Nehemiah describes himself as “the king’s” cup-bearer” (Nehemiah 1:11). That’s a palace servant who brings the king his wine, after tasting it to make sure no one has spiked it with poison.
Sounds like a lowly position, staffed by an expendable human being.
But if that’s true, why would the king give Nehemiah:
- an extended leave of absence;
- supplies to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls;
- lumber to build himself a house in Jerusalem; and
- an armed escort of soldiers and charioteers for a round trip of more than 2,000 miles.
Official cupbearers for many kings carried a lot of influence at the palace. After all, cupbearers generally saw the king every day and had his ear. And they certainly had the king’s confidence since he turned them with his life.
The Job’s prestige shows up in a book in the Roman Catholic Bible: Tobit, part of a collection of ancient Jewish writings called the Apocrypha. Tobit describes a particular cupbeareras the number two man in the Assyrian Empire. King Esar-haddon, son of the infamous Sennacherib, appointed Ahikar “chief cupbearer, keeper of the royal seal, and chief of administration”(Tobit 1:22).