I started reading in Nehemiah and have found so many applicable truths for my life today, that I decided maybe a study, chapter by chapter may be in order. I hope you will join in and offer your insights and comments. :)
First, I want to give a little background about Nehemiah and the times he lived in. I wish I knew how to import a chart onto this blog but since I don't, you'll have to bear with me. Judah had been taken into captivity by Babylon at the end of II Chronicles (this was after repeated attempts by God to get them to repent and turn back to Him). The last few verses talk about how God stirred up King Cyrus, the King of Persia, to allow Ezra (book before Nehemiah) to go back to Jeruselum to rebuild the temple. Basically, Babylon took Judah captive and after 70 years, Persia overthrew the Babylonian empire. So now Judah was under the Persian empire. Daniel (who was taken in the Babylonian capture and served during the 70 yr. captivity and into served in the beginning of Persia's reign too), Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah all lived in roughly the same time period. Ezra dealt with the Persian kings Cyrus, Darius I, Ahasuerus (who was also Esther's husband) and Artaxerxes I (who was king during the events of Nehemiah). So Ezra returning to rebuild the temple, Esther becoming the Queen and saving the Jews from destruction, and the event in Nehemiah basically take place in about a 77 year span of time.
If you want an even deeper picture of what was going on, Zechariah and Haggai were prophets during the time of Ezra and Malachi was the prophet during Nehemiah's time. I personally find it fascinating how the Bible all works together. :)
Anyway, now that you have a bit of historical background, let's look at chapter one. The book starts out by telling us in verse one that it is written in the words of Nehemiah. At this point, the only thing we know about Nehemiah is that he is the son of Hacaliah (and frankly, that doesn't help me all that much!). Next we are told the time and place where the whole thing got started: it was the month of Chislev, in the 20th year (of what I'm not sure - maybe Persia's reign???) and he was in the city of Susa. If you have studied Esther at all, the city of Susa should sound familiar. Nehemiah's brother and some other men from Judah (remember that in Ezra a remnant of Jews had returned to Jeruselum to rebuild the temple and there were also some Jews who had escaped the original captivity and apparently were living in the area). So Nehemiah asked after the Jews.
The news he got was not good - yes, the temple was rebuilt BUT the walls were still all broken down and the gates were non-existent. Nehemiah's response to this news is immediate. In the very next verse it says, "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."
Why was Nehemiah so upset about some broken down wall? Well, in our society the importance of walls is not that big of a deal, but in ancient times walls were extremely important. They served not only served as practical protection for a city, but they were also a symbol to the neighboring cities and villages of salvation, security, protection and power. The following link has some intereseting facts about ancient walls but keep in mind the person writing it is not a Christian : http://www.suite101.com/content/walls-of-the-ancient-world-a139354
In verses 5-11, we see Nehemiah's prayer. In verse 5, Nehemiah praises God for who He is and throws in the reminder that God is a covenant keeping God. Then Nehemiah asks that God listen to Him as he confesses. Nehemiah doesn't just confess his own sin but the sin of his people. He makes it personal. This is no case of pointing fingers - Nehemiah completely humbled himself before God and threw himself and his people at God's mercy. Next, we see him remind God of God's promises to His people, of His covenant. He gives all the credit for any good things to God. Then, finally, he asks God to go before him and make him successful when he is before this "man."
Up until now, we don't really know who Nehemiah is or what he does, and now we are given the man. The next words tell us who this man is: "Now I was the cupbearer of the king." Does that give you chills like it did me?
Nehemiah happens to be in Susa; he happens to run into this group of people from Judah; they happen to tell him about the broken down walls; Nehemiah is completely broken because of it - he has a heart for his people; and he just happens to have the ear of the king. Now what do you suppose the chances are that the one man who has the ear of the king would hear about the need for a new wall and not just feel sad about it but want to do something about it? Not very likely. The cupbearer had a special relationship with the king. He tasted the king's wine/beverages to check for poison so the king trusted and relied on him, and because he was in the king's presence so much, the cupbearer was often a confidante of the king. Nehemiah was in a place of influence with the king, not by accident, but so God could accomplish His plans both for His people and for Nehemiah in particular.
This brings me to some application. You aren't where you are by accident. You have a unique realm of influence and can reach people that nobody else can. Even the most humble of jobs has a sphere of influence. Look at Exodus 1 and you can read the stories of two midwives who feared God so much they defied the Egyptian king. Without their courage Moses would never have lived to adulthood to lead the children of Isreal. Don't doubt God's plan and purpose for you. God can use anyone with a willing and humble heart who is willing to follow God. It says God is actively looking for those who will serve Him with their whole hearts.