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ch. 2:1-10   ch. 2:11-20

Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah To Jerusalem (ch. 2:1 - 10)


To begin with we should note that many prophetic Futurists believe the events of this chapter, that is, when the king allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, this begins the seventy weeks spoken of by Daniel the prophet.  See Daniel 9:25.


Verse 1 mentions the month of Nisan. This is the first month of the Hebrew Calendar, corresponding to our March to April period.


In the last chapter I mentioned that Nehemiah was a butler.  Here we see the specifics of his job.  He was a "cup-bearer."  This means that he brought both food and drink to the king.  He would taste it first to see if it was suitable for the king.  In this instance Nehemiah brought some wine to the king. 


Also in verse 1 we note that Nehemiah was never sad in the presence of the king, and this wasn't just by choice.  Any attendant to the king was not suppose to express any typed of negative emotion.


In verse 2 we learn that Nehemiah came to the king very sad.  He was sad enough that the king noticed it.  Nehemiah wasn't sick physically so the king understood that Nehemiah was growing through some kind of mental anguish over something.  Something was clearly bothering him. 


The last phrase of verse 2 tells us that Nehemiah "was very much afraid."  He was afraid to tell the king why he was so sad that day.  Kings had a lot of power over people in those days.  If you got on the wrong side of a king, he could easily put you to death.  And for Nehemiah and those working with them, they were supposed to be joyful when they were before the king.  So it appears to me that Nehemiah was extremely sad since he was unable to hide his sorrow.   We know from chapter one how he was feeling, and it wasn't very good.


Fear or no fear, Nehemiah just came out and told the king the reason for his sadness.  It was all about his home land and the city of Jerusalem where his forefathers were buried.  The city was in ruins and its walls had been burned to the ground.  The city of God was very important to Nehemiah, as it should be for us today. 


Verse 4 tells me that the king was not upset with Nehemiah.  He even asked what Nehemiah wanted, as if to say, "what can I do for you?"


The last part of verse 4 tells us that at that point Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven.  Obviously he did not get down on his knees and pray for hours before the Lord.  This was most likely a very quick prayer of desperation.   There isn't anything wrong with such prayers. There are various ways in which to pray, and each kind of prayer has its place.  The important thing is that we are in tune with the Lord sufficiently that we are motivated to pray at a moments notice.


Nehemiah answered the king in verse 5.  Nehemiah says that "if it pleases the king, and if my servant has found favour…"   This is how servants of the king spoke to the king.  There could be no hint of arrogance in this request.  Nehemiah approached the king as the servant he was.  He asked if he could be allowed to return to the city in Judah where his forefathers were buried.  This city is Jerusalem. 


Nehemiah had a great sense of history, and a great respect for his forefathers.  This is something that we can learn from.  Christians have a heritage, parts good and parts not so good.  We should have an understanding where we've come from.  Church history is important.


In verse 6 we note that the queen was sitting beside the king.  We're not sure why Nehemiah makes reference to this.  It might well be that the queen encouraged the king to let Nehemiah go.  She would have obviously known Nehemiah and maybe was fond of him.  So the king asked when Nehemiah wanted to go and how long he'd be away.  It seems to me that the king wanted Nehemiah to return at some point.  He was most likely a very good worker, as godly people should be, and clearly Nehemiah was a godly person.


At the end of verse 6 we see that Nehemiah set a date.  We can't say for sure, but because of the king's question, the date might be in reference to when he would return back to work.  Nehemiah might have been a quick thinker to come up with the date as soon as he did.  He must have been a wise builder, as the New Testament would say, because he was able to lead the construction job on the walls of Jerusalem.  One would have to be a clear and decisive thinker to do this work.


In verse 7 we see that Nehemiah got permission to leave.  He went another step and was bold enough to ask another request of the king.  He asked for a letter of recommendation to give to the governors of  Trans-Euphrates so they could offer him protection as he passed through those regions.  Trans-Euphrates is the land west of the Euphrates River.  Judah would be in the far western portion of this region.


Nehemiah did not stop at this request.  In verse 8 he had yet another one.  He wanted a letter of recommendation to give to Asaph.  I don't know anything about Asaph other than he was the "keeper of the king's forests" as the text says.  Some feel this forest is in Lebanon. Lebanon had a very large forested area.  We know that Ezra used some of these trees for the rebuilding of the temple.  Other's feel that the forest spoken of here was about six miles south of Jerusalem.  There was a large forest in that area.  The trees here were of lesser quality and would have been more fitting for city walls.  The trees in Lebanon were of a finer quality and therefore more appropriate for the temple.     


Also in verse 8 we see that Nehemiah acknowledged that the "gracious hand of God was upon him."  So because of God's grace the king did as Nehemiah asked.  So we learn here that God can use secular men and women in the promotion of His kingdom.   It wasn't that God's hand was on the king, the secular man.  God's grace was on Nehemiah, the righteous man. 


In verse 10 we see two men mentioned.  They were Sanballat and Tobiah.  They were both Jews, although Sandallat appears to be a Samaritan since he was probably governor of Samaria.  They opposed Nehemiah's plans to rebuild.  The probable reason for their opposition was that they had prominent positions in Judah.  They had received these positions from the king and they felt their prestige might be threatened by the changes Nehemiah was planning to bring to Jerusalem.  So we see the old guard being threatened by the new guard.  That is to say, when pride and prestige figures into the equation, God's will is always opposed.   


As I said, Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, which is now mostly the West Bank of Israel.  Some say the name Sanballat means the "moon god".  Other's say it means "sin – god has healed".  His name might suggest some pagan influence, but some say he was a practicing Jew. It's quite possible that he was like many Jews back then.  He combine Judaism with paganism.


The other name mentioned here is Tobiah, meaning, "God (Yah) is good".  This might suggest that he was from a family that were more Jewish than pagan. Tobiah was a Jew, but he was called an Ammonite, probably because he lived in Ammon.  True Ammonites were descendents of Lot, when Lot 's two daughters got him drunk and had sex with him. 


We will see later, in verse 19 another man opposed to Nehemiah's attempt to rebuild Jerusalem.  His name is Geshem, meaning, "rain".  He was the governor of Kedar.  Kedar was the second son of Ishmael.  There territory was what we would call Saudi Arabia today. 



Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem's Walls (ch. 2:11 - 20)


In verse 11 we see that Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem.  He rested for three days before he did anything, much like Ezra did a few years earlier. 


In verse 12 Nehemiah set out at night to inspect Jerusalem.  He had a few men with him but none of them knew what God had placed in Nehemiah's heart to do for Jerusalem.  We note here that God had place a vision in the heart of Nehemiah.  This is often how God works.  He places a desire, a burden so to speak, for a job to be done in His service.  God had placed a great desire in the heart of Nehemiah.  He knew there would be opposition, as there always is, but he wisely and cautiously went about his way in implemented the plans of God.


In verse 13 to 16 we see the trip that Nehemiah made around Jerusalem.  Things were in quite a mess.  I'm sure his heart was very saddened to see these things.  If his heart was heavy while in the kings palace without actually seeing these ruins, how much more saddened would he be to actually see them in person.  Still, he did not tell any of the religious or civil leaders his plans at this point.  He might well have been doing what Jesus suggests in New Testament days when He told us to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves.


Verse 17 is interesting.  Nehemiah  had just taken a tour of Jerusalem with some men.  He didn't tell them why he went on the tour until the tour was over.  He then points out to these men that the city of Jerusalem in which they live is in ruins.   Now these men had lived here for quite some time.  Almost one hundred years had past since the first fifty thousand Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem to build their city.  The problem is that it never got built and these men were used to living in a city in need of much repair. 


These men got used to the disrepair their city was in. They got so used to it that it didn't bother them.  They didn't even see the need to fix the city up.   They were used to living in mediocrity.   This is the human tendency.  This is the way with our modern church.  We're living well below our Lord's expectation.  We're living well below what we should be living in, yet we are so used to it, we don't even know we're living in what God would call ruins.


After pointing out the situation to the men Nehemiah told them how gracious God had been to him in the sense the He had given Nehemiah great favour in the eyes of the king.  Once these men's eyes were opened to the ruins in which they lived, and once they heard of God's grace towards them they were eager to start building.  It just took a man with a godly vision to point out the need and then the solution, and the rest followed, or at least most of the rest.  We saw earlier that there was some opposition to the rebuilding project, but that's normally the case. 


We should note here that some of the leaders opposed, not all, but the ordinary people followed the vision of Nehemiah.  This too is often the case.  A study of church history clearly shows that it's leadership that opposes change more than the ordinary person.


This opposition is seen in verse 19.  Tobiah and Sanballat who we saw earlier in the chapter were opposed.  They were joined by an Arab named Geshem.  It is interesting to me that the two Jewish men joined forces with an Arab to discourage the building project.  This too is often the case in the church today.  So-called Christians join forces with non-Christians to oppose God's work.   They opposed the work by suggesting that they were going against the kings wishes, Nehemiah knew better. A real example of this is when the Jews formed an unholy alliance with the Romans in order to put Jesus to death.  Rome was the Jews arch enemy, but they needed them to do what they wanted to do in putting Jesus to death.


In verse 20 Nehemiah responds to the criticism by stating the fact that God was behind this building process and He would bring success to their efforts.  He could have easily told his those apposing him that the king was the one behind the building project.  The might have ended the discussion right away.  But Nehemiah went right back to God, since He was the one who granted Nehemiah favour through the king.


Nehemiah also told them that they would have no part of Jerusalem once it was rebuilt.  They would have no claim to the city or no historic right to the city.  And this is the case with anyone who opposes the work of the Lord.  This is clearly seen in the days when Jesus was on earth.  The Jewish leadership opposed Him, and they were judged for it and cut off from being God's people.   They lost any claim to being God's people or living in God's holy city of Jerusalem .  The last verse of Zechariah's prophecy tells us that there will be no Canaanites, or sinners, in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem at the end of the age and as we enter the thousand year rule of Christ.  Nehemiah tells those who oppose him something similar.


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