Lectionary Calendar
Friday, April 19th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Nehemiah 2:0


Nehemiah Sent to JudahNehemiah's MissionNehemiah Goes to JerusalemNehemiah's Call: His Mission to Judah(Nehemiah 1:1-10)
Nehemiah 2:1-8Nehemiah 2:1-8Nehemiah 2:1-2aNehemiah 2:1-6
Nehemiah 2:2-3
Nehemiah 2:4a
Nehemiah 2:4-5
Nehemiah 2:6
Nehemiah 2:7-8Nehemiah 2:7-8
Nehemiah 2:9-10Nehemiah 2:9-10Nehemiah 2:9-10Nehemiah 2:9
Nehemiah 2:10
Nehemiah Views the Wall of JerusalemThe Decision to Rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem
Nehemiah 2:11-16Nehemiah 2:11-16Nehemiah 2:11-15Nehemiah 2:11-16
Nehemiah 2:16-18a
Nehemiah 2:17-20Nehemiah 2:17-202:17-28
Nehemiah 2:18b
Nehemiah 2:19Nehemiah 2:19-20
Nehemiah 2:20

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 2:1-8 Nehemiah 1:11bNow I was the cupbearer to the king. 2:1And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” 4Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.” 6Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. 7And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, 8and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Nehemiah 2:1 “Nisan” This would have been March - April (cf. Special Topic at Ezra 3:1), three months after Hanani's news. It shows the length of Nehemiah's prayer and fasting. See Special Topic: Ancient Near Eastern Calendars.

“in the twentieth year” There were two calendars in use by the Jews in this Persian period, which started at different times of the year (Nisan and Tishri). This causes the dates possibly to be off one year.

“wine” The Persian kings were known for their drinking parties, yet because of Nehemiah 2:6, “the Queen” being included, this may have been a private meal. See Special Topic: Biblical Attitudes Toward Alcohol and Alcoholism.

“I had not been sad in his presence” It was a dangerous thing to show personal emotion in the king's presence (cf. Nehemiah 2:2c; Esther 4:2). Possibly Nehemiah planned this encounter!

Notice the parallel between the cupbearer of Pharaoh (cf. Genesis 40:7) and Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 2:2 “I was very much afraid” It was inappropriate to bring up personal matters to the King (cf. Esther 4:2). Also, this same King had ruled against rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem earlier (cf. Ezra 4:23). This shows Nehemiah's faith and fear.

Nehemiah 2:3 “Let the king live forever” This VERB (BDB 310, KB 309) is a Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. This was a common hyperbole of respect and best wishes in addressing Near Eastern monarchs (cf. 1 Kings 1:31; Daniel 2:4; Daniel 3:9; Daniel 5:10; Daniel 6:6, Daniel 6:21). See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

“father's tombs” Notice that he never says “Jerusalem.” The Persian Kings also buried their fathers.

“its gates have been consumed by fire” The Jews had always been supportive of the Persian kings who allowed them to return to Judah. Possibly the Persian Empire needed some military outposts in this region as a buffer against Egypt, which at this time was currently in revolt.

The VERB (BDB 37, KB 46, Pual PERFECT) could refer to the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar's army in 586 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 25:10) or to a more recent destruction of the Jews' attempt to rebuild the walls (cf. Ezra 4:7-24).

Nehemiah 2:4 “So I prayed” This instant prayer for wisdom and a favorable hearing from Artaxerxes I is quite a contrast to the three month fasting prayer of Nehemiah 1:4-1. Both have their appropriate place.

Nehemiah 2:5 Nehemiah is asking for both a personal favor (i.e., send me back to my God's city to rebuild it. Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense) and a political need (i.e., a walled city with a faithful population in an area of the empire currently in revolt, i.e., Egypt).

Nehemiah 2:6 “the Queen” Ctesias (a Greek who lived at the Persian court) tells us that Artaxerxes I had one Queen, whose name was Damaspia (and three concubines).

The rare term “Queen” (BDB 993) is only used here and in Psalms 45:9. The Septuagint translates it as “concubine,” but it has the DEFINITE ARTICLE and even the Septuagint translates it “Queen” in Psalms 45:9.

“'How long will your journey be'“The exact time envisioned by Nehemiah is not stated, but it probably was a short time. As it turned out, from Nehemiah 2:4 and 13:16, he stayed for 12 years. I am sure he returned from time to time to the Persian court.

Nehemiah 2:7 “let letters be given me for the governors” This VERB (BDB 678, KB 733) is a Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. Nehemiah wanted documented authority in light of the opposition of the surrounding regions (i.e., Ammon, Samaria, cf. Ezra 4:0).

Nehemiah 2:8 “the king's forest” Many assume that this refers to the cedars of Lebanon, but this would have been very expensive lumber for wall and gate timber. It seems to refer to a local royal forest because (1) a Jew is in charge of it (Asaph) and (2) the term used to refer to it is a Persian term for “royal garden,” possibly one of Solomon's (at Etham, cf. 2 Kings 25:4).

“the fortress which is by the temple” This same fortress within the city is mentioned in Nehemiah 7:2. The Jebusites also had a citadel within the walls, which Josephus calls “Baris” (Antiq. 15.11.4). In the NT it was a fortress like this next to the temple in which Roman soldiers were garrisoned year round (Fortress Antonio, cf. Acts 21:37; Acts 2:24).

“because the good hand of my God was on me” Nehemiah knew the ultimate source was the God of Israel. Nehemiah's God is the one to be praised (cf. Nehemiah 2:18; Ezra 1:1; Ezra 6:14, Ezra 6:22; Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 9:9). God uses human instrumentality, both Jews and non-Jews, believers and unbelievers, to accomplish His redemptive purposes for all mankind (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5-6).

Verses 9-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 2:9-10 9Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:9 “the king had sent with me officers of the army, and horsemen” Ezra did not ask for an official escort (cf. Ezra 8:22). Nehemiah used all the official clout he could muster. They were both spiritual men, but functioning in different roles (Ezra - political/spiritual leader and Nehemiah - political/administrative leader).

Nehemiah 2:10 “Sanballat” This Babylonian name (BDB 702, “May Sin [moon goddess] give life,” cf. Nehemiah 2:10, Nehemiah 2:19; 3:33; Nehemiah 4:1; Nehemiah 6:1, Nehemiah 6:2, Nehemiah 6:5, Nehemiah 6:12, Nehemiah 6:14; Nehemiah 13:28). He was governor of the province of Samaria. We know of him both from the Elephantine papyri and the Samaritan papyri. His children had YHWHistic names. The returning Jews rebuffed his offer of help (cf. Ezra 4:3), which infuriated him.

“the Horonite” This means that he was from one of the two Canaanite cities called Beth-horon; both were located in the old tribal allocation of Ephraim (cf. Joshua 10:10-14).

“Tobiah” His name means, “YHWH is my good” (BDB 375). He was an Ammonite enemy of Nehemiah and all returning Jews (cf. Nehemiah 2:10, Nehemiah 2:19; 3:35; Nehemiah 4:1; Nehemiah 6:1, Nehemiah 6:12, Nehemiah 6:14, Nehemiah 6:17, Nehemiah 6:19; Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:7, Nehemiah 13:8).

“official” This is literally “slave,” “servant” (BDB 713). This term became a title of honor and access to the court. It is interesting that who he served is not stated, so he was not a servant of Sanballat, but a person of leadership himself.

It is just possible that he was governor of Ammon as Nehemiah was governor of Judah, both under the satrap of “the Province Beyond the River.” His name occurs in some later lists of leaders of Ammon. If this is so, then these three enemies denoted that the leaders of the regions surrounding Judah were all hostile.

“it was very displeasing to them” This is the same term (BDB 949) that was used in Nehemiah 2:3 to describe Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 13:8, where Nehemiah throws Tobiah's personal belongings out of a room in the temple). For other uses in the same sense see Genesis 48:17; 1 Samuel 8:6; 1 Samuel 18:8; Isaiah 59:15; Jonah 4:1).

Sanballat and Tobiah were still angry (BDB 949, KB 1269, Qal IMPERFECT) at their rejection of helping rebuild the temple (cf. Ezra 4:3).

“the sons of Israel” In this idiom the term Israel (BDB 975, KB 442) refers to Jacob's new name after he wrestled with the angel (cf. Genesis 32:28). It can mean

1. El persisteth

2. El perseveres

3. El contendeth

All of the tribes of Israel came from his sons (cf. Genesis 49:3-27; Exodus 1:2-4, Joseph's two children, Ephraim and Manessah, both became tribes, cf. Genesis 48:8-22).

Verses 11-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 2:11-16 11So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. 13So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon's Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. 14Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. 15So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. 16The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.

Nehemiah 2:11 “three days” This was possibly a time of rest or prayer (cf. Ezra 8:15, Ezra 8:32).

Nehemiah 2:12 This relates Nehemiah's initial secret inspection of the walls (cf. Nehemiah 2:16).

“what my God was putting into my mind to do” Nehemiah believed that YHWH was guiding his thoughts and actions. He was a man of prayer, but also a man of action.

Nehemiah 2:13-15 The locations are uncertain. We know from archeology that Nehemiah's walled city was much smaller than David's.

“inspecting” This VERB (BDB 960 I, KB 1304, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is often used in the sense of hope (Peel), so here it may denote inspection with a view of restoration.

Nehemiah 2:14 “but there was no place for my mount to pass” This was because of debris.

Nehemiah 2:16 Notice the different groups mentioned. Normally Jews, priests, Levites, and temple servants made up the categories of people, but here

1. the Jews (general population of the returnees)

2. the priests

3. the nobles (tribal/clan leaders, cf. Nehemiah 4:14; Nehemiah 6:17; Nehemiah 13:17; 1 Kings 21:8)

4. the officials (probably governmental appointees)

5. the rest (workers, both slaves and returnees)

Verses 17-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 2:17-20 17Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” 18I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. 19But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah 2:17

NASB“the bad situation” NKJV“the distress” NRSV“the trouble” TEV“what trouble” NJB“what a sorry state”

This is the general term (BDB 948) for evil and its consequences, which is used so often in the OT. Evil had taken its toll on God's special city and temple and the consequences remained!

“Come, let us rebuild” The first VERB (BDB 229, KB 246) is a Qal IMPERATIVE. The second (BDB 124, KB 139) is a Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense.

Nehemiah 2:18 Nehemiah explained to the Jerusalem leadership how God had opened the heart of the Persian king to allow and support the rebuilding. This combination of God and king spurred them on to vigorous effort (i.e., “they strengthened their hands for good,” BDB 304, Peel IMPERFECT).

Nehemiah 2:19 Here is a list of the enemies of Nehemiah's rebuilding project.

1. Sanballat the Horonite

2. Tobiah the Ammonite

3. Geshem the Arab

“they mocked us and despised us” The first VERB (BDB 541, KB 532, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is always used in a negative sense (e.g., Nehemiah 4:1; 2 Chronicles 30:10; Job 21:3; Psalms 22:7).

The second VERB (BDB 102, KB 117, Qal IMPERFECT) means “to regard with contempt” (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:16; Esther 3:6; Psalms 22:6, Psalms 22:24; Isaiah 53:5).

“Geshem the Arab” We know of him from several extra-canonical references. He was a powerful Arab leader, possibly “King of Kedar.” See full note in NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 675-676.

“are you rebelling against the King” This was an accusation of treason against Persia (cf. Nehemiah 6:6).

Nehemiah 2:20 “The God of heaven will give us success” This is the same term (BDB 852 II, KB 1026, here a Hiphil IMPERFECT) used in Nehemiah 1:11 (Hiphil IMPERATIVE). NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 804, gives several usages:

1. success to those who know and obey God's law, Joshua 1:8; 1 Chronicles 22:13; Psalms 1:3

2. success of God's word to accomplish its task, Isaiah 55:11

3. success of the vicarious, substitutionary work of the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:10

4. success of those who diligently seek God, 2 Chronicles 26:5; Psalms 118:25

All of these reflect the truth of Nehemiah 2:20, all true success comes from God and is available for those who seek, know, and obey Him!

This was a second painful rejection of the semi-YHWHistic pagans' help. The first being in Ezra 4:1-5 with the rebuilding of the temple and now with the rebuilding of the walls of the city.

“no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem” The first term “portion” (BDB 324) means “no share or interest in,” implying no obligation (e.g., Genesis 31:14; 2 Samuel 20:1; 2 Chronicles 10:16).

The second term “right” (BDB 842) is used in a rare judicial sense or a legal right to (cf. 2 Samuel 19:28; NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 749).

The third term “memorial” (BDB 272) means “proof of citizenship” (cf. Esther 6:1). It can also mean “remembrance of so as to make one part of.”

All three of these, taken together, imply that Nehemiah rejects any past claims they have, any current claim they might make. They have no part with the faithful remnant that returned!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. List the six past-exilic books of the Old Testament.

2. Why is Nehemiah so upset in Nehemiah 2:4?

3. List the elements of Nehemiah's prayer.

4. What other biblical book does Nehemiah draw so heavily from?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/nehemiah-2.html. 2021.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile