Reading Nehemiah 2:1-12 from the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu


This study focuses on reading Nehemiah 2:1-10 from the perspective of emotional intelligence. It applies the essential elements of emotional intelligence in understanding how Nehemiah related with the King, made requests and thus obtained permission and other resources to embark on his vision of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. To do that, the meaning of emotional intelligence is first looked at.

Understanding emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has to do with the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions for personal development. Emotional Intelligence has the other objective of recognizing, perceiving and influencing the emotions of others for meaning impacts.

Studying Emotional Intelligence brings to light the knowledge that emotions can influence our behaviour and impact people either positively or negatively. It thus brings out the dynamics of learning how to manage our emotions and that of others. Managing emotions is especially important in all aspects of personal and interpersonal relationships at our workplaces, in the context of our marriages and family relationships. Most importantly, it helps us to get along with people in the Church which is the household of God.

As a psychological term, Emotional Intelligence is built on the foundation that emotional conditions determine thoughts. The condition of our emotions affects how our brain functions thereby affecting how we make decisions and relate with others. In this light developing our emotional intelligence is needed for the success of both our personal and professional lives. On the one hand, Emotional Intelligence equips us to engage in sensitive conversations without hurting feelings. It also strengthens us in managing our emotions when we are stressed up and thus feel overwhelmed. In other words, by studying about our own Emotional Intelligence, our relationships with others could be improved.

Applying Emotional Intelligence elements to read Neh 2:1-10

By applying the perspective of Emotional Intelligence to read Nehemiah 2:1-10, the basic elements of Emotional Intelligence which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills will be used. Self-conscious people are aware of their feelings and motives and how their emotions affect themselves and others. Self-regulation has to do with controlling oneself in order not to make impulsive decisions. In this light, one thinks about the consequences of an action before making decisions. The component of motivation relates to purpose and productivity. What this means is that an emotionally intelligent person has the benefit of having the big picture (purpose) in mind and how one’s actions contribute to the success of that goal. Empathy is meant emotionally intelligent people empathize with others and their situations. Here, that person tends to be a good listener, slow to judge, and understands the needs and wants of others. From this perspective, an emotionally intelligent person is often regarded as a loyal and compassionate friend.

Regarding social skills, the emotionally intelligent person can collaborate with others and to work in teams. That person tends to possess strong communication skills and ability and so tends to be a very good leader.

In reading Nehemiah 2:1-10, we will therefore discuss how these elements apply to the roles played by the characters: Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes and Sanballat and Tobiah.

Self-awareness – showing emotions in the face (Neh 2:1-3)

In exercising his official duties as a Cupbearer as pointed out in Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah presents himself as serving wine to the king. Worthy of note is the fact that “wine” in the Bible does not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine as the term generally suggests today (Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Jeremiah 48:33).

Normally, Nehemiah appeared to be a happy person. For he writes that he had not been sad or sorrowful in disposition when he was in the presence of the king. However, being cheerful and full of smiles is not always possible. For burdens sometimes weigh the hearts down, steal the facial glory and saddens the spirit. On this occasion, Nehemiah appeared to be sad, and the king noticed it and asked about the cause. When asked his sadness, Nehemiah admitted and explained his heart burdens.

Nehemiah also admitted his great fear. Serving God is not always easy. Sometimes, there are emotional challenges. To begin, Nehemiah had great sorrow when he heard of the troubles in Jerusalem. Here, he had great fear before the king. It is important to state that those who please God are those who manage their emotional fears and griefs. Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid. First, he was about to make a request of the powerful human king at the time. Second, it was probable that the King could become angry and so punish Nehemiah. Last, Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid because it was improper for a cupbearer and other servants to allow their personal lives to affect their service and demeanour before the king.

Empathy- Perceiving the emotional state of others and seeking for ways to help them

King Artaxerxes knew Nehemiah was not physically ill. He therefore concluded that it was sorrow of heart. The king perceived the condition of Nehemiah’s heart (Proverbs 15:13). The king was indeed a perceptive and wise king.  After receiving the answer, he went further to look for a possible way he could help Nehemiah by asking what Nehemiah wanted. Most appropriately the king asked for specifics in that he wanted to know how long the trip would take.

Self-regulations – Nehemiah managed his fear and grief through contemplative prayer

Managing our emotions by facing our emotional fears and grief thereby conquering them to do God’s will despite hardships pleases God. In managing his fears, Nehemiah appealed to the invisible higher authority who is God. Paul entreats the Philippians to cast all their cares onto God.

Motivation – Nehemiah explained his reasons for his deamenour and made requests

When asked about his demeanour, Nehemiah explained that it was reasonable for him to be troubled considering the problems in his homeland. For the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. This is the city where his father had lived and been buried. Motivated by his vision, Nehemiah asked the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.

Social Skills – Nehemiah respected authorities

In his response, Nehemiah first expressed great respect for the king. He said, “Let the king live forever!” In modern times, that would be, “Long live the king!” This was a common way of praising the king. It demonstrated how people valued the king and wished that his service continues (1 Kings 1:31; Daniel 2:4; 5:10; 6:6,21).  Social skills teach one to speak respectfully to people in positions of power, especially when we have a great request to make of them. It also has to do with humility towards one another and that of developing team skills.


Contrary to the emotions exhibited by Sanballat and Tobiah in Nehemiah 2:10, King Artaxerxes was happy to grant Nehemiah’s request. When people are emotionally intelligent, they empathise with others in their needs. In this case, the king was favourable and granted all Nehemiah’s requests. Nehemiah gave thanks to God for this favourable result. He had repeatedly made request of God for these blessings, so it was only right that he then give God credit when the blessings were granted. We should remember this too in our prayers to God.

Praying through the content of Nehemiah’s model prayer (Nehemiah 1:5-11), by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu


Nehemiah 1:5-11 summarises Nehemiah’s prayer after he heard of the distress of the Jews in Jerusalem. In this case, Nehemiah’s prayer contains praise, confession of sins, an affirmation of God’s promises and petition. It is important to state that a prayer that aims at transformation should be fashioned along this line. The content of Nehemiah’s prayer serves as a prayer model for contemporary Christians.

Nehemiah praised God (Ne 1:5)

Nehemiah adored God as the God of heaven who is great and awesome. He addressed God as the one who keeps the covenant of love with those who love God and obey God’s promises. Indeed, the God that Nehemiah prayed to is the one true God, who is the ruler of heaven and earth. In prayer, we ought to remind ourselves that God deserves our worship and praise. Acknowledging the greatness and awesomeness of God should therefore be our foremost priority whenever we come to God in prayer. This model implies that our prayers should not just be in the form of making requests before God. Praising God is always appropriate before we ask something from God.

Nehemiah confessed sins (Ne 1:7)

The second element of Nehemiah’s prayer was the confession of sins, not just his own sins but also, that of the sins of his people, Israel. For this motive, Nehemiah repeatedly used the plural personal pronoun “we.” This effort implies that Nehemiah was not only concerned about his sins, but he identified himself in the corporate sinfulness of his people.  For the corporate sins required corporate confession.

In this regard, Nehemiah confessed and acknowledged his own sins in addition to the sins of his family and the people of Israel. He openly admitted their corrupt conduct toward God. To him, they had not kept God’s commands, statutes, and ordinances as given through Moses. Although Christians are not under law but grace, yet we are called upon to confess when we sin (1 John 1:9).

Nehemiah recalled God’s promises (Neh 1:8-10)

Having prayed for forgiveness of sins, Nehemiah recalled God’s promises to return the people of Israel from captivity. God had told Israel that God would disperse them among the nations should they become unfaithful. However, if they repent and keep God’s promises, they would be brought back to their promised nation (Deuteronomy 4:25-31). To Nehemiah, his people had been unfaithful and as such were scattered. Nehemiah was hereby urging God to keep the second part of the promise, namely, to return the people when they repented and bless them again in the land.

Learning from this model of prayer, therefore, Christians are called upon to claim God’s promises in prayer. In prayers, we are to trust God to fulfil God’s holistic promises which are for our spiritual, social, material and emotional wellbeing. Most importantly, Christians are enjoined to know Scripture and pray according to Scripture.

Nehemiah petitioned God (Neh 1:11)

Nehemiah’s prayer concludes by asking God for help.  Some Christians begin their prayers here instead of first adoring God, confessing our sins and reminding God of God’s promises. From the perspective of Nehemiah, therefore, an adoration should precede supplication. In this model prayer, Nehemiah was not requesting on his own behalf.

It is important to pray for ourselves and the things that we need. However, remembering to pray for the needs of others especially God’s people should form an essential part of our prayer life. Nehemiah pointed out that he prayed specifically for favour before the king. He wanted God to bless and prosper him in his attempt to request something from the king. Among others, therefore, as Nehemiah did, we are to pray to God for the things that are profoundly important in life, especially for God’s blessings of our work for God. We are to pray for God’s strength, prosperity and blessings in our lives.

Conclusion and application

The content of Nehemiah’s prayer which involves adoration, confession, scriptural promises, and petitioning God should serve as our model prayer. Effective prayer for the total transformation of our lives and communities should contain these elements. It is important to remind ourselves that these elements could be related to the content of the Lord’s prayer as thought by our Lord Jesus Christ in Mathew 6:9-13. In analysing the Lord’s prayer, it is clear, the Lord Jesus taught us to adore God and thus hallow God’s name, confess our sins, affirm scripture and petitioned God who is addressed as our father in heaven. In this light, a Christian has prayed well if he has prayed through these models.