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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Introduction

NEHEMIAH GETS THE BAD NEWS ABOUT JERUSALEM

Josephus has a tale regarding the manner in which Nehemiah received this bad news. One day as he was walking around the palace in Susa, he heard some Jews speaking in the Hebrew language and inquired of them regarding conditions in Jerusalem. They told him of the constant enmity of the neighboring people, and of how they were subjected to harassment day and night, and even that many dead people could be found along the roads.[1] The Scriptural account does not exactly correspond with this, unless we should set aside the usual opinion of commentators that Hanani was an actual brother of Nehemiah; but the narratives have one thing in common. Hanani was only one of several people who brought the bad news.

"It cannot be definitely ascertained whether or not Hanani was actually a blood brother of Nehemiah. However, in Nehemiah 7:2, Nehemiah again referred to him as his brother, leading to the speculation that he was really a brother in the ordinary sense."[2] Williamson wrote that, "It is likely that the word (brother) should be taken literally."[3]


Verse 1-2

"The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

"Now it came to pass in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men out of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, that were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem."

"The words of Nehemiah" (Nehemiah 1:1). This stands as the title of the whole book; and the critical canard that, "These words were probably added by a later scribe,"[4] should be rejected. "No other historical book begins in this manner,"[5] and therefore no `later scribe' could possibly have been so foolish as to make such an unheard of addition. However, all of the prophetic books begin thus; and in all these cases they constitute the title of the book, as they most certainly do here. "Verse 1a (Nehemiah 1:1) here contains the title of the whole book."[6] "This book is one of the outstanding autobiographical masterpieces of the ancient world."[7]

"Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah" (Nehemiah 1:1). The tribe to which Nehemiah belonged is not revealed; but, "Eusebius and Jerome assert that he was of the tribe of Judah."[8] Jamieson supposed that this is true and added further that, "He was of the royal family of David."[9] Matthew Henry, however, stated that, "If 2 Maccabees 1:18 is the truth in their statement that Nehemiah offered sacrifices, then we must conclude that he was a priest and therefore of the tribe of Levi."[10] These references are an excellent example of scholarly comment on something which the sacred Scriptures do not reveal.

"The month Chislev in the twentieth year" (Nehemiah 1:2). The month Chislev corresponded to our November-December; and the twentieth year here is a reference to, "The twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), in the year 445 B.C."[11]

"In Shushan the palace" (Nehemiah 1:2). "This is the same place as Susa, where Daniel saw the vision of the ram with two horns (Daniel 8:2),"[12] and, "Where, in the year 478 B.C., Esther became Xerxes' queen in this palace."[13] "This place was the winter residence of Persian kings";[14] "It was located east of the river Tigris and near the head of the Persian gulf."[15]


Verse 3

A SUMMARY OF THE BAD NEWS

"And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire."

"The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down" (Nehemiah 1:3). This should not be read as meaning that the breaking down of the wall had happened only recently. At this point in history, the wall had never been rebuilt since Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it. There had indeed been an effort by the Jews to rebuild the wall, somewhat earlier in the reign of this same Artaxerxes I; but that had been totally frustrated by the hatred of Rehum and Shimshai the deputy rulers beyond the River; and in Ezra 4:17-22, we have the record of how the enemies of Israel had forcefully stopped all such efforts to rebuild the city. (See my discussion of this in Ezra 4.)


Verse 4

NEHEMIAH'S RESPONSE TO THE BAD NEWS

"And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days; and I fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. And I said:"

As cupbearer of the king, Nehemiah was a prominent and trusted member of the king's court, living in honor, security and luxury; "But he could not forget that he was an Israelite, and this was similar to the emotions that governed the life of Moses."[16]

"I prayed before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4). "This title of the Almighty is Persian rather than Jewish; but it was a favorite of Nehemiah who had been brought up in Persia."[17] We keep encountering remarks of this kind in the writings of several commentators; but there is no way that they can be considered true. Jonah mentioned "The God of heaven" in the eighth century B.C. (Nehemiah 1:9); and we find it also in the works of Moses about one millennium before Nehemiah's time (Genesis 24:3,7).


Verses 5-11

NEHEMIAH'S PRAYER

"I beseech thee, O Jehovah, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments: let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee at this time, day and night, for the children of Israel, thy servants, while I confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee. Yea, I and my father's house have sinned: we have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the ordinances, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples: but if ye return unto me, and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them to the place that I have chosen, to cause my name to dwell there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who delight to fear thy name; and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man."

"If ye trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples" (Nehemiah 1:8). Here Nehemiah was remembering the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-8.

This is a fervent beautiful prayer, and there's not a word in it that suggests any other person than Nehemiah as the author of it. Yet the critics who profess to know everything, and who are unable to find any dependable record whatever in the Holy Bible, declare this prayer to be fraudulently ascribed to Nehemiah. Hamrick stated that, "This prayer is probably not a verbatim quotation from Nehemiah."[18] And Oesterley even professed to know who wrote it! "The Chronicler took this prayer from the Temple liturgy and put it into the mouth of Nehemiah"![19] It is difficult to imagine a more arrogant conceit than that which produces such comments. Where is there any prayer in the Temple liturgy that duplicates this? It simply does not exist.

"There was a grave personal risk to Nehemiah in his decision to champion the cause of the distressed citizens in Jerusalem, because his master Artaxerxes I had already accepted the charge of the Samaritans that Jerusalem was a bad and rebellious city (See Ezra 4:17-22); and any request of Nehemiah of Artaxerxes would involve asking him to rescind a decree that he himself had made only a few years previously."[20]

"And grant him mercy in the sight of this man" (Nehemiah 1:11). Speaking of himself in the third person here, Nehemiah prays that God will grant him mercy before the king. "What man he means is explained by the following supplementary remark, `And I was cupbearer to the king,' without whose favor and permission Nehemiah could not have carried out his intention."[21]

"Mercy is what Nehemiah prays for, especially mercy from God, as he makes his petition before Artaxerxes."[22] It is significant that Nehemiah in this prayer did not speak of Artaxerxes as `the king,' but as 'this man.' "Such expressions as `a man,' or `this man,'" according to Oesterley, "Come from a Hebrew word that carries `a note of contempt."'[23] Perhaps Nehemiah was thinking that, "After all the great king is only a man, subject in every way to the will of God."

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/nehemiah-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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