God builds the lives of his people, though he often does this through means that are uncomfortable. In a prior article, we discussed how God builds people out of brokenness. Nehemiah 2:1-9 provides an example of God building through adversity. Nehemiah’s position as the king’s cupbearer is based upon a corrupt worldview. The lives of some were regarded as infinitely more significant than others. With that type of mindset, naturally a national ruler would be the most significant. The people of Israel did not, in general, hold to such a viewpoint but they were subject to it. Nehemiah’s position as a cupbearer was to taste wine before the king would drink it, so that if anyone had attempted to poison the king, Nehemiah would bear the suffering and death rather than King Artaxerxes II.
Happiness was a requirement of this position. The cupbearer was always to test and serve the wine with a heart of gladness, so as to be a quality servant to the king. The punishment for not carrying out this job in the prescribed manner is death. Therefore, Nehemiah was very afraid (v. 2) when he came into the king’s presence with great vexation over the news he had heard about Jerusalem. The news about his people was traumatic, not something he could set-aside during the time he did his job. He was in grief, and anyone who saw him would instantly know it, so the cultural expectation is that he would lose his life because his depressed state was equated with insubordination.
The corruption of this system, however, was not beyond the sovereign work of carpentry that God was doing. In the midst of the adversity Nehemiah was faced with, God built his kingdom and his people. He also refurbished Nehemiah’s life personally and built a beautiful work out of the corrupt governmental system in Persia. Nehemiah prayed during his time with the king (v. 4), and God responded to Nehemiah’s dependence upon him. The favor Nehemiah received from the king was contrary to expectation, contrary to cultural norm, and most likely contrary to the king’s normal character. As such, it was a divine favor that flowed from God to Nehemiah via the king. Out of a system of corruption that de-valued life, God built a new worldview (at least in King Artaxerxes II) that allowed Nehemiah to act upon his convictions and grief to make a difference for his people.
God continues to build his kingdom today through adversity. Living in a fallen world means that believers are constantly exposed to and subject to corrupt systems that de-value life and use people for selfish gain. Even out of such evil, however, God is always willing to build something beautiful and refurbish what is worn for his people and even for the systems of the world, all to the praise of his glory.