Ne 2:1-20. Artaxerxes, Understanding the Cause of Nehemiah's Sadness, Sends Him with Letters and a Commission to Build Again the Walls of Jerusalem.
1. it came to pass in the month Nisan -- This was nearly four months after he had learned the desolate and ruinous state of Jerusalem (Ne 1:1). The reasons for so long a delay cannot be ascertained.
I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king -- Xenophon has particularly remarked about the polished and graceful manner in which the cupbearers of the Median, and consequently the Persian, monarchs performed their duty of presenting the wine to their royal master. Having washed the cup in the king's presence and poured into their left hand a little of the wine, which they drank in his presence, they then handed the cup to him, not grasped, but lightly held with the tips of their thumb and fingers. This description has received some curious illustrations from the monuments of Assyria and Persia, on which the cupbearers are frequently represented in the act of handing wine to the king.
2-5. the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad? -- It was deemed highly unbecoming to appear in the royal presence with any weeds or signs of sorrow (Es 4:2); and hence it was no wonder that the king was struck with the dejected air of his cupbearer, while that attendant, on his part, felt his agitation increased by his deep anxiety about the issue of the conversation so abruptly begun. But the piety and intense earnestness of the man immediately restored [Nehemiah] to calm self-possession and enabled him to communicate, first, the cause of his sadness (Ne 2:3), and next, the patriotic wish of his heart to be the honored instrument of reviving the ancient glory of the city of his fathers.
6-9. the queen also sitting by him -- As the Persian monarchs did not admit their wives to be present at their state festivals, this must have been a private occasion. The queen referred to was probably Esther, whose presence would tend greatly to embolden Nehemiah in stating his request; and through her influence, powerfully exerted it may be supposed, also by her sympathy with the patriotic design, his petition was granted, to go as deputy governor of Judea, accompanied by a military guard, and invested with full powers to obtain materials for the building in Jerusalem, as well as to get all requisite aid in promoting his enterprise.
I set him a time -- Considering the great despatch made in raising the walls, it is probable that this leave of absence was limited at first to a year or six months, after which he returned to his duties in Shushan. The circumstance of fixing a set time for his return, as well as entrusting so important a work as the refortification of Jerusalem to his care, proves the high favor and confidence Nehemiah enjoyed at the Persian court, and the great estimation in which his services were held. At a later period he received a new commission for the better settlement of the affairs of Judea and remained governor of that province for twelve years (Ne 5:14).
7. letters be given me to the governors beyond the river -- The Persian empire at this time was of vast extent, reaching from the Indus to the Mediterranean. The Euphrates was considered as naturally dividing it into two parts, eastern and western (see on Ezr 5:3).
8. according to the good hand of my God upon me -- The piety of Nehemiah appears in every circumstance. The conception of his patriotic design, the favorable disposition of the king, and the success of the undertaking are all ascribed to God.
10. Sanballat the Horonite -- Horonaim being a town in Moab, this person, it is probable, was a Moabite.
Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite -- The term used indicates him to have been a freed slave, elevated to some official dignity. These were district magistrates under the government of the satrap of Syria; and they seem to have been leaders of the Samaritan faction.
11, 12. So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days -- Deeply affected with the desolations of Jerusalem, and uncertain what course to follow, he remained three days before informing any one of the object of his mission [Ne 2:17, 18]. At the end of the third day, accompanied with a few attendants, he made, under covert of night, a secret survey of the walls and gates [Ne 2:13-15].
13-15. I went out by night by the gate of the valley -- that is, the Jaffa gate, near the tower of Hippicus.
even before the dragon well -- that is, fountain on the opposite side of the valley.
and to the dung port -- the gate on the east of the city, through which there ran a common sewer to the brook Kedron and the valley of Hinnom.
14. Then -- that is, after having passed through the gate of the Essenes.
I went on to the gate of the fountain -- that is, Siloah, from which turning round the fount of Ophel.
to the king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass -- that is, by the sides of this pool (Solomon's) there being water in the pool, and too much rubbish about it to permit the passage of the beast.
15. Then went I up ... by the brook -- that is, Kedron.
and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned -- the gate leading to the valley of Jehoshaphat, east of the city. He went out by this gate, and having made the circuit of the city, went in by it again [Barclay, City of the Great King].
16-18. the rulers knew not -- The following day, having assembled the elders, Nehemiah produced his commission and exhorted them to assist in the work. The sight of his credentials, and the animating strain of his address and example, so revived their drooping spirits that they resolved immediately to commence the building, which they did, despite the bitter taunts and scoffing ridicule of some influential men.