NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 2
Nehemiah Goes to Jerusalem
– Then in the month of Nisan, in Artaxerxes’ 20th year, when wine was brought to me I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why do you look so sad when you are not sick? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” This terrified me.
– ESV Study Bible writes, “The date, Nisan, in the twentieth year (i.e., March/April of 445 BC), is surprising because Nisan is the first month, and yet the earlier events of ch 1 took place in Chislev, the ninth month (December). Of various proposed solutions, the best is perhaps that the author counts the years of Artaxerxes’ reign from the actual month of his accession (which is not precisely known), so that his ‘twentieth year’ might span two calendar years (446-445 BC). In that case, this incident in the month of Nisan would be four months after the news about Jerusalem came to Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s expression of sadness is the prelude to his request. Nehemiah did not show his grief immediately…perhaps because it was part of his duty to be positive and encouraging. But now he has decided to speak. The king’s diagnosis of sadness of the heart perceives some discontentment as the cause. Nehemiah was very much afraid because he was about to say something that the king might take as disloyalty.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible has this to say about the date, “Nehemiah counts the years of the Persian king by means of the Jewish civil calendar, which began in the fall. Evidence from the Jewish Elephantine papyri demonstrates that the king is Artaxerxes I, under whom Ezra also returned.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides this historical context, “Given the self-indulgence of the Persian monarchs, it seems in character that they would prohibit their subjects from imposing grief upon them. Herodotus writes of people with complaints gathering outside the king’s gate and wailing without bringing their trouble within the palace. In one instance, the wife of a condemned noble stood outside the palace gate, weeping until Darius relented and agreed to spare her husband. In this situation Nehemiah expresses fear when the Persian king notes that Nehemiah has come before him with a sad look on his face…Possibly, Nehemiah expected to be punished for bringing his sorrow before the king (cf Est 4:2)…”
– NLT Illustrated Study Bible reminds us, “Nehemiah…did not know how the kign would respond if he told him the reason for his sorrow (King Artaxerxes had previously ordered that Jerusalem not be rebuilt, Ezra 4:21-22)…”
– I replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why shouldn’t I look sad when the city my ancestors are buried in lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down?” Then the king asked me, “What is it that you want?” I quickly prayed to the God of heaven then answered the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with his queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long would your trip take and when would you return?” After I gave him a definite time, it pleased the king to send me. I also said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let him give me letters to the governors of the province Beyond the River so that they will grant me safe passage until I reach Judah, and also a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, so that he will give me timber to rebuild the gates of the fortress adjacent to the temple, the city wall, and for the house that I will live in.” The king granted me these requests because the gracious hand of my God was on me. Then I went to the governors of the province Beyond the River and presented them the king’s letters. The king had also sent me with army officers and horsemen. When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about all of this, they were greatly displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.
– ESV Study Bible notes, “Nehemiah first shows his loyalty [may the king live forever] and explains the reason for his grief, without yet making his request. He may think that this way of speaking about Jerusalem [referring to it as his ancestors’ burial place] will make the king sympathetic. The king then invites a request. Nehemiah had prayed a great deal of course…but here he quickly speaks to God (probably silently) before he answers the king. Continuing in great deference, Nehemiah makes his request…The king agrees without deliberation, apart perhaps from a glance at the queen sitting beside him, and demands only that Nehemiah commit to a date when he will return to Susa.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “Family ties were extremely important in the ancient Near East. One of the primary family responsibilities was to care for the remains or tombs of one’s ancestors. Artaxerxes would have been sympathetic to this appeal of Nehemiah to rebuild the city where his ancestors were buried lest it become a ruin and a wasteland…”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “Nehemiah asks the king for letters to the governors of the Beyond the River satrapy, presumably to Samaria and perhaps Ammon and other provinces surrounding Judea, as well as Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest. (The word translated ‘forest’ is a Persian loanword for a royal park that in Greek became paradeisos, from which we get ‘paradise.’) He specifies the projects for which he will need timber: the fortress of the temple (perhaps the forerunner of the Roman Antonia Fortress on the northwest corner of the temple compound), the wall of the city (probably the gates), and his own house. Nehemiah’s imperial authority is visible in the officers and horsemen sent with him.”
– The following sources add information on the identities of Sanballat and Tobiah:
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible: “Sanballat…was governor of Samaria under Persian rule in the mid-fifth century BC. His name was found in a letter among the papyri from the Jewish community of Elephantine in Egypt (dated to 407 BC). His name also appears on a bulla (no. 22) found in the Wadi Daliyeh, just east of Samaria, as the father of the Samarian governor who succeeded him in the first half of the fourth century BC. He probably came from Upper or Lower Beth-horon [hence ‘Sanballat the Horonite’] near Jerusalem (Josh 16:3, 5). Tobiah was a Persian official…who ruled the Ammonite region. He was also related to the Jewish priest Eliashib (Neh 13:4). Since Tobiah is a Yahwistic name, he could have been an Ammonite who through marriage and money rose to prominence in Jerusalem, or a Judean who rose to prominence in Ammon, one of Israel’s historic enemies (2 Sam 10:1-11). Extrabiblical evidence for an influential Tobiad family includes the Lachish letters (6th century BC) and later mentions in the Zenon papyri and Josephus of the Tobiads of the third century BC, a powerful family who were connected with Qasr el-Abd in Tranjordan. Near that palace, two caves of the third century BC have the name Tobiah inscribed above their entrances.”
“Qasr el-Abd palace of the Tobiads” photo via wikipedia
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: “Sanballat was the chief political opponent of Nehemiah. Although not called governor, he had that position over Samaria (4:1-2). An important Elephantine papyrus, a letter to Bagoas (the governor of Judah), refers to ‘Delaiah and Shelemiah, sons of Sanballat the governor of Samaria.’ It is interesting that Sanballat’s sons both bear Yahwistic names. Bagoas and Delaiah authorized the Jews to petition the satrap Arsames about rebuilding their temple at Elephantine. Tobiah…may have been a Judaizing Ammonite, but more probably he was a Yahwist Jew as indicated by his name and that of his son, Jehohanan (6:18). Some scholars speculate that Tobiah descended from an aristocratic family that owned estates in Gilead and was influential in Transjordan and in Jerusalem even as early as the eighth century BC.”
Nehemiah Arrives in Jerusalem
– After I arrived in Jerusalem and had been there for three days, I got up during the night along with a few men who were with me. I didn’t tell anyone what my God had put on my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no animals with me except the one I was riding. By night, I proceeded through the Valley Gate toward the Well of Dragons, and the Dung Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which had been broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but farther down there was not enough room for my mount to pass with me, so I continued up the valley during the night, inspecting the wall. Finally, I turned back, went through the Valley Gate, and returned. The officials didn’t know where I had gone or what I had been doing, because I hadn’t yet told the Jews, priests, nobles, officials, or any of the others who would be doing the work. Then I said to them, “You see the problem that we have- Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come on! Let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of my God was on me, and what the king had said to me. They answered, “Let’s start rebuilding!” So they readied themselves for this good project. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Gershem the Arab heard about this, they mocked and ridiculed us. They said, “What is this you’re doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 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, right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.”
– ESV Study Bible says the following:
– “Nehemiah aims to keep his mission secret from potential enemies as long as possible, but also from his own people till his plans are fully formed…Nehemiah [then] exhorts his countrymen. They are willing to work, but opposition quickly emerges…”
– On Nehemiah’s mention that they would “no longer be a disgrace”: “A direct reference to the shame brought upon Jerusalem by God’s former judgment on it (Jer 24:9).”
– On his reference to “the hand of my God”: “This recurring expression recognizes that God is orchestrating blessing for his people. The people had to see that their bad situation was not irreversible because God could change things…Nehemiah knows that the king is on his side, but he attributes his authority to the God of heaven.”
– On his statement to his opposition: “Nehemiah clearly distinguishes between God’s people and the enemies of God who oppose the work. Once he is convinced that they are opposing the work of the Lord, he makes no effort to include them or even to pursue further discussion with them. A ‘portion’ is an allocated share, as given to the tribes of Joshua (Josh 18:5-6; 19:9); it is also used metaphorically of belonging (2 Sam 20:1). ‘Right’ is entitlement, and ‘claim’ is literally ‘memorial,’ i.e., a claim based in ancient tradition, and possibly referring to the right to worship in Jerusalem.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible includes the following notes:
– “Nehemiah surveyed the walls chiefly on the southern and eastern sides (i.e., the so-called city of David and the Kidron Valley). The Valley Gate was probably on the western side of the city of David, and the Dung Gate, leading to the city dump, at its southern tip. The Fountain Gate evidently led to the spring called En-rogel near the southwestern corner, where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys meet. The Dragon Spring and King’s Pool are unidentified but were no doubt on the east, near the Kidron Valley’s water sources. The valley is the Kidron Valley, to which Nehemiah had to descend because he could not pass close to the walls higher up, since the rubble from their destruction had made passage impossible. The obstruction may have been the huge spill of rubble, evidently from Nebuchadnezzar II’s assault, rediscovered in Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations of the early 1960s. He returned by the Valley Gate, having apparently made only a partial circuit.”
– “Sanballat…Tobiah…Geshem [were] the opponents of the people [who] allege that they are rebelling against the king, and extremely serious charge, one that Artaxerxes had previously believed (see Ezra 4:12-13, 19-22). The opponents now include Geshem the Arab…”
– “Geshem…ruled a league of Arabian tribes, including the territory of Moab and Edom under the Persian Empire. His name appears on a silver vessel discovered at Tell el-Maskhuta in Egypt that was donated to the Arabian goddess Han-Ilat toward the end of the fifth century BC- within approximately 40 years of the events in Nehemiah. The Aramaic inscription names the donor as ‘Qaynu, son of Gashmu, king of Qedar’ (an ancient kingdom in northwest Arabia). A Lihyanite inscription from Dedan in northwest Arabia also mentions a Jashm, son of Shahr. In 1979 another Aramaic inscription was found at Tayma in Saudi Arabia bearing the name “Gashm ben Shahr’- perhaps the grandfather of the biblical Geshem.”
– There are some discrepancies in translation for the name of the well or spring in v. 13– “Serpent’s Well,” “Dragon Spring,” “Well of Dragons,” “Jackal’s Well,” etc. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers the following discussion, “The Hebrew (en hattannin) is ‘spring of the dragon,’ using the same Hebrew word as Ge 1:21, referring to the…creatures of the water [i.e., Leviathon]…The NIV and RSV emend the word to read tannim (‘jackals’). It is possible that this may be the major spring of Jerusalem, the Gihon, and that the name ‘Tannin’ is derived from the serpentine course of the waters of the spring to the Pool of Siloam.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible includes a section on the topography of Jerusalem, which is accompanied by the map below, that is very helpful for the clarification of events in this chapter and those following.
– “In order to understand the account of Nehemiah’s night investigation of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2), the description of their rebuilding (Nehemiah 3), and their dedication (Nehemiah 12), the topography of Jerusalem is important.
– “The accompanying map shows how Jerusalem was built on several hills and valleys, the latter all running north and south. The key valley on the west is the Hinnom Valley, flanking on the east what is sometimes called the Western Hill (sometimes erroneously called Mount Zion). To its south, the Hinnom Valley runs into the Kidron Valley at the En-rogel Spring. The Kidron Valley runs north, separating the Mount of Olives on the east from the two adjoining hills on its west, the southernmost being the city of David or Mount Zion, and the northernmost being the Temple Mount or Mount Moriah. These latter two hills are separated from the Western Hill by the Central Valley, known as the Tyropoeon (or Cheesemakers’) Valley, not mentioned in Scripture. The most important spring (Gihon, the one from which David took the city from the Jebusites) lies in the Kidron Valley.
– “Archaeological excavation over the last century or more shows that the original Jebusite settlement and the city of David lay on the southeastern hill, with access to the Gihon Spring. The temple lay on the northeastern hill, separated from the city of David by what is often called the Ophel. It was not until the divided monarchy that the Western Hill was occupied, often called the Second Quarter or Mishneh. Thus the original wall of the city was confined, presumably, to the southeastern hill, later incorporating the Temple Mount to the north, only later moving to incorporate a portion of the western hill. Gradually, through time, occupation moved northward until the medieval wall of the city, seen today, abandoned the city of David. Throughout history, the city was most vulnerable to attack from the north, where the elevation continues to climb. Possibly in Herodian times, if not before, a moatlike cut was made from east to west- it is on that scarp that the current wall of the Old City of Jerusalem stands.
– “As can be seen from the accompanying map, the walls of Nehemiah only enclosed only the two hills on the east, the city of David and the Temple Mount. It is thought that the city’s eastern wall moved up the slopes of those two hills to the top edge of the hills, leaving out the destroyed eastern slopes, which may have collapsed when the city fell to the Babylonians. See a visual representation of the city at this time [below].”