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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.
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,
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?
Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

2:1 month Nisan. This would mean the first day of the month Nisan, which was the first month of the religious year of Israel. The twentieth year of Artaxerxes is generally accepted as 445 B.C., in terms of more or less standard secular chronology. This date is important as the starting date of the uniquely significant prophecy of the seventy weeks (see notes on Daniel 9:25-27).

2:1 wine. Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11), evidence of the high degree of trust placed in him by Artaxerxes. The use of poison as a means of assassination was common in antiquity.

2:3 lieth waste. Even though Ezra had been in Jerusalem for thirteen years, he had been so occupied with organizing the legal and judicial systems of Judah, as well as teaching the people their responsibilities under the laws of God, that he had not had time to deal with the infrastructure. The walls and other structures built many years previously had largely deteriorated, and the city was highly vulnerable to attack by its perennial enemies.

2:5 build it. Nehemiah’s request and commission were not to build the temple, which was already completed, but the city, especially its walls (compare Daniel 9:25).

2:6 the queen. This apparently arbitrary reference to the queen may have been inserted because she was Queen Esther. Some scholars believe her husband Ahasuerus was the same as Artaxerxes (both being titles rather than personal names). Others believe Artaxerxes was either Esther’s son or stepson. In any case, the reputation of Artaxerxes was unusually benign for an ancient emperor, and this may have been in part a result of Esther’s influence.

2:8 the king granted me. See Nehemiah 2:l. This important decree in effect started the divine clock for the prophesied time of Messiah’s first coming to Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25- 27).

2:9 sent captains of the army. Like Ezra thirteen years before (Ezra 8:22), Nehemiah did not request a military escort for his caravan. The king, however, solicitous of the safety of his friend, provided one anyhow.

2:10 Sanballat. Sanballat was governor of the Persian province of Samaria. His name has been found on one of the famous Elephantine papyri, dated 407 B.C.

2:10 the welfare of the children of Israel. Nehemiah had actually been appointed governor of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14).

2:13 dragon well. Some modern versions, with no real justification, translate this as “jackal well.” The Hebrew word, however, means “dragon,” or at least some kind of monster. Most likely it refers to dinosaurs, which survived into historic times and gave rise to the worldwide legends of dragons (see notes on Job 40:15). The dragon well was known as such by the Jebusites who inhabited the region long before its conquest by Israel. Quite possibly the well was given its name by the first inhabitants who migrated there after the dispersion from Babel, when dinosaurs frequented the spring.

2:19 Sanballat the Horonite. Sanballat was probably from a town named Horonaim in Moab and thus most likely was a Moabite. Tobiah was an Ammonite and Geshem an Arab. All three peoples were leaders of anti-Jewish regions and peoples adjacent to Judah and Jerusalem, fearful of the growing influence of the Jews.

2:20 The God of heaven. Nehemiah not only had authorization from the king of Persia, but from “the God of Heaven.” This latter phrase, as a name of the true God of creation, is used nine times in Ezra and four times in Nehemiah.

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