Nehemiah 1:10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Today I walked into a large hardware store. A friend of mine asked me to pick up a sink and construction materials up for him. As I waited for one of the clerks to retrieve all the pre-ordered goods, the floor manager asked me sign a document. “Are you happy for me to sign for him?” By signing for the sink, I now became legally responsible for it in the chain of custody. Whenever we do something for someone, we do it in their place. We are granted power of attorney.
Nehemiah is doing exactly this at the end of his prayer in chapter 1. He is pleading on behalf of the Jewish people. Not only does he intercede with God on behalf of Jerusalem, he vicariously places himself as their representative before the King of Persia, Artaxerxes. If his plea is listened to then all Judah will be listened to, if his plea fails then all of Judah fails.
He is empty-handed, but not uninvited. He knows the threats and promises of Scripture well enough to make a strong, not a tentative plea. He draws on several passages of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 28:64; Deut. 30:1–4;Deut. 12:5). At that point in Deuteronomy Israel had been threatened with extinction; now, it seems, Nehemiah sees the situation as hardly less perilous. Like Moses, he must stand in the breach with his intercession.
Nehemiah’s intercession wishes to accomplish two things. He hopes that the response will be immediate (v. 9 “today”). He also trusts the response will be specific (v. 9 “this man”). And Nehemiah has kept a surprise in store for us, who so far have had no inkling of his position or the identity of ‘this man’.
The most surprising thing of this unknown hero, is that we do not realize who he is until he has acted on their behalf. Nehemiah, the unknown hero, turns out to be one of the most influential courtiers in the Persian Kingdom. He will stand in the gap for his people. He does not consider his position something to be grasped, but humbles himself even to the point of losing his job as the royal cupbearer.
Herodotus speaks of the title “cupbearer.” He reports how the Persians held in high honour the holder this office. In other ancient near eastern literature one was not only the cupbearer, but the chief minister of the Assyrian king.
Nehemiah points to the Great Intercessor who not only hazards the loss of position as the Son of God, but also gives his life vicariously for us. Nehemiah loses status, Jesus loses all that we may be returned from exile. Know that today the Great Intercessor is praying for you.