Nehemiah 2:1-20


Verse 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.

I.    The month Nisan.

A.  is the same month called Abib.

1.   The first month of the Jewish calendar.

2.   Corresponds to our month of March or April.

B.   The time is four months after Nehemiah 1:1.


II.   There is a reason for all waiting.

A.  Sometimes God reveals to us why we must wait, sometimes, He doesn't.

B.   It would have been very difficult for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem in the month of Chisleu (our last of November or the first of December.

1.   The winter weather would have been a great hindrance to the trip.

2.   Instead of using this time to travel, God let Nehemiah use this time to pray.

3.   This principle shows us that praying always comes before action, and is always more important.


III. The twentieth year.

A.  This refers to the length of Artaxerxes reign, not his age.

B.   This would make the year about 445-444 B.C.


IV. Nehemiah continues working at his job, praying that God would somehow use him to help Israel and Jerusalem.

A.  There is a time to work and a time to think about working.

1.   Some would say that Nehemiah wasn't doing anything just praying about the situation.

2.   The truth is that nothing can be done until he prays.

3.   Only God can move in this situation.

B.   Circumstances often have an effect on our outlook.

1.   Nehemiah was sad, not because of he was unhappy with his job, but with the condition of Israel.

2.   We must continue with our daily work even though things are not exactly the way we would like them to be.

C.   Being sad before a king is very bad.

1.   Nehemiah's job is to deliver the wine to the king.

2.   There were several cupbearers, who rotated the job.

3.   A part of the job was to taste the wine before the king to make sure it wasn't poisoned.

4.   To be sad after drinking the wine might indicate to the king that the wine was poisoned.

5.   It must also be noted that Nehemiah had not been sad before this time.

6.   A cheerful attitude is right for a true believer.


Verse 2, Therefore 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.    It is interesting to note that the king saw that Nehemiah was sad.

A.  We might talk about how employers should notice the attitude of their employees.

1.   There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

2.   It would show a certain caring about others, that would make working more enjoyable and productive.

B.   We might also talk of God making the king notice.

1.   Before Artaxerxes could see that Nehemiah was sad, he had to see that he was happy.

2.   This shows us that Nehemiah was normally a happy person.

3.   He went about his job duties with a cheerful attitude.

4.   We would do well to remember this.

5.   We sometimes make an impression on very important people that we don't realize.

C.   God made Artaxerxes think about the attitude of Nehemiah.

1.   Artaxerxes had concluded that attitude of Nehemiah was not sickness, but sadness.

2.   We can easily see the concern of Artaxerxes for his servants.

3.   There is no doubt in my mind that God had already put in Artaxerxes heart and mind to do something to help Nehemiah!


II.   Nehemiah was very sore afraid.

A.  This speaks of the worse kind of fear.

1.   He was so afraid, he would begin to tremble.

2.   Artaxerxes could see Nehemiah's fear in his face and the reaction of his body.

B.   There was really no need for Nehemiah to fear.

1.   God knew what Artaxerxes would do, but Nehemiah didn't know.

2.   There is no need for us to fear because God knows what will happen.

3.   Our fear comes because we don't understand what God will do.

C.   The answer to our prayers sometimes comes unexpectedly.

1.   Nehemiah 1:11 - Nehemiah had prayed for this.

2.   He was still afraid because he didn't understand everything that would happen.

D.  A subject was supposed to be perfectly content when he was near his king.

1.   Nehemiah's sadness would mean he wasn't happy serving his king.

2.   This could lead to very severe punishment, including death.


Verse 3, And 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?

I.    "Let the king live forever:"

A.  Nehemiah immediately set the king as ease.

1.   This greeting let the Artaxerxes know there was nothing wrong with the wine.

2.   There was nothing wrong with Nehemiah's enjoyment of his job.

3.   There was nothing wrong with Nehemiah's life at Shushan the palace.

B.   Nehemiah's prayer was that king Artaxerxes live for ever, which could easily be interpreted as eternal life.

C.   The problem was that Nehemiah was comparing his very good and agreeable life at Shushan with the miserable lives of the Jews at Jerusalem.

1.   Nehemiah's appeal was to the city of Jerusalem, not the sepulchres of the city.

a.   By referring to the sepulchres of Jerusalem, Nehemiah refers to the history of the Jews.

b.   They are a great an honorable people (like Nehemiah has shown himself to be to Artaxerxes), and deserve much better than they are receiving.

2.   The king immediately understood that Nehemiah desired some of the blessings on Shushan to be upon Jerusalem and the people there.

a.   Israel is under the authority of Artaxerxes.

b.   Their happiness and prosperity is in the hands of their king.

3.   Nehemiah desires that the Jews in Israel be as happy as the Jews and other nationalities at Shushan.

D.  The city lying waste and the gates are burned with fire.

1.   Artaxerxes would understand that this was of old, because it was something he hadn't done.

2.   Nehemiah could have gone into the history of Israel, but didn't.

3.   He left this to the mind of Artaxerxes.


III. Nehemiah was honest in telling the king why he was sad.

A.  Honesty is always the best policy.

1.   It is not always the easiest way, but it is always the best way.

2.   Some people had rather hear a lie than the truth, but they will always remember that you were truthful with them.

B.   Nehemiah did not apologize for his sadness.

1.   If there is good reason for sadness, there is no reason to apologize for it.

2.   If we don't have anything to be sad about, we ought to apologize, when confronted, and force ourselves out of our depression.


Verse 4, Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven.

I.    For what dost thou make request?

A.  God has opened the kings heart.

1.   This is what Nehemiah had prayed for.

2.   This should have come as no surprise, but it did.

3.   If this had happened to us, it would also have come as a surprise.

B.   This question leads Nehemiah to have courage to continue the conversation.

1.   If this question had not been asked, there would have been little Nehemiah could have done.

2.   He could have incurred the king's wrath by continuing the conversation without being encouraged to do so.


II.   I prayed to the God of heaven.

A.  An explanation of this prayer.

1.   This prayer didn't take very long.

2.   Nehemiah didn't retire to his closet to pray.

3.   He prayed in his heart while looking the king in the face.

4.   I am glad we don't have to be in a certain position or a certain place to pray.

5.   God hears our prayers no matter how eloquent or short or long they are.

6.   God hears the earnest plea of the heart for help in time of need.

B.   All the prayers of the past four months have prepared Nehemiah for this one prayer.

1.   Some would think that four months of praying would be enough.

2.   But there is never enough praying.

C.   What would Nehemiah pray about now?

1.   I really don't know, but I make the following suggestions based on my own experience.

2.   I would pray that God would help me speak to the king in an intelligent way.

3.   When I get nervous, I have a hard time expressing my thoughts.

4.   I want those that listen, to understand, not hear a jumble of incomplete thoughts, or a jumble of incoherent words.


Verse 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.

I.    Nehemiah is under subjection to his king.

A.  His desire is to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, but he will not do anything unless under the approval of the government.

B.   This is a good position for us today.

1.   I Tim. 2:1-3 - We are commanded to pray for kings and those in authority that we might be able to lead a quiet and peaceable life.

2.   Many people believe their place is to walk pickets, and continually rebel against any law passed by the government.

3.   I recently checked with the Christian Church at Wentzville and the principles they operate their church day care under.  I am not in favor of a church having a day care center, but I had a very important question to ask them.  The state of Missouri, last year, had tried to pass legislation that would force the licensing of all day care centers, public, private, or otherwise.  I wrote to Representative Craig Kilby, expressing to him that those day care centers that wanted state funds should be regulated by the state, but those day care centers that didn't want state funds shouldn't be forced to be licensed.  He agreed with that position, but asked the question, "Hasn't a church entered into the category of a business when they are in competition with public day care centers?  And having entered into that area of operation, why shouldn't they be licensed?  If their day care center is for the members of that church only, that is one thing, but to enter into competition is another thing altogether."  I presented this question to the Wentzville Christian Church Day Care Center supervisor.  She stated that when the government cleaned up its act, there wouldn't be any more trouble.  What she meant by that, I really don't know.  She didn't deny they were in competition with public day care centers, but didn't care as long as the government left them alone. They indicated to me that it was their right as a church to be in that business.  I am very much afraid of the so called "Voucher system" for giving tax money to private citizens so they can send their children to any private they wish is a "carrot held out in front of people" that is intended to bring about the ruin of Christian schools.  If I know anything about the government system at all, they will want to know where your children are going to school, and if that facility is an approved by them.  Therefore each private school will be tied up with the government, not by receiving money directly from the government, but indirectly.


Verse 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.

I.    The queen.

A.  Most pagan kings practiced polygamy, but they had one main wife that was recognized as "queen".

B.   Her sitting by him did not indicate a joint rule, but rather that she was a royal witness to the transaction.

1.   The king of Persia during this time was Darius Hystaspis, who took the daughter of Cyrus (a previous king of the Medes and Persians) to wife.

2.   God had given Cyrus a tender heart for the Jews, and if this gift was passed on to his daughter, it could be assumed that she encouraged Darius to be lenient toward the desires of the Jews.

3.   It is certainly marvelous to see the providence of God working with the sadness of Nehemiah, and the tenderness of Cyrus' daughter toward the Jews, to influence Darius to grant Nehemiah's request!

4.   God always has a person in the proper place to accomplish His will for His people!

5.   We need to remember that what God worked in days gone by, He is still able to work today!

C.   It is likely this discussion took place at a meal.

1.   Nehemiah went before the king to serve wine, which could be done at a meal.

2.   Nehemiah could also be called to serve wine to the king between meals.


II.   The king grants Nehemiah's request.

A.  He asked:

1.   How far is it to Jerusalem.

2.   How long Nehemiah expects to be gone.

3.   I believe this shows us how important Nehemiah was as a servant of the king, because the king wasn't exactly anxious for him to leave.

B.   Notice that Nehemiah didn't have to be told the second time that he could go!

C.   The time that Nehemiah set.

1.   He will be gone for a total of 12 years.

2.   I really doubt Nehemiah asked for that much time off.

3.   He probably asked for a certain amount of time off, then had that time extended until it amounted to 12 years.

4.   The rebuilding of the wall took approximately 2 months, so perhaps Nehemiah asked to be away for approximately one year.


Verse 7,8,  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.

I.    All things would be done only if it pleased the king.

A.  Nehemiah knew if the king helped Israel, God would help that nation.

B.   Even though this is true, the king must be willing to help.


II.   The things Nehemiah asked for.

A.  Letters of safe passage.

1.   This appears to be actual letters to show that the king endorses the journey Nehemiah is taking.  These letters would have the king's signature.

2.   It also appears that the king also sent soldiers to protect Nehemiah on the journey.  See verse 9.

B.   A supply of material: (1) to make beams for the gates of the palace, and (2) for the rebuilding of the wall, and (3) to build the house for Nehemiah to live in.

1.   Nehemiah probably didn't have a list of 2x4's that he needed, but he asked for the king's approval for any material that would be needed.

2.   The word "palace" refers to "fortress".  All palaces in that day were fortified.  This word refers to the temple being a part of the wall.

3.   The other day, I heard a tape (Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny - Gary Hendrick interviews Grant Jeffery) by a saved Jew.  He had come to the conclusion that the temple was not in the place where the "Dome of the Rock" is now located, but was located in the north eastern part of the square, near the eastern gate.  This is exactly what this verse states!

4.   It is also interesting to note that a palace in the Bible is not always a building.  Many times the word refers to an open courtyard or uncovered area reserved for a special purpose.  Sometimes the word refers to the place of judgment where trials are held.

C.   A house for Nehemiah to live in.

1.   This would show that Nehemiah planned to stay in Judah for some time.

2.   Rebuilding the wall took approximately two months, and Nehemiah planned to stay until the job was complete.

3.   It is likely Nehemiah asked to be away for one year, hoping to have the job completed in that time.  He really doesn't know how long he will be away, because he had no idea what kind of problems he would run into.

4.   The king wouldn't think the request for a house was "extra", because Nehemiah would have to live somewhere.


Verse 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.

I.    Nehemiah came to the governors of the land.

A.  This is the people he should come to.

1.   King Darius has given him the right to come to them.

2.   They are the people in authority who will help him in fulfilling God's will for Israel.

B.   The soldiers with Nehemiah would lend creditability to his presence.

C.   King had sent:

1.   To protect him.

2.   Anyone doubting the letters would recognize the army with Nehemiah.

D.  God sends with us:

1.   Guardian angels - Ps. 91:11-13.

2.   His presence - Ex. 33:14,15.


Verse 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.

I.    Who are Sanballat and Tobiah?

A.  Sanballat the Horonite is a native of the city of Horoniam in Moab.

B.   Tobiah is a servant (which actually means slave) who evidently gained the prestige of the ruling class.  He is from Ammon.

C.   Names:

1.   Sanballat.  His name means:

a.   Sin the moon god.

b.   ballat - eminent

2.   Horon - either south of the Dead Sea or a city in Samaria.

3.   Tobiah - Ammonite servant.

D.  They were evidently depending on the continued weakness of Jerusalem for their continued prosperity and strength.

1.   Verse 9,10 states there were governors beyond the rivers.

2.   The Euphrates River, but possible the Jordan River as he entered the region around Jerusalem.


II.   Some facts about these men.

A.  It must be noticed that Nehemiah didn't come to Sanballat and Tobiah.

1.   They heard that Nehemiah came to Judah.

a.   There is some doubt in my mind as to exactly when they heard about Nehemiah's plan.

b.   Nehemiah didn't tell anybody until he had viewed the wall at night.

c.   He had been in Jerusalem three days at the time.

d.   The governors of the land could have told Sanballat and Tobiah almost immediately after Nehemiah gave them the letters from king Darius.

e.   It is really immaterial when they heard, but sufficient to know that when they did hear, they were opposed to the plan of God.

2.   These wicked men have much influence, but they do not have the authority of the governor of the land.

B.   If these men had any concern for the welfare of the land they are ruling, they would welcome anybody that had the best interests of the people at heart.

1.   Knowing this type of wicked person, they would be glad for anybody to prosper except Godly men.

2.   There has been a long warfare between God and Satan, good and evil.  This warfare will continue until Satan is finally cast into the Lake of Fire.

C.   The word "grieved".

1.   This word means to be displeased to the point of believing Nehemiah is going to do a great sore evil thing in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

2.   The word "welfare" means the good, pleasant, agreeableness of the Jews.

3.   Putting these two words together, we find that Sanballat and Tobiah find it a very great evil that the Jews live in peace and comfort.

4.   Doesn't this sound just like the Arabs today?


III. Why do they oppose the Jews?

A.  The Moabites and Ammonites have always hated the Jews because they consider themselves the descendents of Abraham having equal or greater privilege than the twelve sons of Abraham.

B.   They do not believe God, nor His Holy Word.


Verse 11,  So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

I.    Some believe Nehemiah rested at Jerusalem for three days before he started on the project of rebuilding the wall.

A.  This may be true, but knowing Nehemiah, I believe he spend these three days "resting" while he looked for the right men to accompany him on his "after dark" look at the wall of Jerusalem.


Verse 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.

I.    Nehemiah arose in the night, not because he was ashamed of what he was trying to do, but in order to conceal his plan from their enemies,

A.  He took a small band of men with him in order to explain God's plan and gain their approval.

1.   Few men - To feel out the people's feelings.  He knew how the Jews at Shushan feel.

2.   It is always necessary to explain, almost to the point of repeating oneself, so others will fully understand what is going on.

3.   This small band of men would encourage others, who in turn would encourage others.

B.   Notice Nehemiah's "management".

1.   Nehemiah doesn't do all the work himself, but on every turn, involved the common people in the work.

2.   Some "managers" do all the work themselves, thus the common people don't know or understand what is really going on.

3.   They develop no "feel" or burden for the work, therefore, the work sometimes doesn't get done.


II.   Night sometimes means "adversity".


Verse 13-18,  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.

I.    Nehemiah went by night, not because he was ashamed of what God had laid on his heart, but in order to hide his plan from the enemies of God.  He knew they would do all they could do to stop him when they found out.  If the plan was already put together and working, that would put the Jews that far ahead of their enemies.  One thing you don't want to do is tell the devil your plans!


II.   These verses describe Nehemiah's midnight ride around Jerusalem.  Evidently, he went out one gate, went completely around the city, and back into that same gate.  The men with Nehemiah had seen this sight many times, but viewing the ruins of the wall with this "stranger" shed new light on how much distress they were really in.


III. When Nehemiah tells them of God's blessings upon him while he is still in Shushan, and on the trip to Jerusalem, and so far in his stay, and of the king's permission to rebuild the wall, they become very excited and determined to rebuild the wall again.


Verse 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?

I.    The enemies of God hypocritically accuse.

A.  See verse 9 and 10.

1.   They have heard about the letters Nehemiah gave to the governors.

2.   In spite of what they know, they accuse Nehemiah of rebellion!

B.   Satan's followers will always hypocritically accuse Christians.

1.   Don't be surprised when your good intentions are turned completely around, and made to appear what they are not.

2.   Just why will the enemies of God change our good intentions into bad?

3.   They cannot believe that anybody does anything solely for the good of somebody else.

4.   They have ulterior motives for all their actions, that of "self help", and cannot believe others don't always have that same motive. 

C.   Mockers.

1.   There will always be mockers when you attempt to work for God.

2.   People that mock the work of God will always do so all their lives.  They will only change when God changes them.

3.   Laughed us to scorn - so that others also mocked.

4.   Despises - (2:10) because they came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.  Their idea of helping Israel was to leave everything exactly like it was.  Nehemiah's God given plan was to renew things like they used to be.

5.   Rebel against the king?  2:7-9 - But Nehemiah had letters from the king.  Some people will make up their own version of  the truth.

6.   Other opposition:

a.   Chapter 4 - continued mocking.

b.   4:8 - Conspiracy to fight.

c.   6:17 - Letters back and forth.

d.   5:3 - Dearth in the land.

e.   4:7 - Some Jews taking financial advantage of other Jews.


Verse 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.

I.    Why didn't Nehemiah answer their accusation?

A.  All he could have done was state what he was going to do.  There is no need "casting our pearls before the swine", and Nehemiah knows it.

B.   There is no need to explain Christian values to God's enemies, for they will only laugh at them, and trample them under foot.

C.   Nehemiah put them in their place by correctly stating that what the Jews will do in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem is of no concern to these rebels.  The Jews will rebuild the wall for God's sake, not for "self help".

D. How will we answer the mockers?

1.   Some will change their minds and stop following God and start following the devil.

2.   Some will refuse to speak of the things of God for fear of being embarrassed.

3.   By God's grace, some will remain in the work.

4.   Note their total trust in God and their dedication to the work.

5.   Note their condemnation of the mockers.