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Nehemiah was the Persian Cupbearer and Jewish Reformer.
Nehemiah had probably never set foot in his homeland when he took it upon himself to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. The city had been destroyed a century before his time. But Nehemiah was ideally suited to the task—driven, determined, and unafraid to confront any obstacle. After all, this was a man who put his life on the line every day, serving as the Persian king’s cupbearer.
As cupbearer, Nehemiah would taste the king’s food and wine before giving it to him, making sure it had not been poisoned. Cupbearers enjoyed a revered status in the royal court, and Nehemiah took advantage of his close relationship with the king to make a bold request.
Having been informed by his brother that Jerusalem was in a state of disrepair—despite the return of many exiles—Nehemiah requested a leave of absence to lead the rebuilding effort in his homeland. The king obliged, appointing Nehemiah as governor of Judah.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah set his sights on the city’s most pressing need: a protective wall. Officials from Judah’s neighboring provinces, including Sanballat, governor of Samaria, scoffed at the idea —first ridiculing Nehemiah’s efforts, then plotting to undermine them by force. When these efforts failed, Sanballat accused Nehemiah of sedition.
Such rivalry among Persian governors was not uncommon. In any case, Nehemiah persevered over the opposition from his enemies, completing the wall in less than two months.
Nehemiah shared God’s heart for the poor and His passion for justice. In order to pay the Persian king’s tax, Jerusalem’s poor had to borrow from the wealthy. But the wealthy smelled opportunity for enrichment and charged interest, forcing many to mortgage their own lands just to survive. In keeping with God’s law (see Exodus 22:25–27), Nehemiah ended this practice, accusing the nobility of sending their own people into yet another form of exile: economic exploitation.