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Nehemiah appearing with a sad countenance before the king his master, occasions the monarch to ask the cause. Upon being informed, and Nehemiah making request to go to Jerusalem, the king graciously grants it, and furnisheth him with all suitable things for his journey.
(1) ¶ And 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.
It is a remark of no small importance to the gracious Reader, in that the Holy Ghost hath caused the names of the two months to be marked in this history. The former chapter tells us that the month in which Nehemiah offered up his earnest supplications on account of the desolations and miseries of Jerusalem, was Chisleu. And we are carefully informed in this that the mouth Nisan was arrived before the Lord's merciful answer came to Nehemiah's petition. If I mistake not Chisleu corresponds to our November, and Nisan to our March; no less than four months between. Thus, Reader, our gracious God, though hearing, and sometimes answering prayer, before his people ask, according to his promise, yet is pleased even when he hath determined to fulfil their desires, not unfrequently by way of giving occasion to exercise faith upon his covenant faithfulness and love in his dear Son, to make the blessing by delay yet more sweet and precious.
(2) Wherefore 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, (3) And said unto the king, Let the king live forever: 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? (4) Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. (5) And 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. (6) And 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. (7) Moreover 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; (8) And 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. (9) ¶ Then 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.
There is somewhat very interesting in this account; the fear of Nehemiah lest the king should take offence. And as these monarchs of the east were absolute, and the lives of their subjects were at their disposal, there seemed cause for fear. But this fear gave rise to a short but fervent prayer, silently, but powerfully sent up, for grace in the king's sight. Oh Reader! what blessed privileges are ours. To have a throne of grace to fly to; a propitiation always set forth; and an advocate always to plead: how can we fail of success in all our supplications, when we ask in the name of Jesus according to the mind and will of God? If Artaxerxes so readily answered Nehemiah's petition, let us never doubt but ours will always be answered, since we have one at the court of heaven whom the Father heareth alway.
(10) When 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.
Israel, in all ages, met with Ammonites and Moabites to vex and oppose them. And what is it otherwise now? Jesus gives a sweet testimony concerning this when he saith, if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:18-19 .
(11) So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. (12) And 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. (13) And 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. (14) Then 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. (15) Then 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. (16) And 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. (17) Then 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. (18) Then 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.
Probably the three days before Nehemiah entered upon the great object of his journey, were spent in prayer. His night visit to the walls of Jerusalem serves to convince us, that the cause he had before him would meet with much opposition. His convening the people, and informing them what was in his mind, seems to intimate his great wisdom and good conduct. But let the Reader look through the historical part, to discover the great object intended from the whole as it concerned the church of God. The Lord had prophesied that Jerusalem should again be built; that old men should dwell in the streets.; and boys and girls yet play there. Zechariah 8:4-5 . And more than this, the temple should be built, and the glory of it should exceed the former splendid temple of Solomon. And so it did when the Son of God came into it. Compare Haggai 2:7 , with Luke 2:26-32 . Hence, therefore, the good hand of the Lord was upon Nehemiah, and the Spirit of the Lord was directing him to the work with an eye to Jesus. Oh! how blessed it is to observe all things, and all providences, in the Old Testament scripture, ushering in the mercies of the New; and all directed to this one, and this only purpose, to introduce Jesus the Son of God, that we might believe in him, and that in believing we might have life through his name. John 20:31 .
(19) But 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? (20) Then 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.
There is somewhat very striking in Nehemiah's answer to the enemies of God and of his Christ. Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem. And another authority confirms the same truth; the want of a memorial in the book of life, subjects all of this description to the awful doom mentioned by John: Revelation 20:15 . Men may despise and laugh God's people to scorn; but the day of decision must come; and an awful decision it will be. Reader! have you the smallest, even but the smallest evidence, that you love God's cause and God's people, though you fear you have no portion, no interest, no right or memorial among them? Let this comfort and encourage your soul. None ever truly loved the cause of Jesus, and the people of Jesus, but secretly loved Jesus himself. And John was authorized by the Holy Ghost to mark this down as a standing cause of comfort, when higher evidences were wanting; We know (says he) that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. 1 John 3:14 .
MARK, my soul, the very different characters which distinguish men of the world from real lovers of God. Their features, manners, customs, pursuits, habits, pleasures, all differ. Whatever root of bitterness it is, I do not presume to say, but certain it is that there is a root of bitterness springing within them, both the blossom and the baleful deadly fruit appear in all their branches. But while these marks plainly testify whose they are, and in whose cause they are planted; how blessed is it to see that they can extend their luxuriancy no farther than the Lord allows. And how further blessed it is to see, that the Lord makes use of them medicinally to his people for good. Sanballat and Tobiah meant not so, neither did their heart intend it; but yet, in reality, all they did, and all their scoffs and oppositions, only tended to make Nehemiah more assiduous, and more earnest in his recourses to a mercy seat. Reader! when our enemies do this; when they drive us to a throne of grace, when otherwise we should not go there, surely the Lord, by his overruling wisdom converts their very evil into good, and compels them, contrary to their wishes and intent, to prove our kind friends.
Mark, my soul, in Nehemiah, the portrait of God's children. While the Lord's house lies waste, they take no pleasure. While Jesus and his people are oppressed, there is no joy in a gracious soul. See then, my soul, whether, like Nehemiah, thou art anxious for the prosperity of Zion? Can a throne of grace witness for thee, that thy petitions are lodged there for her welfare? Dust thou love her courts, her ordinances, her servants, her ministers, her people? Is the Lord himself precious to thee, and dearer than the golden wedge of Ophir? Oh! thou dear Redeemer! let thy name, thy person, thy work, thine offices, thy character, relations; all, all that belongs to Jesus, be as ointment poured forth. And oh! grant, my Lord, that I may be a sweet savor of Jesus, as Nehemiah, to all around.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany