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(1) In the month Chisleu.—The names rather than the numbers of the months are generally employed after the captivity: Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri, Marchesvan, Chisleu, Tebeth, Shevat, Adar; with an intercalary month, the second Adar. Chisleu answers nearly to our December.
In the twentieth year.—Of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, which began B.C. 465 and ended B.C. 425.
In Shushan the palace.—Susa, the capital of Susiana; where, after the capture of the Babylonian empire, a great palace was built by Darius Hystaspis, the ruins of which are still seen. It was the principal and favourite residence of the Persian court, alternating with Persepolis, the older capital, and Babylon. Shushan was one of the most ancient cities in the world; and is associated with the visions of Daniel, and with the feast of Ahasuerus (Daniel 8:2, Esther 1:3).
(1-3) Introductory: tidings brought to Nehemiah concerning the sad estate of Jerusalem and the people.
(2) He and certain men of Judah.—From Judah: Hanani was Nehemiah’s own brother (Nehemiah 7:1). He and his companions came from “the province” of Judah (Nehemiah 1:3); nothing is said as to their motive in coming; and certainly there is no intimation that they had been sent to the Persian court on account of recent disturbances.
(3) And they said.—Nehemiah’s question and his friends answer refer first to the people and then to the city. As to the former the terms used have a deep pathos. Those who had returned to their country—now only the province—are, in the question, the Jews that had escaped; in the answer they are the Remnant that are left: both being from the captivity.
In great affliction and reproach.—In distress because of the contempt of the people around. All these expressions are familiar in the prophets; but they are united here in a peculiar and affecting combination. As to the city, the report is that the walls were still “broken down”: lying prostrate, with partial exceptions, as Nebuchadnezzar left them a hundred and forty-two years before (2 Kings 25:10), and, moreover, what had not been recorded, “the gates thereof burned with fire.” Though the Temple had been rebuilt, there is no valid reason for supposing that. the walls of the city had been in part restored and again demolished.
(4-11) Nehemiah’s appeal to God. The prayer is a perfect example of the private and individual devotion with which the later Hebrew Scriptures abound. It begins with formal and appropriate invocation (Nehemiah 1:5-8), flows into earnest confession (Nehemiah 1:6-7), pleads the covenant promises (Nehemiah 1:8-10), and supplicates a present answer (Nehemiah 1:11). The extant Scriptures, freely used, are the foundation of all.
(4) Fasted.—Like Daniel, Esther, and Ezra, Nehemiah fasted: fasting appears in later Judaism a prominent part of individual devotion, as it is in the New Testament.
(6) Both I and my father’s house have sinned.—The supplication was for the nation; and in such cases of personal intercession the individual assumes the sin of all the past.
(8) The spirit of many threatenings and promises is summed up, as in the prayer of Nehemiah 9:0.
(11) This day . . . this man.—During his “certain days” of mourning Nehemiah had fixed upon his plan, suggested by his God. “This day” is “this occasion”: the appeal itself was deferred for some months. The king becomes “this man” in the presence of the “God of heaven.”
For I was the king’s cupbearer.—One of his cupbearers, therefore in high authority, having confidential access to him.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent