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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 2

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Introduction

Nehemiah Chapter 2

Nehemiah 2:1 "And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, [that] wine [was] before him: and I took up the wine, and gave [it] unto the king. Now I had not been [beforetime] sad in his presence."

The month of Nisan is their first month, similar to our month of April. We learned, from the last lesson, that Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king. He had always been pleasant in the company of the king in the past. At this time, he was not able to keep from showing his sadness about Jerusalem. He was in the very presence of the king, serving him, so the king noticed the sadness in Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 2:2 "Wherefore the king said unto me, Why [is] thy countenance sad, seeing thou [art] not sick? this [is] nothing [else] but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,"

This king seemed to care for the feelings of those around him. He knew Nehemiah was not sick, and he was, probably, very good to Nehemiah, so this question is understandable. He is very aware, because he realized this sickness was of Nehemiah’s heart. Nehemiah was afraid, thinking he might have displeased his king.

Nehemiah 2:3 "And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, [lieth] waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?"

Nehemiah began with a compliment to the king. His fear of displeasing the king was not as strong as his desire to change things in Jerusalem. Nehemiah told of the things troubling him about his homeland to the king.

Nehemiah 2:4 "Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven." Artaxerxes was a kind king. He did not like to see his faithful servant so unhappy. The question the king asked Nehemiah was sincere. He was saying, Nehemiah, what would it take to make you happy? It appears that Nehemiah prayed, before he answered the question. He did not want to request something of the king that was not the will of God for his life. His prayer was to God alone. He prayed in his heart, before he answered the king.

Nehemiah 2:5 "And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it."

This was the first mention that Nehemiah even wanted to go to Jerusalem. He was not asking the king to release him, but just to reassign him to Jerusalem. He wanted to rebuild the wall, gates, and now we read, sepulchres of his ancestors.

Nehemiah 2:6 "And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time."

The queen was named Damaspia. Since she was in the room, this was, possibly, a time of relaxing and putting away the government issues. He would be in a good mood at that time, with his wife there. He did not want to give Nehemiah up completely, but would listen to any reasonable time he might want to be away. Nehemiah explained to him the length of time it would take, and the king approved, and let him go. Nehemiah actually stayed away 12 years.

Nehemiah 2:7 "Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;"

The letters would declare that Nehemiah had not run away, but had been sent by the king. This would give him safe passage.

Nehemiah 2:8 "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, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me."

The timbers that Nehemiah was asking for were, possibly, from trees growing in an area near Jerusalem, so they would not have to be carried far. This was a generous king, and he granted the request of Nehemiah. He realized these were not for Nehemiah’s own use, but for the wall and gates that he went to repair. It would be of no use to go, if there were no materials to do the work with.

Nehemiah 2:9 "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 did the king allow Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem, but he sent captains of the army and horsemen with him to give him a safe journey. The governors received Nehemiah with his proof of the blessings of the king written in the letters he had sent.

Nehemiah 2:10 "When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard [of it], it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel."

It appears, that not all of the governors were pleased. He was, probably, of Samaria. They were jealous of those of Judah. Sanballat and Tobiah were not eager to help Judah. Tobiah was an Ammonite, and especially did not like Judah. They would both rather see them destroyed, than the king sending Nehemiah to help them.

Nehemiah 2:11 "So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days." We see that Nehemiah still made it to Jerusalem, in spite of the opposition. After this long journey, it appears he rested three days.

Nehemiah 2:12 "And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I [any] man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither [was there any] beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon."

Nehemiah was not ready, at this point, to make everyone aware of his mission. He was not part of the system in Jerusalem. It would be a shock, when he explained why he was there. He kept it very quiet, and went out to survey the damage during the night, so no one would know what he was doing.

Nehemiah 2:13 "And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire."

This lets us know that the damage to the wall was extensive. He went to several areas of damage, to figure out how many trees he would need to repair the wall.

Nehemiah 2:14 "Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but [there was] no place for the beast [that was] under me to pass."

This just means that all of the gates were torn down. This was, possibly, speaking of an area between two walls that was torn down.

Nehemiah 2:15 "Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and [so] returned."

It appears, that he rode this animal completely around the wall. He, probably, stayed out all night looking at the damage. He came in before, or at daybreak, to keep the inhabitants from realizing what he had in mind to do.

Nehemiah 2:16 "And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; 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."

It appears, that Nehemiah wanted to keep all of this quiet, even from the rulers, until he had his plan ready. He had not even asked for workers yet. The first thing to do was to find out what would be needed to complete the work, and then he could tell.

Nehemiah 2:17 "Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we [are] in, 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."

After he had all of his plans ready, he told them of what he wanted to do. I am sure he, also, told them of the trees available to them to do the work. He would need their laborers to help him in the work. He explains that this would be a benefit to all of them.

Nehemiah 2:18 "Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for [this] good [work]."

At first, it was difficult for them to understand why a total stranger would want to come and do such a difficult task with nothing to gain for himself. When he explained that God sent him to do this, they understood. He got all of the help he needed when he told them that God wanted him to do this, and the king allowed him to come and provided the timber.

Nehemiah 2:19 "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, and said, What [is] this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?"

These three Arabs were from three different directions, but none of them wanted a wall to be built around Jerusalem. They laughed and made light of the idea of Nehemiah attempting to do this. They had forgotten the power of God. They were trying to say that Nehemiah wanted to build the wall, so he might rebel against his king. Of course, this was not true, because the king was in favor of him building the wall.

Nehemiah 2:20 "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."

Nehemiah realized that God sent him on this mission. He told these Arab leaders, opposed to the building of the wall, that they would have no portion in it. God would see that the walls were re-built. Nehemiah put his trust in God.

Nehemiah 2 Questions

1. What is the month Nisan on our calendar?

2. Nehemiah was the __________ for the king.

3. What was unusual about Nehemiah serving the king in Nehemiah 2:1?

4. What did the king ask Nehemiah?

5. The king discerned that Nehemiah was ___________ of __________.

6. What compliment did Nehemiah answer the king with?

7. Why was Nehemiah sad?

8. What did Nehemiah do, when the king asked him what his request was?

9. What was the request?

10. Who was with the king, when he was talking to Nehemiah?

11. How long would Nehemiah be gone?

12. What did Nehemiah ask the king to give him, so he could travel with no problem?

13. Where would Nehemiah get the material to build with?

14. Who went with Nehemiah?

15. Who did Nehemiah show the papers to?

16. Who opposed Nehemiah?

17. Why did they oppose?

18. How long did Nehemiah rest, when he arrived in Jerusalem?

19. When did Nehemiah go to examine the walls?

20. Why did he not tell anyone?

21. What did he find?

22. How did he travel around the wall?

23. When did Nehemiah tell them what he wanted to do?

24. When did they believe Nehemiah, and offer to help?

25. Why did the opponents of Nehemiah not want a wall built?

26. What had they forgotten?

27. Nehemiah put his trust in _______.

Verses 1-8

Neh 2:1-8

Nehemiah 2:1-8

NEHEMIAH ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM WITH AUTHORITY TO REBUILD THE WALLS OF THE CITY;

ARTAXERXES GRANTED NEHEMIAH’S REQUEST

"Now I was cupbearer to the king. And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, when wine was beside him, that I took up the wine and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. And the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid. And I said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 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 fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. And the king said unto me (the queen sitting beside him), For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the River, that they let me pass through till I come unto Judah; 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 castle that pertaineth to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me." (Nehemiah 1:11 to Nehemiah 2:8)

In all of the wonderful things that God did for the children of Israel, there are few things any more astounding than this. That a Persian king should have reversed a former decision stopping the work of the Jews on the walls of their city, and then have sent a trusted emissary, accompanied by a military escort, and endowed with full authority to reconstruct the walls and fortify the city of Jerusalem - only God could have caused a thing like that to happen.

"In the month Nisan" (Nehemiah 2:1). This was four months after the time mentioned in Nehemiah 1:1, during which time Nehemiah had fasted and prayed "night and day" that something could be done to aid Jerusalem. During this period, Nehemiah had diligently tried to maintain his customary happy appearance; but his great grief finally became evident in his appearance.

"I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king" (Nehemiah 2:1). Jamieson has a description of how a cupbearer performed his service. "He washed the cup in the king’s presence, filled it with wine, then poured from the cup into his own left hand a sufficient amount. Then he drank that in the king’s presence and handed the cup of wine to the king."

"Then I was sore afraid" (Nehemiah 2:2). "It was contrary to court behavior for a servant to appear sad." "Being sad in the king’s presence was a serious offense in Persia (Esther 4:2); and, besides that, Nehemiah was well aware that the request which he would ultimately make of the king might indeed anger him."

"The place of my fathers’ sepulchres lieth waste" (Nehemiah 2:3). This reply kept Nehemiah’s concern in the personal, rather than the political, sector.

"For what dost thou make request" (Nehemiah 2:4)? This was the moment of truth for Nehemiah. If the king was displeased, Nehemiah would lose his head; and therefore his first reaction was that, "I prayed to the God of heaven." There can be no doubt that God answered his prayer; because, "That prayer brought about one of the most astonishing reversals of royal policy in all history."Furthermore, it happened in Persia, of all places, where their favorite proverb was, "The law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not."

"Send me unto Judah ... that I may build it" (Nehemiah 2:5). A more daring request was never made. It had been only a few years since, "Artaxerxes had commissioned Rehum and Shimshai to bring a stop to the rebuilding and fortifying of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:8-23)." The amazing thing is that Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request, lock, stock and barrel - all of it.

Perhaps it is permissible for us to speculate a little on why Artaxerxes did so. Of course, the great reason is that God willed it; but, as is always the case, God uses ordinary men and events to achieve his purpose. Some of the satraps beyond the River had grown too powerful. "There is evidence that Megabyzos, one of the satraps beyond the River, had recently revolted; and the creation of a strengthened and fortified Jerusalem under a friendly governor might have appeared to Artaxerxes at that particular time as a wise strategy."Also, by separating Judah from the powerful coalition of the peoples known collectively as "Samaritans," and by fortifying it, the aggressiveness of the Samaritan coalition would be dramatically checkmated. And of course, Artaxerxes’ commission to Nehemiah definitely "Involved the separation of Judea from Samaria." This substantially weakened the power of Sanballat.

"The castle which appertaineth to the house" (Nehemiah 2:8). This is a reference to the combination palace and fortress, "That protected the Temple and overlooked the northwest corner of the courts ... Herod later rebuilt it in N.T. times, and it was known as the Tower of Antonio. Nehemiah contemplated using it as his residence."

Some critics have questioned how it came about that Nehemiah was in possession of such detailed knowledge of specific buildings in Jerusalem; but a man in Nehemiah’s high official position was in possession of all kinds of options for procuring any kind of information that he might have desired.

"The queen also sitting beside him" (Nehemiah 2:6). Polygamy was popular among Persian kings, nevetheless they also had one principal wife whom they designated as "the Queen." "The legitimate queen of Artaxerxes was Damaspia." Williamson noted that the word is used here in the plural, and that upon occasions the word was applied to some favorite woman in the harem, or even to the queen-mother of the king, as in the Book of Daniel. Some have concluded that the presence of the queen here indicated that this was a private banquet. Rawlinson’s comment was that, "It appears that Artaxerxes Longimanus had only one legitimate wife, a certain Damaspia." He backed this up with a reference to a statement by Ctesias in Persian history.

"And I set him a time" (Nehemiah 2:6). Nehemiah’s first term as governor lasted twelve years; but it seems unlikely that he would have set such a time for his journey. Nehemiah evidently promised to return within a much shorter period, after which his leave of absence was extended. The speed with which he tackled the problem of building the wall suggests this. The journey itself would require three or four months each direction, and allowing enough time for the fortifications, suggests that his request must surely have been for, "a year or two."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 2:1. It will be well to consult the chart again, noting that we are in the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes. Wine was before him means he was having an indulgence of his favorite refreshment. At such times Nehemiah performed his personal duty, to fill a cup and hand it to the king. Such a service was not a difficult one, and to render it to a king with the temperament this king seemed to possess would be a pleasant task. For these reasons Nehemiah had never shown such a state of sadness as he did at this time, which attracted the attention of the king.

Nehemiah 2:2. Having noticed the expression on the face of Nehemiah, that it was unusual, the king made some remarks about it. lie knew that his servant was not sick physically, therefore concluded the condition to be one of the heart. That was what he meant by the expression sorrow of heart, that it was a condition of great worry. Sore afraid means he was greatly concerned. He had not realized how much the worry of the report had affected his general attitude and facial expression.

Nehemiah 2:3. With all due respect for his king, Nehemiah told him the cause for his sorrow. The place of burial was always considered as something sacred even by the heathen. It was an important explanation, therefore, for Nehemiah to make this report.

Nehemiah 2:4. The king asked him what he wanted to do, and the indications are that he encouraged him to expect great privileges. Upon such a weighty matter Nehemiah did not feel ready to decide without divine guidance. That is why he prayed to God.

Nehemiah 2:5. After his prayer to God, Nehemiah asked the privilege of going to Jerusalem to have it repaired in the walls.

Nehemiah 2:6. The request of Nehemiah was granted. The hearing must have been very impressive. Artaxerxes had called for his wife to sit by him while the conversation was had. An esteemed personal attendant upon the king of Persia was about to be given leave of absence for a time, the length of which was to be determined by the servant. Nehemiah 5:14 shows the time set was 12 years.

Nehemiah 2:7. A man who has been in the employ of a great king should not be seen out from his territory without good cause. The secondary officers of Artaxerxes who were in the immediate vicinity of the capital might easily be made to understand why such a servant was at large. It would be different with the ones beyond the river, which means west of the Euphrates River. To avoid any difficulty, therefore, Nehemiah asked for letters showing his right to travel even as far as to Judah. Not only that the officers would not try to stop him, but would furnish him a conveyance.

Nehemiah 2:8. The king granted to Nehemiah the letter he requested, which Included the order for material from the keeper of the forest. Since this forest was a place of timber, and also since the original word is related to our English word "paradise," the reader might appreciate it if I take some space to quote from the authorities on the origin and meaning of the word, as follows: "PARADEISOS. ’(Thought by some to be of Armenian, but by most, to be of Persian origin); 1. Among the Persians, a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting ground, park, shady and well-watered, in which wild animals were kept for the hunt; it was enclosed by walls and furnished with towers for the hunters.’--Xenophon, Cyropedia, 1-3-14; Anab. 1-2-7-9. ’2. Universally, a garden, pleasureground; grove, park: Josephus, Antiquities, Book 7, Chapter 14, Section 4. Sus. 4-7-15; Sirach 24:30; and so it passed into the Hebrew language, Nehemiah 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:13; besides in the Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament] mostly for . . .; thus for that delightful region, the garden of Eden, in which our first parents dwelt before the fall: Genesis 2:8. 3. That part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection: Luke 23:43. But some (e. g. Dillman) understand that passage of the heavenly paaradise. 4. An upper region in the heavens:2 Corinthians 12:4 (where some maintain, others deny, that the term is equivalent to HO TRITOS OURANOS in V. 2): with the addition of TOU THEOU, genitive of the possessor, the abode of God and heavenly beings, to which true Christians will be taken after death. Revelation 2:7.’--Thayer. ’Paradise, a region of beauty; Armenian PARDES, a garden or park around the house, planted with grass, herbs, trees, for use and ornament. In the Hebrew form . . . , and Greek PARADEISOS, it is applied to the pleasure gardens and parks with wild animals around the country residences of the Persian monarchs and princes, Nehemiah 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:13; Xenophon Cycropaedia 1-3-14. In like manner of the Jewish kings, Josephus, Antiquities, Book 7, Chapter 14, Section 4. Book 8, Chapter 7, Section 3. Hence In the Septuagint [Greek translation of the Old Testament], of the garden of Eden, PARADEISOS for Beb. . . . in Genesis 2:8; Josephus, Antiquities, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 3 . . . Hence in the later Jewish usage and in the New Testament, paradise is put for the abode of the blessed after death, viz. 1. The inferior paradise, or the region of the blessed in Hades, Luke 23:43. Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18; Chapter 1, Section 3. 2. Specifically, Ho PARADEISOS TOU THEOU, the paradise of God, the celestial paradise, where the spirits of the just dwell with God, 2 Corinthians 12:4, equal to in verse HO TRITOS OURANOS 3; see Revelation 2:7 where the imagery is drawn from Genesis 2:8.’--Robinson. ‘(Pers., in Heb. . . .), a park, a forest where wild beasts were kept for hunting; a pleasure park, a garden of trees of various kinds; a delightful grove, Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:13; used in the LXX [Septuagint] for the garden of Eden, or of delight, Genesis 2:8; in the New Testament, the celestial paradise, that part of Hades in which the souls of believers enjoy happiness, and where God dwells. Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7.’ "--Greenfield. Note: from above it can be seen that PARDES in the Old Testament is similar if not equivalent to PARADEISOS in the New Testament. We know that the parks of the Persians have been discarded or will be, yet no one argues from that fact that the Paradise of God, whose name has been taken from those parks, will ever be discarded. A similar line of reasoning should be had with reference to the origin of the Greek word for Gehenna, which will be introduced in the New Testament Commentary. A word may originate from some thing or practice that finally ceases to exist, and yet still be applied to something that is permanent or endless in its existence.

Verses 9-16

Neh 2:9-16

Nehemiah 2:9-16

NEHEMIAH SHOWS HIS CREDENTIALS TO THE SATRAPS;

ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM; AND SURVEYS THE BROKEN WALLS BY NIGHT

"Then I came to the governors beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me captains of the army and horsemen. And when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly, for that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. And I arose in the night, and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God put in my heart to do for Jerusalem; neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the valley gate, even toward the jackars well, and to the dung gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the fountain gate, and to the king’s pool.’ but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall; and I turned back, and entered by the valley gate, and so returned. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rest that did the work."

"And I came to the governors beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters" (Nehemiah 2:9). This must indeed have been a shock to Sanballat and Tobiah. The mention of "captains of the army, and horsemen," (Nehemiah 2:9) indicates a very considerable military escort; and they were strengthened by the full authority, permission and credentials of the king of Persia. This was particularly bad news to Sanballat, who, "According to the Elephantine Papyrus, was governor of Samaria, which at that time included Judea. He was possibly an Ephraimite."

Sanballat would have been a fool not to have read this sudden arrival of Nehemiah in command of a division of the Persian army as the end of his domination of Judah.

"It grieved them exceedingly" (Nehemiah 2:10). Of course, their normal reaction to the situation was to hinder Nehemiah in every possible manner.

"I went out by night by the valley gate" (Nehemiah 2:13). One must admire the skill, wisdom and ability of Nehemiah, who secretly developed his whole program of action, concealing it from every person who might have been in a position to discourage or hinder it.

"The valley gate" (Nehemiah 2:13). This was one of the nine gates of the city, located at the southwest corner of Jerusalem; and Nehemiah’s exploration of the walls extended along the southern elevation of the city, past the southeast corner and some distance up the Kidron valley as far as the king’s pool. He did not go around the whole city, but turned back and reentered by the valley gate.

"There was no place for the beast that was under me to pass" (Nehemiah 2:14). Recent archaeological discoveries explain why Nehemiah was compelled to dismount and continue a part of his exploration on foot. "Excavations by Kathleen Kenyon have revealed dramatically why Nehemiah’s mount could not pass along the eastern wall. The steep slopes had been built up with gigantic stone terraces. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, those terraces with the buildings constructed on them collapsed into the valley below; and when Nehemiah came the entire area (around that southeastern section) was an incredible mass of fallen stones. Nehemiah abandoned the pre-exilic line of the east wall altogether and constructed a new wall along the crest of the hill."

"And the rulers knew not ..." (Nehemiah 2:16). The `rulers’ were the local officials; and the fact that Nehemiah laid his plans secretly, excluding both the priests and the nobles from his confidence, at first, indicates that he was in possession of prior information regarding the opposition to be expected from them. Those people whom he had interviewed in Shushan had probably apprised him of the evil attitude of the priests and nobles.

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 2:9. Artaxerxes was very considerate of Nehemiah. He not only gave him letters of introduction to the governors west of the Euphrates, but furnished him a military escort. The preceding verse explains this all to have been the hand of God.

Nehemiah 2:10. Sanballat was a Persian ruler under the authority of Artaxerxes, stationed In Samaria. Tobiah was a Samaritan by race, and a slave of Sanballat. The two were united in their opposition to the work of Nehemiah. They were unfriendly toward the Jews, and hence felt grieved to see anyone doing something in their behalf.

Nehemiah 2:11. The situation was somewhat tense, so Nehemiah was not hasty in starting operations; he waited 3 days after arriving in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 2:12. Nehemiah knew that he would likely be opposed in his work. He did not want to expose himself to the enemy any more nor any sooner than necessary. His first investigation, therefore, was in the night. He went about it very quietly. He took a few men with him, evidently for protection only. He did not tell them what he had in mind, and did not let them have horses to ride. They had to go on foot while he alone had the use of a horse.

Nehemiah 2:13. Of course we would not expect Nehemiah to make a minute inspection of all the parts of the wall, especially at night; he made a general survey. The cities with walls had gates at certain places where special interests would draw crowds. And the gates would be named after these special interests, or perhaps be located by some natural significance. The dragon well was a fountain having that name, for what reason we are not told. Since this fountain would be visited frequently, a gate was made in the wall at that place. One gate was called gate of the valley because it opened out near one of the depressions near the city. Dung port. The second word means "gate." The first is from SHEPHOTH and Strong defines it, "a heap of rubbish or filth." Smith’s Bible Dictionary says the following about the subject: "The uses of dung were twofold--as manure and as fuel. The manure consisted either of straw steeped in liquid manure, Isaiah 25:10, or the sweepings, Isaiah 5:25, of the streets and roads, which were carefully removed from the houses, and collected in heaps outside the walls of the towns and fixed spots--hence the dung-gate at Jerusalem--and thence removed in due course to the fields." All of this information explains why there would be a port [al] or gate at this spot and be so named. Nehemiah made inspection at these places and found the walls and gates in a dilapidated condition.

Nehemiah 2:14. Such places as fountains and pools would be visited frequently, which would call for the convenience of a gate. Nehemiah tried to inspect some of these spots but they were not passable for his horse.

Nehemiah 2:15. He came up from another angle; by the brook. From here he examined the condition of the wall, then retraced his journey. He reentered the city at the gate of the valley, the place where he had begun his tour of inspection (Nehemiah 2:13).

Nehemiah 2:16. The persons named were outstanding citizens of the country. The priests were a religious class and the others were assorted according to either social or industrial classification. Nehemiah kept his preliminary investigation unknown to all of them, until he had returned.

Verses 17-20

Neh 2:17-20

Nehemiah 2:17-20

AND THEY SAID, "LET US RISE UP AND BUILD"

"Then said I unto them, Ye see the evil case that we are in, 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. And I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me, as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Gershem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing which ye do? will ye rebel against the king? 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."

"Ye see the evil case we are in" (Nehemiah 2:17). Not merely the physical state of ruin of the city, but the shameful subservience they suffered under the Samaritan governor, the constant reproach and hatred of their neighbors, and their current low estate compared to their former glory - all of these things oppressed and discouraged the people. What a surge of new hope and joy must have energized and excited the people with the sudden appearance of Nehemiah, and his challenge to Rise Up and Build!

"And I told them ..." (Nehemiah 2:18). Having carefully laid his plans, and being then ready to act, Nehemiah explained to the people his full power and permission of the king to rebuild the wall and fortify the city. The response of the people was spontaneous and jubilant, "Let us rise up and build," they said.

Sanballat and Tobiah responded to the situation with scornful laughter, taunting and spiteful remarks, and accusations of rebellion against the king. Nehemiah had not told them of his full authority and power to rebuild and fortify Jerusalem. However Nehemiah did not tell them, even then, that he was acting with the king’s full support and permission, saying rather that, "The God of heaven, he will prosper us." We may well suppose that Sanballat and Tobiah at once dispatched messengers to Artaxerxes; and we may only imagine their consternation and disgust when they got the bad news from the king himself.

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 2:17. After returning within the limits of the city he made known the conditions. We understand that the ruins of the wall were visible, so that the writer could refer to the various gates and other parts of the wall or structure. But the ruin was so great that it would be necessary to rebuild it as if it never had existed.

Nehemiah 2:18. Nehemiah told his fellow Jews of the encouragement he had, both from God and the king of Persia. The effect of his report on the conditions, together with the encouraging assurances, was immediately favorable. They proposed going right to the work of building. Strengthened their hands means they took courage and resolved to take hold of the work with a willing mind.

Nehemiah 2:19. The population of the country was a mixture of the various peoples since the days of the captivity. Sanballat had been placed in a position of authority under the Persians, Tobiah was a slave of his. The Arabians came from Ishmael, son of Abraham, but had become a race to themselves. They were known as foreigners to the pure stock of Israel. The whole group here named became concerned over the activities of Nehemiah. When Zerubbabel started his work about a century before, the "outsiders" offered to help but were rejected. Doubtless that had been recorded and Sanballat knew he would not be permitted to have anything to do with it. These enemies, therefore, took an attitude of "sour grapes" toward the work. Laughed us to scorn means they derided or made fun of them. Despised us means they belittled them, and in a flippant spirit accused them of rebelling against the king.

Nehemiah 2:20. The attitude of the enemies did not discourage Nehemiah. He did not honor them even by denying their foolish accusation. Instead, he affirmed that God would help them so that the building would be done. Moreover, he gave them to understand that they would not be allowed to have any part in the matter.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/nehemiah-2.html.
 
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