The record of Nehemiah’s request of King Artaxerxes is recorded in the book of Nehemiah chapter 2. We are told that this took place in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (April 2, 444 B.C). Artaxerxes was the same king under whom Ezra returned to Jerusalem according to the evidence from the Elephantine Jewish papyri.
King Artaxerxes noticed that Nehemiah, the king’s cup bearer, was sad. So, the king inquired about the reason for Nehemiah’s sadness. Artaxerxes felt compassion and was ready to ease his servant’s grief. Nehemiah answered him, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire? Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” (Nehemiah 2:3,4).
Nehemiah’s statement implies that Nehemiah’s family had lived in Jerusalem. Like other ancient nations, the Persians had great respect for tombs, and disapproved of their violation. But before Nehemiah gave another reply, he prayed for he was a man of prayer. In every danger, in every difficulty, still more in every crisis, prayers rose from his lips (Nehemiah 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14; etc.).
And he said, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it” (v. 5). It is not stated how much time Nehemiah requested, but it would seem likely that this did not surpass two or three years, which would be enough to make the journey and finish the work. From Nehemiah 5:14, it becomes obvious that Nehemiah was gone from court for about 12 years.
It is noteworthy that Nehemiah asked for no letters to the governors between Susa and northern Syria. He must have felt that part of his voyage would be relatively safe. His enemies, however, were in Samaria, Ammon, and other provinces around Judea, all of which were part of satrapy “Beyond the River.” For his voyage through that area, he asked for special protection and royal documents approving his trip.
Nehemiah indicates three purposes for the wood that was needed:
1- “For the gates of the palace which appertained to the house.” The “house” is the Temple, and the “palace,” is the fortress which protects the temple and is at the northwest side of it. The fortress could have been built between the time of Zerubbabel and 444 B.C., the year of Nehemiah’s return, and was seemingly the forerunner of the fortress of Antonia built by Herod, according to Josephus (Antiquities xv. 11. 4).
2- “For the wall of the city,” especially for the gates.
3- “For the house that I shall enter into.” This was probably Nehemiah’s old family estate, which may have been destroyed, or a new house that he may have planned to build. He apparently assumed that the powers for which he asked which involved his being appointed governor of Judea, and in such a capacity he planned to build a proper dwelling place.
Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request
The king granted Nehemiah his request (v. 6). This could only be described as the result of God’s favor. Nehemiah recognized this, and he gave the Lord the glory for his accomplishment (Ezra 8:18).
Of his journey to Jerusalem, Nehemiah had reported only that he visited the different governors through whose territories he journeyed, particularly in the satrapy “Beyond the River” (Nehemiah 2:9). In doing so, he faced the enemies of the Jews. However, having the royal letters of authority in his hand, and accompanied by companions of Persian soldiers, he faced neither trouble nor danger in his path.
In His service,