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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Verse 1

THE SAD TIDINGS FROM JUDAH, Nehemiah 1:1-3.

1. The words of Nehemiah — Like each book of the twelve minor prophets, this Book of Nehemiah opens with an announcement of its author’s name. In thus it differs from all the other historical books. Nehemiah is here called the son of Hachaliah, but otherwise his genealogy is unknown. He was, probably, like Zerubbabel, a descendant of the house of Judah, and of the family of David. His words are here to be understood, not merely as his discourses, but his acts and experiences also.

The month Chisleu — The ninth month of the Jewish year, corresponding nearly with our December. It was amid the rains of this same month, twelve years before, that the Jews assembled at Jerusalem to Ezra to confess their sins, and to put away their heathen wives. Ezra 10:9.

The twentieth year — Of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. Comp. Nehemiah 2:1.

Shushan the palace — So called because it was the seat of the principal palace of the Persian Empire. Strabo says (xv, 3, 3) that the palace of this place was embellished more than the other palaces of the empire. Shushan, or, as it is more commonly called, Susa, was the winter residence of the kings of Persia, as Ecbatana was their summer residence. See note on Ezra 6:2. It has been identified with the modern Sus, or Shush. Its ruins cover a space six thousand feet long, by four thousand five hundred feet broad. By excavations made in these mounds of rubbish, Mr. Loftus, in 1852, discovered what he regards as the remains of the identical palace mentioned here and in the Book of Esther. He ascertained the position of the seventy-two columns of the ancient palace, and was thus enabled to present the following ground-plan. In this plan there is a great central hall of thirty-six columns, surrounded on three sides by great porches, each having twelve columns. These columns were over eight feet in diameter, and stand about twenty-seven feet apart. The same plan appears, also, in the great palace of Xerxes at Persepolis. See note on Esther 5:1. These exterior porches were, according to Fergusson, the great audience halls, and served the same purpose as the “house of the forest of Lebanon” in Solomon’s palace. It was at this great palace that Daniel saw his vision of the ram and the he goat, (Daniel 8:2;) here Xerxes “sat on the throne of his kingdom” when he ordered the feast at which he proposed to exhibit the beauty of his queen Vashti, (Esther 1:2;) and here Nehemiah served as cupbearer.

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Shushan was one of the most ancient and celebrated cities of the East, and was wisely fixed upon by the kings of Persia as the chief seat of their court and empire. Its ruins are situated about one hundred miles north of the northern end of the Persian Gulf, in a fertile region watered by the rivers Kherkhah and Dizful.


Verse 2

2. Hanani, one of my brethren — Called emphatically his own brother in Nehemiah 7:2.

I asked them — Hence it does not seem that they were sent, as some suggest, expressly to inform Nehemiah of the sad state of things at Jerusalem.

Jews that had escaped — Those that had survived all the calamities and dangers to which the new community at Jerusalem had been exposed.

Which were left of the captivity — Or, which remained. This further defines the preceding clause, as meaning those returned exiles who were still to be found in Judea; those who remained out of multitudes that had fallen.


Verse 3

3. There in the province — The province of Judea. Comp. Ezra 5:8.

In great affliction and reproach — From the time of the arrival there of Zerubbabel and the first body of exiles until this date, the returned Jews had been vexed and troubled by neighbouring enemies — the descendants of the nations whom the eastern kings had settled in the cities of Samaria.

And though by the favour of the Persian kings they had succeeded in rebuilding the temple, they were still in a comparatively weak and helpless state, and their now implacable enemies, the Samaritans, would naturally take every opportunity that offered to trouble and distress them.

The wall… broken down, and the gates… burned — This partly explains their affliction and reproach. The returned exiles had never been able to rebuild the walls and gates of their loved city; and because they still remained in the ruined condition to which the Chaldean army had reduced them more than a century before, (2 Kings 25:9-10,) it was a standing affliction and reproach to the Jews.

Some critics aver that this ruinous state of the wall and gates of Jerusalem must have been caused by some recent calamity — probably by those neighbouring heathen tribes whose daughters had been married to certain Jews, but had been lately put away by Ezra’s legislation, as described in Ezra 10. They urge that the destruction effected by Nebuchadnezzar’s army more than a hundred years before could have been no news to Nehemiah. But this, like the position of these same critics on the passage in Ezra 4:6-23, (where see notes,) lacks support in the Scripture history. If the walls of Jerusalem had ever been rebuilt since their destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, it is strange that no mention of it occurs in these histories. Their rebuilding by Nehemiah was considered of such importance that a considerable portion of this book is given to a description of it, and any previous work of the kind must have been of sufficient importance to demand, at least, a passing notice. But no such notice is found. The complaint of the Jews’ enemies in Ezra 4:12-16, that the returned exiles were building up the walls of the city, was, as we have shown in the notes there, a crafty misrepresentation, a perversion of the truth, for they were rebuilding the temple, not the city. A work of such importance as the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem needs stronger evidence than that letter of the enemies of Judah, so manifestly given to misrepresentation, as the whole context shows.

It may not have been positively news to Nehemiah to be told that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were broken down and destroyed, but this fact was mentioned as showing the great cause or occasion of the affliction and reproach of the Jews at Jerusalem, and seems to have first suggested to Nehemiah the importance of having those walls and gates rebuilt. A work of such magnitude as the rebuilding of that ancient city, and especially of its defences, could not have been undertaken without express permission from the king, and no such permit had ever yet been granted since its destruction by the king of Babylon. The proclamations of Cyrus and Darius authorized only the rebuilding of the temple, and that any thing more than this had yet been attempted by the Jews is without proof.


Verse 4

NEHEMIAH’S GRIEF AND PRAYER, Nehemiah 1:4-11.

4. I sat down and wept — Perhaps now for the first time a deep, keen sense of his people’s woes came over his soul.


Verse 5

5. The great and terrible God — As his fearful judgments on his own people showed.

Mercy for them that love him — As the law and his word by the prophets, and the whole history of Israel, abundantly testified.


Verse 6

6. Thine ear… thine eyes — He that formed the ear, shall he not hear his children’s cry? He that made the eye, shall he not see the sufferings of his people?


Verse 7

7. Commandments… statutes… judgments — Embracing respectively the moral precepts, like the ten commandments, the established rites and ceremonies of worship, and the judicial decision in respect to sin and righteousness.

Thy servant Moses — Moses and the law were then associated as now, and here is evidence that the Pentateuch was familiar to Nehemiah. Compare the marginal references in the next two verses.


Verse 11

11. Mercy in the sight of this man — Favour before king Artaxerxes. Upon hearing of the great affliction and reproach of the Jews at Jerusalem, Nehemiah seems to have conceived the design of obtaining authority from the king to rebuild Jerusalem. This he made a matter of prayer night and day for about four months, (see note on Nehemiah 2:1,) and in these verses we doubtless have the substance of the prayer he offered continually until he obtained his desire.

This man — “The mighty monarch of the Persian empire would be addressed by his flatterers as if he were more than man; yet Nehemiah knew that in the sight of God he was upon a level with his meanest subjects.” — Scott.

The king’s cupbearer — An officer of high rank in the ancient oriental courts, whose business was to take charge of the royal wines, and pour them out and bear them in drinking vessels to the king. In Genesis 40:1, the original word is rendered butler. Rabshakeh is supposed to have held this office in the Assyrian court. See note on 2 Kings 18:17.

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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/nehemiah-1.html. 1874-1909.

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