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3. The request of Nehemiah 2:1-8
Nehemiah prayed for four months about conditions in Jerusalem before he spoke to Artaxerxes about them (cf. Nehemiah 1:1; Nehemiah 2:1). Artaxerxes’ reign began in the seventh Jewish month, Tishri (late September and early October), of 464 B.C. [Note: Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 28-30, 161.] Therefore Nehemiah presented his request in late March or early April of 444 B.C.
Nehemiah was probably very fearful (Nehemiah 2:2) because Artaxerxes could have interpreted sadness in his presence as dissatisfaction with the king (cf. Esther 4:2). [Note: J. Carl Laney, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 77.]
"Persian works of art such as the great treasury reliefs from Persepolis indicate that those who came into the king’s presence did so with great deference, placing the right hand with palm facing the mouth so as not to defile the king with one’s own breath . . ." [Note: Edwin Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," in 1 Kings-Job, vol. 4 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 684.]
Nehemiah realized that the moment had arrived for him to ask Artaxerxes to revise his official policy toward Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:11; Ezra 4:21). This too could have incurred the king’s displeasure. Nehemiah’s walk with God is evident in that he talked to God as he was conversing with the king (Nehemiah 2:4; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Nehemiah 2:4 contains a beautiful example of spontaneous prayer, one of the best in the Bible.
"One of the most striking characteristics of Nehemiah was his recourse to prayer (cf. Nehemiah 4:4; Nehemiah 4:9; Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:9; Nehemiah 6:14; Nehemiah 13:14)." [Note: Ibid., p. 685.]
"Quick prayers are possible and valid if one has prayed sufficiently beforehand. In this case Nehemiah’s prayer is evidence of a life lived in constant communion with God. Nehemiah had prayed for months, but he knew he was completely dependent on God’s work in the king’s heart at this moment." [Note: Breneman, p. 176.]
Divine working and human planning are not necessarily contradictory.
"Prayer is where planning starts." [Note: J. White, Excellence in Leadership, p. 35.]
Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes 12 years after the king had appointed him governor of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 13:6). Nevertheless he may have also gone back sooner than that (Nehemiah 2:6). One writer calculated the date of Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem as March 5, 444 B.C. [Note: Harold W. Hoehner, "Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology," Bibliotheca Sacra 132:525 (January-March 1975):64.]
"This date marks the beginning of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:24-27). Sixty-nine of those seventy weeks (173,880 days) were literally fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem, presented Himself at His ’royal entry’ as Israel’s messiah, on March 30, A.D. 33. The prophecy of Daniel was fulfilled to the very day (cf. Luke 19:40-42). The seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:4-28; Revelation 6-19), will find its fulfillment in the future." [Note: Laney, pp. 78-79.]
The fortress by the temple (Nehemiah 2:8) was a citadel that stood just north of the temple. Its name in Hebrew was Birah (or in Greek, Baris). It was the forerunner of the Antonia Fortress that Herod the Great built and to which Luke referred in the Book of Acts (Acts 21:37; Acts 22:24). [Note: See Dan Bahat, "Jerusalem Down Under: Tunneling along Herod’s Temple Mount Wall," Biblical Archaeology Review 21:6 (November-December 1995):45-46. This interesting article walks the reader through archaeological discoveries along the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple Mount from south to north.]
". . . there were good political reasons for Artaxerxes to grant Nehemiah’s request. Inaros had led a revolt in Lower Egypt in the late 460s, aided and abetted by Athens. The Persians had largely squashed this rebellion by 455, but pockets of resistance held out in the delta marshes thereafter. Then, early in the 440s, Megabyxos had led a revolt in Syria, which was probably put down just before Nehemiah made his request. Also, just about 445 the Athenians negotiated the Peace of Kallias with the Persians and hostilities between the two powers ceased. At this point in time Artaxerxes certainly recognized that a stronger Judah populated by loyal Jews would help to bring greater stability to Syria and would provide a bulwark on the border with Egypt." [Note: Vos. p. 91.]
4. The return to Jerusalem 2:9-20
Because of the opposition of the Jews’ neighbors, Artaxerxes sent a military escort to accompany Nehemiah to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:9). It is not certain how many Jews traveled with Nehemiah on this occasion. The writer gave us no numbers.
Sanballat may have originated in Horonaim in Moab, but he seems more likely to have come from one of the Beth-horons (Upper or Lower) located just a few miles northwest of Jerusalem (cf. Joshua 10:10-11). [Note: H. H. Rowley, "Sanballat and the Samaritan Temple," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 38:1 (September 1955):166-67.] The Elephantine papyri (ca. 400 B.C.) name him as the governor of Samaria, which he may have been then or after this event took place. [Note: James B. Prichard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 492.] There was evidently a series of governors of Samaria named Sanballat. [Note: Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," pp. 768-71.] Tobiah seems to have been a Jew-his name means "Yahweh is good"-who had attained a position similar to that of Sanballat in Ammon, east of Judah, under the Persians. [Note: L. H. Brockington, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 130.] Scholars have traced nine generations of his influential family. [Note: Benjamin Mazar, "The Tobiads," Israel Exploration Journal 7 (1957):137-45, 229-38.]
Probably Nehemiah wanted to survey the damage to the walls secretly (Nehemiah 2:12) because, had Israel’s enemies observed him, they might have stirred up the people of the land to riot against him.
"He wished to lay his plans without any possibility of leakage to the enemy before their execution began, and then to let the execution be so swift that the work would be finished before they could successfully appeal to the king against it once more." [Note: H. H. Rowley, "Nehemiah’s Mission and Its Background," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 37:2 (March 1955):559.]
Perhaps Nehemiah only surveyed the southern parts of Jerusalem’s wall because those were the only sections still standing.
"Jerusalem was always attacked where she was most vulnerable, from the north; thus there was little preserved in that direction." [Note: Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 689.]
Another reason for Nehemiah’s secrecy was probably that he wanted to formulate a plan before the Jews could marshal arguments why they could not rebuild the walls (Nehemiah 2:16). When he did present his ideas (Nehemiah 2:17-18), the people responded positively. This is an evidence of Nehemiah’s wisdom as a leader.
"There is evidence that Geshem [Nehemiah 2:19] (cf. Nehemiah 6:1 ff.), far from being a negligible alien, was an even more powerful figure than his companions, though probably less earnestly committed to their cause. . . . From other sources it emerges that Geshem and his son ruled a league of Arabian tribes which took control of Moab and Edom (Judah’s neighbors to the east and south) together with part of Arabia and the approaches to Egypt, under the Persian empire." [Note: Kidner, pp. 83-84. Cf. Olmstead, pp. 295, 316.]
Nehemiah continued the policy of not allowing the people of the land to help rebuild Jerusalem, that Zerubbabel had begun (Nehemiah 2:20; cf. Ezra 4:3). He also continued to trust in God’s enabling power primarily, rather than in his own ability (Nehemiah 2:20; cf. John 15:5).
"Nehemiah was clearly a shaker, a mover, and a doer." [Note: Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 690.]
Donald Campbell identified 21 principles of effective leadership that Nehemiah demonstrated in chapter 2.
"He established a reasonable and attainable goal
He had a sense of mission
He was willing to get involved
He rearranged his priorities in order to accomplish his goal
He patiently waited for God’s timing
He showed respect to his superior
He prayed at crucial times
He made his request with tact and graciousness
He was well prepared and thought of his needs in advance
He went through proper channels
He took time (three days) to rest, pray, and plan
He investigated the situation firsthand
He informed others only after he knew the size of the problem
He identified himself as one with the people
He set before them a reasonable and attainable goal
He assured them God was in the project
He displayed self-confidence in facing obstacles
He displayed God’s confidence in facing obstacles
He did not argue with opponents
He was not discouraged by opposition
He courageously used the authority of his position." [Note: Donald K. Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge, p. 23.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25