When The Door Opens

Bible Book: Nehemiah  2 : 1-8
Subject: Opportunity; Nehemiah; Service for God; Providence of God
Series: Nehemiah

When we leave chapter 1, Nehemiah is on his face before God. Entering chapter two, Nehemiah is on his feet before the king. The success of chapter 2 is not possible without the supplications of chapter 1.

Having prayed to God, Nehemiah gets his opportunity – his open door – to do something about the burden that had settled in upon his heart. In II Corinthians 2:12, Paul said, “…a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” Also, in Colossians 4:3, Paul asked the people to pray, “…that God would open unto us a door…”

In this chapter we learn some valuable lessons about open doors, and the God who holds the keys to them. Nehemiah teaches us about what to do when the door opens.

“So Nehemiah went on weeping and went on praying and went on fasting, until one day God opened the door. He didn’t have to speak to the king at all; the king spoke to him.”[i] – Alan Redpath

“We are what we are in part because of what we do with opportunities that come our way. For some time now, Nehemiah had prayed and planned and prepared. When the door cracked open, he seized his opportunity and requested to be sent back to Judah and become the agent of rebuilding.”[ii] – O.S. Hawkins

As we observe Nehemiah before the Persian king, we learn some things that we all need when it comes to the matter of open doors. Notice first of all, Nehemiah teaches us that we need:


Note carefully the month given to us in verse 1 of chapter 2. “And it came to pass in the month Nisan…” Chapter 1 revealed that Nehemiah was first moved about Jerusalem in the month Chisleu (1:1).

There is a gap of some four months between the time in which Nehemiah’s heart became burdened about the city, and the day in the door opened for him to do something about that burden. “Well over a hundred days came and went as Nehemiah waited for the best moment.”[iii]

Nehemiah reminds us that in between the call of God and the opportunity to fulfill it, there is a need for patience as God’s perfect timing is revealed. Notice a couple of things about this matter of waiting for the open door. Consider first of all:

A. Nehemiah’s reasons for waiting

Why did four months elapse between Nehemiah’s receiving the news of Jerusalem, and his request to go there? The text does not say.

It is interesting that commentators offer a number of explanations. Some suggest that the cupbearers worked in a rotation, and that Nehemiah’s shift did not come until the month of Nisan. Others contend that perhaps the king was away for the winter, and did not return until the beginning of the year. Some have theorized that Nehemiah was waiting until the beginning of the New Year to ask the king, hoping he would be more inclined to answer new requests.

Seeing as we are not told the exact reason for the delay, it is as likely as any other reason that Nehemiah was simply waiting on God to give him the right opportunity. Rather than forcing open the door, Nehemiah waited on it to open according to God’s will.

“Saints of God will testify that our timetable and God’s often do not coincide. While we may want instant answers, God’s timing is perfect – and His delays are not denials.”[iv] – Donald Campbell

Consider not only Nehemiah’s reasons for waiting, but think also about:

B. Nehemiah’s readiness while waiting

While the waiting was no doubt hard, especially for a man so weighed down by his burden that it had begun to show on his face (2:2), Nehemiah did not waste this time in worry and fretting. The closing verse of the previous chapter indicates that everyday, Nehemiah was praying for God to open the door, and to grant him mercy in the sight of the king.

“In the quiet place, faith was renewed in a God who knows the best time for everything…Waiting time is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh thought about how to present his case.”[v] – Raymond Brown

Nehemiah reminds us that a pause is not permission to give up. While waiting on God to open a door, we must “watch and pray”, and be ready to move when God says, “Go!”

In this passage, we learn from Nehemiah not only about the need for patience when seeking an open door, but he points us also to the need for:


People will often say things like, “I just walk through the doors as they open.” That sounds great, but before we walk through a door, we need to make sure of who is opening it. Not every opportunity is a door that God has opened. Therefore, we must be wise and prudent whenever we see what appears to be the break for which we have been waiting.

“Nehemiah did not dash impetuously to the task the moment the need dawned upon him.”[vi] In his conversation with the king, Nehemiah shows a wise restraint until he is assured that God is behind the discussion.

Notice a couple of things about Nehemiah’s prudence. Note first of all:

A. The composure Nehemiah showed

Now, keep in mind, Nehemiah has been praying, fasting, mourning, and privately bearing this burden for up to four months. Now, suddenly one day, the king observes that something is troubling Nehemiah.

In verse 1, Nehemiah notes that he had managed to disguise his troubled spirit while in the presence of the king prior to this day. It is likely that the servants in the presence of the king were expected to be joyful and happy in their expression.

On this day, however, Nehemiah’s burden had begun to seep through to his face, and verse 2 says, “Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid.” He was likely afraid because of the danger his sadness had caused him.

Notice carefully how Nehemiah responds. Verse 3 says that Nehemiah answered, “Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?”

It would have been tempting (and easy for that matter) for Nehemiah to unload all of his heart at this point; to reveal all the designs and plans he had for Jerusalem. But instead, Nehemiah is prudent, and composes himself, choosing his words carefully.

“The thought of desecrated burial places touched a sensitive chord in the royal mind. It was a wise approach. The Persians revered their ancestors and graves were sacred places. Referring simply to a ‘city’, Nehemiah made no mention of Jerusalem. Perhaps that was intentional at the start of the conversation…”[vii] – Raymond Brown

Nehemiah reminds us of the importance of remaining composed and controlled when facing what looks like an opportunity. Note something further about his prudence. Consider not only the composure he showed, but note also:

B. The confirmation Nehemiah sought

In verse 4, the king recognizes that Nehemiah is looking for more than just a sympathetic ear. It says, “Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request?”

Now the cracked door opens much wider, and Nehemiah must now decide if this is the opportunity he has been waiting and praying for. It certainly appears to be. However, before Nehemiah marches through it, he first sends up a brief prayer. Verse 4 says, “…So I prayed to the God of heaven.” We are not told the words of this prayer, but it is at least possible that Nehemiah said, “Now, Lord?”

Whatever else Nehemiah was seeking in that instant, he was at least wanting confirmation from God before he proceeded with his requests.

“The initiative for opening doors of service is never ours, but His.”[viii] Therefore, we must not proceed without prayer. Before we continue, we must get His confirmation.

There is a third principle we glean from Nehemiah with regard to open doors. He points us not only to the need for patience when seeking an open door, and prudence when seeing an open door, but notice also we learn from him the necessity of:


Nehemiah sent up his insta-prayer, and apparently got the green light from God. Beginning in verse 5, Nehemiah walks through the door God opens, and finds provision waiting on the other side.

We learn from Nehemiah about the importance of being certain of God’s will. Then, he teaches us that once we have our assurance, we can passionately pursue what God has laid before us.

Notice a couple of lessons we learn from Nehemiah’s passion as he seized upon the opportunity given him by God. First of all, he leaves us the lesson that we should:

A. Fully utilize the strength of an opportunity

Notice the extent of Nehemiah’s requests. Beginning in verse 5, we read:

“And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it.”

Then, after setting a time in which this task would be completed, Nehemiah goes on in verses 7 and 8:

“Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into.”

I am struck by the forwardness and boldness of Nehemiah. He not only asks leave to go and work in Jerusalem, but he also requests the king’s authority by way of letters, and the king’s provision in the form of timber for the project. Knowing that God is at work in the king, Nehemiah’s apprehensions are replaced by an aggressive faith that believes in the ability of God to do “great and mighty things”.

The lesson for us is that we must never place our own limits on the opportunities God give us. We never want to look back on an open door, and say, “I wish had better utilized that opportunity. I wish had been more aggressive and assertive once I knew God’s will.”

The other lesson we draw from Nehemiah’s passion is not only that we should fully utilize the strength of an opportunity, but also that we should:

B. Faithfully recognize the source of an opportunity

My favorite line of this whole section is the closing sentence of verse 8. “…And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.”

Yes, the king made the decision, but God gave the permission. The king signed the papers, but God gave the authority. The king gave his timber, but God grew the trees!

Our passion in seizing opportunities should always be to give the credit where it is truly due! We must be passionate about giving God the glory for the doors that open!

In our zeal to begin the project, let us not forget the praise. Nehemiah reminds us to be passionate about the glory of God for that is where His passion lies as well.

Nehemiah waited as God worked, and in the end God opened the door. In so doing, Nehemiah points us to the importance of seeking God’s providence and provision before we launch out into His service.

“Now he knew, beyond any shadow of doubt, that God was sending him to Jerusalem, and that God would be with him in the hazards, the uncertainties, and the expected rough ride in which the task of reconstruction would involve him.”[ix]

- J.I. Packer



[i] Redpath, Alan, Victorious Christian Service, (Fleming H. Revell, Westwood, NJ, 1958), p. 30

[ii] Hawkins, O.S., Rebuilding: Its Never Too Late, (Annuity Board, Nashville, TN, 1999), p. 37-38

[iii] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Nehemiah, (IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), p. 43

[iv] Campbell, Donald K., Nehemiah: Man in Charge, (Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1979), p. 16

[v] Brown, Raymond, p. 44

[vi] Redpath, Alan, p. 30

[vii] Brown, Raymond, p. 47

[viii] Redpath, Alan, p. 32

[ix] Packer, J.I., A Passion for Faithfulness, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1995), p. 66