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.Nehemiah 2:1. In the month Nisan — Which answers to part of our March and April. So that there were almost four months between the time of his hearing the fore-mentioned sad tidings respecting the defenceless condition in which Jerusalem lay, and his requesting leave of the king to go thither. The reason of this long delay might be, either that his turn of attending upon the king did not come till that time; or, that till then he wanted a fit opportunity to move it to him. That wine was before him — He was at dinner or supper, and called for wine, which was ready for him. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence — But always appeared cheerful and well pleased, as young men, so advanced, are wont to do.
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,Nehemiah 2:2. The king said, Why is thy countenance sad? — His fasting, joined with inward grief, had made a sensible change in his countenance. Then I was sore afraid — It was an unusual and ungracious thing to come into the king of Persia’s presence with any token of sorrow. And he feared a disappointment, because his request was great and invidious, and odious to most of the Persian courtiers.
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 2:3. Let the king live for ever — My sadness comes not from any disaffection to the king, for whom my hearty prayers are that he may live for ever, but from another cause. Why should I not be sad, when the place of my fathers’ sepulchres lieth waste? — Which by all nations are esteemed sacred and inviolable. He says not a word for the temple, as he spake before a heathen king, who cared for none of these things. There is a regard due to one’s own country, which ought not to be extinguished by the pleasure or plenty of any other. It is not a weakness to be deeply affected with the distresses, or for the death of our friends and relations, at what distance secret we are from them; nor can any prosperity in another country excuse a man for not being so much afflicted for any calamity that befalls his own as not to entertain mirth and jollity in his heart. Nehemiah was in no mean station when he was cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, and we may very reasonably suppose, from the grace and bounty which that great king showed him, that he might have had any honour or preferment he would have requested in that great and flourishing empire; yet when that great king discerned that there was sorrow of heart in his countenance, and demanded the reason of it, he made no other excuse but, Jerusalem lay waste: and when the king so graciously invited him to ask some favour worthy of his royal bounty, he would require nothing else but permission and power to go and relieve his country. The grievances of the church, but especially its desolations, ought to be a grief to all good people, and will to all that have a concern for God’s honour, and are of a public spirit.
Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.Nehemiah 2:4. Then the king said, For what dost thou make request? — Something thou wouldest have, what is it? The king had an affection for him, and was not pleased to see him dejected, and thus gave him encouragement to tell his mind. So I prayed to the God of heaven — I silently in my mind besought God to direct my thoughts and words, and to incline the king’s heart to grant my request.
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.Nehemiah 2:5. I said, If it please the king, &c. — My request, whatever it is, I humbly and wholly submit to the king’s good pleasure, in which I am resolved to acquiesce. If thy servant have found favour in thy sight — I plead no merit, but humbly supplicate thy grace and favour, of which, having received some tokens, I am imboldened to make this farther request. That thou wouldst send me unto Judah, &c. — Wouldst give me a commission to go and build the walls of Jerusalem, and thereby make it a city again, for it is now in a defenceless state, as an open town, exposed on all sides to the attacks of its enemies. “A generous spirit,” says Lord Clarendon, “can think of nothing but relieving his country while it is under a general misery and calamity.”
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.Nehemiah 2:6. The queen also sitting by him — Which is here noted as an unusual thing, for commonly the kings of Persia dined alone; and perhaps because the queen expressed some kindness to him, and promoted his request. How long shall thy journey be? — This question showed the king’s affection for him, and that he was not willing to want his attendance longer than was necessary. So it pleased the king to send me — Having told the king how long he desired to be absent from his office, the king permitted him to go. How long that was, is not certain. But it is not likely it was for twelve years, mentioned Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 13:6, but rather, he asked leave for a year, or perhaps for half that time: which made him so quick in despatching the building of the wall, which he finished in fifty-two days, chap. Nehemiah 6:15. After which, it is likely, he returned to Shushan, according to his appointment, and that the king sent him back as his governor for twelve years; his presence being very serviceable, or perhaps necessary there, for the better ordering of that province to the king’s satisfaction.
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;Nehemiah 2:7-8. That they may convey me over till I come into Judah — May conduct me with safety through their several territories, and furnish me with necessaries on my journey. And a letter unto Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest — The forest of Lebanon, famous for choice trees. That he may give me timber for the gates — The gates of the temple. For though the temple itself was built, yet the several courts seem not to have been walled about, nor the gates made leading to the temple. Of the palace — The king’s palace, which adjoined to the house of God. And for the house that I shall enter into — He desired leave to build a convenient house for himself, and for those that should be future governors. According to the good hand of my God upon me — By the divine favour, which inclined the king to do what he desired; which he calls God’s good hand, because we extend favour with our hands.
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.
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.Nehemiah 2:9. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me — This the king had done over and above what Nehemiah had desired; and it procured him the greater respect from the governors, when they saw the care which the king took for the safety of his person.
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.Nehemiah 2:10. Sanballat the Horonite — So called either from the place of his birth or residence, which is supposed to have been Horonaim, an eminent city of Moab. This Sanballat was the person who afterward instigated Alexander the Great to build the temple of Gerizim, in order to occasion a division among the Jews. Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite — So called, probably, from the condition from which he had been advanced to his present power and dignity; which also may be mentioned as one reason why he now carried himself so insolently, it being usual for persons suddenly raised from a low state so to demean themselves. It grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man — With such authority from the king, and in such favour with him, as appeared by the letters he brought with him, and the guard that attended him, and the diligence of the several governors, through whose provinces he passed, to serve him.
So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
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 2:12. I arose in the night — Concealing both his intentions and actions as far and as long as he could, as knowing that the life of his business lay in secrecy and expedition. Neither was there any beast with me, &c. — To prevent noise, and that no notice might be taken of what he did.
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.Nehemiah 2:13. I went out by night — The footmen who accompanied him directing and leading him in the way. His design was to go around the city, to observe the compass and condition of the walls and gates, that he might make sufficient provisions for the work. By the gate of the valley — Of which see Nehemiah 3:13. Even before the dragon-well — A fountain of water so called, either from some figure of a dragon or serpent which was by it, or from some living dragon which had taken up its abode there when the city was desolate. To the dung-port — Through which they used to carry the dung out of the city.
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.Nehemiah 2:14-16. I went on to the gate of the fountain — That is, which led to the fountain, to wit, of Siloah or Gihon. And to the king’s pool — That which King Hezekiah had made, of which see 2 Chronicles 32:3-30. But there was no place for the beast, &c. — The way being obstructed with heaps of rubbish. Then went I up by the brook — Of Kidron, of which see on 2 Samuel 15:23. And so returned — Having gone around about the city. Nor to the rest that did the work — Or were to do it, that is, whom he intended to employ in it.
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.
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.
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.Nehemiah 2:17-18. That we be no more a reproach — Exposed to the scorn and insults of the people around about. I told them of the hand of my God, &c. — That is, he informed them how favourable God had made the king to him, and what discourse he had had with him, and what authority and commission he had received from him. They said, Let us rise up and build — Let us begin and proceed with vigour, diligence, and resolution, as those that are determined to go through with the work. They strengthened their hands — Their own and one another’s.
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.
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?Nehemiah 2:19-20. When Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, &c. — These three seem to have been chief men among the Samaritans, and perhaps were invested with some offices or authority by the king of Persia. You have no portion nor right — Do not trouble yourselves about this matter, who have no possession among us, no authority over us, nor interest in our church or state; nor memorial in Jerusalem — No testimony or monument either of your relation to us by birth or religion, or of your kindness to us or to this place, but you are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel: therefore mind your own business, and do not meddle with ours.
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.