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Nehemiah's Request Granted by the King
v. 1. And it came to pass in the month Nisan, the first month of the Jewish church-year, some four months after Nehemiah had received news regarding the pitiful conditions in Jerusalem, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, the years of whose reign were counted from some other month than Nisan, namely, by Persian reckoning, that wine was before him, it being the custom to drink a little wine with some dried fruits before dinner; and I took up the wine and gave it unto the king, serving it as his office required. Now, I had not been beforetime sad in his presence, it being poor policy at Oriental courts not to show a satisfied and happy face.
v. 2. Wherefore the king, noting at once that something unusual had happened to sadden his trusted servant, said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. It was true then as it is now: "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance; but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken," Proverbs 15:13. Then I was very sore afraid
v. 3. and said unto the king, Let the king live forever! the common formula of address to the king. Why should not my countenance be sad when the city, the place of my father's sepulchers, for Nehemiah seems to have been a descendant of the royal house of David, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? This explained the dejected air which Nehemiah wore even in the presence of the king.
v. 4. Then the king said unto me, rightly guessing that Nehemiah had a request to make in connection with this sad state of affairs, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven, sending up a silent prayer for strength and assistance.
v. 5. And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my father's sepulchers, literally, "the city the graves of my fathers," probably intend. in a double sense, that I may build it.
v. 6. And the king said unto me, (the queen, as some think, Esther, also sitting by him, this being a private occasion, at which the principal wife of the monarch could be present,) For how long shall thy journey be? And when wilt thou return? So it pleased king to send me; and I set him a time. This circumstance proves that Nehemiah enjoyed the favor and confidence of the Persian monarch in an unusual degree, since he himself fixed the length of his commission.
v. 7. Moreover, I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, to the great territory between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean Sea, that they may convey me over, under the protection of a military guard, till I come into Judah;
v. 8. and a letter unto Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, the royal palace of Solomon, which lay in ruins, and for the wall of the city, and for the house I shall enter into, the Temple itself, which he would, of course, visit and inspect. So the materials for the building of all these structures were to be furnished from the timber of the royal park somewhere in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. And the king granted me according to the good hand of my God upon me. All believers who are honestly concerned for the welfare of the Church will receive what they desire and work for. God Himself is zealous for His people, for His Church, and hears the prayers of His faithful children in its behalf.
Nehemiah Arrives at Jerusalem
v. 9. Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters. Now, the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me, not only on account of his rank as cupbearer of the king, but also as deputy governor of Judea, which he was on this trip.
v. 10. When Sanballat the Horonite, apparently a Moabite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite, a freedman raised to some official dignity, assistant to the former, who seems to have been governor of Samaria, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel, who were just then in a bad way, a fact which gave the Samaritans the upper hand.
v. 11. So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days, resting and casting up in his mind just bow he might undertake the work of reconstruction, for there was need of it everywhere.
v. 12. And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me, just a few trusted attendants; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem, both the general plans and the special action that he had determined upon during the three days of his visit; neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. The survey of the ruined walls was to be made in all secrecy, lest the enemies, who had relatives in the city, might find out about it.
v. 13. And I went out by night by the Gate of the Valley, most likely that of Hinnom toward the southeast, even before the Dragon Well, a fountain or pool on the opposite side of the valley, and to the Dung Port, the gate where the rubbish of the city was cast out and burned, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, lying in ruins, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.
v. 14. Then I went on to the Gate of the Fountain, in front of the pool of Siloam, where the ancient wall turned northward from its southeastern corner, and to the King's Pool, Siloam itself; but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass, heaps of broken stones and rubbish everywhere were so high that his mule could not pick a path.
v. 15. Then went I up in the night by the brook, he was obliged to go down along the Kidron, and viewed the wall, that on the eastern side, and turned back, and entered by the Gate of the Valley, where he had set forth, now probably the Jaffa Gate, and so returned.
v. 16. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did, he kept this survey a strict secret; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work, neither the executive officers of the province nor the church officials, nor any others engaged in the public service had been informed of the purpose of his visit.
v. 17. Then said I unto them, in a meeting called for that purpose, in which Nehemiah produced his credentials and addressed them in an inspiring manner, Ye see the distress that we are in, the evil that had befallen them, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire; come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach, objects of scorn and derision on the part of the enemies.
v. 18. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me, how the Lord had so obviously prospered him in his undertaking up to this time, as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And they, inspired by his energy, said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work, being filled with vigor and energy, with every vestige of drooping spirits removed.
v. 19. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah, the servant,, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian heard it, they laughed us to scorn and despised us, with bitter taunts and scoffing ridicule, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king? This was a mean insinuation, for the Jews had no intention of throwing off the yoke of the Persians.
v. 20. Then answered I them and said unto them, The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we, His servants, will arise and build; but ye have no portion nor right nor memorial in Jerusalem. They had cut themselves off from the true worship of Jehovah and therefore had nothing in common with the true worshipers. The activity of the Church often is made the object of rude jesting on the part of its enemies. But the only proper stand is that of an uncompromising aloofness in favor of the truth.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter