Matthew Poole's Commentary
And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year 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.Artaxerxes, understanding the cause of Nehemiah’s sadness, Nehemiah 2:1-5, sendeth him with letters to Jerusalem, Nehemiah 2:6-8. Nehemiah, to the grief of the enemies, cometh to Jerusalem, Nehemiah 2:9-11, and secretly by night vieweth the ruins of Jerusalem, Nehemiah 2:12-16. He encourageth the Jews to build, Nehemiah 2:17,18. The enemies, deriding, charge them with rebellion against the king, Nehemiah 2:19. Nehemiah’s answer, Nehemiah 2:20.
In the month Nisan; which was four months after he had heard those sad tidings. The reason of this long silence and delay might be manifold; either because he thought fit that some time should be spent by himself, and possibly others of his brethren, in seeking God by solemn prayer and fasting, for God’s blessing and the good success of this great affair; or because he could not take so long and dangerous a journey in the depth of winter; or because his turn of attending upon the king did not come to him till that time; or because till then he wanted a fit opportunity to move it to the king, by reason of the king’s indisposition, or occasions, or multitude of attendants, among whom there probably were divers enemies to the Jews, who, he feared, might hinder his design and desire.
In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes; Artaxerxes Longimanus, the son of the great Xerxes, who reigned both with his father, and after his death alone: whence the years of his reign are computed two ways, one from the death of Xerxes, and the other from his first entrance upon the administration of the kingdom, which was committed to him in the fifth year of Xerxes, when he began the Grecian war, and left his son king or viceroy in his stead, as the manner of the Persians was. It may seem doubtful, and is not much material, which way of computation is here used. Others understand this of Artaxerxes Mnemon.
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,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.
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?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.
Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.I prayed to the God of heaven, to direct my thoughts and words, and to incline the king’s heart to grant my request.
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.If it please the king: my request, whatsoever it is, I humbly and wholly submit it to the king’s good pleasure, being resolved to acquiesce in it.
If thy servant have found favour in thy sight: I pretend no merit, but am a humble suppliant for thy grace and favour, whereof having received some tokens, I am thereby imboldened to make this further request.
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.The queen also sitting by him; which is here noted, partly as an unusual thing; for commonly the kings of Persia dined alone, and their queens seldom dined with them, as historians note; and peradventure because the queen expressed some kindness to him, and promoted his request with the king.
When wilt thou return? this question showed the king’s respect and affection to him, and that he was not willing to want his attendance longer than was necessary.
I set him a time; either that twelve years mentioned Nehemiah 5:14 13:6, or rather a far shorter time; for which cause, among others, he built the walls with such despatch, even in fifty-two days, Nehemiah 6:15; and probably not very long after that returned to the king, by whom he was sent a second time with more ample commission, and for the king’s service, and the government of that part of his dominions.
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;That they may safely conduct me through their several territories.
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.The king’s forest; the forest of Libanus, famous for pleasure, and for plenty of choice trees.
Which appertained to the house, to wit, of the king’s palace, which was adjoining to the house of God. Or, of the tower or fence belonging to the house of God, to wit, for the gates of the courts of the temple; for though the temple was built, the courts and other buildings belonging to the temple might yet be unfinished.
The house that I shall enter into; wherewith I may build a house in which I may dwell whilst I am there, and which I may dispose of as I see fit.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Sanballat the Horonite; so called, either from his family, or from the place of his birth or rule, which is supposed to be Horonaim, an eminent city of Moab, Isaiah 15:5 Jeremiah 48:3.
Tobiah the servant; so called probably from his servile original or condition, from which he was advanced to his present power and dignity; which also may be mentioned as one reason why he now carried himself so insolently and perversely towards the Jews, it being usual for persons suddenly raised from a mean to a high estate so to demean themselves.
So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.Resting myself after my long journey, and inquiring into the state of the city.
And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.I arose in the night; concealing both his intentions and actions as far and as long as he could, as knowing that the life of his business lay in secrecy and expedition.
Neither was there any beast with me, to prevent noise, and the notice of what I did.
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.I went out by night; the footmen which accompanied him directing and leading him in the way. his design was to go round about the city, to observe the compass and condition of the walls and gates, that he might make sufficient provisions for the work.
By the gate of the valley; of which see Nehemiah 3:13.
Before the dragon well; a fountain of water so called, either from some figure of a dragon or serpent which was by it; or from some living dragon which abode there when the city was desolate; for dragons delight to be in desolate places, and nigh to springs of water, as divers have observed.
To the dung-port; through which they used to carry the dung out of the city.
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.The gate of the fountain, i.e. which led to the fountain, to wit, of Siloah or Gibon.
The king’s pool; that which king Hezekiah had made: of which see 2 Chronicles 32:3,30.
There was no place for the beast to pass; the way being obstructed with heaps of rubbish.
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.By the brook of Kidron; of which See Poole "2 Samuel 15:23". And so returned; having gone round about the city.
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.Or, were to do, or should do, i.e. whom he intended to employ in the work here following, of building the walls.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
Then I told them of the hand of my God 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?Geshem the Arabian; either the king’s lieutenant in Arabia, as Tobiah was among the Ammonites, and Sanballat among the Moabites; or rather, an Arabian by his birth. And it seems probable that both he, and Sanballat, and Tobiah were chief men or governors among the Samaritans, or in their army. See Nehemiah 4:1-3.
Will ye rebel against the king? do you design to fortify the city against the king.
Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.Ye have no portion nor right; you have no authority over us, nor interest in our church, or state, or city, but are mere aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. We disown and detest that mongrel worship and religion which you have set up. We desire not your favour, or friendship, or help in this matter. And you have nothing to do to inquire into or meddle with our concerns, or to hinder us in our present undertaking.
Nor memorial; no testimony, or monument, either of your relation to us by birth or religion, or of your kindness to us or to this place. But we have many memorials of your malice and enmity against us.