see Galatians 1:18). So what did Paul do in the span of three years?
When he arrived in Jerusalem, he spent fifteen days with Peter (and probably with James, the brother of Jesus). And he wasn’t doing any vacation. He had fellowship with them, learning from the very people who met Jesus in the flesh. They were encouraging one another, probably sharing the experiences they had with Jesus.
Now Paul had his first missionary journey in 46 AD. From 38AD to 46AD, there are eight years. Again, what did he do in that span of time?
Commentators say that he used these seemingly inactive times to prepare himself for ministry. This period included time alone with God and time of fellowship with other believers.
Nehemiah spent four months and Paul eleven years seeking the Lord. And my point is simple: We must seek God before taking action.
So let’s ask ourselves these questions: How is our relationship with God? Do we spend time seeking Him and having fellowship with other Christians? Do we pause and pray before we make any action?