Nehemiah 2:5
And I said to the king, If it please the king, and if your servant have found favor in your sight, that you would send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' sepulchers, that I may build it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.”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 prayed to the God of heaven - Mentally and momentarily, before answering the king. 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. If it please the king: my request, whatsoever it is, I humbly and wholly submit it to the king’s good pleasure, being resolved to acquiesce in it.

If thy servant have found favour in thy sight: I pretend no merit, but am a humble suppliant for thy grace and favour, whereof having received some tokens, I am thereby imboldened to make this further request. And I said unto the king; if it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight,.... He submits what he had to say wholly to the pleasure of the king, and puts it upon his unmerited favour, and not on any desert of his own:

that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it; the wall of it, and the houses in it; the favour was, that he might have leave to go thither, and set about such a work, for which he was so much concerned.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. If it please the king, and if thy servant, &c.] A double conditional sentence precedes the request. On the king’s approbation of the policy and on the king’s personal favour to Nehemiah must depend the issue.

The words run literally, ‘If it is good before the king and if thy servant be good in thy presence.’ The phrase in the first clause is the same as that used, e.g. in Esther 1:19; Esther 9:13. The second clause differs from the common phrase ‘to find favour or grace,’ e.g. 1 Samuel 26:22; Esther 2:15. The verb which with this meaning is generally used impersonally, here has a subject; elsewhere this construction is unusual, cf. Esther 5:14, ‘the thing pleased Haman;’ Ecclesiastes 7:26, ‘whoso pleaseth God,’ literally, ‘is good in the presence of God.’

that I may build it] If, as is most probably the case, Ezra 4:7-24 refers to the events of the reign of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah in alluding to the city of Jerusalem introduces a subject that had some time previously engaged the king’s attention. According to the letters in that chapter the work of ‘building’ the city had been stopped. But the decree, which had stopped the work, also contemplated the possibility of its being resumed: see Ezra 4:21, ‘Make ye now a decree to cause these men to cease and that this city be not builded until a decree shall be made by me.’ Nehemiah makes request that such a decree should be made. The knowledge of this previous edict would have increased his apprehensions. ‘Build’ in this passage is equivalent to ‘building the walls,’ cf. Ezra 4:12; Ezra 4:16.

5b73a. The Register of those who returned with Zerubbabel = Ezra 2:1-70a register of the genealogy] R.V. the book.

of them which came up at the first] The only natural explanation of these words is that Nehemiah found in the archives of Jerusalem the list of those that accompanied Zerubbabel from Babylon. This seems to be conclusively proved (a) by the words in Nehemiah 2:5, ‘I found,’ ‘who came up at the first,’ ‘found written therein,’ and Nehemiah 2:7, ‘who came with Zerubbabel,’ (b) by the position of the parallel extract in Ezra 2:1-70. Nehemiah recognises the national importance of the register and transcribes it into his ‘Memoirs;’ he had not known of its existence before.

The view that the list in this chapter contains the results of Nehemiah’s census which were mistakenly inserted by the Compiler into Ezra 2, rests on the quite insufficient grounds of (1) the mention of the name Nehemiah in Ezra 2:7, (2) the title Tirshatha in Ezra 2:65, (3) the relation of Ezra 2:73 to the events of chap. 8, (4) the apparent omission of Nehemiah’s census. But (1) the name Nehemiah (Ezra 2:7) is not necessarily that of the governor of Jerusalem; (2) there is no evidence that the title ‘Tirshatha’ was appropriated to Nehemiah alone; (3) only the first part of Ezra 2:73 belongs to this extract; the latter part is freely adapted by the chronicler for the purpose of resuming the narrative; (4) traces of Nehemiah’s own census may well be recognised in chap. 11.

This long extract illustrates in an interesting manner the method of compilation adopted by Jewish chroniclers.

The double insertion of the list is probably due to its great importance in the eyes of the stricter Jews. It stands first of all in its right place, chronologically, in the narrative (Ezra 2); it is repeated here in the place which it occupied in the Memoirs of Nehemiah transcribed by the Compiler.

at the first] A general expression, sometimes used in the sense of ‘before’ ‘formerly,’ cf. Genesis 13:4; 1 Chronicles 17:9, sometimes in the sense of ‘first of all,’ Numbers 10:13-14.

6–73. See notes on the parallel passage Ezra 2:1, &c. The variations are very slight, and are for the most part such as would arise from errors of transcription.With his confession of grievous transgression, Nehemiah combines the petition that the Lord would be mindful of His word declared by Moses, that if His people, whom He had scattered among the heathen for their sins, should turn to Him and keep His commandments, He would gather them from all places where He had scattered them, and bring them back to the place which He had chosen to place His name there. This word (הדּבר) he designates, as that which God had commanded to His servant Moses, inasmuch as it formed a part of that covenant law which was prescribed to the Israelites as their rule of life. The matter of this word is introduced by לאמר: ye transgress, I will scatter; i.e., if ye transgress by revolting from me, I will scatter you among the nations, - and ye turn to me and keep my commandments (i.e., if ye turn to me and ... ), if there were of you cast out to the end of heaven (i.e., to the most distant regions where the end of heaven touches the earth), thence will I gather you, etc. נדּח, pat. Niphal, with a collective meaning, cast-out ones, like Deuteronomy 30:4. These words are no verbal quotation, but a free summary, in which Nehemiah had Deuteronomy 30:1-5 chiefly in view, of what God had proclaimed in the law of Moses concerning the dispersion of His people among the heathen if they sinned against Him, and of their return to the land of their fathers if they repented and turned to Him. The clause: if the cast-out ones were at the end of heaven, etc., stands verbally in Nehemiah 1:4. The last words, Nehemiah 1:9, "(I will bring them) to the place which I have chosen, that my name may dwell there," are a special application of the general promise of the law to the present case. Jerusalem is meant, where the Lord caused His name to dwell in the temple; comp. Deuteronomy 12:11. The entreaty to remember this word and to fulfil it, seems ill adapted to existing circumstances, for a portion of the people were already brought back to Jerusalem; and Nehemiah's immediate purpose was to pray, not for the return of those still sojourning among the heathen, but for the removal of the affliction and reproach resting on those who were now at Jerusalem. Still less appropriate seems the citation of the words: If ye transgress, I will scatter you among the nations. It must, however, be remembered that Nehemiah is not so much invoking the divine compassion as the righteousness and faithfulness of a covenant God, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy (Nehemiah 1:5). Now this, God had shown Himself to be, by fulfilling the threats of His law that He would scatter His faithless and transgressing people among the nations. Thus His fulfilment of this one side of the covenant strengthened the hope that God would also keep His other covenant word to His people who turned to Him, viz., that He would bring them again to the land of their fathers, to the place of His gracious presence. Hence the reference to the dispersion of the nation among the heathen, forms the actual substructure for the request that so much of the promise as yet remained unfulfilled might come to pass. Nehemiah, moreover, views this promise in the full depth of its import, as securing to Israel not merely an external return to their native land, but their restoration as a community, in the midst of whom the Lord had His dwelling, and manifested Himself as the defence and refuge of His people. To the re-establishment of this covenant relation very much was still wanting. Those who had returned from captivity had indeed settled in the land of their fathers; and the temple in which they might worship God with sacrifices, according to the law, was rebuilt at Jerusalem. But notwithstanding all this, Jerusalem, with its ruined walls and burned gates, was still like a city lying waste, and exposed to attacks of all kinds; while the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were loaded with shame and contempt by their heathen neighbours. In this sense, Jerusalem was not yet restored, and the community dwelling therein not yet brought to the place where the name of the Lord dwelt. In this respect, the promise that Jahve would again manifest Himself to His repentant people as the God of the covenant was still unfulfilled, and the petition that He would gather His people to the place which He had chosen to put His name there, i.e., to manifest Himself according to His nature, as testified in His covenant (Exodus 34:6-7), quite justifiable. In Nehemiah 1:10 Nehemiah supports his petition by the words: And these (now dwelling in Judah and Jerusalem) are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou hast redeemed, etc. His servants who worship Him in His temple, His people whom He has redeemed from Egypt by His great power and by His strong arm, God cannot leave in affliction and reproach. The words: "redeemed with great power" ... are reminiscences from Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26, Deuteronomy 9:29, and other passages in the Pentateuch, and refer to the deliverance from Egypt.
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