Assassinations via poisoning were common in the ancient world, and kings would take precautions to ensure that their food and drink were safe. Often they would employ cupbearers who would taste their food and wine ahead of time to make sure that it was not poisoned. A cupbearer held an important place in the royal court and had to be a trustworthy individual. That Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to the ruler of Persia shows his trustworthiness, and it also indicates that it can be appropriate for believers to hold positions in secular government.
In any case, Nehemiah understood that confidence in the sovereignty of God does not mean that we say a prayer and then sit around waiting for Him to move. Instead, those who rightly understand the Lord’s sovereignty pray and act at the same time, knowing that any risk they take for the kingdom will not finally derail the plan of God. After his prayer in Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah found himself going about his normal course of duties when the king noticed his sad countenance. This was unusual, and Nehemiah was afraid, probably because there were strict penalties for souring the mood of the royal court (2:1–2). Nehemiah, however, did not let his fear get the best of him; rather, leaning on the strength of the Lord, he admitted his sadness over the sorry condition of Jerusalem and asked the king for help in returning to the Holy City and rebuilding the wall. Amazingly, the king granted Nehemiah’s request, providing him with letters of safe conduct and materials to use in reconstructing the wall around Jerusalem (vv. 3–8).
Thus far, things had gone splendidly for Nehemiah, but that was not to last. On his way back to his homeland, Nehemiah heard of the opposition of Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite to his project (vv. 9–20). These men would threaten the progress of the wall’s rebuilding, but that should not be surprising to anyone who has ever served in the church. Satan does not like it when the people of God are in the process of returning to Him, and he often stirs up people to speak and act against the work of reformation. There is always a cost to serving the Lord, and Jesus Himself warns us of the price to be paid in this world for following Him (Luke 14:25–33). Let us not underestimate this cost but pay it for the glory of Christ.
Dr. Sproul notes that one of the hardest costs to bear for following Jesus in the modern West is the scorn and ridicule encountered from an unbelieving world. This is the kind of opposition that we are most apt to get in the United States today, and the temptation will always be to change our message so that this scorn goes away. May we never succumb to this temptation, faithfully declaring the gospel of Christ in all generations.