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William Shepard

Nehemiah the Cup-Bearer

There was a Jew, named Nehemiah, who lived in Susa, the capital of the Persian kingdom, and was cup-bearer to King Xerxes. As this man was one day out walking, he heard some strangers that were entering the city after a long journey speaking to each other in the Jewish language, so he went to them and asked them from whence they came.

They told him, "From Judea."

Then he asked in what state were the people and the city.

"They are in a bad state," answered the strangers, "for the walls of the city have not yet been rebuilt, nor the gates set up, and the neighboring nations do the people a great deal of mischief."

Hereupon Nehemiah shed tears out of pity for the calamities of his countrymen; and, looking up to heaven, he said,—

"How long, O Lord, wilt thou overlook our nation while it suffers so great miseries, and while we are made the prey and the spoil of all men?"

And while he lamented thus, he was told that the king was going to sit down to supper; so he made haste, and went as he was, without washing himself, to minister to the king in his office of cup-bearer. But as the king was very pleasant after supper, and more cheerful than usual, he cast his eyes on Nehemiah, and, seeing him look sad, he asked him why he was sad. Nehemiah prayed to God to give him favor and afford him the power of persuading by his words, and said,—

"How can I, O king, appear otherwise than sad, when I hear that the walls of Jerusalem, the city in which my fathers are buried, are thrown down to the ground, and that its gates are consumed by fire? but do thou grant me favor to go and build its walls, and to finish the building of the temple."

And the king granted him what he asked, and told him that he should carry an epistle to the governors, that they might pay him due honor, and afford him whatsoever assistance he wanted.

"Leave off thy sorrow, then," said the king, "and be cheerful in the performance of thy office hereafter."

So Nehemiah worshipped God, and gave the king thanks for his promise, and forgot his sorrow. Next day the king called for him, and gave him a letter to the governor of Syria and Phoenicia and Samaria, ordering him to pay due honor to Nehemiah, and to supply him with what he wanted for his building.

Nehemiah went to Babylon, and took with him many of his countrymen, and set out for Jerusalem, reaching it in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Xerxes. He called together all the people to the city, and stood in the midst of the temple, and told them that he had come with the permission of the king of Persia to rebuild the wall of their city, and he exhorted them all to assist him. Then he gave orders that the rulers should measure the wall, and divide the work of it among the people, according to their ability. And when he had added this promise, that he himself, with his servants, would assist them, he dissolved the assembly. So the Jews prepared for the work.

But when the Ammonites, and Moabites, and Samaritans, and all who inhabited the neighboring countries, heard that the walls were going up again, they determined to do what they could to interfere with the builders. They attacked and slew many of them, and they frequently endeavored to kill Nehemiah himself. But Nehemiah took great care of his own safety, and set a number of men around himself as a guard to his body; not that he feared death, but because he knew that if he were dead the walls of the city would never be raised. He also gave orders that the builders should have their armor on while they were building, and their swords by their sides. And at the distance of every five hundred feet trumpeters were placed, who were to give a signal whenever the enemy approached, so that the builders might be ready to receive them. In spite of all discouragements, therefore, the work went on apace, and in two years and four months the walls were finished. And when Nehemiah had done many other things which were worthy of commendation, he came to a great age, and then died.