| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Nehemiah Chapter Two


Nehemiah 2

Nehemiah Sent to Judah (v.1~10)

Nehemiah Views the Wall of Jerusalem (v.11~20)

New King James Version (NKJV)


Nehemiah 2:1. And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.

   YLT And it cometh to pass, in the month of Nisan, the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, wine [is] before him, and I lift up the wine, and give to the king, and I had not been sad before him;

And it came to pass in the month Nisan; in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes,....

It was still but in the twentieth year of his reign; for though Nisan or March was the first month of the year with the Jews, and from whence the reigns of their kings were datedF12Misn. Roshhashanah, c. 1. sect. 3. ; yet, with other nations, Tisri or September was the beginning of the reigns of their kingsF13T. Bab. Rashhashanah, fol. 3. 1. ; so that Chisleu or November being since, see Nehemiah 1:1, it was no more in Nisan or March than the twentieth of the said king's reign, and was three or four months after Nehemiah had first heard of the distress of his people; which time he either purposely spent in fasting and prayer on that account, or until now his turn did not come about to exercise his office, in waiting upon the king as his cupbearer: but now it was

that wine was before him;

the king; it was brought and set in a proper place, from whence it might be taken for his use:

and I took up the wine, and gave it to the king;

according to XenophonF14Cyropaedia, l. 1. c. 11. , the cupbearer with the Persians and Medes used to take the wine out of the vessels into the cup, and pour some of it into their left hand, and sup it up, that, if there was any poison in it, the king might not be harmed, and then he delivered it to him upon three fingersF15Vid. Heliodor. Ethiopic. l. 7. c. 27. :

now I had not been before time sad in his presence;

but always pleasant and cheerful, so that the sadness of his countenance was the more taken notice of.


Nehemiah 2:2. Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid,

   YLT and the king saith to me, `Wherefore [is] thy face sad, and thou not sick? this is nothing except sadness of heart;' and I fear very much,

Wherefore the king said unto me, why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick?....

He had no disorder upon him to change his countenance and make him sorrowful, and therefore asks what should be the reason of it:

this is nothing else but sorrow of heart;

this is not owing to any bodily disease or pain, but some inward trouble of mind; or "wickedness of heart"F16רע לב πονηρια καρδιας, Sept. "malum nescio quod in corde tuo est", V. L. , some ill design in his mind, which being conscious of, and thoughtful about, was discovered in his countenance; he suspected, as Jarchi intimates, a design to kill him, by putting poison into his cup:

then I was very sore afraid;

lest the king should have suspicion of an ill design on him; or lest, since he must be obliged to give the true reason, he should not succeed in his request, it being so large, and perhaps many about the king were no friends to the Jews.


Nehemiah 2:3. and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”

   YLT and say to the king, `Let the king to the age live! wherefore should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of the graves of my fathers, [is] a waste, and its gates have been consumed with fire?'

And I said unto the king, let the king live for ever,....

Which some think he said to take off the king's suspicion of his having a design upon his life, though it seems to be a common salutation of the kings in those times, see Daniel 6:6,

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?

a man's native place, and where his ancestors lie interred, being always reckoned near and dear, the king and his nobles could not object to his being concerned for the desolations thereof.


Nehemiah 2:4. Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

   YLT And the king saith to me, `For what art thou seeking?' and I pray unto the God of the heavens,

Then the king said unto me, for what dost thou make request?....

The king supposed that there was a meaning in those looks and words of his, that he had a favour to ask of him, and therefore encourages him to it; or the king of himself moved this, as being desirous of doing anything for him he would propose, to make him easy:

so I prayed to the God of heaven;

secretly, in an ejaculatory way, giving him thanks for thus disposing the king's heart towards him, and entreating he might be directed what to ask, and in a proper manner, and that he might succeed.


Nehemiah 2:5. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

   YLT and say to the king, `If to the king [it be] good, and if thy servant be pleasing before thee, that thou send me unto Judah, unto the city of the graves of my fathers, and I built it.'

And I said unto the king; if it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight,....

He submits what he had to say wholly to the pleasure of the king, and puts it upon his unmerited favour, and not on any desert of his own:

that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it;

the wall of it, and the houses in it; the favour was, that he might have leave to go thither, and set about such a work, for which he was so much concerned.


Nehemiah 2:6. Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

   YLT And the king saith to me (and the queen is sitting near him), `How long is thy journey? and when dost thou return?' and it is good before the king, and he sendeth me away, and I set to him a time.

And the king said unto me, the queen also sitting by him,.... Which it seems was not very common for the queens of Persia to dine with the kings their husbands; though this may be observed, not so much for the singularity of it, as for the providence of God in it, that so it should be, she having a good respect for Nehemiah, and the Jewish nation, and forwarded the king in his grant to him: if this king was Darius Hystaspis, this his queen was Atossa, daughter of CyrusF17Herodot. Polymnia, sive l. 7. c. 1. , who might be the more friendly to the Jews, on account of her father's great regard unto them:

for how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?

what time would he ask to do this business in? this shows the king had a great respect for him, and was loath to part with him, at least for any great length of time:

so it pleased the king to send me,

when he promised to return unto him, not in twelve years, which was the time of his government in Judea, but in a lesser space, perhaps a year at most, since in less than two months the wall of Jerusalem was finished; and it may be that he then returned to the king of Persia, who sent him again under the character of a governor, finding it was for his interest to have such a man in those parts.


Nehemiah 2:7. Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River,[a] that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah,

   YLT And I say to the king, `If to the king [it be] good, letters let be given to me for the governors beyond the River, that they let me pass over till that I come in unto Judah:

Moreover, I said unto the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river,....

The river of Euphrates, on that side of it towards the land of Judea:

that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;

furnish him with provisions, and a guard to protect him.


Nehemiah 2:8. and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple,[b] for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.

   YLT and a letter unto Asaph, keeper of the paradise that the king hath, that he give to me trees for beams [for] the gates of the palace that the house hath, and for the wall of the city, and for the house into which I enter;' and the king giveth to me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.

And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest,....

The forest or mountain of Lebanon, which, because of its odoriferous and fruit bearing trees, was more like an orchard or paradise, as this word signifies, and so it is translated in Ecclesiastes 2:5 and at the extreme part of it, it seems, there was a city called ParadisusF18Ptolem. Geograph. l. 5. c. 15. Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 23. ; such an officer as here was among the Romans, called SaltuariusF19Vid. Servium in Virgil. Aeneid. l. 2. ver. 485. , and is now among us:

that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertaineth to the house;

not the king's palace near the temple, for that might have occasioned suspicion in the king, that his view was to set up himself as king in Judea; but for the gates of the courts adjoining to the temple, and of the wall of the outward court, and of the wall which was to encompass the mountain of the house, the whole circumference of it:

and for the wall of the city;

to make gates of in various places for that, where they stood before:

and for the house which I shall enter into; and dwell in during his stay at Jerusalem:

and the king granted me;

all the above favours:

according to the good hand of my God upon me;

the kind providence of God, which wrought on the heart of the king, and disposed it towards him, and overruled all things for good.


Nehemiah 2:9. Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.

   YLT And I come in unto the governors beyond the River, and give to them the letters of the king; and the king sendeth with me heads of a force, and horsemen;

Then I came to the governors beyond the river,....

Who these governors were, whether the same who were in the second year of this king's reign eighteen years ago, Tatnai and Shetharboznai, is not certain:

now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me;

both to do him honour, and for his safety; and coming thus attended, must serve to recommend him to the governor, who received him from them at the river Euphrates, and conducted him to Judah.


Nehemiah 2:10. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official[c] heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.

   YLT and Sanballat the Horonite heareth, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and it is evil to them -- a great evil -- that a man hath come in to seek good for the sons of Israel.

When Sanballat the Horonite,....

Who either presided at Horonaim, or sprung from thence, a city of Moab, Isaiah 15:5

and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite;

who was formerly a slave, but now raised, from a low mean estate, to be governor in the land of Ammon, though still a vassal of the king of Persia:

heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there came a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel;

to which the Moabites and Ammonites were always averse, and ever bore an hatred to Israel, and envied everything that tended to their happiness.


Nehemiah 2:11. So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.

   YLT And I come in unto Jerusalem, and I am there three days,

So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

Before he entered on any business, resting himself from the fatigue of the journey, and receiving the visits of his friends, as Ezra before him did, Ezra 8:32.


Nehemiah 2:12. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.

   YLT and I rise by night, I and a few men with me, and have not declared to a man what my God is giving unto my heart to do for Jerusalem, and there is no beast with me except the beast on which I am riding.

And I arose in the might, I and some few men with me,....

Both the season of the night, and the small number of men to accompany him, were chosen for greater secrecy, that the business he came upon might not as yet be known, and so no schemes formed to obstruct or discourage:

neither told I any man what God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem;

he was satisfied that what he had in view was from the Lord, who had stirred him up to it, but thought it prudent for the present to conceal it, until things were prepared to put it in execution:

neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon;

he only rode perhaps on a mule, being not yet recovered quite from the fatigue of his journey, and for the sake of honour; the rest went on foot, that there might be no noise made, and so pass on unheard and unobserved.


Nehemiah 2:13. And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.

   YLT And I go out through the gate of the valley by night, and unto the front of the fountain of the dragon, and unto the gate of the dunghill, and I am measuring about the walls of Jerusalem, that are broken down, and its gates consumed with fire.

And I went out by night, by the gate of the valley,....

Where that formerly stood, for the gates had been burnt, and were not as yet rebuilt; this was the gate that led to the valley of Jehoshaphat, according to some; or rather to the valley of dead bodies, through which the brook Kidron ran, see 2 Chronicles 26:9 it is the gate through which Christ went to Calvary; it led to Shiloh, Bethhoron, and Golan:

even before the dragon well;

so called from its winding about, just as a crooked winding river is called serpentine; though some think here stood an image of a dragon, either in wood, or stone, or brass, out of the mouth of which the water flowed from the well; and others, that since the desolations of Jerusalem, serpents or dragons had their abode here:

and to the dung port;

by which they used to carry the dung out of the city, and by which they went to Joppa, the sea, and all the western parts:

and viewed the walls of Jerusalem:

in what condition they were, what was necessary to be wholly taken down, and where to begin to build: it must have been a moonlight night or he could not have taken a view; for to have carried torches or lamps with them would have discovered them:

and the gates thereof were consumed with fire;

nothing of them remained.


Nehemiah 2:14. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.

   YLT And I pass over unto the gate of the fountain, and unto the pool of the king, and there is no place for the beast under me to pass over,

Then I went on to the pool of the fountain, and to the king's pool.....

That led to the fountain Siloah or Gihon, so called; it was the way to the potter's field, to Bethlehem, Hebron, Gaza, and Egypt. Rauwolff saysF20Travels, par. 3. c. 3. p. 227. there is still standing on the outside of the valley Tyropaeum (which distinguishes the two mountains Zion and Moriah) the gate of the fountain, which hath its name, because it leadeth towards the fountain of Siloah, called the king's pool:

but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass;

because of the heaps of rubbish that lay there.


Nehemiah 2:15. So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.

   YLT and I am going up through the brook by night, and am measuring about the wall, and turn back, and come in through the gate of the valley, and turn back.

Then went I up in the night by the brook,....

The brook Kidron:

and viewed the wall;

that was on that side:

and turned back;

did not go quite round the wall, the way perhaps being obstructed with rubbish, and was unpassable or he had not time to do it:

and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned;

into the city, the same way he went out of it, Nehemiah 2:13.


Nehemiah 2:16. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.

   YLT And the prefects have not known whither I have gone, and what I am doing; and to the Jews, and to the priests, and to the freemen, and to the prefects, and to the rest of those doing the work, hitherto I have not declared [it];

And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did.....

The rulers of the city of Jerusalem, who seem to be officers of the king of Persia, since they are distinguished from Jewish rulers in the next clause:

neither had I as yet told it to the Jews;

what he came about and designed to do:

nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers;

the principal men among the Jews, both ecclesiastical and civil:

nor to the rest that did the work;

of building and repairing; neither those that were employed in it, nor those that overlooked it.


Nehemiah 2:17. Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”

   YLT and I say unto them, `Ye are seeing the evil that we are in, in that Jerusalem [is] waste, and its gates have been burnt with fire; come and we build the wall of Jerusalem, and we are not any more a reproach.'

Then said I unto them,....

The priests and princes of the Jews:

you see the distress that we are in;

lie open to our enemies, and exposed to their insults:

how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burnt with fire,

Nehemiah 1:3,

come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem that we be no more a reproach;

to their neighbours about them, who scoffed at them as a defenceless people and frequently came in upon them, and spoiled and plundered them of their goods and substance.


Nehemiah 2:18. And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

   YLT And I declare to them the hand of my God that is good upon me, and also the words of the king that he said to me, and they say, `Let us rise, and we have built;' and they strengthen their hands for good.

Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me.....

Of the kind providence of God in exalting him in the court of the king of Persia, in giving him an opportunity of laying the sad case of Jerusalem before him, and in inclining his heart to show favour to him, and grant his request:

as also the king's words that he had spoken to me;

what passed between them on this subject, the commission he gave him, and the letters he sent by him to his governors on this side the river:

and they said, let us rise up and build;

encouraged by this account of things, they proposed to set about the work immediately:

so they strengthened their hands for this good work;

animated and encouraged one another to proceed to it at once with cheerfulness, and to go on in it with spirit and resolution.


Nehemiah 2:19. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”

   YLT And Sanballat the Horonite heareth, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, and they mock at us, and despise us, and say, `What [is] this thing that ye are doing? against the king are ye rebelling?'

But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian,....

This third man might be both an Arabian by birth, and governor of some part of Arabia near Judea:

heard it;

of their beginning to build:

they laughed us to scorn, and despised us;

as very silly people, that undertook what they could never perform:

and said;

adding threatenings to their scoffs:

what is this thing that ye do?

do ye know what ye are about? have ye any authority to do it? it is unlawful, you will certainly suffer for it:

will ye rebel against the king?

the king of Persia; it will be deemed rebellion and treason, and you will be taken up and treated as rebels and traitors; take care what you do, be it at your peril if you proceed.


Nehemiah 2:20. So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

   YLT And I return them word, and say to them, `The God of the heavens -- He doth give prosperity to us, and we His servants rise and have built; and to you there is no portion, and right, and memorial in Jerusalem.'

Then answered I them, and said unto them,....

With much spirit and boldness, not at all intimidated by their scoffs or threats:

the God of heaven, he will prosper us;

whom we serve, and under whose protection we are, who will supply us with everything we want, and succeed this undertaking, in whose name we engage in it, and on whom we depend, and we care not what man can do to us:

therefore we his servants will arise and build;

in spite of all opposition, difficulties, and discouragements:

but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem; no part

of the city belonged to them; they had no jurisdiction there; they had no name there, nor their ancestors, in times past; nor had they done anything to perpetuate their memory in it: in short, they had nothing to do with them, neither in religious nor in civil things; and it was best for them to mind their own affairs where they presided, and not trouble themselves about theirs.


──John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible


New King James Version (NKJV)


a.    Nehemiah 2:7 That is, the Euphrates, and so elsewhere in this book

b.    Nehemiah 2:8 Literally house

c.Nehemiah 2:10 Literally servant, and so elsewhere in this book