Nehemiah, a Jew born in Persia during the Exile, was a cupbearer to Persia's king Artaxerxes. (Neh. 2:1.) High esteem accompanied the office of cupbearer, a well-paid and influential position.
The Dictionary of the Bible, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, offers this commentary on the office of cupbearer: "The holder of this office was brought into confidential relations with the king, and must have been thoroughly trustworthy, as part of his duty was to guard against poison in the king's cup. In some cases he was required to taste the wine before presenting it."The position of Nehemiah as cupbearer to Artaxerxes was evidently high . . . and the narrative of Nehemiah shows the high esteem of the king, who is so solicitous for his welfare that he asks the cause of his sadness." (Neh. 2:2.)
Nehemiah's sadness resulted from the news he received that the Jews who earlier returned from exile to Jerusalem faced great affliction and reproach. Enemies surrounded them, Jerusalem's walls were demolished and its gates burned. The depth of the cupbearer's despair over the news, as recorded in the first chapter of Nehemiah, indicates his strong patriotism for a land he had never seen.
After fasting and praying, Nehemiah received permission from Artaxerxes to go to Jerusalem. (Judah then was a subdivision of the Persian government.) The king also provided an escort and wrote letters to governors of provinces through which Nehemiah would pass. The letters gave Nehemiah authority to receive supplies from the governors. The king commissioned Nehemiah to act as governor of Jerusalem. (Neh. 2:6-9; 5:14.)
Articles on this page may be used in conjunction with the Gospel Doctrine course of study.
Information compiled by Gerry Avant
Sources: Dictionary of the Bible, published by Charles Scribner's Sons; John A. Dickson's New Analytical Bible and Dictionary of the Bible, and Land and Leaders of Israel, Ezra C. Dalby.
Correction: The Sept. 15 issue of Church News, featured Minerva Teichert's painting of Esther. The painting is owned by Betty Stokes, not the LDS Church as was indicated in the credit line. As a young woman, Sister Stokes posed for the painting of Esther, the Jewish maid who "was fair and beautiful" and who became wife of King Ahasuerus.