King Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah the right to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Nehemiah arrives, assays the city’s walls, and convinces his brethren to shore up the breaches in those walls.
Nehemiah embarks on a covert operation: “I went out by the Valley Gate, at night, toward the Jackals’ Spring and the Dung Gate; and I surveyed the walls of Jerusalem that were breached… The prefects knew nothing of where I had gone or what I had done…” (vv. 13, 16)
III. Important Verses
vv. 2-5: The king said to me, “How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill? It must be bad thoughts.” I was very frightened, but I answered the king, “May the king live forever! How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is your request?” With a prayer to the God of Heaven, I answered the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.”
vv. 19-20: When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard, they mocked us and held us in contempt and said, “What is this that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” I said to them in reply, “The God of Heaven will grant us success, and we, His servants, will start building. But you have no share or claim or stake in Jerusalem!”
1-9. Nehemiah is sent to Jerusalem to improve the situation
11-16. Nehemiah reconnoiters the city’s walls
17-18. Nehemiah convinces the Jews to rebuild the city walls
19-20. Resolve in the face of opposition
Collins discusses the nature of the opposition that Nehemiah faced: “Nehemiah’s great preoccupation on his first visit to Jerusalem was the rebuilding of the city walls. He did not announce publicly his intention of rebuilding. He inspected the walls by night and tried to present his adversaries with a fait accompli. The opposition was led by ‘Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab’ (2:19). Sanballat is known from the Elephantine papyri as governor of Samaria. The name Tobiah is associated with the powerful family of the Tobiads, who lived in Transjordan (modern Jordan) and who were still a powerful force in Judean politics in the second century B.C.E…. Sanballat, Tobiah, and their friends express concern that Nehemiah was rebelling against the king (2:19). Later they claimed that Nehemiah wanted to make himself king (6:6-7). Significantly, however, they are not said to complain to the Persian court. They appear to have accepted Nehemiah’s royal authorization. Instead the opponents only ridiculed the endeavor (4:1-3) and allegedly set a trap for Nehemiah, which he was smart enough to resist (6:1-9). These people were clearly involved in a power struggle with Nehemiah. His actions can be understood as an attempt to make Jerusalem independent of Samaria and Ammon, the home turf of Sanballat and Tobiah. He was not attempting to achieve independence from Persia. On the contrary, the distant Persian monarch was the source of his authority, bu which he hoped to free Judah from the influence of its immediate neighbors.” (439)
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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