Notes From the Cutting Room Floor: Nehemiah, Artaxerxes and Aristotelian Persuasion

In preparing this past week’s sermon, I got lost in a rabbit-hole. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t make it’s way to the pulpit. This happens often, so I hope to take advantage of my blog as an outlet for my other thoughts.

Faith By Any Other Name…
Between Nehemiah 1 and 2, a great deal transpires without us noticing. Approximately four months pass by without any apparent action or fanfare. However, when Nehemiah is questioned by King Artaxerxes concerning his request, we see that Nehemiah had not only been praying for the restoration of Jerusalem, he had been preparing. We discover that the quality of Nehemiah’s faith in God could be measuring the preparation he made in anticipation of God’s provision.

This made me want to research Faith and how it manifests. When you look in Hebrews 11, the Faith Hall of Fame, you see all of the men who trusted God, and acted as if God would make good His divine promises (Spoiler Alert: He does.). The word for Faith in Hebrews 11 is the greek word Pistis (πίστις). While we understand faith to be a warm, fuzzy feeling of belief and comfort, the classically trained Greek reader would have understood it differently. Pistis could also be called proofs.

One of my favorite songs is Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus. The chorus goes “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er.” It is true that the men (and Rahab) in Hebrews 11 have faith in the sense that they trusted in God. They also showed faith by putting themselves in a position for God to prove Himself. Pistis becomes a mechanism to convince an audience of the veracity of an argument. Aristotle calls the evidential Pistis atechnic persuasion, or inartistic persuasion. It is one of two forms of persuasion. The other is entechnic persuasion, which many might have learned in school as the Rhetorical Pyramid.

Nehemiah: The Smooth Talking Judean
The three forms of entechnic persuasion are Ethos (character), Pathos (emotion), Logos (logic). We see Nehemiah employ all three forms when speaking to Artaxerxes. Aristotle doesn’t even exist when Nehemiah is making his pleas, but maybe Calvin was onto something when he talks about Common Grace.6550749_orig

Ethos -ἦθος – Character
Ethos is to persuade through the character of the speaker or author. We already know that Nehemiah is a trustworthy servant of Artaxerxes, but we see the quality of his character when it’s revealed to us that Nehemiah has never been sad in the king’s presence before (v.1). Nehemiah also continues to reaffirm his loyalty to the king (v.3). His character gives him a platform to speak to the king.

Pathos -πάθος – Emotion
Nehemiah speaks through his emotion (vv.1-2). His “sadness of heart” gave the king reason to believe that the plight of Jerusalem was a personal one to Nehemiah. A result of the King’s favor on Nehemiah (v.5) is his willingness to aid Nehemiah to restore the walls of his hometown.

Logos -λόγος – Logic
Nehemiah’s internal preparation has supplied all of the the necessary logistics for his request (vv.7-8). He is able to provide the king with a precise list of his requirements as well a time frame for the mission. You could also argue that having a stronger Israel could also provide a military buffer between the Persian capital and the rising threat of Egypt. (Howard Vos. Bible Study Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther)

In Any Case
Nehemiah’s plea, fueled and empowered by his prayer, is enough to turn Artaxerxes from his aversion to rebuilding Jerusalem (see: Ezra 4). What is most amazing about this exchange is Nehemiah’s ability to use the entechnic forms of persuasion to inspire faith in Artaxerxes. In some ways, Nehemiah is able to share his faith, and in a way, he instills pistis, faith, in a pagan Persian king too.

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