You Want Me to What? Drama based on Nehemiah 1-6

Character 1 (Nehemiah)
Character 2
Character 3
Character 4

Running Time

Approximately 8 minutes

Staging Notes

This reader's theater piece is conceived for a variety of settings. The style, however, is always presentational: in other words, the action is projected out to the audience.

Various staging methods can be used. If static staging is preferred (read at microphones with limited gestures), at least three mikes should be used for the performers (Nehemiah should have his own mike). Character 1 (Nehemiah) should be flanked on either side. For example, standing from left to right, character positions should be as follows: Characters 2, 1, 3, 4.

In a staged reading, scripts are still carried in a binder, but movement and gesture patterns are specifically determined. The staging in this script indicates only the broadest movement patterns for readers at microphones.

This piece was conceived originally as a sermon illustration to a series of sermons about leadership taken from the book of Nehemiah. The play sums up the events of chapters 1-6.

[Characters 2,1 (Nehemiah), 3, 4, stand in a row facing the audience.]

1: Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah

2: Was an ordinary fella

3: A pal

4: A mate

2: A regular guy.

4: The cupbearer to the king!

[all raise their hands in a toast]

All: The king!

1: Until one day ...

2: His brother

3: Hanani, by name

4: Told Nehemiah of the terrible trouble the remnant was having in Jerusalem.

3: [takes a step forward and solicits an imaginary customer] Remnants! Get your remnants! Only $1.49 a yard! Calico! Cotton! Get your sackcloth here! Remnants!

1: [crosses to 3] Not fabric remnants, you idiot. The remainder of the Jews in Jerusalem—the remnant that escaped exile.

3: [stepping back in line] Oh, never mind then. Sale's off. Sorry. Where were we?

4: Nehemiah learned of the terrible trouble of the Jews in Jerusalem.

2: Nehemiah was sad and called out to God.

1: [kneeling] "O Lord, God of Heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive..."

4: And God was

2: Attentive

3: And gracious and ...

1: [standing and looking up] "You want me to what?"

4: God had a plan for Nehemiah.

1: "You want me to ask the great and powerful King Artaxerxes to go and rebuild Jerusalem? To arrange for money and food and horses and soldiers and timber and tools and letters of introductions and . . . You want me to do this? The lowly cupbearer? I'm to lead them? Me?"

2: Nehemiah was understandably afraid.

3: But prayer made him strong, and he obeyed his Lord and his God.

1: "Here goes nothing, [turning to 2] King Artaxerxes, you say you're curious about my sad face? You wonder why I'm not the happy young cupbearer you used to know and barely tolerate?"

3: He spoke passionately to the king of the distress of his people and the destruction of his city.

4: And the king granted the wishes of his cupbearer.

[2 and 1 shake hands. 2 turns upstage]

1: "Army Officers, check. Letters to Governors of Trans-Euphrates, check. Letter to Asaph about the timber, check. Cavalry, check. Toothbrush, P.J.'s, socks and underwear with no holes, check."

[1 crosses to far right, 2 follows, 3 and 4 cross upstage behind I and 2 and take their original positions at left. THe line order, from left to right is now 3,4,2, 1]

2: Off went Nehemiah to Jerusalem.

3: To do the work of the Lord.

4: And the gracious hand of the Lord was upon him.

3: God gave Nehemiah wisdom.

2: The wisdom to know when to wait and watch and then act.

4: But only when the time was right.

1: [pacing left and then back to position at right crossing in front of the others] "Wall inspection. Check. Gather the Jews and Priests. Check. Assign stations for rebuilding. Check. Tell nosy Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem where to get off. Check."

2: And so Nehemiah saw the wall begin to rise.

[Try to establish a regular and fairly rapid rhythm tlvvughout this next section— almost as if snapping fingers along with the speech Have fun with it.]

3: The Sheep Gate.

4: The Fish Gate.

1: The Tower of the hundred.

2: The Dung Gate.

3: The Horse Gate.

4: The Broad Wall.

1: The Fountain Gate. The Valley Gate.

2: The wall of Ophel and the Water Gate.

3: The Pool

2: The Pool

4: The Pool

3: The Pool of Shelah by the King's Garden.

2: [blowing a lifeguard whistle] Hey, you! No running by the pool.

4: And the wall rose.

[3 and 4 turn upstage with their backs to the audience]

2: "Nehemiah, sir."

1: "Yes, what is it, number 2?"

2: "I don't want to be a party pooper, sir. But I've noticed that Sanballat, the Horonite; Tobiah, the Ammonite; the Arabs; and the men of Ashdod are just the teeniest bit concerned with our wall."

1: "Yes?"

2: "Well. . . They're plotting against us and plan to stir up trouble. They plan to attack us and kill us and put an end to our work."

1: "Don't worry. I know how to fix that lot!"

3: Nehemiah prayed to the Lord God for protection and guidance.

4: He posted guards.

2: Then Nehemiah divided the workers into two groups; one group worked with their tools in one hand and a weapon in the other, while the other group stood guard. The Jews fortified the weakest areas around the wall and had a bugler ready to sound a distress call for emergencies.

4: Though the number of Jews were few, stretched along the span of the wall, they were ready.

1: And the plans of the enemy were frustrated.

3 & 4: Aw, shucks!

1: And the wall rose still higher.

2: Until...

3: It was finished to the point that there was not the tiniest, not the slightest, not the merest, not a sliver, not a particle ...

1: "Not a gap left in it. Good work, my friends."

2: Except for the gate doors. There were those openings with no gates to fill them.

4: "Mister Nehemiah, mister Nehemiah, sir, I have an order here for some rather large security gates. Where do you want me to unload?"

1: "Okay, you folks over there. Let's get these city gates up."

3: "What? Nehemiah, we just finished the wall. Give us a break, why don't you? We don't know who's going to try to attack us next. We've been working with a weapon in one hand and tools in the other for weeks now. It's been one thing after another."

2: "We're bushed!"

4: And the workers took a long-deserved nap.

[All snore]

2: Then a message arrived.

3: It was from Sanballat,

4: Tobiah,

1: and Geshem.

3: "What do they want now, boss?"

1: "They want a meeting."

2: "Hey, that must mean we frightened them pretty good, huh? They want to meet with us."

4: "Yeah, I bet they want to smoke the old peace pipe."

2: "Kiss and make up."

3: "Bury the hatchet."

4: But Nehemiah was not fooled.

1: "Bury the hatchet in our backs, more like it. Why should we stop the Lord's work and make it easy for our enemies? Tell them "no," Number 2. We're not safe until we get these doors up."

2: "But you need me to raise the doors."

3: Every man is precious to the work.

1: "We'll have to try to manage without you. The work must continue."

[2 and 1 exchange places]

3: So Nehemiah sent his messenger to his enemies and continued with the work.

2: Even though he was one man short.

1, 3, 4: [As if lifting a great weight] Heave!

4: Number 2 arrived at the Horonite camp.

2: [slightly panting] "He's not coming, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. He has a great work to do, and he's not stopping to pass the time of day with you. Goodbye."

[2 crosses upstage and then loops back downstage]

3: But the enemies of the Jews were not satisfied. They sent for Nehemiah four times.

4: They were a pesky bunch.

2: [breathing heavily] "For the fourth time ... he's not coming, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. He has a great work to do, and he's not stopping to pass the time of day with you. Perhaps in the spring. Don't call us—we'll call you."

[2 crosses upstage and then loops back downstage]

4: But the cunning of the Jews' enemies knew no bounds.

3: "Hmm. If I can't lure him or pester him away from his task, I'll start a few rumors, get their neighbors upset and cause a little internal dissension."

1: Soon after, Sanballat sent a message to Nehemiah via an aide and an open letter.

3: An open letter, not sealed, not private, and easily accessible.

2: Which the aide read to anyone who would listen.

4: Both friend and foe alike.

1: To foes ...

[1 turns upstage and faces away from audience]

3: "Did you know that those pesky Jews are planning a coup? It's true. Would I lie?

4: "Really?"

2: To friends ...

3: "I heard that Nehemiah thinks he's real hot stuff and that he thinks he's going to be king. Do you know he's planned this huge PR campaign? Billboards, flyers, radio, TV, the works.

2: "He says he's going to be king? The dirty rat."

3: "It's right here in black and white."

2: But the icing on the cake was ...

[I turns front toward audience 3 ciosses next to J. 4 adjusts to 3's former position.]

3: "Nehemiah, before this gets back to King Artaxerxes, you'd better come over and see Sanballat. He knows he can help you. He wants to be your personal manager. Why don't you come back with me to map out strategy?"

2: But Nehemiah understood strategy. He was God's appointed leader.

1: "Liar! Sanballat made up these lies to stop my God's work. Get out of here."

[3 and 2 exchange places]

4: And Nehemiah sent the messenger away, prayed for strength, and spoke to his people.

1: "No cause for alarm. They were just trying to frighten us. You know me. I'm not trying to be king. Hey, remember me? Who released your kids from slavery, anyway? Huh? Who abolished those interest payments and restored your land to you? As governor, did I take advantage of you? I ask you. Who do you trust to tell the truth?"

2: And the people felt much better.

4: But the work was not yet finished.

1: "We are still vulnerable to outside influences without our gates secure. The work must not stop."

4: And the Lord gave Nehemiah continued strength and wisdom.

2: "Psst. Nehemiah!"

3: Whispered Shemaiah

4: Son of Delaiah

3: From the hiding place in his home.

[2 takes 1 aside slightly downstage]

2: "Let's hide in the temple and shut the doors and bolt them and bar them, 'cause men are coming to kill you tonight. You've got to hide."

4: But the Lord was with Nehemiah and gave him wisdom. Here was just another of Sanballat the Horonite's tricks.

1: "Should I run? Should I defile the temple and enter where only a priest may? Should I dishonor my God to save my own neck? No. I have work to do!"

3: You see, friends,

2: Nehemiah was given the strength and wisdom

4: To conquer his fears

1: And the fears of his people

2: So that the Lord's work might be completed.

1: Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah

2: Was an ordinary leader of God.

3: Made stron

4: And righteous

1: And wise

2: Able to withstand the enemy from without

3: And within

4: Through prayer.

2: And the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, in fifty-two days.

1: And built to the glory of God!

All: Amen!

Rights to produce this play may be obtained by contacting the author. A $15.00 fee will secure production rights for your organization. This fee is not transferable to other organizations. The author may be contacted at the following address: Calvin College, Communications Arts & Sciences, 3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids, Ml 49546.

Debra L. Freeburg is a professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.