Nehemiah 2:8
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.
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(8) Keeper of the king’s forest.—Asaph, a Jew, was keeper of an artificial park or pleasure ground near Jerusalem: the Persian pardes, whence our “Paradise.” It was well planted with trees, as timber was to be supplied from it “for the gates of the palace,” rather the fortress, which protected “the house,” or temple, and was known in Roman times as Antonia; also for the city walls; also “for the house that I shall enter into,” that is, Nehemiah’s own house, for his being appointed governor is pre-supposed.

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.The king's forest - Rather, park. The word used פרדס pardês; compare παράδεισος paradeisos, found only here, in Ecclesiastes 2:5, and in Sol 4:13), is of Persian, or at any rate of Aryan origin. The Persians signified by pariyadeza a walled enclosure, ornamented with trees, either planted or of natural growth, and containing numerous wild animals. The "paradise" here mentioned must have been in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, and may have corresponded to the earlier "gardens of Solomon."

The palace - Rather, "the fortress." The word in the original has the double meaning of "palace" and "fortress," the fact being that in ancient times palaces were always fortified. "The fortress which pertained to the house (temple)" is first spoken of here. Under the Romans it was called "Antonia."

8. according to the good hand of my God upon me—The piety of Nehemiah appears in every circumstance. The conception of his patriotic design, the favorable disposition of the king, and the success of the undertaking are all ascribed to God. The king’s forest; the forest of Libanus, famous for pleasure, and for plenty of choice trees.

Which appertained to the house, to wit, of the king’s palace, which was adjoining to the house of God. Or, of the tower or fence belonging to the house of God, to wit, for the gates of the courts of the temple; for though the temple was built, the courts and other buildings belonging to the temple might yet be unfinished.

The house that I shall enter into; wherewith I may build a house in which I may dwell whilst I am there, and which I may dispose of as I see fit.

And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest,.... The forest or mountain of Lebanon, which, because of its odoriferous and fruit bearing trees, was more like an orchard or paradise, as this word signifies, and so it is translated in Ecclesiastes 2:5 and at the extreme part of it, it seems, there was a city called Paradisus (r); such an officer as here was among the Romans, called Saltuarius (s), and is now among us:

that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertaineth to the house; not the king's palace near the temple, for that might have occasioned suspicion in the king, that his view was to set up himself as king in Judea; but for the gates of the courts adjoining to the temple, and of the wall of the outward court, and of the wall which was to encompass the mountain of the house, the whole circumference of it:

and for the wall of the city; to make gates of in various places for that, where they stood before:

and for the house which I shall enter into; and dwell in during his stay at Jerusalem:

and the king granted me; all the above favours:

according to the good hand of my God upon me; the kind providence of God, which wrought on the heart of the king, and disposed it towards him, and overruled all things for good.

(r) Ptolem. Geograph. l. 5. c. 15. Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 23. (s) Vid. Servium in Virgil. Aeneid. l. 2. ver. 485.

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 {d} the good hand of my God upon me.

(d) As God moved me to ask, and as he gave me success in it.

8. Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest] R.V. marg. ‘or park’. The forest or park from which the timber was to be supplied has been identified by some with the forests of Lebanon, by others with the well-wooded ‘plain’ abounding in olives and sycomores (1 Chronicles 27:28) near the coast. In the present day scholars incline to identify it with ‘Solomon’s Garden’ at Etan or Etam, described by Josephus (Ant. VIII. 7.3) as richly wooded and well watered (παραδείσοιςκαὶ ναμάτων ἐπιρροαῖς ἐπιτερπὲς ὁμοῦ καὶ πλούσιον) distant about six or seven miles S. from Jerusalem. The ‘pleasure-grounds’ of Solomon may have been handed down as ‘royal domains.’

In a scantily-wooded country like Palestine a well-preserved forest would have constituted a valuable piece of property.

The management of the ‘timber’ was committed to a royal officer, ‘the keeper of the king’s forest’ or ‘park.’ The name Asaph suggests that ‘the keeper’ was a Jew, which would favour the view of the forest being not far from Jerusalem.

‘forest,’ ‘park’ or ‘pleasure-garden.’ The Hebrew word “pardês” (Gr. παράδεισος = English ‘paradise’) is found in the O.T. only in Song of Solomon 4:13; Ecclesiastes 2:5. It is said to be of Persian (= Zend pairidaéza) origin, signifying an ‘enclosure.’ It seems to have been used especially of ‘the royal parks’ or ‘enclosed hunting-grounds’ of the Persian kings, and in this sense to have been received into Hebrew and Greek literature. It occurs with the meaning of a ‘garden’ in Sir 24:30; Sir 40:17; Sir 40:27, Susann. passim. For its technical usage among the Jews for ‘the abode of the blest,’ see, on Luke 23:43, Lightfoot’s Horae Hebraicae.

that he may give me timber] Nehemiah asks for timber for the purpose of building (1) the castle or citadel of Jerusalem, (2) the walls generally, (3) his own house of residence as governor.

the gates of the palace which appertained to the house] R.V. the gates of the castle which appertaineth to the house. The word ‘Birah’ rendered ‘castle’ by the R.V. is of foreign, possibly Babylonian origin, and is represented in the Greek by Βᾶρις. See note on Nehemiah 1:1.

The building here referred to was destined to play an important part in the later history of Jerusalem. It lay on the north side of the Temple (‘the house’), which it was intended to defend, and with which it communicated. It is not mentioned in Nehemiah 12:39, and therefore probably lay inside the circuit of the wall. A special officer commanded it (Nehemiah 7:2) on account of its great importance.

It was rebuilt by the Asmonean princes (1Ma 13:52), and again by Herod the Great, who gave it the name of ‘Antonia,’ after his friend and patron Mark Antony. Into this castle St Paul was carried by the Roman soldiers, when they rescued him from the hands of the mob in the Temple precincts (Acts 21:37; Acts 22:24).

the wall of the city] The timber would be required especially for the gates and for the towers which commanded the gates.

the house that I shall enter into] By this is apparently intended Nehemiah’s official residence, where he afterwards so generously entertained, Nehemiah 5:17-18. The old interpretation which explained it to mean the Temple gives no satisfactory meaning to the words ‘that I shall enter into.’ Nehemiah was not a priest; and had no right to enter the Temple (see Nehemiah 6:11).

according to the good hand, &c.] Cf. Nehemiah 2:18; Ezra 7:6; Ezra 8:18-22.

Verse 8. - The king's forest. Patrick supposes the forest on Mount Lebanon to be intended; but Nehemiah would scarcely have desired to transport timber for ordinary building purposes from such a distance. Moreover, the word used is one not applicable to a natural forest, but only to a park, or pleasure-ground planted with trees, and surrounded by a fence or wall. The word is pardes, the Hebrew representative of that Persian term which the Greeks rendered by παράδεισος, whence our "paradise." We must understand a royal park in the vicinity of Jerusalem, of which a Jew, Asaph, was the keeper. The palace which appertained to the house. The "house" here spoken of is undoubtedly the temple; and the birah, appertaining to it is, almost certainly, the fortress at the north-west angle of the temple area, which at once commanded and protected it. Josephus says ('Ant. Jud.,' 15:11, § 4) that this fortress was called Βάρις originally. In Roman times it was known as the "Turris Antonia." The house that I shall enter into. The governor's residence. Nehemiah assumes that the powers for which he asks involve his being appointed governor of Judaea. The king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. Through God's special favour towards me, the king was induced to grant my request.

CHAPTER 2:9-11 NEHEMIAH'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (Nehemiah 3:9-11). On his way to Jerusalem, Nehemiah would pass through the provinces of various Persian satraps and governors. To those beyond the Euphrates he carried letters, which he took care to deliver, though by doing so he aroused the hostility of San-ballat. Being accompanied by an escort of Persian soldiers, he experienced neither difficulty nor danger by the way, but effected his journey in about three months. Nehemiah 2:8Hereupon Nehemiah also requested from the king letters to the governors beyond (west of) the river (Euphrates), to allow him to travel unmolested through their provinces to Judah (לי יתּנוּ, let them give me equals let there be given me; העביר, to pass or travel through a country, comp. Deuteronomy 3:20); and a letter to Asaph, the keeper (inspector) of the royal forests, to give him timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple, and for the walls of the city, and for the governor's own house. These requests were also granted. פּרדּס in Sol 4:13; Ecclesiastes 2:5, signifies a park or orchard; it is a word of Aryan origin (in Armenian pardez, the garden round the house, in Greek παράδεισος), and is explained either from the Sanscrit parta-da, a superior district, or (by Haug) from the Zend. pairi-daza, a fenced-in place. In Old-Persian it probably denoted the king's pleasure-grounds, and in our verse a royal wood or forest. Of the situation of this park nothing reliable can be ascertained. As wood for extensive buildings was to be taken from it, the sycamore forest in the low plains, which had been the property of King David (1 Chronicles 27:28), and became, after the overthrow of the Davidic dynasty, first a Babylonian, and then a Persian possession, may be intended.

(Note: Older expositors supposed a regio a Libano ad Antilibanum protensa et arboribus amoenissimus consita to be meant. In this view, indeed, they followed Sol 4:13, but incorrectly. Cler. thought it to be a tractus terrarum in Judaea, qui Paradisus regius dicebatur. Josephus speaks (Ant. viii. 7. 3) of fine gardens and ponds at Etham, seven miles south of Jerusalem, where Solomon often made pleasure excursions. Hence Ewald (Gesch. iv. p. 169, comp. iii. p. 328) thinks that the פּרדּס which belonged to the king must have been Solomon's old royal park at Aetham, which in the time of Nehemiah had become a Persian domain, and that the hill town lying not far to the west of it, and now called by the Arabs Fureidis, i.e., paradisaic, may have received its Hebrew name Beth-Kerem, i.e., house of vineyards, from similar pleasure-grounds. Hereupon Bertheau grounds the further conjecture, that "the whole district from Aetham to the hill of Paradise, situate about a league east-south-east of Aetham, may from its nature have been once covered with forest; and no hesitation would be felt in connecting the name of the mountain Gebel el-Fureidis or el-Feridis (Paradise-hill - hill which rises in a Pardes) with the Pardes in question, if it could be proved that this name was already in existence in prae-Christian times." All these conjectures rest on very uncertain bases. The Dshebel Fureidis is also called the Hill of the Franks. See the description of it in Robinson's Palestine, ii. p. 392f., and Tobler, Topographie von Jerusalem, ii. pp. 565-572.)

לקרות, to timber, to overlay, to cover with beams (comp. 2 Chronicles 34:11) the gates of the citadel which belongs to the house, i.e., to the temple. This citadel - בּירה, in Greek Βᾶρις - by the temple is mentioned here for the first time; for in 1 Chronicles 29:1, 1 Chronicles 29:19, the whole temple is called בּירה. It was certainly situate on the same place where Hyrcanus I, son of Simon Maccabaeus, or the kings of the Asmonean race, built the akro'polis and called it Baris (Jos. Ant. xv. 11. 4, comp. with xviii. 4. 3). This was subsequently rebuilt by Herod when he repaired and enlarged the temple, and named Antonia, in honour of his friend Mark Antony. It was a citadel of considerable size, provided with corner towers, walls, chambers, and spacious courts, built on a north-western side of the external chambers of the temple, for the defence of that edifice, and did not extend the entire length of the north side of the present Haram, as Robinson (see Biblical Researches, p. 300) seeks to show; comp., on the other hand, Tobler, Topographic von Jerusalem, i. p. 688f., and Rosen, Haram von Jerusalem, p. 25f. וּלחומת is coordinate with לקרות: "and for the walls of the city;" the timber not being used for building the wall itself, but for the gates (Nehemiah 3:3, Nehemiah 3:6). "And for the house into which I come (to dwell)." This must be Nehemiah's official residence as Pecha. For though it is not expressly stated in the present chapter that Nehemiah was appointed Pecha (governor) by Artaxerxes, yet Nehemiah himself tells us, Nehemiah 5:14, that he had been Pecha from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. Former governors had perhaps no official residence becoming their position. By לבּית the temple cannot, as older expositors thought, be intended. This request also was granted by the king, "according to the good hand of my God upon me;" comp. rem. on Ezra 7:6.

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