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NEHEMIAH ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM WITH AUTHORITY TO REBUILD THE WALLS OF THE CITY;
ARTAXERXES GRANTED NEHEMIAH'S REQUEST
In all of the wonderful things that God did for the children of Israel, there are few things any more astounding than this. That a Persian king should have reversed a former decision stopping the work of the Jews on the walls of their city, and then have sent a trusted emissary, accompanied by a military escort, and endowed with full authority to reconstruct the walls and fortify the city of Jerusalem -- only God could have caused a thing like that to happen.
In the month Nisan
(Nehemiah 2:1). This was four months after the time mentioned in Neh. 1:1, during which time Nehemiah had fasted and prayed night and day that something could be done to aid Jerusalem. During this period, Nehemiah had diligently tried to maintain his customary happy appearance; but his great grief finally became evident in his appearance.
I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king
(Nehemiah 2:1). Jamieson has a description of how a cupbearer performed his service. He washed the cup in the king's presence, filled it with wine, then poured from the cup into his own left hand a sufficient amount. Then he drank that in the king's presence and handed the cup of wine to the king.F1
Then I was sore afraid
(Nehemiah 2:2). It was contrary to court behavior for a servant to appear sad.F2Being sad in the king's presence was a serious offense in Persia (Esther 4:2); and, besides that, Nehemiah was well aware that the request which he would ultimately make of the king might indeed anger him.F3
The place of my fathers' sepulchres lieth waste
(Nehemiah 2:3). This reply kept Nehemiah's concern in the personal, rather than the political, sector.
For what dost thou make request
(Nehemiah 2:4)? This was the moment of truth for Nehemiah. If the king was displeased, Nehemiah would lose his head; and therefore his first reaction was that, I prayed to the God of heaven. There can be no doubt that God answered his prayer; because, That prayer brought about one of the most astonishing reversals of royal policy in all history.F4Furthermore, it happened in Persia, of all places, where their favorite proverb was, The law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not.
Send me unto Judah. that I may build it
(Nehemiah 2:5). A more daring request was never made. It had been only a few years since, Artaxerxes had commissioned Rehum and Shimshai to bring a stop to the rebuilding and fortifying of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:8-23).F5The amazing thing is that Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah's request, lock, stock and barrel -- all of it.
Perhaps it is permissible for us to speculate a little on why Artaxerxes did so. Of course, the great reason is that God willed it; but, as is always the case, God uses ordinary men and events to achieve his purpose. Some of the satraps beyond the River had grown too powerful. "There is evidence that Megabyzos, one of the satraps beyond the River, had recently revolted; and the creation of a strengthened and fortified Jerusalem under a friendly governor might have appeared to Artaxerxes at that particular time as a wise strategy."F6Also, by separating Judah from the powerful coalition of the peoples known collectively as "Samaritans," and by fortifying it, the aggressiveness of the Samaritan coalition would be dramatically checkmated. And of course, Artaxerxes' commission to Nehemiah definitely "Involved the separation of Judea from Samaria."F7 This substantially weakened the power of Sanballat.
The castle which appertaineth to the house
(Nehemiah 2:8). This is a reference to the combination palace and fortress, That protected the Temple and overlooked the northwest corner of the courts. Herod later rebuilt it in N.T. times, and it was known as the Tower of Antonio. Nehemiah contemplated using it as his residence.F8
Some critics have questioned how it came about that Nehemiah was in possession of such detailed knowledge of specific buildings in Jerusalem; but a man in Nehemiah's high official position was in possession of all kinds of options for procuring any kind of information that he might have desired.
The queen also sitting beside him
(Nehemiah 2:6). Polygamy was popular among Persian kings, nevetheless they also had one principal wife whom they designated as the Queen. The legitimate queen of Artaxerxes was Damaspia.F9Williamson noted that the word is used here in the plural, and that upon occasions the word was applied to some favorite woman in the harem, or even to the queen-mother of the king, as in the Book of Daniel. Some have concluded that the presence of the queen here indicated that this was a private banquet. Rawlinson's comment was that, It appears that Artaxerxes Longimanus had only one legitimate wife, a certain Damaspia.F10He backed this up with a reference to a statement by Ctesias in Persian history.
And I set him a time
(Nehemiah 2:6). Nehemiah's first term as governor lasted twelve years; but it seems unlikely that he would have set such a time for his journey. Nehemiah evidently promised to return within a much shorter period, after which his leave of absence was extended. The speed with which he tackled the problem of building the wall suggests this. The journey itself would require three or four months each direction, and allowing enough time for the fortifications, suggests that his request must surely have been for, a year or two.F11
NEHEMIAH SHOWS HIS CREDENTIALS TO THE SATRAPS;
ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM, AND SURVEYS THE BROKEN WALLS BY NIGHT
And I came to the governors beyond the River, and gave them the king's letters
(Nehemiah 2:9). This must indeed have been a shock to Sanballat and Tobiah. The mention of captains of the army, and horsemen, (Nehemiah 2:9) indicates a very considerable military escort; and they were strengthened by the full authority, permission and credentials of the king of Persia. This was particularly bad news to Sanballat, who, According to the Elephantine Papyrus, was governor of Samaria, which at that time included Judea. He was possibly an Ephraimite.F12
Sanballat would have been a fool not to have read this sudden arrival of Nehemiah in command of a division of the Persian army as the end of his domination of Judah.
It grieved them exceedingly
(Nehemiah 2:10). Of course, their normal reaction to the situation was to hinder Nehemiah in every possible manner.
I went out by night by the valley gate
(Nehemiah 2:13). One must admire the skill, wisdom and ability of Nehemiah, who secretly developed his whole program of action, concealing it from every person who might have been in a position to discourage or hinder it.
The valley gate
(Nehemiah 2:13). This was one of the nine gates of the city, located at the southwest corner of Jerusalem;F13 and Nehemiah's exploration of the walls extended along the southern elevation of the city, past the southeast corner and some distance up the Kidron valley as far as the king's pool. He did not go around the whole city, but turned back and reentered by the valley gate.
There was no place for the beast that was under me to pass
(Nehemiah 2:14). Recent archaeological discoveries explain why Nehemiah was compelled to dismount and continue a part of his exploration on foot. Excavations by Kathleen KenyonF14 have revealed dramatically why Nehemiah's mount could not pass along the eastern wall. The steep slopes had been built up with gigantic stone terraces. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, those terraces with the buildings constructed on them collapsed into the valley below; and when Nehemiah came the entire area (around that southeastern section) was an incredible mass of fallen stones. Nehemiah abandoned the pre-exilic line of the east wall altogether and constructed a new wall along the crest of the hill.F15
And the rulers knew not
(Nehemiah 2:16). The `rulers' were the local officials; and the fact that Nehemiah laid his plans secretly, excluding both the priests and the nobles from his confidence, at first, indicates that he was in possession of prior information regarding the opposition to be expected from them. Those people whom he had interviewed in Shushan had probably apprised him of the evil attitude of the priests and nobles.
AND THEY SAID, "LET US RISE UP AND BUILD"
Ye see the evil case we are in
(Nehemiah 2:17). Not merely the physical state of ruin of the city, but the shameful subservience they suffered under the Samaritan governor, the constant reproach and hatred of their neighbors, and their current low estate compared to their former glory -- all of these things oppressed and discouraged the people. What a surge of new hope and joy must have energized and excited the people with the sudden appearance of Nehemiah, and his challenge to Rise Up and Build!
And I told them
(Nehemiah 2:18). Having carefully laid his plans, and being then ready to act, Nehemiah explained to the people his full power and permission of the king to rebuild the wall and fortify the city. The response of the people was spontaneous and jubilant, Let us rise up and build, they said.
Sanballat and Tobiah responded to the situation with scornful laughter, taunting and spiteful remarks, and accusations of rebellion against the king. Nehemiah had not told them of his full authority and power to rebuild and fortify Jerusalem. However Nehemiah did not tell them, even then, that he was acting with the king's full support and permission, saying rather that, "The God of heaven, he will prosper us." We may well suppose that Sanballat and Tobiah at once dispatched messengers to Artaxerxes; and we may only imagine their consternation and disgust when they got the bad news from the king himself.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.