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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 2

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. The month Nisan The name, after the exile, of the first month of the Jewish year, corresponding nearly with April, and more anciently called Abib. Exodus 13:4; comp. Nehemiah 12:2. This was the first Nisan that followed the Chisleu (Nehemiah 1:1) when Nehemiah heard the sad tidings from Judah, and four months after that time, but both these months fell in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. For a notice of this king, see note on Ezra 7:1.

Took up the wine, and gave it unto the king This was a part of the business of the royal cupbearer. See note above, on Nehemiah 1:11.

Had not been beforetime sad We may better omit beforetime and translate the past tense of the verb, as is often proper, so as to express an habitual state or condition, I was not accustomed to be sad in his presence. The Hebrew word for sad ( רע ) commonly means bad, ill-favoured, evil; and is appropriately used of the troubled and dejected countenance of a cupbearer, which should naturally be cheerful and happy, as became his business, to cheer the heart of the king. Various ancient authors attest the propensity of the Persians for wine. Herodotus says, (i, 133,) “They are very fond of wine, and drink it in large quantities.” And, according to H. Rawlinson, it is customary at the present day for the high livers among the Persians “to sit for hours before dinner drinking wine and eating dried fruits. A party often sits down at seven o’clock, and the dinner is not brought in till eleven.”

Verse 2

2. I was… sore afraid The king’s question was probably altogether unexpected, and coming on that public occasion, when the queen was also present, (Nehemiah 2:6,) and, perhaps, many nobles of the court, he was filled with confusion, and feared that the presenting of his cause on such an occasion might expose it to failure, and himself to scorn and punishment. Perhaps he feared, too, that the king might suspect some foul designs in his heart.

Verse 3

3. Let the king live forever A common form of royal salutation. Compare marginal references.

The city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres A touching allusion, calculated to affect the hearts both of the king and the queen. Nehemiah here calls Jerusalem, literally, the house of the graves of his fathers, and hence it has been inferred that he was of the seed of David, whose royal sons were “buried in the city of David,” (1 Kings 14:31; 1 Kings 15:24, etc.;) so that city was, in fact, the very house of their graves.

Verse 4

4. For what dost thou make request The king’s heart was at once touched with sympathy for the sorrow of his cupbearer, and prompted to offer him assistance. Thus God disposeth the hearts of kings.

I prayed That he might so order his request as to secure the king’s favour. He that would prevail with men and kings must first know how to prevail in prayer with God.

Verse 5

5. Send me… that I may build it To obtain this request had been the anxious desire of his heart, and the burden of his prayer for many days even from the time of his hearing of the desolation of Judah. Nehemiah 1:3-4.

Verse 6

6. The queen also sitting by him Probably the queen consort, the principal wife, is meant; not one of his concubines, or a mistress, as the Septuagint translates it. The influence of a wife over a Persian monarch is shown in the Book of Esther.

How long The king did not wish to lose this noble officer of his court for a great length of time.

I set him a time This may have been altered afterwards, and Nehemiah’s leave of absence extended. This would necessarily follow from his being appointed governor, which appointment was made that same year. Nehemiah filled that office for the twelve succeeding years. Nehemiah 5:14.

Verse 7

7. Let letters be given me This was a wise precaution on the part of Nehemiah, for the governors beyond the river were generally hostile to the Jews. Comp. Ezra 4:5.

Verse 8

8. Keeper of the king’s forest The Hebrew word here rendered forest, is פרדס , pardes, a Persian word, from which comes (through the Greek) the word paradise. It occurs in only two other passages, Ecclesiastes 2:5, and Song of Solomon 4:13, and seems to designate an inclosed garden or park, planted with trees and shrubs. “A wide open park, inclosed against injury, yet with its natural beauty unspoiled, with stately forest trees, many of them bearing fruit, watered by clear streams on whose banks roved large herds of antelopes or sheep this was the scenery which connected itself in the mind of the Greek traveller with the word paradise, and for which his own language supplied no precise equivalent.” SMITH’S Bib. Dict. The forest, or paradise, mentioned in this verse was one from which Nehemiah wished to procure timber for building purposes, and must have been somewhere in Palestine, and probably not far from Jerusalem. There is no evidence that Nehemiah went as far as Lebanon for materials. Some suggest that the king’s forest may mean the beautiful and well watered gardens which Josephus (viii, 7, 3) mentions as being at Etham, about fifty furlongs from Jerusalem, to which Solomon was wont to ride out in the morning. But the reference may be to all the groves and forests of Palestine, which seem to have been at that time carefully guarded by the kings of Persia, who appointed a special officer to guard them, and see that they were not wantonly destroyed.

The palace which appertained to the house That is, the palace, fortress, or castle, which was connected with the temple. Not the palace of Solomon, which probably stood on the southern slope of Ophel, and from which that king had a magnificent ascent to the temple, (1 Kings 10:5,) for we have elsewhere no hint of any attempt to rebuild the royal palace at Jerusalem, and least of all would Nehemiah have proposed at such a time to build it, for that would look like a design to re-establish the kingdom of Judah. But this palace of the temple, which Nehemiah proposed to build, was probably some such fortress or citadel as that subsequently known as Antonia, called also Baris, ( Βαρις seems to have come from בירה , birah, here rendered palace, and includes the meaning both of fortress and palace,) and used under the Asmonean princes as a depository for the vestments of the high priest. Josephus, 15:11, 4.

For the wall Timber would be used for building the gates of the wall.

The house that I shall enter into His own residence, or headquarters, while he superintended the building of the wall and gates of the city.

According to the good hand Compare Ezra 7:6, note.

Verse 9


9. Sent captains of the army and horsemen For a safe-conduct. Probably Nehemiah retained these for his guard at Jerusalem.

Verse 10

10. Sanballat the Horonite This noted man seems to have been an officer of the Persian government, holding a military command at Samaria. Compare Nehemiah 4:2. He is conspicuous in this history solely from his bitter hostility to the Jews. The Horonite designates him as a native of Horonaim, in the land of Moab: (see Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:3; Jeremiah 48:5; Jeremiah 48:34:) and his Moabite origin may partly account for his hostility towards Israel.

Tobiah the servant What gave him this title of the servant is not clear. Perhaps he had been a slave and had gained his freedom, but never lost the title and associations of his former servitude; and in such a case a Jewish writer would naturally emphasize the opprobrious epithet. His own and his son’s marriage with the daughter of a Jew created family relationships which proved a source of trouble, (Nehemiah 6:17-19,) and being allied to the high priest Eliashib (Nehemiah 13:4) he secured a chamber in the courts of the temple, from which Nehemiah finally cast out all his household stuff. Nehemiah 13:7-8. He is here designated as the Ammonite, having sprung from that hated race; and, perhaps, his bitterness towards the Jews was owing largely to Ezra’s recent legislation in requiring all Jews to put away their foreign wives, (Ezra 10:0,) for they had intermarried with the Ammonites and Moabites. Ezra 9:1. And these two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, were fit representatives of the ancient and hereditary hatred of their respective races towards Israel.

Verse 11

11. Three days See note on Ezra 8:32.

Verse 12

12. I arose in the night Probably the first night after his arrival. He wished to see how great a work was before him, and he yearned to take a view of the city of his fathers’ sepulchres, of which he had heard so much, but had never seen till now; and so with only some few attendants, and the solitary beast on which he rode, he made this night survey. Peculiarly touching and impressive is the thought of this tender-hearted child of the exile viewing by night, and alone, the ruins of the holy city of his fathers.

Verse 13

13. The gate of the valley The gate that opened into the valley of Gihon, on the west side of the city, and just at the point where that valley takes a bend off towards the northwest. This would be at the northwestern corner of Zion, where afterwards stood the Tower of Hippicus, erected by Herod.

Before the dragon well The modern upper pool of Gihon, towards which the gate just mentioned must have opened. What gave it this name is now unknown.

The dung port Why our translators rendered the same word port here, which they render gate above, is not apparent. This dung gate is supposed to have been at or near the southwestern corner of the city wall, where the filth and garbage of this part of the city were carried out and thrown down into the deep valley below. See on Nehemiah 3:13.

Verse 14

14. Gate of the fountain This was doubtless the gate situated at the mouth of the Tyropoeon, and near the fountain, or pool of Siloam. It is to be identified with “the gate between two walls,” (2 Kings 25:4,) by which king Zedekiah fled from the city.

The king’s pool Probably that now commonly known as the fountain of the Virgin, a little north of the pool of Siloam, and connected with it by a subterranean passage. By many this is now believed to be the same as the Bethesda of the New Testament. John 5:2.

No place for the beast… to pass So filled had the narrow valley become with the rubbish of the long desolate city.

Verse 15

15. Then went I up… by the brook He probably left his beast by the king’s pool, and went on foot up the brook, or valley of the Kedron, and viewed the wall on the east side of the city; then he turned back, walking down the brook Kedron again to the place where he left his beast, and then rode back around the southern and western walls, and again entered the city by the same gate of the valley through which he had gone out.

Verse 16

16. Jews… priests… nobles… rulers The various ranks and classes among the Jewish community. Nehemiah did not at that time make known his night journey around the walls to any one of these various classes. The Jews here means the common body of the people, the laity, as distinguished from the priests. The nobles were those who were known and honoured as descendants of the royal family of David. The rulers were the chief officers of the Jewish community living in and about Jerusalem.

Nor to the rest that did the work The workmen among the people, as distinguished from the other classes previously mentioned. In every great public work such as Nehemiah was now contemplating, the builders, (Ezra 3:10,) and all classes of workmen, would have an important interest; yet Nehemiah means to say that while he held important papers from the king, and had come to build the walls and gates of Jerusalem, and made his night survey with this end in view, he had not as yet communicated his design to any of the people, nor to their officers and leading men, nor to the workmen upon whom would fall the chief burden of rebuilding the fallen gates and walls.

Verse 17

PREPARATIONS TO BUILD, Nehemiah 2:17-18.

17. Ye see the distress The same word is rendered affliction in Nehemiah 1:3. Nehemiah had now seen with his own eyes that the report was true which informed him in Shushan of the desolation of Jerusalem. The distress to which the Jews were subjected by inability to rebuild their city, so long desolate, could be regarded by them in no other light than as a reproach.

Verse 18

18. The king’s words Nehemiah informed them, doubtless, not only of what the king had spoken to him, but also of the letters of authority which he held from the king.

They strengthened their hands Encouraged each other, and set vigorously about the work.

For this good work Literally, for good. Vatablus explains it, on account of the favour of God and of the king. But the words seem better taken in the more general sense which the literal rendering gives; they encouraged one another for good, not for evil; they set about the work with a good will.

Verse 19

SCORN OF THE SAMARITANS, Nehemiah 2:19-20.

19. Sanballat… Tobiah See on Nehemiah 2:10.

Geshem the Arabian Written Gashum in Nehemiah 6:6. Whether he was associated with Sanballat and Tobiah in the government at Samaria, or represented some Arab tribe in another quarter, is uncertain; but in either case he was in league with the Samaritans against the Jews, and most malignant was his enmity to the latter. Compare his vile slander, Nehemiah 6:6. The Arabians of the desert south of Palestine would naturally oppose the re-establishment of the kingdom of Jerusalem, for it might oppose a barrier to their predatory invasions of that section of the country.

Will ye rebel The building of the walls was construed into a design to fortify themselves, and then revolt and become an independent state.

Verse 20

20. Ye have no portion Compare Ezra 4:2, note.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nehemiah-2.html. 1874-1909.
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