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Chapter 2:1-8 (ESV)

Posted on October 25, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 2:1-8 (ESV) - In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

Question to consider: Why did Nehemiah become afraid when the king noticed he was sad?

The month of Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar which makes it four months since Nehemiah began to pray. The first month is also noted for beginning with Passover. The office of cup-bearer has been around for thousands of years. In the book of Genesis, an imprisoned Joseph had an encounter with the baker and the cup-bearer to Pharaoh so we know it pre-dated Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Some historians talk about the position as being prestigious, and that they often were asked to give council to kings since they were one of the few people whom a king could trust.

Whether or not this is true, we at least know a cup-bearer had to be trustworthy since the king put his life in his hands every time he ate or drank. The cup-bearer would generally source the food and drink for the king to make sure no one had tampered with it. If they didn’t source it themselves, they ladled a bit of the wine into their hand to taste it and prove to the king that it was okay to drink.

Nehemiah pointed out that he had never been sad in the presence of the king. I’d be curious as to what he meant by “sad” here since the king related it to sickness. Was he unkempt and disheveled or just melancholy? Was he being dramatic in his sadness or had he gone silent? 

Whatever was different about his appearance, it caught the attention of the king. I doubt the king was just being compassionate when he asked. Seeing Nehemiah go from a good disposition to sad could have been taken by the king as a sign that there was some potential plot against him.

I think Nehemiah suddenly realized the implications of the question, and it terrified him. This put him in a position where he had to state that he was upset about something the king had done or conceal his true feelings which ran the risk of becoming untrustworthy. Like the story with Joseph and Pharaoh, the fate of an untrustworthy cup-bearer was not a good one.

So Nehemiah was honest with his answer, and it didn’t take more than a couple of sentences for the king to realize this would lead to a special request. Thankfully, the Lord let Nehemiah find favor with the king so his request wasn’t dismissed or a cause of offense to the king.

There was a strategic advantage for Artaxerxes to help Israel, for he needed an ally against Egypt. I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was Passover. If Nehemiah told the king of what God did to the Egyptians during the Passover, it might have occurred to king Artaxerxes that having a god on his side who already had struck Egypt with plagues at some point in history gave him a strategic advantage.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for granting us favor with people in this world to carry out Your good will and provide for our needs. Help us to do all things for Your glory so that our dealings with the world can become a testimony for Christ. Amen.