Courage Part Two

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Ezra, the priest, gathered up his fears and took courage “because the hand of the Lord my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28). During the same period another man felt that same power infusing him with the courage to ask huge favours of scary people.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11). This was a dangerous job if this particular king, like those of his kind, needed someone not just to approve the bouquet of his wine, but to make sure that wine wasn’t poisoned. Nehemiah, as a Jewish captive in Susa, was expendable should someone have evil intentions.

But that wasn’t what sent chills up and down Nehemiah’s spine. He had heard about the state of Jerusalem and the news devastated him (1:4). What made him afraid was the urge he felt to approach his master and ask for permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Such effrontery might cost him his head. We are told in Nehemiah 1:11 that he prayed for favour before the king.

But when he appeared before Artaxerxes, the king was the one who provided Nehemiah with the opportunity to unburden himself about his concern for Jerusalem by asking him why he was sad. The Scriptures tell us that Nehemiah was afraid to answer the question (2:2). To his surprise, Artaxerxes was not only open to his request to go to Jerusalem, but practically pushed him out the door! Nehemiah 2:8 records something very similar to what Ezra experienced: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests."

Someone once said: “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is pressing forward when you feel afraid.” Both Ezra and Nehemiah faced huge challenges. Ezra was a priest and teacher thrust into the role of temple rebuilder. Nehemiah was a taster of wine called into service as a construction foreman over a job much bigger than putting up a backyard fence. To even begin to address tasks far out of their comfort zones they had to ask favours of those who were not by inclination usually favourable to the Hebrews’ cause: powerful men with other agendas and few scruples.

But they moved forward in spite of the fear. Why?

Because their confidence in God was greater than their fear of man.

A frightened fisherman turned into a powerful preacher of truth when he learned that lesson. Peter, the one who, before Pentecost, couldn’t even stand up and proclaim his faith to a servant girl, stood before the authorities after that event and, despite their threats of bodily harm, prayed: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with boldness” (Acts 4:29).

Every one of us is afraid of something. Many of those fears are groundless. But some are real and threaten to overwhelm us. Just as the gracious hand of God was upon Ezra, Nehemiah, Peter, and countless others, His hand is upon those of us who are His children through faith in Christ. We can take those fears and put them into that gracious hand, move forward and trust Him to do in us and through us what no one would ever have expected of us.

After all, who would have thought that a wine taster would do what Nehemiah ended up doing?

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