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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And 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.
Nisan was the name given by the Persian Jews to the month previously called "Abib," the first month of the Jewish year, or that which followed the vernal equinox. It fell four months after Chisleu Nehemiah 1:1.
The twentieth year - As Artaxerxes ascended the throne in 465 B.C., his 20th year would correspond to 445-444 B.C.
2Wherefore 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,
I was very sore afraid - A Persian subject was expected to be perfectly content so long as he had the happiness of being with his king. A request to quit the court was thus a serious matter.
3And 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?
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.
4Then 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 - Mentally and momentarily, before answering the king.
5And 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.
6And 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 - Though the Persian kings practiced polygamy, they always had one chief wife, who alone was recognized as "queen." The chief wife of Longimanus was Damaspia.
I set him a time - Nehemiah appears to have stayed at Jerusalem twelve years from his first arrival Nehemiah 5:14; but he can scarcely have mentioned so long a term to the king. Probably his leave of absence was prolonged from time to time.
7Moreover 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;
8And 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 - Rather, park. The word used פרדס pardês; compare παράδεισος paradeisos, found only here, in Ecclesiastes 2:5, and in Sol 4:13), is of Persian, or at any rate of Aryan origin. The Persians signified by pariyadeza a walled enclosure, ornamented with trees, either planted or of natural growth, and containing numerous wild animals. The "paradise" here mentioned must have been in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, and may have corresponded to the earlier "gardens of Solomon."
The palace - Rather, "the fortress." The word in the original has the double meaning of "palace" and "fortress," the fact being that in ancient times palaces were always fortified. "The fortress which pertained to the house (temple)" is first spoken of here. Under the Romans it was called "Antonia."
9Then 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.
10When 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.
The name Sanballat is probably Babylonian the first element being the same which commences "Sennacherib," namely, "Sin," the moon-God, and the second balatu, "eminent" (?),which is found in the Assyrian name, Bel-balatu. As a Horonite, he was probably a native of one of the Bethhorons, the upper or the lower (see Joshua 16:3, Joshua 16:5; 2 Chronicles 8:5), and therefore born within the limits of the old kingdom of Samaria. Tobiah seems to have been an Ammonite slave, high in the favor of Sanballat, whom he probably served as secretary Nehemiah 6:17-19 and chief adviser.
It grieved them - Compare Ezra 4:4-24; Ezra 5:6-17. The revival of Jerusalem as a great and strong city, which was Nehemiah's aim, was likely to interfere with the prosperity, or at any rate the eminence, of Samaria.
11So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.
12And 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.
13And 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.
The gate of the valley - A gate opening on the valley of Hinnom, which skirted Jerusalem to the west and south. The exact position is uncertain; as is also that of "the dragon well."
The dung port - The gate by which offal and excrements were conveyed out of the city, and placed eastward of the valley-gate.
14Then 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 - A gate on the eastern side of the Tyropoeon valley, not far from the pool of Siloam (probably "the king's pool." (Compare Nehemiah 3:15).
15Then 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.
The brook - The Kidron watercourse, which skirted the city on the east.
Turned back - i. e. he turned westward, and having made the circuit of the city, re-entered by the valley-gate.
16And 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.
The rulers - The principal authorities of the city, in the absence of the special governor.
The rest that did the work - i. e. "the laboring class that (afterward) actually built the wall."
17Then 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.
18Then 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.
The king's words - These have not been given; but the royal permission to restore the walls is implied in Nehemiah 2:5-6.
19But 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 - The discovery that Sargon populated Samaria in part with an Arab colony explains why Arabs should have opposed the fortification of Jerusalem.
20Then 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.