Artaxerxes, observing the sorrow of Nehemiah, inquires into the cause, 1,2. Nehemiah shows him the cause, and requests permission to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, 3-6. The king grants it, and gives him letters to the governors beyond the river, 7,8. He sets out on his journey, 9. Sanballat and Tobiah are grieved to find he had got such a commission, 10. He comes to Jerusalem; and, without informing any person of his business, examines by night the state of the city, 11-16. He informs the priests, nobles, and rulers, of his design and commission, 17,18. The design is turned into contempt by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, 19. Nehemiah gives them a suitable answer, 20.
Notes on Chapter 2
Answering to a part of our March and April.
I took up the wine
It is supposed that the kings of Persia had a different cup-bearer for each quarter of the year, and that it had just now come to Nehemiah's turn.
Then I was very sore afraid.
Probably the king spoke as if he had some suspicion that Nehemiah harboured some bad design, and that his face indicated some conceived treachery or remorse.
Let the king live for ever
Far from wishing ill to my master, I wish him on the contrary to live and prosper for ever. AELIAN, Hist. Var. lib. i. c. 32, uses the same form of speech in reference to Artaxerxes Mnemon, one of the Persian kings, βασιλευαρταξερξηδιαιωνοςβασιλευοις, "O King Artaxerxes, may you reign for ever," when speaking of the custom of presenting them annually with an offering of earth and water; as if they had said, May you reign for ever over these!
So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Before he dared to prefer his request to the king, he made his prayer to God, that his suit might be acceptable: and this he does by mental prayer. To the spirit of prayer every place is a praying place.
The city of my fathers' sepulchres
The tombs of the dead were sacred among the ancients, and nothing could appear to them more detestable than disturbing the ashes or remains of the dead. Nehemiah knew that in mentioning this circumstance he should strongly interest the feelings of the Persian king.
The queen also sitting by him
Who probably forwarded his suit. This was not Esther, as Dean Prideaux supposes, nor perhaps the same Artaxerxes who had taken her to be queen; nor does shegal signify queen, but rather harlot or concubine, she who was chief favourite. The Septuagint translate it παλλακη, harlot; and properly too. See the introduction.
I set him a time.
How long this time was we are not told; it is by no means likely that it was long, probably no more than six months or a year; after which he either returned, or had his leave of absence lengthened; for in the same year we find he was made governor of the Jews, in which office he continued twelve years, viz., from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah 5:14. He then returned to Susa; and after staying a short time, had leave to return to rectify some abuses that Tobiah the Ammonite had introduced into the temple, Nehemiah 13:6,7, and several others of which the people themselves were guilty. After having performed this service, it is likely he returned to the Persian king, and died in his office of cup-bearer; but of this latter circumstance we have no mention in the text.
Asaph the keeper of the king's forest
hapardes of the paradise of the king. This I believe is originally a Persian word; it frequently occurs in Arabic, [Arabic] ferdoos, and in Greek, παραδεισος, and in both signifies a pleasant garden, vineyard, pleasure garden, and what we call a paradise.
Above the hall of audience, in the imperial palace at Dehli, the following Persian couplet is inscribed:-
"If there be a paradise on the face of the earth, this is it, this is it, this is it."
Thus we find that the word is applied to denote splendid apartments, as well as fine gardens; in a word, any place of pleasure and delight. The king's forest mentioned in the text might have been the same to Artaxerxes, as the New Forest was to William the Conqueror, or Windsor Forest to the late amiable sovereign of the British people, GEORGE the THIRD.
And the king granted me,
This noble spirited man attributes every thing to God. He might have said, I had been long a faithful servant to the king; and he was disposed, in reward of my fidelity, to grant my request; but he would not say so: "He granted my request, because the good hand of my God was upon me." God favoured me, and influenced the king's heart to do what I desired.
Sanballat the Horonite
Probably a native of Horonaim, a Moabite by birth, and at this time governor of the Samaritans under the king of Persia.
Tobiah the servant
He was an Ammonite; and here, under the Persian king, joint governor with Sanballat. Some suppose that the Sanballat here mentioned was the same who persuaded Alexander to build a temple on Mount Gerizim in favour of the Samaritans. Pelagius thinks there were two governors of this name.
The dragon well
Perhaps so called because of the representation of a dragon, out of whose mouth the stream issued that proceeded from the well.
This was the gate on the eastern side of the city, through which the filth of the city was carried into the valley of Hinnom.
The gate of the fountain
The king's pool
Probably the aqueduct made by Hezekiah, to bring the waters of Gihon to the city of David. See 2 Chronicles 32:30.
By the brook
By the gate of the Valley
The valley through which the brook Kidron flowed. It was by this gate he went out; so he went all round the city, and entered by the same gate from which he had gone out.
The rulers knew not whither I went
He made no person privy to his design, that he might hide every thing as much as possible from their enemies till he had all things in readiness; lest they should take measures to defeat the work.
Then I told them
He opened to them his design and his commission.
Geshem the Arabian
Some chief of the Arabs contiguous to Samaria, who had joined with Sanballat and Tobiah to distress the Jews, and hinder their work.
Will ye rebel against the king?
This they said in order to raise jealousies in the king's mind, and induce him to recall his ordinance.
Ye have no portion, nor right
To be a citizen of Jerusalem was a high honour; and they would not permit those who did not belong to the tribes of Israel to dwell there. Zerubbabel gave the same answer to the Samaritans, Ezra 4:3.