Nehemiah 2:3
And said to the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchers, lies waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?
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(3) Nehemiah’s family was of Jerusalem. He does not as yet betray to the king the deepest desire of his heart, but simply refers to the desecration of his fathers’ sepulchres, an appeal which had great force with the Persians, who respected the tomb.

Nehemiah 2:3. Let the king live for ever — My sadness comes not from any disaffection to the king, for whom my hearty prayers are that he may live for ever, but from another cause. Why should I not be sad, when the place of my fathers’ sepulchres lieth waste? — Which by all nations are esteemed sacred and inviolable. He says not a word for the temple, as he spake before a heathen king, who cared for none of these things. There is a regard due to one’s own country, which ought not to be extinguished by the pleasure or plenty of any other. It is not a weakness to be deeply affected with the distresses, or for the death of our friends and relations, at what distance secret we are from them; nor can any prosperity in another country excuse a man for not being so much afflicted for any calamity that befalls his own as not to entertain mirth and jollity in his heart. Nehemiah was in no mean station when he was cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, and we may very reasonably suppose, from the grace and bounty which that great king showed him, that he might have had any honour or preferment he would have requested in that great and flourishing empire; yet when that great king discerned that there was sorrow of heart in his countenance, and demanded the reason of it, he made no other excuse but, Jerusalem lay waste: and when the king so graciously invited him to ask some favour worthy of his royal bounty, he would require nothing else but permission and power to go and relieve his country. The grievances of the church, but especially its desolations, ought to be a grief to all good people, and will to all that have a concern for God’s honour, and are of a public spirit.2:1-8 Our prayers must be seconded with serious endeavours, else we mock God. We are not limited to certain moments in our addresses to the King of kings, but have liberty to go to him at all times; approaches to the throne of grace are never out of season. But the sense of God's displeasure and the afflictions of his people, are causes of sorrow to the children of God, under which no earthly delights can comfort. The king encouraged Nehemiah to tell his mind. This gave him boldness to speak; much more may the invitation Christ has given us to pray, and the promise that we shall speed, encourage us to come boldly to the throne of grace. Nehemiah prayed to the God of heaven, as infinitely above even this mighty monarch. He lifted up his heart to that God who understands the language of the heart. Nor should we ever engage in any pursuit in which it would be wrong for us thus to seek and expect the Divine direction, assistance, and blessing. There was an immediate answer to his prayer; for the seed of Jacob never sought the God of Jacob in vain.The city ... of my fathers' sepulchres - We may conclude from this that Nehemiah was of the tribe of Judah, as Eusebius and Jerome say that he was. 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. Let the king live forever: my sadness comes not from any discontent with my own condition, or any disaffection to the king, for whom my hearty prayers are that he may live forever; but from another cause.

The place of my fathers’ sepulchres, which by all nations are esteemed sacred, and inviolable, and honourable. He saith not a word of the temple, or of religion, for he wisely considered that he spake before a heathen king and court, who cared for none of those things. And I said unto the king, let the king live for ever,.... Which some think he said to take off the king's suspicion of his having a design upon his life, though it seems to be a common salutation of the kings in those times, see Daniel 6:6,

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? a man's native place, and where his ancestors lie interred, being always reckoned near and dear, the king and his nobles could not object to his being concerned for the desolations thereof.

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?
3. Let the king live for ever] For this formula opening an address to a king see Daniel 2:4; Daniel 3:9. Cf. 1 Kings 1:31.

why should not my countenance be sad?] i.e. how could it be otherwise than sad?

the place of my fathers’ sepulchres] ‘the place,’ literally ‘the house:’ compare 1 Samuel 25:1; 1 Kings 2:34, where Samuel and Joab are said to have been buried each ‘in his own house.’ This is explained by comparing 2 Kings 21:18, ‘Manasses … was buried in the garden of his own house,’ with 2 Chronicles 33:20, ‘they buried him (Manasses) in his own house.’ Rich families had their own private places of sepulture (rock-hewn tombs, caves and the like). Nehemiah’s words would be particularly appropriate if he was, as some have supposed, a descendant of the royal house. The tombs of David and the kings of Jerusalem seem to have been cut out of the rock on the S. side of the Ophel hill, cf. Nehemiah 3:16.

consumed] Literally ‘eaten up,’ as in Nehemiah 2:13. The more usual phrase is ‘burned,’ as in Nehemiah 1:3, Nehemiah 2:17.Verse 3. - May the king live for ever. A common form of Oriental compliment (1 Kings 1:31; Daniel 2:4; Daniel 3:9, etc. ), but said now with special intention to conciliate, and meant to express a deep interest in the royal life and person. The city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres. We see by this that Nehemiah's family must have belonged to the capital. The Persians, like the Jews, had a great respect for the tomb, and regarded its violation with horror. Artaxerxes would naturally sympathise with the wish of his follower to give security to the city where his ancestors were interred. It would seem that the Persians generally at this time (Herod., 1:140), the kings certainly ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 3. p. 231, second edition), buried their dead. Lieth waste. Nehemiah's warmth of feeling exaggerates the fact; but he may have been unconscious of the exaggeration. He repeats the phrase to the chief men of Jerusalem after making his survey of the wall (ver. 17). With his confession of grievous transgression, Nehemiah combines the petition that the Lord would be mindful of His word declared by Moses, that if His people, whom He had scattered among the heathen for their sins, should turn to Him and keep His commandments, He would gather them from all places where He had scattered them, and bring them back to the place which He had chosen to place His name there. This word (הדּבר) he designates, as that which God had commanded to His servant Moses, inasmuch as it formed a part of that covenant law which was prescribed to the Israelites as their rule of life. The matter of this word is introduced by לאמר: ye transgress, I will scatter; i.e., if ye transgress by revolting from me, I will scatter you among the nations, - and ye turn to me and keep my commandments (i.e., if ye turn to me and ... ), if there were of you cast out to the end of heaven (i.e., to the most distant regions where the end of heaven touches the earth), thence will I gather you, etc. נדּח, pat. Niphal, with a collective meaning, cast-out ones, like Deuteronomy 30:4. These words are no verbal quotation, but a free summary, in which Nehemiah had Deuteronomy 30:1-5 chiefly in view, of what God had proclaimed in the law of Moses concerning the dispersion of His people among the heathen if they sinned against Him, and of their return to the land of their fathers if they repented and turned to Him. The clause: if the cast-out ones were at the end of heaven, etc., stands verbally in Nehemiah 1:4. The last words, Nehemiah 1:9, "(I will bring them) to the place which I have chosen, that my name may dwell there," are a special application of the general promise of the law to the present case. Jerusalem is meant, where the Lord caused His name to dwell in the temple; comp. Deuteronomy 12:11. The entreaty to remember this word and to fulfil it, seems ill adapted to existing circumstances, for a portion of the people were already brought back to Jerusalem; and Nehemiah's immediate purpose was to pray, not for the return of those still sojourning among the heathen, but for the removal of the affliction and reproach resting on those who were now at Jerusalem. Still less appropriate seems the citation of the words: If ye transgress, I will scatter you among the nations. It must, however, be remembered that Nehemiah is not so much invoking the divine compassion as the righteousness and faithfulness of a covenant God, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy (Nehemiah 1:5). Now this, God had shown Himself to be, by fulfilling the threats of His law that He would scatter His faithless and transgressing people among the nations. Thus His fulfilment of this one side of the covenant strengthened the hope that God would also keep His other covenant word to His people who turned to Him, viz., that He would bring them again to the land of their fathers, to the place of His gracious presence. Hence the reference to the dispersion of the nation among the heathen, forms the actual substructure for the request that so much of the promise as yet remained unfulfilled might come to pass. Nehemiah, moreover, views this promise in the full depth of its import, as securing to Israel not merely an external return to their native land, but their restoration as a community, in the midst of whom the Lord had His dwelling, and manifested Himself as the defence and refuge of His people. To the re-establishment of this covenant relation very much was still wanting. Those who had returned from captivity had indeed settled in the land of their fathers; and the temple in which they might worship God with sacrifices, according to the law, was rebuilt at Jerusalem. But notwithstanding all this, Jerusalem, with its ruined walls and burned gates, was still like a city lying waste, and exposed to attacks of all kinds; while the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were loaded with shame and contempt by their heathen neighbours. In this sense, Jerusalem was not yet restored, and the community dwelling therein not yet brought to the place where the name of the Lord dwelt. In this respect, the promise that Jahve would again manifest Himself to His repentant people as the God of the covenant was still unfulfilled, and the petition that He would gather His people to the place which He had chosen to put His name there, i.e., to manifest Himself according to His nature, as testified in His covenant (Exodus 34:6-7), quite justifiable. In Nehemiah 1:10 Nehemiah supports his petition by the words: And these (now dwelling in Judah and Jerusalem) are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou hast redeemed, etc. His servants who worship Him in His temple, His people whom He has redeemed from Egypt by His great power and by His strong arm, God cannot leave in affliction and reproach. The words: "redeemed with great power" ... are reminiscences from Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26, Deuteronomy 9:29, and other passages in the Pentateuch, and refer to the deliverance from Egypt.
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