The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Nehemiah 1

Neh 1:1

See Lesson, Post-exile period, dates.

See Lesson, Neh: "Rise up and build".

NEHEMIAH: The use of the first person identifies the author as Nehemiah, the governor of the Persian province of Judah (Neh 1:1 -- 2:20; Neh 13:4-31). His name means "Yahweh has comforted."

HACHALIAH: Sig "Yahweh is hidden". Nothing more is known of Nehemiah's ancestry, but God does not judge any man on his pedigree.

KISLEV: The month corresponds to our late November and early December.

IN THE TWENTIETH YEAR: Cp Neh 2:1. The year in view was the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' reign (445-444 BC).

SUSA: Susa (or Shushan, in Hebrew) was a winter capital of Artaxerxes (cf Est 1:2). The main Persian capital at this time was Persepolis.

Neh 1:2

HANANI: Sig "gracious". One of Nehemiah's actual brothers (Neh 7:2).

I QUESTIONED THEM ABOUT THE JEWISH REMNANT THAT SURVIVED THE EXILE, AND ALSO ABOUT JERUSALEM: This is a character trait of Nehemiah, to seek knowledge (cp Ezr 7:10), esp information about how God's people are faring. Cp 2Ki 25:8-12; 2Ch 36:17-21.

Neh 1:3

GREAT TROUBLE: Famine conditions imposed by God as punishment (Hag 1:4-11; 2:16-19; Mal 3:10-12).

THE WALL OF JERUSALEM IS BROKEN DOWN, AND ITS GATES HAVE BEEN BURNED WITH FIRE: The news that Nehemiah received evidently informed him of the Jews' unsuccessful attempts to rebuild Jerusalem's walls in 458 BC. (Ezra 4:23).

Neh 1:4

Vv 4-11: Nehemiah's prayer, a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem (Psa 122).

I SAT DOWN AND WEPT: Cp Ezra in Ezr 9:3.

I MOURNED AND FASTED AND PRAYED: "I continued fasting and praying" (RSV).

PRAYED: Cp Dan 9; Ezr 9.

Neh 1:5

AWESOME: "Terrible" (KJV), "to be feared or reverenced". Cp Dan 9:4.

Neh 1:6

Vv 6,7: Where the prophets of Israel witnessed against the spiritual abuses among their contemporaries they did so while still continuing full fellowship with those whom they denounced. More than this, the examples of Moses (Exo 32:30-33), Daniel (Dan 9:5-14), Nehemiah (Neh 1:6,7), Jeremiah (Jer 3:25; 9:1), and Ezra (Ezr 9:6,7,13) show these men intimately associated with the people whom they reprimanded, even so far as confessing the sins of the nation as though they were their own. Here is the spirit of true fellowship, or sharing, by which those most exercised against error bear the burdens of their brethren, and strive with them as partners -- not outsiders -- to defeat the enervating effects of sin.

There is a radical distinction between natural regret and God-given repentance. The flesh can feel remorse, acknowledge its evil deeds, and be ashamed of itself. However, this sort of disgust with past actions can be quickly shrugged off, and the individual can soon go back to his old wicked ways. None of the marks of true repentance described in 2Co 7:11 are found in his behavior. Out of a list of 11 men in the Bible who said, "I have sinned," poss only five actually repented. They were David (2Sa 12:13; 24:10; 1Ch 21:8; Psa 41:4), Nehemiah (Neh 1:6), Job (Job 42:5,6), Micah (Mic 7:9), and the prodigal son (Luk 15:18). The other (poss less sincere) instances? Pharaoh in Exo 9:27; 10:16; Balaam in Num 22:34; Achan in Jos 7:20; Saul in 1Sa 15:24,30; 26:21; Shimei in 2Sa 19:20; Judas in Mat 27:4.

LET YOUR EAR BE ATTENTIVE AND YOUR EYES OPEN TO HEAR THE PRAYER YOUR SERVANT IS PRAYING BEFORE YOU: Cp the words of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, in 2Ch 6:40.

DAY AND NIGHT: Only one man took Israel's sin upon himself and prayed day and night!

I CONFESS THE SINS WE ISRAELITES... HAVE COMMITTED AGAINST YOU: Note Nehemiah's willingness to assume guilt. This prayer is national in character -- like the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:21). Cp Psa 79 as a commentary.

Neh 1:7

WE: National, collective, or ecclesial sin...

WE HAVE NOT OBEYED THE COMMANDS, DECREES AND LAWS...: Cp Deu 5:28-31; 6:1; 7:11; 8:11-14.

Neh 1:8


Neh 1:9

THE PLACE I HAVE CHOSEN AS A DWELLING FOR MY NAME: Jerusalem: Deu 12:15; Psa 132:13,14.

Neh 1:10

YOUR SERVANTS... YOUR PEOPLE... YOU... YOUR... YOUR: Cp Dan 9:26: "YOUR people"!

WHOM YOU REDEEMED: That is, out of Egypt: Deu 5:15; Exo 32:11; Psa 136:10,11.

Neh 1:11

IN THE PRESENCE OF THIS MAN: That is, the king. Nehemiah prays that God might move the heart of the king, so that he will grant Nehemiah's request. "The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men" (Dan 4:17). "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases" (Pro 21:1).

By Nehemiah's prayer, the king's servant becomes GOD's servant, and the king becomes "this man"!: "With the expression 'this man' at the end of the prayer Nehemiah shows the big difference between his reverence for his God and his conception of his master, the Persian king. In the eyes of the world Artaxerxes was an important person, a man with influence, who could decide on life or death. In the eyes of Nehemiah, with his religious approach, Artaxerxes was just a man like any other man. The Lord of history makes the decisions, not Artaxerxes" (Fenshaw, cited in Const).

I WAS CUPBEARER TO THE KING: "This was a high and trusted position in the Persian court, for it was the cupbearer's duty to taste the king's wine to see that it was not poisoned. 'The cupbearer... in later Achaemenid times was to exercise even more influence than the commander-in-chief' " (EBC). "A very honorable office" (Gill).

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