Nehemiah 2


‘In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.’ Nehemiah 2:1-8

Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah To Jerusalem

Approximately four months have passed since Nehemiah received the news about the Jews. Nisan was the first month of the Jewish year, the Aramaic name is Abib, which is around March or April.

Whenever someone went before the king, they were always to show a spirit of cheer and joy, but here, Nehemiah couldn’t before the king in his usual manner because of the lengthy mourning, fasting and praying he had been experiencing for Jerusalem, Nehemiah 1:4.

As a cupbearer to the king, it was his responsibility to drink some of the king’s wine before the king partook in order to see if it was poisoned.

Many commentators suggest that the king had several cupbearers, who all took it in turn to serve the king. He goes before the king to serve him his wine as had probably done many times in the past, but this time he had a sad expression on his face.

Obviously, this wasn’t the first time Nehemiah went before the king to serve him his wine, probably with a smile on his face, but this time the king notices that Nehemiah is looking sad and so, he asks him what was happening.

When the king asked him this, Nehemiah became fearful because a servant wasn’t supposed to show sadness before the king and he knew it could cost him his life.

Overcoming his fear, Nehemiah tells him what the problem was but first, he tells the king how much he respects him by saying, ‘may the king live forever’.

Then he goes on to tell the king how his ancestor’s city was in ruins. We can only imagine what was going through Nehemiah’s mind as we awaits an answer from the king.

Artaxerxes now asks Nehemiah what his request was and the response must have been one of rejoicing because God had answered his prayers, Nehemiah 1:11.

Nehemiah prays to God again, possibly thanking Him or asking for courage to continue. After his prayer, he continues to show respect for the king as he makes his request known. He wants to go to Judah to help get his ancestor’s city rebuilt.

Just as the Lord moved the spirit of Cyrus to allow the first exiles to return, Ezra 1:1, it’s possible that the Lord did the same to the king’s spirit as the king grants his request and he becomes the new governor of Judah.

Notice the king wants to know how long he would be gone and Nehemiah gave him a time. Although weren’t not told what that time was, we do know that it takes 3 to 4 months just to travel to Jerusalem one way and then he had to have time to help rebuild.

The set time he had given the king most probably changed because Nehemiah’s first term in Judah was 12 years, Nehemiah 5:14, after which he returned to Artaxerxes, and then went back to Judah, Nehemiah 13:6-7.

Nehemiah also asks for a letter to pass through the land safely to Judah and for a letter to Asaph for building supplies for the city. These governors were governors appointed by the Persians who served in the western territories of the Empire.

On his way to Judah, Nehemiah would have passed through the border controls of several governours of the Persian Empire, hence why he asks for letters of authority that would allow him to pass unhindered and unquestioned.

The permission to rebuild the walls that were given to Nehemiah was a reversal of the Persian king’s decree that was made during the time of Ezra, Ezra 4:21.

In the former decree to stop the building of the walls, Artaxerxes had stated that the building should be stopped until another decree was made by him. Nehemiah’s authorization, therefore, was the other decree, which decree gave Nehemiah authority to build the walls.

Notice that Nehemiah gives all the credit to God, he is well aware that God is working in and through him.

‘So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.’ Nehemiah 2:9-10

It appears that Sanballat and Tobiah aren’t impressed with Nehemiah because he has a full military escort. Ezra had previously refused government protection on his journey several years before, Ezra 8:22, but here Nehemiah had special letters of authority from the government of Persia, Nehemiah 2:7-9.

Sanballat and Tobiah weren’t happy about this, and they were disturbed because they both opposed the Jews and didn’t want them to be successful. The problem for them was the king is on the side of the Jews and this would bring to an end, their ability to keep the Jews from rebuilding their city.

Sanballat was the governor of Samaria at the time Nehemiah was in Judah. The Tobiah family was a very influential family in the Palestinian area during the time of Nehemiah, and up to the 2nd century, they retained their influence throughout the region.

Tobiah is evidently a wealthy landowner and lord of the time, and because of this, he had great influence throughout the region.

The third individual that opposed Nehemiah’s work was Geshem, a prominent Arab leader, Nehemiah 2:19 / Nehemiah 6:1-2 / Nehemiah 6:6. Geshem was also a very influential person in the region, and so, he put his influence behind Sanballat and Tobiah to bring to an end anything that the Jews attempted.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Walls

‘I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and re-entered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.’ Nehemiah 2:11-16

Notice how Nehemiah anticipated the resistance he would have received from Jews at Jerusalem, so he didn’t tell any of them what God had planned to do through him. He wants to keep his initial plans a secret until he had made a plan for rebuilding.

He then goes out by night and begins to survey the city with a few men. He wants to see what had to be done and the best way to accomplish the task. At one point he had to get off his animal and walk because part of what he surveyed had to be done on foot.

Notice the officials didn’t know where he had gone and what he had done. Although Nehemiah was working under the authority of the Persian king, the local rulers of the Empire were working against him.

‘Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

Nehemiah goes head and tells the Jews, the priests, nobles and officials of his plan. He begins by pointing out all the distress they are facing from the opponents, like the Samaritans. Because Since they hadn’t been able to rebuild the city, it became a daily reminder of their oppression.

Nehemiah calls for them to end this oppression and show their enemies that they can rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the burned down gates. Nehemiah knows if the Jews could finish the city, it would change their outlook on life.

Notice how he gives God the credit again by informing them that it was God who had made this moment possible. Think about this for a moment, Nehemiah has never seen a miracle, he never received any visions and he never had a visit from an angel, however, he had great faith, Romans 8:28-37.

Nehemiah tells the people about the support they have from the king and so, all these people needed to be refocused on rebuilding the city, they need a strong and encouraging leader like Nehemiah.

Imagine how the Jews must have felt at this point, for all of a sudden there is hope, and they shout out, ‘let us start rebuilding’, Matthew 10:28 / Romans 8:31.

The people rise up at the encouragement of Nehemiah and begin to build because they desperately wanted to work for God. The opposition to the work of God first came by mocking, that is, they are trying to embarrass those who are working.

The workers answered the mockers by saying, ‘the God of heaven will give us success’. Nehemiah’s confidence to do the work of God resulted from his knowledge of the will of God for Israel.

Notice he tells the mockers, who were Gentiles that they have no share or claim or historic right to the city. Nehemiah focused on preserving the heritage of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Ezra 4:2.

Go To Nehemiah 3


"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."