Nehemiah Is Permitted to Go to Jerusalem
1 Then in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought to me, I took the wine and gave it to the king. Previously I had not been depressed in the king’s presence. 2 So the king said to me, “Why do you appear to be depressed when you aren’t sick? What can this be other than sadness of heart?” This made me very fearful.
3 I replied to the king, “O king, live forever! Why would I not appear dejected when the city with the graves of my ancestors lies desolate and its gates destroyed by fire?” 4 The king responded, “What is it you are seeking?” Then I quickly prayed to the God of heaven 5 and said to the king, “If the king is so inclined and if your servant has found favour in your sight, dispatch me to Judah, to the city with the graves of my ancestors, so that I can rebuild it.” 6 Then the king, with his consort sitting beside him, replied, “How long would your trip take, and when would you return?” Since the king was amenable to dispatching me, I gave him a time. 7 I said to the king, “If the king is so inclined, let him give me letters for the governors of Trans-Euphrates that will enable me to travel safely until I reach Judah, 8 and a letter for Asaph the keeper of the king’s nature preserve, so that he will give me timber for beams for the gates of the fortress adjacent to the temple and for the city wall and for the house to which I go.” So the king granted me these requests, for the good hand of my God was on me. 9 Then I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, and I presented to them the letters from the king. The king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard all this, they were very displeased that someone had come to seek benefit for the Israelites.
Nehemiah Arrives in Jerusalem
11 So I came to Jerusalem. When I had been there for three days, 12 I got up during the night, along with a few men who were with me. But I did not tell anyone what my God was putting on my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no animals with me, except for the one I was riding. 13 I proceeded through the Valley Gate by night, in the direction of the Well of the Dragons and the Dung Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem that had been breached and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 I passed on to the Gate of the Well and the King’s Pool, where there was not enough room for my animal to pass with me. 15 I continued up the valley during the night, inspecting the wall. Then I turned back and came to the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had been doing, for up to this point I had not told any of the Jews or the priests or the nobles or the officials or the rest of the workers. 17 Then I said to them, “You see the problem that we have: Jerusalem is desolate and its gates are burned. Come on! Let’s rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that this reproach will not continue.” 18 Then I related to them how the good hand of my God was on me and what the king had said to me. Then they replied, “Let’s begin rebuilding right away!” So they readied themselves for this good project. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard all this, they derided us and expressed contempt toward us. They said, “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 I responded to them by saying, “The God of heaven will prosper us. We his servants will start the rebuilding. But you have no just or ancient right in Jerusalem.”
C H Spurgeon
Nehemiah 2:1. And it came to pass in the month Nisan,
Three or four months after he began to pray.
Nehemiah 2:1. In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king.
We have in some of the old slabs and carvings some singular pictures of the dainty way in which the kings of Persia and Media were served by their cup-bearers. They always spilled a little wine upon their left hand and drank first, for fear the king should be poisoned. So the greatest men of the different provinces of the empire were called by turns to act this part before the king. It was a piece of state ceremonial.
Nehemiah 2:1. Now I had not been before-time sad in his presence.
And there was a law—one of those stupid Median laws—that no man was to come before the king with a sad countenance. It was supposed that the king must be so serenely happy himself that none might come there unless they were happy, too. Nehemiah had been able to observe this rule, but on this occasion he did not, because he could not.
Nehemiah 2:2-6. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 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 father’s sepulchres, that I may build it. And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,)
Who was, probably, queen Esther, and therefore abundantly agreeable that such a work should be done for her own nation. “The king said unto me.”
Nehemiah 2:6. For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me: and I set him a time.
He was a valued servant. They did not wish to part with him, and if he would go for a time to do this business, yet they take security that he should return. There are some servants that I know of, who, if they were to go away, their masters would not be particularly anxious that they should come back again. It is well when a man is so in favour with God that his piety acts upon his ordinary life, and he becomes in favour with men also. That is a poor, miserable religion that does not make its possessor a good servant. Yes, in whatever station of life we may be placed, we ought to be far more valuable to those round about us on account of our fearing God. May we always be of such a character that, if we were gone, we should be missed. “I set him a time.”