Nehemiah and King Artaxerxes (Neh 2:1-2:8)

“At that time, I was the cupbearer to the king. In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served him, I carried the wine. I gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me. ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king. ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste? Its gates have been destroyed by fire.’ Then the king said to me. ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king. ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.’ The king said to me, with the queen sitting beside him. ‘How long will you be gone? When will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me. I set him a date. Then I said to the king. ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may grant me passage until I arrive in Judah. Grant me a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, directing him to give me timber. Then I can make beams for the gates of the temple fortress, for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.’ The king granted me what I asked. The gracious hand of my God was upon me.”

The cupbearer to the king was an important position with royal power. This is a firsthand account of his conversation with the king, which he seems to know quite well. It does not say how long he had been the cup bearer. Anyway, Nehemiah had a sad face and seemed troubled. The king asked him what was wrong since he had never seemed troubled before this. King Artaxerxes wanted to help him. Then Nehemiah gave him his request. He wanted to go to Judah to repair the graves of his ancestors. The graves were not his main motive. Then the king immediately wanted to know how long he would be gone, as if to say I need you here. Nehemiah gave an unspecified date. He also wanted letters of passage to the Province Beyond the River. On top of that, he wanted the guy in charge of the forests to let him have some wood to build the gates of the temple, the city, and his own home. Notice that someone was in charge of the forests and the wood. They were worried about the environment. The king said fine, because the gracious hand of God was with Nehemiah.