Arrival―inspection―exhortation ―answering his enemies.  Nehemiah had probably never seen this city before―100 years have passed since the first settlers had returned.  The temple had been rebuilt but the city was barely occupied, most people lived in outlying villages.  They were mixing with foreigners and were in danger of losing their identity.


Artaxerxes Sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem

1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before;

In early spring BC 444Nehemiah packs and leaves for Judea.  It has been 4 months since he received the news of his homeland from his brother Hanani.  As he served wine to the king he looked as sad as a centipede with foot trouble.

2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid,

The king was as sensitive as an allergic reaction to the despondent look on Nehemiah’s face.  King’s attendants were not expected to be gloomy―just to be near the king was supposed to make a person happy―but on this occasion Nehemiah had a bad case of the blues.

3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

He tells the king of the desecration of the cemetery―the tombs where his ancestors were buried―perhaps at this point he doesn’t want to use the word “Jerusalem” lest it arouse controversy.

4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven,

When the king asked what Nehemiah wanted to do he shot a quick silent prayer like an arrow to the king of kings.  He spontaneously inserted prayers as he wrote his memoirs.  Here are some examples 1:5-11; 4:4,5; 5:19; 6:9,14; 13:14,22,31.

5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

It is easy to conjure up all the things that the king might have done—he could have had Nehemiah executed—he could have laughed out loud.  However, the prayer of Nehemiah had already been answered.  The king is asking for details—how long will you be gone?  At this point and time he never imagined in his wildest dreams that this job could be accomplished in so short a time and that the wine taster will be appointed Governor for the next twelve years.  What a God we serve!

7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?

Next Nehemiah needs a passport with the king’s signature and an official seal to get him past the border guards of the foreign nations that he must pass through.

8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.

As quick as a cat’s reaction Nehemiah lays before the king a list as long as the king’s highway of the things he will need for this project—among the requests is a requisition for Asaph (who was over the federally owned forest) to supply all the timber required to complete the job.

9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

The Persian king was over all the Trans—Euphrates Governors, Nehemiah delivers the orders before the trip is made in order for the materials to be prepared and ready for delivery when the project goes forward.  With the accompaniment of army officers and a cavalry no governor dare blink an eye or question these orders from Artaxerxes.

10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Both Sanballat and Tobiah were influential local politicians.  Sanballat’s family governed Samaria and had managed to marry into the high priest’s family (see comments on 13:28).  Tobiah, an official in Ammon (a small country east of Judah), had family ties and influence among the top Jewish families (see 6:17—19; 13:4, 5).  These two governors feel threatened with the expansion of this new project.  If Nehemiah becomes the governor of this area then the regional governors would lose their control over Judea.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Walls

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days

The long trip of around 1,000 miles left him tired and exhausted so after three days rest he is charged up and ready for work.  Cf. Ezra 8:32.

12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

Nehemiah does not want anyone to know of his plans yet for fear of opposition before he can have a town hall meeting and lay the plan out with full knowledge of the task and the backing of Artaxerxes and the materials from the forest.

13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal [a] Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire.

Nehemiah inspects the Southern and Eastern walls that were littered with rubbish.  He had entered Jerusalem from the North and had probably seen the walls on the way into Jerusalem and perhaps where he stayed during the first 3 days he could see the missing section of the walls.

14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through;

As he continues his inspection towards the fountain gate and the kings pool his mule was not able to pass or walk around the pile of stones left by the army of Babylon when they had demolished Jerusalem about 150 years ago.  This heap of rubble was from old foundations of businesses, homes, synagogues and fortifications.

15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.

At this point he tethers his mule4 and on foot continues the wall inspection so when he meets with city officials he can speak with authority and first hand knowledge of the project.

16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

The secret night ride was only known by a few who went with him.  However, they did not know what Nehemiah had in mind.

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

Nehemiah calls for a public meeting with priest nobles, and appointed officials and lays the whole story before them—He was as convincing as a sign from God.  Nehemiah did an academy award performance and they are convinced of his reliability.

18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

Nehemiah begins with “the hand of God was upon me” and ends with and “the king had said to me.”  He secures cooperation like a quarterback and a football center.  He convinces them to do something they were scared to death to do.  Nehemiah presented himself as polished as a Harvard Professor

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

Nehemiah provokes a governor’s conference and these snobs are as scornful as a skeptic confronted with facts.

20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

Nehemiah’s answer was God! God! God!  These shady characters will not daunt the zeal of Nehemiah.  His enemies are a ticking time bomb and a spy in the oval office but if Nehemiah’s answer has any validity he will succeed.