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Nehemiah Chapter 2
Memory verses for this week:
Eph 3:4 Whereby,
when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of
Christ) Eph 3:5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the
sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and
prophets by the Spirit;
Introduction: We continue our study
this week on the book of Nehemiah. In last week's lesson, we got the
background and saw the great prayer that Nehemiah prayed as he
petitioned the Lord to touch the king's heart and allow him to be
involved in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. How long he prayed this
prayer is not clear, but it may have been several years before God
instructed him to go and make his wishes known to the King
Artaxerxes. This should be an example to us of how we should pray
with much patience and expect God to answer. And to wait on the
developments are contained in chapter 2: (1) Nehemiah’s request to
the king in verses 1-10; (2) Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem in
verses 11- 16; and (3) Nehemiah encourages the people to rebuild the
wall in verses 17-20.
I. Nehemiah's Request to King Artaxerxes
Neh 2:1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan, 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. Now I had not been beforetime
sad in his presence.
Neh 2:2 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,
By now, it was spring (the month Nisan, approximating April).
Precisely at what time or how long Nehemiah had prayed along the
lines noted in chapter one, we are not told. It is clear that
approximately four months had passed since he first received the
news concerning Jerusalem. It is also clear from 1:11, that the very
day he was to make his request before Artaxerxes, he had prayed
about the matter.
He notes that in appearing before the king he was distraught. In
all likelihood, his evident distress was more than just sorrow over
the affairs of Jerusalem (he had known thereof for four months). He
was likely very anxious and it showed. The king in knowing Nehemiah
personally, immediately picked up upon his demeanor and asked him
about it. This only agitated Nehemiah all the more. Part of his job
description was to be of good cheer in the presence of the king. He
Moreover, the king likely wondered if he were not sick which
likewise had profound implications for a cupbearer. Artaxerxes
perceptively discerned Nehemiah’s anxiety was in his heart.
Neh 2:3 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
Neh 2:4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make
request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah recounted to the king how that his homeland and the
place of his ancestors was desolate. The king asked him what his
request was. Of interest was how at that moment, Nehemiah prayed in
his spirit on the spot for God’s help. It is evident he did not pray
verbally or out loud. In that instant, however, he pled with God for
help in what he was about to ask. He truly was instant in prayer.
Neh 2:5 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 fathers' sepulchres, that I may
Neh 2:6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by
him,) 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.
Nehemiah directly requested permission to go to Jerusalem and
rebuild the city. The king asked him how long this journey would be
and when he would return. Nehemiah’s reply is not specifically
noted, though he did “set him a time.” The length of the book is
It is likely that is not what Nehemiah requested. Rather, it
seems that he went to Jerusalem, got the job done, and then
returned. Though not explicitly noted, he evidently was then sent
back to Jerusalem as a duly appointed governor.
J. Vernon McGee pointed out that Nehemiah was a man who spoke
straight on without a lot of excess words.
This is the first verse in this book where the word so
occurs, but it will occur thirty-two times. Nehemiah uses
this word as a shortcut to get around a lot of protocol and
flowery verbiage that does not mean anything. You will find
that this man gets right to the point. He does not beat
around the bush. He said, “So I prayed to the God of
heaven”—right in the presence of the king. The king had said
to Nehemiah, “You evidently want to make a request of me.
What is it that you want to ask me?” So Nehemiah shot up a
prayer to the God of heaven. It was a brief prayer and I
think it was something like, “Oh Lord, help me say the right
thing. I am in a very tight spot!” Nehemiah asked the king
to grant him a leave of absence that he might go to
Jerusalem to help rebuild it.
There is a reason for that parenthetical insertion: “(the
queen also sitting by him,).” Not only was Nehemiah a young
man, I think he was a handsome young man with a very good
personality. I imagine there were times when court business
could become quite boring. The king would become involved
with some petty political matter and would have to settle it
with a great deal of discussion. The queen would become
bored and start a conversation with the cupbearer. She might
have said, “Where did you go this weekend?” And Nehemiah
would say that being a Jew he went to the synagogue on
Saturday. Then on Sunday he took a little trip in a boat up
the Euphrates River and did a little fishing. The queen and
Nehemiah probably had many conversations along this line.
So when Nehemiah asked the king for permission to return
to the land, the queen probably nudged the king in the ribs
and said to him, “Let him go if that is what he wants to
do.” The king thought about it for a moment and then asked,
“For how long shall thy journey be?” The king probably
started to say, “This is a busy season. It is going to be
difficult to get along without you, Nehemiah. I don’t know
if we can spare you or not.” About that time the queen
nudged him and said, “Let him go.” Finally the king asked,
“How long will this take and when will you return?”
Obviously the king liked Nehemiah, too, and he wanted him to
come back. At this point Nehemiah could have gone into
detail but he does not. He simply says, “So it
pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.”
There is a lot of wasted verbiage today. Nehemiah did not
waste words. He got right to the point.
Neh 2:7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let
letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may
convey me over till I come into Judah;
Neh 2:8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest,
that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace
which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and
for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me,
according to the good hand of my God upon me.
Nehemiah further requested from king Artaxerxes letters verifying
and authorizing his mission for the local authorities “beyond the
river” (west of the Euphrates). He also requested permission for
timber to be cut and prepared from the king’s forest (likely in
Lebanon). His need for such timbers is noted for the palace
(adjacent to the Temple) the gates, and other necessary
construction. Artaxerxes granted all he requested. However, Nehemiah
notes that the greater reason was “according to the good hand of
my God upon me.”
Neh 2:9 Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave
them the king's letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army
and horsemen with me.
Neh 2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the
Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was
come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.
Nehemiah made the journey from Persia to the region of Jerusalem
and delivered his letters of authorization to the local authorities.
He also notes that Artaxerxes had sent officers and horsemen from
the Persia army for protection and no doubt to further authenticate
the royal authority by which he came. Note is made that the enemies
of God’s people were not happy upon hearing of the coming
strengthening of God’s work. Little is known of Sanballat and Tobiah.
They evidently were Ammonites. They likely were local governmental
officials of the Persian Empire because they were made aware of the
mission even before anyone in Jerusalem knew anything about it.
Notice how that they were grieved that someone would come to
“seek the welfare of the children of Israel.”
There may have been anti-Semitism involved. It had have been the
long historic enmity between Jews and local gentiles. It may have
been motivated by pagan disdain for the worship of Jehovah God by
the Jews. In any event, their hatred and soon opposition is all too
typical of Satan and how he operates. He will always do everything
at his disposal to hinder God’s work.
II. Nehemiah’s Arrival
Neh 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
Neh 2:12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me;
neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at
Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that
I rode upon.
Neh 2:13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even
before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls
of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were
consumed with fire.
Neh 2:14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the
king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me
Neh 2:15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the
wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so
Neh 2:16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did;
neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to
the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.
Nehemiah records how upon arriving at Jerusalem, he evidently
rested three days and then proceeded to secretly survey the
situation. He arose in the middle of the night. Though not stated,
there very well may have been good moonlight for the nocturnal
He along with companions of the mission rode on horseback around
the city and surveyed the continuing desolation of the city. Ancient
cities relied upon fortified walls for their defense. Jerusalem’s
walls had been torn down by the Babylonians many years earlier. The
remnants of the gates of the city remained charred from their
burning. Jerusalem was defenseless and apparently at the mercy of
unfriendly neighboring peoples. No doubt part of their continuing
distress was related to their lack of defense.
Marauding bands of outlaws and local tyrants could and apparently
did pillage them at will.
Nehemiah’s nocturnal survey of the city apparently began a gate
opening to the Tyropoeon Valley to the southwest and circled around
to the Kidron Valley. He surveyed the southern portion of the city
and then returned to whence he began. It clearly was an difficult
task, such that his steed could not pass for all the rubble,
especially at night.
In verse 15, we see that to this point, Nehemiah had not told
anyone at Jerusalem why he had come. His survey of the city by night
was in secret. Evidently, the local political leadership of the city
were gentiles appointed by the Persians. It may have even been under
the jurisdiction of Sanballat and Tobiah. They evidently had little
interest in the welfare of the Jewish remnant there. Nehemiah had
not informed them or the Jews of his mission. But now he had a clear
sense of the magnitude of the project which lay ahead.
Encourages the People to Rebuild the Wall
Neh 2:17 Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are
in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with
fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no
more a reproach.
Matthew Henry made some good points on how effectively Nehemiah
got the Jews involved in helping him do the work in rebuilding the
wall around Jerusalem.
Upright humble men will not sound a trumpet before their
alms or any other of their good offices. But when he had
viewed and considered the thing, and probably felt the pulse
of the rulers and people, he told them what God had put
into his heart (v. 12), even to build up the wall of
Jerusalem, v. 17. Observe, [1.] How fairly he proposed
the undertaking to them: "You see the distress we are in,
how we lie exposed to the enemies that are round about us,
how justly they reproach us as foolish and despicable, how
easily they may make a prey of us whenever they have a mind;
come, therefore, and let us build up the wall.’’ He
did not undertake to do the work without them (it could not
be the work of one man), nor did he charge or command
imperiously, though he had the king’s commission; but in a
friendly brotherly way he exhorted and excited them to join
with him in this work. To encourage them hereto, he speaks
of the design, First, As that which owed it origin to
the special grace of God. He takes not the praise of it to
himself, as a good thought of his own, but acknowledges that
God put it into his heart, and therefore they all
ought to countenance it (whatever is of God must be
promoted), and might hope to prosper in it, for what God
puts men upon he will own them in. Secondly, As that
which owed its progress hitherto to the special providence
of God. He produced the king’s commission, told them how
readily it was granted and how forward the king was to
favour his design, in which he saw the hand of his God
good upon him. It would encourage both him and them to
proceed in an undertaking which God had so remarkably smiled
upon. Thus he proposed it to them; and, [2.] They presently
came to a resolution, one and all, to concur with him:
Let us rise up and build. They are ashamed that they
have sat still so long without so much as attempting this
needful work, and now resolve to rise up out of their
slothfulness, to bestir themselves, and to stir up one
another. "Let us rise up,’’ that is, "let us do it
with vigour, and diligence, and resolution, as those that
are determined to go through with it.’’ So they
strengthened their hands, their own and one another’s,
for this good work. Note, First, Many a good
work would find hands enough to be laid to it if there were
but one good head to lead in it. They all saw the
desolations of Jerusalem, yet none proposed the repair of
them; but, when Nehemiah proposed it, they all consented to
it. It is a pity that a good motion should be lost purely
for want of one to move it and to break the ice in it.
Neh 2:18 Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good
upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And
they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their
hands for this good work.
Shortly thereafter, maybe even the next day, Nehemiah revealed
his mission. He reminded those who had become accustomed to the
desolation just how bad it really was. Often someone coming in from
the outside will have a better perspective of a situation than those
who have lived with it for a long period. Nehemiah announced his
plan to rebuild the wall of the city.
With the authority of the Persian Empire backing him, he urged
his Jewish brethren to "come, and let us build up the wall of
Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach”. He further revealed to
them of “the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the
king’s words that he had spoken unto me.” They united together
and said, “Let us rise up and build.” The reference to their
hands being strengthened has the idea: they were encouraged to
IV. The Opposition of the Adversaries.
Neh 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant,
the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to
scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do?
will ye rebel against the king?
Neh 2:20 Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of
heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and
build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in
Their enemies immediately began to cause trouble. You can be sure
if you are really doing a work for the Lord, Satan will cause some
kind of problem. Initially, it was by mocking them, snickering at
them, and sowing doubt. They insinuated how their impending work
would be viewed as rebellion against the king.
Satan always lies. Their work was with the blessing of the king.
Yet Satan will use any device he can muster to hinder God’s work.
Deceit is a common satanic tactic.
We see Nehemiah’s response in the last verse of the chapter.
In response, Nehemiah hit the nail on the head. He noted that
“the God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants
will arise and build.”
He warned the opponents that they had no historic portion (i.e.,
inheritance in Jerusalem), no rights there, and no memorial (no
family ancestors). The opposition is not unlike that which modern
Israel has faced from disgruntled Palestinians in the twentieth
century. Nehemiah was a man with a purpose, and was not moved from
the goal when opposition arose. We should as Christians use this as
an example of how we too should be strong and unmovable in our work
for the Lord. Remember the words of Paul to the Corinthian church.
1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye
stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the
Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain
in the Lord.
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