Nehemiah Hears Bad News. 1#1:1] The first mission of Nehemiah, from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I, lasted from the spring (2:1) of 445 B.C. until 433 B.C. (5:14). It is recounted in 1:1–6:15; 12:27–43; 6:16–7:5; 11:1–21; in terms of chronology, these texts may usefully be read in that order. Kislev: the ninth month (November–December). Susa: the winter residence of the Persian kings, in southwest Iran. The words of Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah.
In the month Kislev of the twentieth year, I was in the citadel of Susa 2when Hanani, one of my brothers, came with other men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews, the remnant preserved after the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3They answered me: “The survivors of the captivity there in the province are in great distress and under reproach. The wall of Jerusalem has been breached, its gates gutted by fire.” 4When I heard this report, I began to weep and continued mourning for several days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
5#1:5] Nehemiah’s prayer is a communal confession of sin, characteristic of Second Temple piety; cf. Ezr 9:6–15; Neh 9:6–37; Dn 9:4–19. #1:5] Dt 7:9, 12; Dn 9:4. I prayed: “Lord, God of heaven, great and awesome God, you preserve your covenant of mercy with those who love you and keep your commandments. 6#1:6] 2 Chr 6:40. May your ears be attentive, and your eyes open, to hear the prayer that I, your servant, now offer in your presence day and night for your servants the Israelites, confessing the sins we have committed against you, I and my ancestral house included. 7#1:7] Dn 3:29–30. We have greatly offended you, not keeping the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances you entrusted to your servant Moses. 8#1:8] Dt 30:1–5. But remember the admonition which you addressed to Moses, your servant, when you said: If you prove faithless, I will scatter you among the peoples; 9but if you return to me and carefully keep my commandments, even though your outcasts have been driven to the farthest corner of the world, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place I have chosen as the dwelling place for my name. 10#1:10] Dt 9:29. They are your servants, your people, whom you freed by your great might and strong hand. 11#1:11] Ps 118:25. Lord, may your ears be attentive to the prayer of your servant and that of all your servants who willingly revere your name. Grant success to your servant this day, and let him find favor with this man”—for I was cupbearer to the king.#1:11] Cupbearer to the king: an important official in the royal household.