The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Nehemiah 2

Neh 2:1

Neh 2: Donald Campbell identified 21 principles of effective leadership that Nehemiah demonstrated in Neh 2: "(1) He established a reasonable and attainable goal; (2) He had a sense of mission; (3) He was willing to get involved; (4) He rearranged his priorities in order to accomplish his goal; (5) He patiently waited for God's timing; (6) He showed respect to his superior; (7) He prayed at crucial times; (8) He made his request with tact and graciousness; (9) He was well prepared and thought of his needs in advance; (10) He went through proper channels; (11) He took time (three days) to rest, pray, and plan; (12) He investigated the situation firsthand; (13) He informed others only after he knew the size of the problem; (14) He identified himself as one with the people; (15) He set before them a reasonable and attainable goal; (16) He assured them God was in the project; (17) He displayed self-confidence in facing obstacles; (18) He displayed God's confidence in facing obstacles; (19) He did not argue with opponents; (20) He was not discouraged by opposition; (21) He courageously used the authority of his position."

IN THE MONTH OF NISAN: Feb/Mar. Note that Nehemiah's prayer went unanswered for 4 months (cp Neh 1:1).

I HAD NOT BEEN SAD IN HIS PRESENCE BEFORE: To come into the king's presence, being or appearing sad, was considered an ill omen -- and possibly reflective of discontent, or plotting (cp Est 4:2). "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit." (Pro 15:13).

Perhaps this is a calculated move, to win the king's sympathy (as Esther's action was: Est 4:11).

Neh 2:2

I WAS VERY MUCH AFRAID: Nehemiah was probably very fearful because Artaxerxes could have interpreted sadness in his presence as dissatisfaction with the king. Nehemiah also realized that the moment had arrived for him to ask Artaxerxes to revise his official policy toward Jerusalem (Neh 1:11; Ezra 4:21). This too could have incurred the king's displeasure. So a rejection by the king could have meant death, but -- as with Esther -- "if I perish, I perish" (Est 4:16).

Neh 2:3

MAY THE KING LIVE FOREVER!: The usual eastern salutation of a monarch (cp Dan 2:4; 3:9).

WHY SHOULD MY FACE NOT LOOK SAD WHEN THE CITY WHERE MY FATHERS ARE BURIED LIES IN RUINS, AND ITS GATES HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY FIRE?: Do we "mourn for Zion" (Isa 61:3) in a similar way, or do those around us have no knowledge of our concern for the city of the great king?

Neh 2:4

THEN I PRAYED TO THE GOD OF HEAVEN: Nehemiah's walk with God is evident in that he talked to God as he was conversing with the king (cp 1Th 5:17). This is a very beautiful example of spontaneous prayer, one of the best in the Bible. One of the most striking characteristics of Nehemiah was his recourse to prayer (Neh 4:4,9; 5:19; 6:9,14; 13:14). Quick prayers are possible and valid if one has prayed sufficiently beforehand. In this case Nehemiah's prayer is evidence of a life lived in constant communion with God. Nehemiah had prayed for months, but he knew he was completely dependent on God's work in the king's heart at this moment.

"The spirit of prayer is caught, not taught. It is caught in the prayers of the faithful in the Bible, and from the example of Jesus. There may be difficulties. Some who have grown old in the Faith have confessed that they had not found it easy to pray; perhaps because of diffidence in speaking to the Father, or because it had been mistakenly assumed that one should use a particular form of words. Some found that they did not know what to pray for, or about. Yet the Father is the truest Friend of all and we can reveal things to Him that could never be told to anyone else. Praying is the opportunity for worship, for praise and thanksgiving, for supplication and for the joy of talking with the Father. It can be silent or uttered, and used anywhere and at any time: in a tram or bus, when driving a car or walking to work; at home, in the office or factory; or even whilst standing before a king in great distress" (TNL 92).

"Nehemiah was standing before the king of Persia, the most powerful man in the world. He was discussing with him the state of Jerusalem. Then the King asked, 'What is it you want?' We read, 'Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the King.'

"That prayer took place in a matter of seconds between a question and a reply during a conversation between Nehemiah and the king. He had no time to phrase and speak a formal prayer and he did in Neh 1. The king could have gotten worried if he had suddenly dropped to his knees to pray, or raised his hands in the air, or stood with his eyes closed for five minutes. No, this was a spontaneous quick prayer between Nehemiah and God that took no time at all. We are not told what his prayer was about, but I would guess that it was a prayer of thanks, guidance, wisdom and for God to move in the heart of the king.

"Nehemiah's prayer was an instant reaction to a tricky situation, and God answered his prayer. Spontaneous prayer was an important part of Nehemiah's life. It is an important part of my life. Make it an important part of your life too" (RP).

THE GOD OF HEAVEN: This seems to be an expression peculiar to the "times of the Gentiles", ie, when there were no cherubim where Yahweh might be enthroned.

Neh 2:5

...SO THAT I CAN REBUILD IT: Nehemiah prayed as though it all depended on God, and then worked as though it all depended on him!

Neh 2:6

THE QUEEN: Possibly Esther (see Est 1:1n). If so, then this queen would certainly have a great interest in Nehemiah's petition.

HOW LONG WILL YOUR JOURNEY TAKE, AND WHEN WILL YOU GET BACK?... SO I SET A TIME: Twelve years (Neh 5:14; 13:6). But Nehemiah later returned to Jerusalem again (Neh 13:6).

Lesson: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Pro 3:5,6).

Neh 2:7

MAY I HAVE LETTERS TO THE GOVERNORS OF TRANS-EUPHRATES, SO THAT THEY WILL PROVIDE ME SAFE-CONDUCT UNTIL I ARRIVE IN JUDAH?: Letters of authorization, to guarantee safe passage through the other territories ruled by the king. Nehemiah would know of the previous opposition from some of these men to the work at Jerusalem.

Neh 2:8

GATES OF THE CITADEL BY THE TEMPLE: "Gates of the fortress of the temple" (RSV), located on the north side of the temple and commanded by an officer (Neh 7:2). This was the forerunner of the Antonia Fortress that Herod the Great built and to which Luke referred in the Book of Acts (Acts 21:37; 22:24).


THE KING GRANTED MY REQUESTS: This is prob the fulfillment of the beginning of the 70 "sevens" of Dan 9:24-27. Approx 444 BC. (There may have been political considerations as well. At this time Artaxerxes would recognize that a stronger Judah populated by loyal Jews would help to bring greater stability to Syria and would provide a bulwark on the border with Egypt.)

Neh 2:9

SO I WENT TO THE GOVERNORS OF TRANS-EUPHRATES AND GAVE THEM THE KING'S LETTERS: A journey of approx 4 months. It is not certain how many Jews traveled with Nehemiah on this occasion. The writer gives us no numbers.

THE KING HAD ALSO SEND ARMY OFFICERS AND CAVALRY WITH ME: This is in contrast to Ezra's trip (Ezr 8:21,22). But then Nehemiah was the king's representative and governor.

Neh 2:10

SANBALLAT THE HORONITE: Sanballat may have originated in Horonaim in Moab, but he seems more likely to have come from one of the Beth-horons (Upper or Lower) located a few miles nw of Jerusalem (cp Jos 10:10,11). The Elephantine papyri (c 400 BC) name him as the governor of Samaria, which he may have been then or after this event took place. There was evidently a series of governors of Samaria named Sanballat.

TOBIAH THE AMMONITE OFFICIAL: While the KJV makes him "an Ammonite", Tobiah may have been a Jew (his name means "Yahweh is good") who had attained a position similar to that of Sanballat in Ammon, east of Judah, under the Persians. Scholars have traced nine generations of his influential family.

THEY WERE VERY MUCH DISTURBED THAT SOMEONE HAD COME TO PROMOTE THE WELFARE OF THE ISRAELITES: These men were among those responsible for the continued hindrance of the Judah building projects (v 19; Neh 4:1,8; 6:2,13).

Neh 2:11

AFTER STAYING THERE THREE DAYS: Prob to fulfill some formality (cp Ezr 8:32), or for prayer, fasting, and meditation.

Neh 2:12

I SET OUT DURING THE NIGHT: Probably Nehemiah wanted to survey the damage to the walls secretly because, had Israel's enemies observed him, they might have stirred up the people of the land to riot against him. Also, he probably wanted to plan his work without his enemies finding out, and then to work so quickly that he would be finished before they could successfully appeal to the king once more.

Neh 2:13

Vv 13-15: See Lesson, Nehemiah's Jerusalem. Perhaps Nehemiah only surveyed the southern parts of Jerusalem's wall because those were the only sections still standing.

Neh 2:14

THE FOUNTAIN GATE: Near the Pool of Siloam.

THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH ROOM FOR MY MOUNT TO GET THROUGH: Because of the broken stones and debris.

Neh 2:15

THE VALLEY: The Kedron Valley.

Neh 2:16

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: Another reason for Nehemiah's secrecy was probably that he wanted to formulate a plan before the Jews could marshal arguments why they could not rebuild the walls. Also, he may have suspected some of the Jews of complicity with the Samaritans (Neh 6:17-19; cp Ezr 9:2).

Neh 2:17

Vv 17,18: When Nehemiah did present his ideas, the people responded positively. This is one evidence of Nehemiah's wisdom as a leader.

YOU SEE THE TROUBLE...: Apparently the state of the city and the walls did not distress the residents there nearly as much as it did the newcomer! "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" (Rev 3:17,18).

AND WE WILL NO LONGER BE IN DISGRACE: Jewish lethargy, apostasy, and indifference had caused Gentiles to blaspheme the God of Israel.

Neh 2:18

LET US START REBUILDING: See Lesson, Neh: "Rise up and build".

But the fire of trial was soon to test the quality of the building undertaken.

Neh 2:19


GESHEM THE ARAB: "There is evidence that Geshem (cf Neh 6:1...), far from being a negligible alien, was an even more powerful figure than his companions, though probably less earnestly committed to their cause... From other sources it emerges that Geshem and his son ruled a league of Arabian tribes which took control of Moab and Edom (Judah's neighbors to the east and south) together with part of Arabia and the approaches to Egypt, under the Persian empire" (Kidner).

THE ARAB: An Arabian community had been established by Sargon just south of Jerusalem, c 715 BC.

ARE YOU REBELLING AGAINST THE KING?: An implied threat of another appeal to the king in Persia. Cp charges against Christ: "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar" (Luk 23:2).

Neh 2:20

THE GOD OF HEAVEN WILL GIVE US SUCCESS: Nehemiah continued to trust in God's enabling power primarily rather than in his own ability (cp John 15:5).

YOU HAVE NO SHARE IN JERUSALEM OR ANY CLAIM OR HISTORIC RIGHT TO IT: Nehemiah continued the policy of not allowing the people of the land to help rebuild Jerusalem that Zerubbabel had begun (Ezra 4:3). The refusal was not simply on the grounds of their being non-Jews, but esp because of their attitudes.

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