Nehemiah was another person who exemplified the life of The Plow. Nehemiah led the rebuilding effort of the walls of Jerusalem while the nation was in exile. There remained a small population in Jerusalem and soon more people from the exile will be returning to the city. The walls of a city are very important because it provides a layer of safety from your enemies. In that culture the strength of the people’s god was reflected by their walls – YAHWHE was not looking good in the sight of the enemies of Israel. The walls were down and nobody was willing to change the current situation: thus The Plow was needed to begin something new. Nehemiah takes the risk to follow The Plow.
Nehemiah receives the report of the condition of the walls in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3). The news is not good; the walls have been broken down and the gates have been burned. The small remnant of people in Jerusalem was in distress and living in reproach due to their living conditions and with the ease by which their enemies raided them and mocked them.
Nehemiah’s reaction prompts him to seek The Plow (Nehemiah 1:4-11). Verse four explains how this news of the walls created in Nehemiah the heart to seek The Plow:
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah’s prayer is recorded in Nehemiah 1:5-11 as he asks for God to use him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by embracing The Plow. Nehemiah stands upon God’s covenants and blessing of obedience and asks for the LORD’s intercession. Nehemiah knows God can work because His Word says He can. Nehemiah repents for the national sin of Israel recognizing Israel’s condition, and the walls of Jerusalem, was due to the sin of the people. Nehemiah also asks for the LORD to allow him to have mercy as he approaches the King Artaxerxes. The work of The Plow begins with the prayer of a person seeking the will of God.
In Nehemiah 1:11 we are told both a problem and a solution: Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer. As the king’s cupbearer he was close to the one person who could help his situation. The king could order and pay for the walls to be rebuilt in Jerusalem and Nehemiah was close enough to him to make the request. The problem lied with the fact that people do not approach the king without being summoned to his presence. The servants, no matter how honored, were not to speak without being spoken to first or allowed to speak by the king. There was another problem: Artaxerxes had stopped a previous wall building project based on false information from Israel’s enemies (Ezra 4:21-23). Would the king allow another project based on the request of Nehemiah? Nehemiah had to take a risk to talk to the king, but The Plow works where risks to go beyond normal are taken.
Nehemiah’s approach to getting the king’s attention and the king’s response is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. Nehemiah comes into the king’s presence with a sad disposition. This was a risk because Persian kings thought that all people should be happy in their presence and not to be would be a sign of disrespect – a dangerous place to find yourself. But the king responds positively to the actions and request of his trusted servant Nehemiah and the request is granted. The Plow has started to plow over the old and plant a new crop for harvest because one man dared to be different and seek God’s will.
As soon as the work begins (Nehemiah 2:9) opposition rises to thwart the work of rebuilding the walls by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:10). Be assured The Plow will be greatly opposed by both friend and foe, because it is different from the normal pattern of the people of the LORD and possess a threat to the enemies of God. The Enemy likes to have God’s people in a holding pattern of no progress. The Plow wants to plant something new, something fruitful. No position of strength in the Revolution can be gained without The Plow, for it is the means of progress in the economy of the Almighty.
The work of The Plow is never easy as Nehemiah’s experience shows us (Nehemiah 2:11-6:15). Nehemiah was empowered with great leadership and diplomatic gifts by the hand of God and His will was completed as He plowed and created a willing vessel in Nehemiah and the people who followed his lead. The desire to follow the LORD made Nehemiah’s ministry fruitful and is necessary to follow The Plow to a large harvest.
After the walls were completed another problem arose, and Nehemiah once again goes against the grain and calls for The Plow. Nehemiah 13:4-31 tells us the problems Nehemiah had to face. First the high priest was in bed with the enemy and allowed him to occupy space in the temple of God for profit, and Nehemiah once again has to leave his post as cupbearer and return to Jerusalem and fix the issues (Nehemiah 13:4-9). Then the Levites were not being taken care of because the tithe was not coming into the temple; so Nehemiah compelled the leaders to bring in the tithe and prayed for God’s intervention (Nehemiah 13:10-14). Then Nehemiah had to address the people breaking the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22). Then there was the issue of marriage to the pagans around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:23-31). Nehemiah would not have solved these critical problems if he was not willing to move out from his comfort zone and embraced The Plow.
Being in the position of the cupbearer to the king made it possible for God’s work to be done. The LORD is always working behind the scenes to move people into place who will embrace The Plow. We will see this once again in the next Biblical character who sought The Plow.