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Nehemiah 2:1 It happened in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king- But we read in Neh. 1:1 about the ninth month, Chislev, in the twentieth year. Perhaps the year of his reign is being read inclusively in one place and exclusively in the other. Or perhaps the twentieth year here in Neh. 1:1 is not the twentieth of the king's reign, for that is not actually specified here. The more appropriate explanation is that we are reading of Jewish months, but the years of the reign of the king; and in Neh. 1:1 we are reading the background for what happened in Neh. 2:1. Nehemiah came to the king in Nisan, whereas four months previously, in Chislev, he had been visited by Hanani. But both those dates were within the 20th year of the king. Perhaps it took him four months to get the courage to ask the king.

When wine was before him, that I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad before in his presence- LXX "and there was not another before him", i.e. Nehemiah was alone with the king and queen. The Persian queens were not usually enthroned when formal meetings were held, so this was a private audience. Being the wine taster involved him drinking the wine which had been offered to idols. This in sharp contrast to Daniel's attitude. And yet Nehemiah, although apparently weaker than Daniel, is none the less presented as a man of great spirituality and devotion to God; even though his conscience was clearly different and even inferior to Daniel's. We must be careful not to judge others as being unbelievers because their consciences or spiritual weakness leads them to do something which is apparently wrong. For Nehemiah's conscience on this matter was weak, and yet he was clearly counted as a spiritual person and legitimate believer. As someone so close to the king, he would have chosen this career path; and that again would appear spiritually unwise. It likely involved him in being castrated, for the close courtiers were eunuchs. But for all this, his weakness was used by God just as Esther's was. And that weakness in one aspect of character didn't mean that he was not a legitimate believer. This is not to be used to justify our own weaknesses; but rather to inspire tolerance in us towards the weakness of others. See on :8.

Nehemiah 2:2 The king said to me, Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very much afraid-
"Sad" is s.w. Neh. 1:3 "affliction". See on Neh. 13:8. Nehemiah was so identified with his people that their situation was his, to the point of it subconsciously affecting his body language. Likewise the Lord Jesus bore our sins and human condition in His own body on the cross; His identification with us is to be reflected in our identification with others, to the point that their condition affects our body language. But the Hebrew word translated "sad" is usually translated 'evil' or 'wicked'- it could be that the King was suspicious of some bad motive in what Nehemiah had in his heart. Therefore Nehemiah's desperate outburst was an amazing turn around- one moment the king was suspicious that his cupbearer was planning something against him, the next- he was giving Nehemiah amazing blessing. Such paranoia and fickleness would have been typical in ancient kings.

LXX "Why is thy countenance sad, and dost thou not control thyself?". This would imply the king accepted his servants might be sad for various personal reasons, but they controlled themselves and always put on a positive face for him. And yet the king, knowing this was how his servants acted, concluded that there must be some unusually overpowering grief within Nehemiah. That grief was indeed a reflection of an unusually passionate love for God's people and purpose.

Nehemiah 2:3 I said to the king, Let the king live forever! Why shouldn’t my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates have been consumed with fire?-
We get the impression that Nehemiah just blurted out what was in his heart. As a senior courtier, he would have been well trained and practiced in hiding emotions and never introducing his personal issues into the business of serving the king. We see here his depth of feeling for God's people. The city was now lying waste not because of the Babylonian destruction but because of the work of the Samaritan "army" of which we will later read.

Nehemiah 2:4 Then the king said to me, For what do you make request?-
Neh. 2:4,5 have many similarities with Esther 4:8; 5:14; 8:5; as his being fearful of being sad before the King (Neh. 2:2) recalls how in Esther 4:2 it was not allowed to come before the King in sackcloth. He was surely motivated by the example of young Esther.

So I prayed to the God of heaven- This was clearly in his mind with eyes open. The fact God naturally accepts such urgent prayers of a moment mustn't lead us to only pray to Him like that. Prayer is also to be seriously thought out in advance, just as the incense was carefully prepared before being offered. The instant prayer of a second or two reached "the God of heaven". That is the wonder. 

Nehemiah 2:5 I said to the king, If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you would send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs-
We note that Nehemiah's fathers were buried in Jerusalem, suggesting he may have been from the royal family. Or again, this could simply be reflecting the depth of his identification with his people.


That I may build it- "Build" is the word used of the promised rebuilding of the city and temple at the restoration. Nehemiah, for all his worldly career, was deeply aware of all the possibilities that were potentially enabled by all the prophecies. Amos 9:11-15 is most comfortably interpreted when read as referring to the restoration of Judah and the “remnant” of the ten tribes to the land under Ezra: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God”. “I will raise up” uses a Hebrew word very commonly featured in the records of the restoration, when the people were exhorted to “rise up and build” (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 10:4,15; Neh. 2:18,20). The statement that they would “close up the breaches thereof” is exactly the language of Neh. 6:1, which records that the walls were rebuilt so that there was no breach [s.w.] therein. It was after the Babylonian invasion that Zion was “fallen” and ‘ruined’ (s.w. Jer. 31:18; 45:4; Lam. 2:2,17). “I will build it” is exactly the theme of the records of the return from Babylon (Ezra 1:2,3,5; 3:2,10; 4:1-4; Neh. 2:5,17,18,20; 3:1-3, 13-15; 4:1,3,5,6,10,17,18; 6:1,6; 7:1). Surely Amos 9 is saying that at the rebuilding at the time of the restoration, God’s people could have ushered in the Kingdom age of agricultural plenty and victory over their Arab neighbours. But they intermarried with Edom, and suffered drought because they didn’t fulfill the requirements to rebuild Zion correctly. But the words of Amos were still to come true in some form- they are given an application in Acts 15:17 which may appear to be way out of context, i.e. to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus words which could have had a plain fulfilment at the restoration were given a delayed fulfilment; but they were not fulfilled in a literal sense, but in a spiritual one. And so it is with prophecies like Ezekiel 38, and the temple prophecies of Ezekiel. They will be fulfilled in spiritual essence, but probably not in strict literality, although they could have been had God’s people been more ‘fulfilling’ of them.  

Nehemiah 2:6 The king said to me (the queen was also sitting by him)-
The queen may possibly have been Esther. Whether it was or not, clearly her example inspired Nehemiah. The chronology is very complex at this point; but if it wasn't Esther, we can imagine that possibly it became seen as a good omen to be married to a Jewess, or at least to have some Jewish women within the harem. The book of Esther closes with the Jew popular within Persia- so much so that the king's wine taster, one of the most senior positions, was Nehemiah the Jew. 

How long shall your journey be? And when will you return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time- It would seem that this initial trip was of short duration, but he later returned as governor of Judah for 12 years (Neh. 5:14), and then he returned to Persia and then apparently made another visit to Judah after that.

Nehemiah 2:7 Moreover I said to the king, If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah-
Nehemiah was clearly inspired by the letters given to Ezra. Ezra was his inspiration as was Esther. We are to likewise be inspired by Biblical characters and to actually make decisions and do things directly motivated by the examples we encounter in the pages of the Bible.

Nehemiah 2:8 and 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 citadel by the temple, for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. The king granted my requests because of the good hand of my God upon me-
This is a phrase used of Ezra's work towards the restoration (Ezra 7:9; 8:18). But it was exactly "because of the good hand of my God upon me" that Ezra refused to ask for soldiers to accompany him (Ezra 8:22). That same Divine hand working for good was upon Nehemiah, but we sense he believed it somewhat less. Just as his being the wine taster makes him compare unfavourably with Daniel who refused the king's wine. But for all this lower level, he was clearly a faithful and spiritual man. The repeated emphasis upon the "hand of God" is another way of saying that the operation of God through His Spirit was with every effort to do according to His word, and restore Jerusalem. And so it is to this day.

Nehemiah 2:9 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-
See on :8. That captains were sent with Nehemiah was perhaps not only for protection but in order to add credibility to his mission.

Nehemiah 2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite-
This may mean he was from Horonaim, in southern Moab (Is. 15:5; Jer. 48:3,5,34). So he may have been a Moabite. His name is Assyrian, ‘Sin (the moon god of the Assyrians) gives life’, just as Sennacherib = ‘Sin gives many brothers’. His family may have been moved there by the Assyrians when the ten tribes went into captivity and other peoples were moved into the land of Palestine. His Assyrian connections are the basis for the allusions to his opposition in terms of the Assyrian invasion at the time of Hezekiah (see on Neh. 4:3,8).   


And Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly- This means that Moab (Sanballat) and Ammon are again pictured as united against Israel. Tobiah may have been a slave who had been freed and arose to a position of power, hence "the servant". Or he may have been "the servant" of the Persians in some official capacity. But his name includes the termination ‘Yah’, suggesting he may have been a renegade Jew (cp. Ezra 2:60; Zech. 6:10). His son’s name, Jehohanan (Neh. 6:18) also features the 'Yah' prefix. But he self identified as an Ammonite.

Because a man had come to seek the welfare- He was motivated by Ps. 122:9, where the Psalmist vows to seek the welfare (s.w.) of God's people, city and house. We too need to read Scripture and arise and do it, rather than leaving it as words on a screen or page.

Of the children of Israel- “The Jews” is now used synonymously with “Israelite” (Nehemiah 2:10 cp. Neh. 4:1; 5:1,8; 7:73; 12:47). 12 he-goats and 12 bulls were offered for “all Israel” in Ezra 6:17; 8:35. This reflects the prophetic vision of a repentant Judah and Israel reuniting in a restored Kingdom of God on earth at the restoration. But still Judah and Israel remained divided; and no “prince” arose to fulfill the prophecies. Israel and Judah were to become one nation in the land, “and my servant David shall be a prince in the midst of them” (Ez. 37:16-24). This is clearly the same “prince” as referred to in Ezekiel 45-48. The restoration prophecy of Jer. 30:9 speaks of a returned Judah serving “David their king, whom I shall raise up unto them”- implying that David would have been resurrected at the restoration, if all had gone according to what was possible. Some of the ten tribes did return with Judah.

Nehemiah 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem-
When Nehemiah speaks of them having been redeemed by Yahweh’s “strong hand” (Neh. 1:10). he is using the language of Is. 40:10, regarding how Yahweh would come to Zion and save Israel from Babylon and restore them to the land “with strong hand”. Nehemiah saw the prophecy could have been fulfilled then. The way Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:5-7), Ezra (Ezra 7:8; 8:32) and Nehemiah (Neh. 2:11; 13:7) are described as ‘coming to Jerusalem’ may hint that they could have fulfilled this coming of Yahweh to Zion; they could have been Messianic figures (Neh. 2:11; 13:7).

And was there three days- Ezra and his group likewise spent three days in reflection, prayer and praise on arriving in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:32). They had likewise begun their journey with three days of fasting and prayer (Ezra 8:15). So often we forget to thank God with the same intensity with which we asked Him for help. It was this three days of praise which may have inspired Nehemiah to do likewise on arrival in Jerusalem. The Godly examples and prayer patterns of others really should affect us, and our examples likewise influence others.


Nehemiah 2:12 I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me, except the animal that I rode on-
See on :19. "Put in my heart" uses the same word for "put" when we read of God putting a new heart and spirit in His revived people if they entered the new covenant at the restoration: “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you” (Ez. 36:27-29). They revived the stones out of the heaps (Neh. 4:2). A new spirit was potentially given to them, God put in the heart of men like Nehemiah to revive the work (Neh. 2:12 s.w.). But this didn’t force them to be obedient. They chose not to be.

Nehemiah 2:13 I went out by night by the valley gate, even toward the jackal’s well, and to the dung gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down, and its gates which were consumed with fire-
LXX "and I mourned over the wall of Jerusalem which they were destroying". This would suggest that the broken down walls were a result of the ongoing Samaritan opposition, and not referring to the Babylonian destruction many decades previously.

Nehemiah 2:14 Then I went on to the spring gate and to the king’s pool; but there was no place for the animal that was under me to pass-
This amount of rubble in a steep place, stopping a donkey passing, meant there had been significant destruction of the walls by the Samaritans. "The king's pool" was Siloam, next to the king's garden, fed by a conduit bringing water from the Gihon spring (2 Kings 20:20).

Nehemiah 2:15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall-
This would be the Kidron brook, also crossed at night by the Lord Jesus, perhaps with His mind on faithful Nehemiah.

And I turned back, and entered by the valley gate, and so returned- Turning back in the context seems to mean turning westward in order to come back to his starting point. But we note the lack of mention of any location on the North or North West of the city; so perhaps he ‘turned back,’ having seen enough, or unable to continue.

Nehemiah 2:16 The rulers didn’t know where 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 who did the work-
According to Jewish tradition, Nehemiah’s real name was Zerubbabel, the branch (Sanhedrin 38a)- perhaps the same Zerubbabel as mentioned in Haggai and Zechariah. The Hippolytus Chronicle 7:3:37 even claims Nehemiah was a direct descendant of David and in the direct kingly line. His name, ‘comfort of Yahweh’, invites us to see him as the potential fulfilment of the Is. 40:1,2 prophecy about a Messiah figure arising to the exiles, giving them God’s comfort. At the time of Judah's redemption, while the temple had been trodden down by her enemies, the promised Messiah figure of Is. 63:1-3,18 was to come from Edom and Bozrah - both code names for Babylon. The words "Bozrah" and "Babylon" have similar root meanings ('high / fortified place'). And he was to lament how the people of Judah were not with him- "of the people there was none with me". But this is the very spirit of Nehemiah, when he returns to Jerusalem from Babylon and looks around the 'trodden down' city at night, not telling the people of the Jews about his inspection- i.e. the people were not with him (Neh. 2:11-16).

Nehemiah 2:17 Then I said to them, You see the evil situation that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste and its gates are burned with fire. Come, let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we won’t be disgraced-
Ez. 40-48 stress the “gates” dozens of times; and Nehemiah’s account likewise stresses many times the attention he paid to setting up the “gates” [s.w.], as if he saw his work as fulfilling Ezekiel’s words. But on the other hand, Nehemiah makes no mention of the restoration prophecies, but rather seems at this point more concerned with their not being shamed in the eyes of others.

Nehemiah 2:18 I told them of the hand of my God which was for good upon me, as also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. They said, Let us arise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for the good work-
Rather than beginning by telling them of the resources he had at his disposal, he first gets them to see the need- and only then tells them that the resources are available.

"Rise up / arise" is a word used often of the 'rising up' of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 9:5; Neh. 2:18; 3:1). This was a fulfilment of the command to "Arise... Jerusalem!" (Is. 51:17; 52:2; 61:4). But this 'arising' was to be associated with the dawning of Zion's light in the form of Yahweh's glory literally dwelling over Zion (Is. 60:1). This didn't happen at the time, because the appearance of 'arising' by the exiles was only external and wasn't matched by a spiritual revival. LXX "And their hands were strengthened for the good work" reflects the ambiguity here- they strengthened their hands, and God confirmed this by strengthening their hands. This is how He continues to work. See on Neh. 4:6.

Nehemiah 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it-
Geshem may have been the leader of the Arabian community established by Sargon king of Assyria in the depopulated Samaria. Whatever, we see here a coalition of local neighbouring forces against the Jews.

I suggested in Neh. 1:7 that much of the Old Testament was rewritten under inspiration in captivity. The way Deuteronomy refers to cities East of Jordan as being "on this side Jordan" (e.g. Dt. 4:41,49) would suggest that the editor of the book was writing from a location East of Jordan- likely Babylon. The comment in Josh. 15:63 that "the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day" sounds very much as if it were written in the captivity, lamenting the way that the local tribes still lived in Zion. "The children of Judah" is very much a phrase used about the exiles. Thus books like Joshua were written up in the captivity in order to show Judah how they were repeating the sins of their forefathers, and appealing to them thereby to learn the lessons. It's even possible that the lament that "Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel unto this day" (Josh. 13:13 RV) is a reference to "Geshem the Arabian" and Sanballat dwelling amongst Israel at the time of their return (Neh. 2:19 etc.).

They ridiculed us and despised us and said, What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?- This despising of Nehemiah recalls the despised saviour in Is. 53. Is. 53:2 speaks of Messiah, in a restoration context beginning in Is. 52, as ‘growing up’, the same word used to describe the ‘coming up’ from the dry ground of Babylon. This potential Messiah could have been Zerubbabel, but when he failed to fulfill the prophecies, there was the possibility that another man could have fulfilled his role. Nehemiah ‘came up’ from Babylon, and was “the servant” who ‘prospered’ Yahweh’s work (Neh. 1:11; 2:20), just as the servant prophecies required (Is. 53:10; 48:15); and he was thereby the redeemer of his brethren (Neh. 5:8). He encouraged the singing of praise on the walls of Zion (Neh. 9:5; 12:46), surely in a conscious effort to fulfill the words of Is. 60:18- that Zion’s gates in Messiah’s Kingdom would be praise. He was “despised” as Messiah would be (Neh. 2:19; Is. 53:3 s.w.). He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, as Messiah would (Neh. 2:12 cp. Zech. 9:9); and Neh. 2:16 sounds very much like “of the people there was none with me” (Is. 63:3). The Gentiles round about came to sit at Nehemiah’s table to eat and drink (Neh. 5:17), just as Isaiah had prophesied could happen on a grander scale at the restoration of the Kingdom. One wonders if the potential fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies was transferred to  him? And yet Nehemiah returned to Babylon at least once, and there is no record that on his second visit he stayed on, but rather, the implication seems to be, he returned again to the service of Babylon. The total lack of Biblical information about his later life may reflect this disappointing decision. This train of thought enables us to appreciate the joy and pleasure which the Father had when finally His beloved Son lived up to all that He sought and expected.  

Nehemiah 2:20 Then I answered them and said to them, The God of heaven will prosper us-
This prospering was from God (s.w. Neh. 1:11; 2:20). No device formed against the program of rebuilding the Kingdom would prosper (Is. 54:17 s.w.), and the Divine word of restoration would prosper (Is. 55:11 s.w.). Any attempt to bring about the intended reestablishment of the Kingdom would be prospered by God; the fact that ultimately didn't happen was because the exiles ceased to make use of His potential assistance. We put God to endless pain and labour in order to fulfill His wish to save men, if we don’t fulfill what in prospect we could fulfill. In the context of the restoration, Yahweh truly said that “ shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is. 55:11 AV). His word will have fulfilment in the end, but it can have its fulfilment in us, here and now. Nehemiah twice stated that Yahweh was prospering him in his work of restoring Zion [Neh. 1:11; 2:20 s.w.]; but generally, the word of prophecy was deferred in its fulfilment. Let’s not be satisficers as Israel were, minimalists happy so long as we have our bit of land to live on, our cieled roof to dwell under... and neglect His house.

Therefore we, His servants, will arise and build; but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem- LXX "and we his servants are pure, and we will build". They were far from pure, and so we may detect here an inappropriate national pride in Nehemiah. This was to have no place at all in the motivation for rebuilding and restoring God's Kingdom, but it seems even Nehemiah's motives were mixed.

It could be that their refusal of Gentile help to build the temple, insisting that only Jews work in it (Ezra 4:3 cp. Neh. 2:20), was actually going too far; by being so exclusive, they were disallowing the fulfilment of the prophecies both in Zech. 6 and in Isaiah, that Gentiles would help in the final rebuilding of Zion. As with some of us, their quite correct refusal to allow “the adversaries of Judah” (Ezra 4:1) to fellowship with us in the work can lead us to an exclusive approach to fellowship, that actually disallows the essentially outgoing and inclusive spirit of the God we serve. The Jews returned from Babylonian having swung to the opposite extreme from their earlier worldliness; they returned proud and refusing contact with the Gentile world, considering themselves saved by their own strength. And this is perhaps reflected in the way they refused on principle to allow any Gentiles to help them in the building work. Is. 60:10,11 had foretold: “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee [as in the decree of Cyrus]...Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night”; and them as Ez. 43 had also described, “I will glorify the house of my glory” (Is. 60:7).