Why the king said to me, Why is your countenance sad, seeing you are not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Then I was very sore afraid.—Waiting on Providence, Nehemiah had discharged his duties for three months without being sad in the king’s presence; but on this day his sorrow could not be repressed. His fear sprang from the king’s abrupt inquiry. A sad countenance was never tolerated in the royal presence; and, though Artaxerxes was of a milder character than any other Persian monarch, the tone of his question showed that in this respect he was not an exception.Nehemiah 2:2. The king said, Why is thy countenance sad? — His fasting, joined with inward grief, had made a sensible change in his countenance. Then I was sore afraid — It was an unusual and ungracious thing to come into the king of Persia’s presence with any token of sorrow. And he feared a disappointment, because his request was great and invidious, and odious to most of the Persian courtiers.Why is thy countenance sad? his fasting joined with inward grief had made a sensible change in his very countenance.
I was very sore afraid; partly, being daunted by the majesty of the king, and the suddenness and sharpness of his question; partly, fearing lest there was arising some jealousy or ill opinion in the king concerning him; partly, because it was an unusual and ungrateful thing to come into the king of Persia’s presence with any badges or tokens of sorrow, Esther 4:2; and principally, from his doubts or fears of disappointment, because his request was great and invidious, and odious to the most of the Persian courtiers, and might be represented as dangerous, and might seem improper for a time of feasting and jollity.
this is nothing else but sorrow of heart; this is not owing to any bodily disease or pain, but some inward trouble of mind; or "wickedness of heart" (p), some ill design in his mind, which being conscious of, and thoughtful about, was discovered in his countenance; he suspected, as Jarchi intimates, a design to kill him, by putting poison into his cup:
then I was very sore afraid; lest the king should have suspicion of an ill design on him; or lest, since he must be obliged to give the true reason, he should not succeed in his request, it being so large, and perhaps many about the king were no friends to the Jews.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,
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2. Wherefore] R.V. And.
sad] The Hebrew adjective which means literally ‘bad’ is used constantly in this sense, just as we speak of ‘bad news’ when we mean ‘sad news.’ For this usage cf. Genesis 40:7 ‘sadly,’ Proverbs 25:20 ‘an heavy heart.’
sorrow of heart] The substantive, being derived from the same root as the adjective ‘sad,’ had better have been rendered ‘sadness,’ to bring out the antithesis between ‘countenance’ and ‘heart.’ It is so rendered in Ecclesiastes 7:3, ‘the sadness of the countenance.’
Then I was very sore afraid] See note on Nehemiah 2:1. Nehemiah’s fear was very natural. The long-expected and dreaded moment had come, on which he was to plead his people’s cause. Their destiny and perhaps his own life depended upon his success. The capricious temper of Persian kings was well known. Artaxerxes may very probably have been prejudiced against the Jews by such complaints as had occasioned the disastrous edict of Ezra 4:17-22.Verse 2. - The king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad? This "kindly question" put by the great king to his humble retainer is his best claim to the favourable judgment of later ages. History puts him before us as a weak monarch, one who could compromise the royal dignity by making terms with a revolted subject, while he disgraced it by breaking faith with a conquered enemy. But if weak as a king, as a man he was kind-hearted and gentle. Few Persian monarchs would have been sufficiently interested in their attendants to notice whether they were sad or no; fewer still would have shown sympathy on such an occasion. A Xerxes might have ordered the culprit to instant execution. Longimanus feels compassion, and wishes to assuage the grief of his servant. Then I was very sore afraid. Notwithstanding the king's kind and compassionate words, Nehemiah feels his danger. He has looked sad in the king's presence. He is about to ask permission to quit the court. These are both sins against the fundamental doctrine of Persian court life, that to bask in the light of the royal countenance is the height of felicity. Will the king be displeased, refuse his request, dismiss him from his post, cast him into prison, or will he pardon his rudeness and allow his request? Psalm 50:21; comp. Ewald, 240, c. The dealing corruptly against God consists in not having kept the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the law.
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