Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Account of Nehemiah, Neh 1:1. His inquiry about the Jews that had returned from their captivity, and concerning the state of Jerusalem, of which he receives the most discouraging information, Neh 1:2, Neh 1:3. He is greatly affected; fasts and prays, Neh 1:4. His prayer and confession to God, Neh 1:5-11.
The words of Nehemiah - That this book was compiled out of the journal or memoranda made by Nehemiah himself, there can be no doubt: but that he was not the compiler is evident from several passages in the work it. self. As it is written consecutively as one book with Ezra, many have supposed that this latter was the author: but whoever compares the style of each, in the Hebrew, will soon be convinced that this is not correct; the style is so very different, that they could not possibly be the work of the same person.
It is doubtful even whether the Nehemiah who is mentioned Ezr 2:2, who came to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel, be the same with him who is the reputed author of this book. By the computation of the best chronologists, Zerubbabel came to Jerusalem in A. M. 3468; and Nehemiah, who is here mentioned, did not come before the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which falls in with A. M. 3558, ninety years after: and as his account here is carried down to A. M. 3570, nearly twenty years later, he must at his death have been about a hundred and thirty, allowing him to have been only twenty years old at the time that Zerubbabel went up to Jerusalem. This is by no means likely, as this would make him the king's cupbearer when he was upwards of a hundred years of age! It seems, therefore, evident that the Nehemiah of Ezra cannot be the same with the reputed author of this book, and the cup-bearer of the Persian king.
Son of Hachaliah - Of what tribe or lineage he was, we cannot tell: this is all we know of his parentage. Some suppose he was a priest, and of the house of Aaron, on the authority of 2 Maccabees 1:18, 21; but this is but slender evidence. It is likely he was of a very eminent family, if not of the blood royal of Judah, as only persons of eminence could be placed in the office which he sustained in the Persian court.
The month Chisleu - Answering to a part of our November and December.
Twentieth year - That is, of Artaxerxes, A. M. 3558, b.c. 446.
Shushan the palace - The ancient city of Susa; called in Persian Shuster: the winter residence of the Persian kings.
I asked them concerning the Jews - Josephus gives a probable account of this business: "Nehemiah, being somewhere out of Susa, seeing some strangers, and hearing them converse in the Hebrew tongue, he went near; and finding they were Jews from Jerusalem, he asked them how matters went with their brethren in that city, and what was their state?" And the answer they gave him is, in substance, that recorded in the text; though with several aggravations in Josephus. - Joseph. Ant. lib. xi., c. 5.
The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down - This must refer to the walls, which had been rebuilt after the people returned from their captivity: for it could not refer to the walls which were broken down and levelled with the dust by Nebuchadnezzar; for to hear of this could be no news to Nehemiah.
And mourned certain days - From the month Chisleu to the month Nisan; about four months from the time he received the above information, till the time that Artaxerxes noticed his grief, Neh 2:1. All this time he probably spent in supplication to God; waiting for a favorable opening in the Divine providence. Every good work is not to be undertaken hastily; prayer and watchfulness are necessary to its completion. Many good works have been ruined by making haste.
Lord God of heaven - What was, before the captivity, Jehovah, God of hosts or armies.
Great - Able to do mighty things.
Terrible - able to inflict the heaviest judgments.
Let thine ear - Hear what we say and confess.
Thine eyes open - see what we suffer.
Have not kept thy commandments - The moral precepts by which our lives should be regulated.
Statutes - What refers to the rites and ceremonies of thy religion.
Judgments - The precepts of justice relative to our conduct to each other.
Thy servant Moses - See the parallel places in Lev 26:33 (note), Deu 4:25-27 (note), Deu 28:64 (note), and the notes there. Though in an enemy's country, and far from the ordinances of God, Nehemiah did not forget the law: he read his Bible well, and quotes correctly.
Mercy in the sight of this man - Favour before the king, Ahasuerus. He seems then to have been giving him the cup.
For I was the king's cup-bearer - The king's butler, (the Persians call him saky), which gave him the opportunity of being frequently with the king; and to be in such a place of trust, he must be in the king's confidence. No Eastern potentate would have a cup-bearer with whom he could not trust his life, poison being frequently administered in this way. This verse seems to have been a mental prayer, which Nehemiah now put up as he was delivering the cup into the king's hand.