Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Work and Prayer in Nehemiah 1

Part 5 of series: A Theology of Work in Ezra and Nehemiah
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, chapter 1 introduces the main character and sets up the story of the book. Nehemiah is a Jewish man who worked as the cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes. While serving the king in his winter residence at Susa, Nehemiah received a report about the state of his fellow Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. The report was dire, focusing especially on the vulnerability of the city because its walls had been destroyed.
In response to this intelligence, Nehemiah “sat down and wept.” Then, for says he “mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven” (1:4). In this prayer Nehemiah confessed God’s covenant faithfulness and the covenant unfaithfulness of the Jews. He asked for God’s help with his plan, yet unexplained, that would require the support of the king (1:11).
Nehemiah 1 introduces his work as cupbearer in the final verse. Thus the chapter leaves to the reader to fill in the blanks concerning this assignment. As I explained in yesterday’s post, the cupbearer was a committed servant to the king and often a trusted adviser. Nehemiah’s work was in support of a pagan king, and would have required full commitment as well as countless hours of service.
Nehemiah 1 also presents Nehemiah as a person of faith, a man of prayer. In fact, his passion for the people of God is powerful enough to lead Nehemiah to risk his life and radically change his career path.
The introduction of Nehemiah illustrates how work and prayer can be joined in our lives. Surely, Nehemiah became the king’s cupbearer because of his excellence in royal service. Yet this consummate professional was also a man of deep religious conviction. We do not see in Nehemiah a tension between secular employment and devotion to God. Rather, they appear to go hand-in-hand. (Photo: A sign outside of the Benedictine Monastery in Rudy, Poland.)
Nehemiah 1 presents the man Nehemiah as a potential poster child for the Benedictine Order, the motto of which is ora et labora (“prayer and work” in Latin. This, by the way, was apparently not stated by St. Benedict himself, but rather reflects a 19th condensation of Benedict’s emphases.) Nehemiah works and Nehemiah prays. Both are expressions of his covenantal relationship with God. Both are ways Nehemiah lives out his faith. Both will be used by God in his effort to bring restoration to the Jewish people.

  • Ray

    Mark, I have a comment about the following statement:
    “We do not see in Nehemiah a tension between secular employment and devotion to God. Rather, they appear to go hand-in-hand.”
    What, exactly, is “secular” employment? I know…there is “clerical/religious/church/ministry” work, and there is “secular” work. Hogwash. God calls people to “secular” vocations every day, and those callings are every bid as valid to God’s mission in the world as are callings to the ministry of word and sacrament. All of us together – “secular” and “religious” – are what Jesus called salt and light.
    Calvin knew this when he wrote the Institutes, and our Presbyterian polity today upholds equity between clergy and laity. We are, after all, a priesthood of believers, right?
    I think you were headed toward this kind of discussion, but I just got impatient. Sorry.
    Thanks for the topic!

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Ray: You’re right. I should have put “secular” in quotation marks. Good post. Thanks!

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration ...

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand ...

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that ...

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy ...

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with ...

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.