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1. The King’s question (Nehemiah 2:1-2 )
2. The King’s permission (Nehemiah 2:3-8 )
3. The arrival in Jerusalem and the night-ride (Nehemiah 2:9-16 )
4. The resolution to build the wall (Nehemiah 2:17-18 )
5. The ridicule of the enemy, and Nehemiah’s answer (Nehemiah 2:19-20 )
Nehemiah 2:1-2 . The last sentence of the previous chapter, “For I was the king’s cupbearer,” belongs to this chapter. Nehemiah is seen exercising the functions of the King’s cupbearer to minister to the joy and pleasure of the monarch. Notice that it was four months after his prayer. Hanani had visited his brother Nehemiah in the month Chisleu, the ninth month, and Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year. How many prayers he must have offered up during these three months! How patiently he waited for the Lord’s time! He carried a heavy burden upon his heart, expressed in a sad countenance, which was at last noticed by Artaxerxes. “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing that thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart,” said the king. Then was Nehemiah sore afraid fearing the king’s displeasure.
Nehemiah 2:3-8 . Nehemiah answered the king and acquainted him with the reason of his sadness, “why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my father’s sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” From the meek answer Nehemiah gave we learn that his forefathers were inhabitants of Jerusalem, and he belonged therefore to the tribe of Judah. Instead of the angry outburst Nehemiah feared, the king asked graciously, “For what dost thou make request?” How his heart must have been stirred when the king uttered these words! He had prayed four months before that the God of heaven grant him “mercy in the sight of this man.” And now the answer to his prayer was at hand. When the king had asked for his request, Nehemiah prayed again to the God of heaven. He found time to pray between the words of the king and the answer he gave him. His lips did not speak, his knees were not bowed, nor did the king see any other sign that Nehemiah prayed. Yet there was earnest believing and prevailing prayer. It was an ejaculatory prayer, the soul’s cry to God, carried swiftly by the Holy Spirit to the throne of God. This man of God every step of the way cast himself upon God; prayer was his constant resource. Such is our privilege. As we walk in His fellowship we too shall pray and look to the Lord as Nehemiah did. It is a blessed occupation to cultivate a prayerful mind; indeed it is the breathing of the new life. Whatever our experiences, the heart which is in touch with God will always turn to Him even in the smallest matters. After Nehemiah had stated his request the king granted what he had asked. His prayers were answered; God had touched the heart of the monarch. “So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” The requested letters to the governors beyond the river to convey him till he came to Judah, and to Asaph the forester to furnish him with timber needed for the work, were granted to him. In this, like pious Ezra (Ezra 7:6 ; Ezra 8:18 ; Ezra 8:22 ) Nehemiah saw the power of God displayed--”according to the good hand of God upon me.” Faith not only depends on God, but also sees, His gracious hand and gives the glory to Him. In faith Nehemiah could say “my God,” like Paul in writing to the Philippians (Philippians 4:19 ).
Nehemiah 2:9-16 . He crossed the river Euphrates and traversed Transpotamia till he reached Samaria. He delivered the letters. Sanballat, the Horonite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite, Samaritans, are here mentioned for the first time. Sanballat may have been the governor of the Samaritan mongrel race. They were grieving exceedingly at Nehemiah’s appearing, when they heard he had come “to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.”
Sanballat (hate in disguise) is called the Horonite, an inhabitant of Horonaim, which was a southern Moabite city (Isaiah 15:5 ; Jeremiah 48:3 ; Jeremiah 48:5 ; Jeremiah 48:34 ) and Tobiah, the servant, an Ammonite. They came from Moab and Ammon, blood-relations of Israel, being bastard offspring of Lot. The Moabite and Ammonite were not to come into the congregation of God forever; the curse rested upon them. They did not meet Israel with bread and water when they came forth from Egypt. They hated the people of God, and had hired Balaam the son of Beor to curse Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3-6 ). They were the bitter enemies of Israel, which explains the displeasure of Sanballat and Tobiah when Nehemiah came with the king’s credentials. They represented typically those who profess to be children of God, but are not born again; their profession is spurious and carnal, and as mere religionists, with a form of godliness but destitute of its power, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ and of the real people of God.
Nehemiah continues his narrative. “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.” We can well imagine, though he does not inform us of it, that these three days were more than days of rest from the strenuous journey. They were days of waiting on God, renewed prayer for guidance and wisdom. He was alone with his God. When the three days of waiting were over he began a night ride to inspect the condition of the different gates and the wall. When all was quiet and people asleep, this servant of God went on this memorable night inspection, accompanied by a few men. No one knows what God had put in his heart; he kept it a secret. There was no boast that he had come to do a big work, and no heralding of his plans. The man of faith, who trusts God, can go and act without making known what the Lord has commissioned him to do. He alone rode on an animal; the others walked. It must have been a sad journey as he passed from gate to gate in the walls. Desolation and debris everywhere. The gates were burned to ashes, and finally the rubbish in the way was so great that the animal he rode could no longer pass through. And how he must have sighed when his eyes beheld the ruin and havoc, the results of the judgment of God on account of Israel’s sin!
And how many other true servants of God have spent nights like this in considering the failure and ruin among God’s people, burdened with sorrow and deep concern, sighing and groaning, with hearts touched like Nehemiah’s, ready to do the Lord’s will.
Nehemiah 2:17-18 . The rulers, the Jews, the priests and nobles were ignorant of all he had done. On the morning after that night journey, he called the people together to tell them what the Lord had put in his heart. But with what meekness and tenderness he speaks to them! He does not reproach them or charge them with unfaithfulness and neglect. He does not assume the role of a leader, but identifies himself with the people. “Ye see the distress that we are in”--he might have said, “You see the distress you are in.” Then he told them of what God had done. But we find not a word of credit to himself, nor of the lonely hours spent during that sleepless night. Then the people resolved to rise up and build.
Nehemiah 2:19-20 . Sanballat, Tobiah and a third one, Geshem the Arabian (an Ishmaelite) were at hand with their sneers. “They laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king?” They realized that Nehemiah had come to build the wall of exclusion, and bring the people back to their God-given separation; therefore these outsiders began at once to antagonize the messenger of God. Magnificent is Nehemiah’s answer. “The God of heaven, He will prosper us.” He puts God first. Knowing that they were doing His will in rebuilding the wall, he had the confidence and assurance that God was on their side and none could hinder. “Therefore we His servants will arise and build.” This was their determination to do the work. “But ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.” It is the refusal of their fellow help. Though they might have claimed a relationship with the people of God, yet did they not belong to Israel. Their help was not wanted. What a contrast with the unseparated condition which prevails in the professing church in what is termed “work for the Lord” in which the unsaved and ungodly are asked to participate!
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20