In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' reign, in the month of November, I (Nehemiah) was in Shushan, the royal palace, when Hanani, one of my brothers, and certain men came from Judah. I asked them about Jerusalem and about the Jews who were left from the captivity. They told me, "Those still living there in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been destroyed by fire."
When I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned several days. Then I fasted and offered this prayer to the God of heaven, "I pray thee, O the LORD, the God of heaven, who showest kindness to those who love and follow thy commands, let thine ears now be open to hear the prayers of thy servant which I am now making before thee day and night for the Israelites, thy servants, while I confess the sins which we have committed. These are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast saved by thy great power and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I pray thee, let thine ear be open to the petition of thy servant and to the petitions of thy servants who take pleasure in worshipping thee, and give success to thy servant this day, and grant that he may win this man's sympathy."
Now I was cupbearer to the king, and in the month of March in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, the king, I had charge of the wine offered to the king. Up to this time I had not been sad; so the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, for you are not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart." Then I was greatly afraid, and I said to the king, "Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place where my fathers are buried, lies in ruins and its gates are destroyed by fire?" Then the king said to me, "What do you wish?" So I prayed to the God of heaven and said to the king, "If it please the king and if your servant has won your favor, then send me to Judah, to the city where my fathers lie buried, that I may rebuild it." The king said to me (and the queen was also sitting by him), "How long will your journey take, and when will you return?" Then I told him when I would return, so that the king was willing to let me go.
I also said to the king, "If the king is willing, let letters be given me to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's park, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the castle which guards the temple and for the wall of the city and for the house in which I shall live." The king granted me all this, for my God kindly cared for me.
Then I went to the governors of the province and gave them the king's letters. The king had sent with me officers and horsemen; and when Sanballat, the Horonite, and Tobiah, the Ammonite slave, heard of it, it troubled them greatly, that one had come to look out for the welfare of the Israelites.
So I arrived at Jerusalem. After I had been there three days I rose in the night, together with a few of my followers. I told no one what my God had put into my mind to do for Jerusalem, and I had no animal with me except the one upon which I rode. I went out by night through the Valley Gate, toward the Dragon's Well and to the dung Gate; and I examined carefully the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and the places where its gates had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the fountain gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no place for the animal on which I rode to pass.
I also went up in the night along the Brook Kidron and examined the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate and so returned. The rulers did not know where I went or what I did, and I had not as yet told my plan to the Jews or to the priests or to the nobles or to the rulers or to the others who did the work.
Then I said to them, "You see the bad condition in which we are, how Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates are destroyed by fire. Come and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be in disgrace." I told them too how my God had kindly cared for me and the words which the king had spoken to me. They said, "Let us go to work and build?" So they entered heartily into the good work.