Nehemiah 2:2
Why the king said to me, Why is your countenance sad, seeing you are not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,
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(2) Then I was very sore afraid.—Waiting on Providence, Nehemiah had discharged his duties for three months without being sad in the king’s presence; but on this day his sorrow could not be repressed. His fear sprang from the king’s abrupt inquiry. A sad countenance was never tolerated in the royal presence; and, though Artaxerxes was of a milder character than any other Persian monarch, the tone of his question showed that in this respect he was not an exception.

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.2:1-8 Our prayers must be seconded with serious endeavours, else we mock God. We are not limited to certain moments in our addresses to the King of kings, but have liberty to go to him at all times; approaches to the throne of grace are never out of season. But the sense of God's displeasure and the afflictions of his people, are causes of sorrow to the children of God, under which no earthly delights can comfort. The king encouraged Nehemiah to tell his mind. This gave him boldness to speak; much more may the invitation Christ has given us to pray, and the promise that we shall speed, encourage us to come boldly to the throne of grace. Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven, as infinitely above even this mighty monarch. He lifted up his heart to that God who understands the language of the heart. Nor should we ever engage in any pursuit in which it would be wrong for us thus to seek and expect the Divine direction, assistance, and blessing. There was an immediate answer to his prayer; for the seed of Jacob never sought the God of Jacob in vain.I was very sore afraid - A Persian subject was expected to be perfectly content so long as he had the happiness of being with his king. A request to quit the court was thus a serious matter. 2-5. the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad?—It was deemed highly unbecoming to appear in the royal presence with any weeds or signs of sorrow (Es 4:2); and hence it was no wonder that the king was struck with the dejected air of his cupbearer, while that attendant, on his part, felt his agitation increased by his deep anxiety about the issue of the conversation so abruptly begun. But the piety and intense earnestness of the man immediately restored [Nehemiah] to calm self-possession and enabled him to communicate, first, the cause of his sadness (Ne 2:3), and next, the patriotic wish of his heart to be the honored instrument of reviving the ancient glory of the city of his fathers. Why is thy countenance sad? his fasting joined with inward grief had made a sensible change in his very countenance.

I was very sore afraid; partly, being daunted by the majesty of the king, and the suddenness and sharpness of his question; partly, fearing lest there was arising some jealousy or ill opinion in the king concerning him; partly, because it was an unusual and ungrateful thing to come into the king of Persia’s presence with any badges or tokens of sorrow, Esther 4:2; and principally, from his doubts or fears of disappointment, because his request was great and invidious, and odious to the most of the Persian courtiers, and might be represented as dangerous, and might seem improper for a time of feasting and jollity. Wherefore the king said unto me, why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick?.... He had no disorder upon him to change his countenance and make him sorrowful, and therefore asks what should be the reason of it:

this is nothing else but sorrow of heart; this is not owing to any bodily disease or pain, but some inward trouble of mind; or "wickedness of heart" (p), some ill design in his mind, which being conscious of, and thoughtful about, was discovered in his countenance; he suspected, as Jarchi intimates, a design to kill him, by putting poison into his cup:

then I was very sore afraid; lest the king should have suspicion of an ill design on him; or lest, since he must be obliged to give the true reason, he should not succeed in his request, it being so large, and perhaps many about the king were no friends to the Jews.

(p) , Sept. "malum nescio quod in corde tuo est", V. L.

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,
2. Wherefore] R.V. And.

sad] The Hebrew adjective which means literally ‘bad’ is used constantly in this sense, just as we speak of ‘bad news’ when we mean ‘sad news.’ For this usage cf. Genesis 40:7 ‘sadly,’ Proverbs 25:20 ‘an heavy heart.’

sorrow of heart] The substantive, being derived from the same root as the adjective ‘sad,’ had better have been rendered ‘sadness,’ to bring out the antithesis between ‘countenance’ and ‘heart.’ It is so rendered in Ecclesiastes 7:3, ‘the sadness of the countenance.’

Then I was very sore afraid] See note on Nehemiah 2:1. Nehemiah’s fear was very natural. The long-expected and dreaded moment had come, on which he was to plead his people’s cause. Their destiny and perhaps his own life depended upon his success. The capricious temper of Persian kings was well known. Artaxerxes may very probably have been prejudiced against the Jews by such complaints as had occasioned the disastrous edict of Ezra 4:17-22.Verse 2. - The king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad? This "kindly question" put by the great king to his humble retainer is his best claim to the favourable judgment of later ages. History puts him before us as a weak monarch, one who could compromise the royal dignity by making terms with a revolted subject, while he disgraced it by breaking faith with a conquered enemy. But if weak as a king, as a man he was kind-hearted and gentle. Few Persian monarchs would have been sufficiently interested in their attendants to notice whether they were sad or no; fewer still would have shown sympathy on such an occasion. A Xerxes might have ordered the culprit to instant execution. Longimanus feels compassion, and wishes to assuage the grief of his servant. Then I was very sore afraid. Notwithstanding the king's kind and compassionate words, Nehemiah feels his danger. He has looked sad in the king's presence. He is about to ask permission to quit the court. These are both sins against the fundamental doctrine of Persian court life, that to bask in the light of the royal countenance is the height of felicity. Will the king be displeased, refuse his request, dismiss him from his post, cast him into prison, or will he pardon his rudeness and allow his request? We have dealt very corruptly against Thee. חבל is the inf. constr. instead of the infin. abs., which, before the finite verb, and by reason of its close connection therewith, becomes the infin. constr., like אהיה היות, Psalm 50:21; comp. Ewald, 240, c. The dealing corruptly against God consists in not having kept the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the law.
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