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The Royal Cupbearer. * And it came
pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.'-NEHEMIAH i. 4. NEHEMIAH's name is expressive of the 'compassion of Jehovah,' and his career is an illustration of this sentiment, as respects God's ancient people. He bore the name worthily. Piety and ability distinguished him. We might speak of him in more eulogistic terms without exaggerating his merits. The finest qualities of head and of heart were combined in him. Patriotic, prayerful, brave, tender, wise, persevering, faithful; his character may well command our admiration, and the work he accomplished our hearty praise.
We have no certain information of his parentage beyond the bare statement that he was the son of Hachaliah. It has been conjectured by one and another, from incidental remarks he makes, that he
was of the house of David. Josephus is silent on the subject. That Nehemiah belonged to the tribe of Judah is not improbable, since his fathers were buried at Jerusalem, and Hanani, his kinsman, seems to have been of that tribe. Did his parents live
' to know their son's worth? Did they appreciate it ? Was he their joy and pride ? We cannot say. A veil is drawn over these matters, as also over Nehemiah's childhood and youth. We have no information respecting him, till he stands before us a trusted officer in the court of an Oriental monarch.
He was the cup-bearer of Artaxerxes I., King of Persia. It was a position of honour and of influ. ence; and well he filled it.
In an old book entitled “The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies,' a story is told of an attempt to assassinate a famous and yet infamous ruler of Mingrelia, in which attempt the prince's cup-bearer was implicated. A plot was laid that a brother of the prince should go and dine at the palace, and that a guard in attendance, on a signal from the cup-bearer, should strike the prince through the body with his lance. The prince noticed the sign, and threw himhimself down from the spot where he stood, so that the lance missed him. The guard escaped, but the cup-bearer was seized, put to the rack, and in other ways severely punished for his treachery. Not
thus did Nehemiah abuse the trust reposed in him. Perhaps, as the royal cup-bearer, he was never tempted to become a conspirator. Be this as it may, he faithfully discharged the duties of his office. The king had in him an excellent servant, and he had in the king a good and considerate master.
But the time was drawing near when other duties were to fall to Nehemiah's lot, and very different duties from those it had been his wont to perform. The softness and luxury of the palace must be exchanged by him for the onerous task of military and civil governor of a ruined city and foe-infested district.
The text directs us to the preliminaries of this appointment. It brings several interesting facts before us highly creditable to the patriotic and devout spirit of Nehemiah, and suggestive of matter for profitable reflection to ourselves. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. Let us notice :
1. What these words were that Nehemiah re
2. The sorrow they occasioned him. 3. The prayer they prompted.
I. Let us notice the words alluded to by Nehemiah. They were as follows : 'And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth
as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah ; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.'
You observe that the time and the place of this conversation are given. It was at Shushan or Susa, the winter residence of the King of Persia. It was in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year—the twentieth year, that is, of the reign of Artaxerxes. Without making too much of these particulars, they have no doubt a purpose to serve.
And what might that purpose be? Was it to authenticate the account? Names and dates do give an air of truthfulness to a narrative, and this is the case here. • The book of Nehemiah,' we are told, ‘has always had an undisputed place in the Canon.' But would this have been so if Shushan had been a fiction, and Artaxerxes had not reigned the time stated ?
There are places and periods that stand out more prominently than others in the history of most of us. Occasionally you meet with persons dwelling in remote spots, or living in solitude, the even tenour of whose way nothing seems to disturb. An uneventful if not a dull life is theirs. No red-letter
days characterize it, and no specially dark and disastrous ones. It is a monotonous round, a dead level, in contrast with the vicissitudes of the lives of others. What experiences have your merchants, your statesmen, your reformers! Yea, what chances and changes have some of you known! Are there not passages in the history of some present never to be forgotten ? You can recall scenes and dates that have made an indelible impression on you. It was so with Nehemiah. “It came to pass,' he says, 'in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace.'
The particular matter referred to was a conversation he had with a kinsman of his, and with other co-religionists lately come from Palestine, respecting the state of the Jews there, and concerning Jerusalem.' For one who is in some sort an exile himself, however fortunately placed he may be, for such a one to be indifferent to his country's condition, and heedless of his people's affairs, would strike us as being a discreditable thing. Certainly Nehemiah was not open to this charge. His query on the face of it shows that he was not without interest in the lot of those of his race who had returned from exile to the old country, and also in the fortunes of the holy city. “I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.' It was a double or twofold question that he put. First, he wanted to