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1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan [ancient Abib], in the twentieth year [BC456]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.
See note for Neh 1:9 Chronikon..
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,
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 with fire?
4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.
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 build it.
As chapter two begins, he is in the presence of the King, four months after hearing the news about Judah. The time has come to present his petition, after long preparation by prayer and fasting. It was the time of year of the great deliverance from Egypt under Moses-Passover-time-the beginning of the Jewish year.
His heart would be especially stirred for the lost glories of his people. His resolve to petition the King filled his mind, and the king noticed and remarked on his disturbed condition. See how intimate was his relation with this ruler of the world! But his heart was with the people of God-
"Send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers sepulchres, that I may build it" (Neh. 2:5).
Doubtless Nehemiah would be thinking of the words of Daniel, recorded one hundred years before-
"From the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, unto Messiah the Prince . . . shall be seventy weeks" (Dan. 9:24, 25). *
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.
Why should the queen be mentioned? It may have been Esther, the queen of the previous king.
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;
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.
It will be observed of Nehemiah that, on the one hand, he takes every precaution and exerts every effort for the success of his endeavours, just as if everything depended on him alone,
while at the same time he simply and unaffectedly attributes all that he accomplishes to the hand of God.
It is a very strong human tendency to fall short in one or the other of these things.Nehemiah's troubles begin immediately upon arrival at Jerusalem*
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.
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.
These are his enemies right to the end, the saddest part being that they had powerful allies within the camp of Israel, who worked secretly against Nehemiah. When, in the last chapter,
he returns to the land after being away for a while, he finds that the High Priest had provided a chamber for his arch-enemy Tobiah in the very court of the Temple.
And he found that the High Priest's grandson had become son-in-law to Sanballat, the other principal adversary of God's people. This is the sad note on which the book closes. We are reminded of the closing days of the life of Paul·-
"At my last answer, no man stood with me." "All they which are in Asia be turned away from me."
But they were in good company. Jesus himself ended his days an apparent failure, with his enemies triumphant. *
11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my Elohim had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.
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.
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 to pass.
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 returned.
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.
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.
18 Then I told them of the hand of my Elohim 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.
...we are now at the beginning of Nehemiah's work.
Sanballat was the leader of the Samaritans, the Gentiles who had been brought to Israel by the Assyrians to replace the removed Israelites; and Tobiah was the leader of the Ammonites, descendants of Lot, who had always been antagonistic to Israel.
Nehemiah's first action was to secretly survey the ruins of the walls by night. He went out by the valley gate at the southwest corner of the city, eastward along the Valley of Hinnom, the
south border of the city, then up the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the eastern border of the city.
Part way up he had to dismount and walk because of the condition of the ruins. There was no pathway to the city of God. This latter part would take him by the location of Gethsemane. His whole trip would be similar to that taken by Jesus and the disciples the night he was betrayed.
He then retraced his steps and re-entered the city. What was his purpose in the secret night-time tour halfway around the city walls, through the Valley of Gehenna and the
Valley of Judgment? As far as any practical purpose, surely he would have been able to see the condition of the city from within by clear daylight in the three days he had already been there.
It would seem rather that this trip was to view the sad ruins of the holy city in the quietness of communion with God, meditating on her position in the eternal purpose, and preparing
his heart for the tasks and problems ahead. He had left the capital city of the Kingdom of Men in proud and glittering prosperity and activity. He now stood in the quiet of the night, viewing the desolate ruins of the capital city of the Kingdom of God, which it was his task to rebuild and revitalize.
Daniel had said-
"The wall SHALL be built again, even in troublous times."
So far he had said nothing of his mission. But now he has prepared himself, he announces the purpose for which he has come-
"Come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem!"
He tells them how God has prospered his plans, and now the king had given him authority for the necessary work and materials.
"And they said, LET US RISE UP AND BUILD!"
Let us each be deeply impressed with the difference that one courageous, cheerful, devoted man can make-between success and failure, despair and hope.
*Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build.