▪ Nehemiah was cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes. (Nehemiah 1:11) In the royal courts of the ancient Middle East, the king’s cupbearer was no menial servant. On the contrary, he was a high-ranking official. Classical literature and a wealth of ancient pictorial representations of cupbearers allow us to draw a number of conclusions regarding Nehemiah’s role at the Persian court.
The cupbearer would taste the king’s wine to protect him from poisoning. The cupbearer thus had the king’s unreserved confidence. “The great need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues which were endemic to the Achaemenid [Persian] court,” says scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi. The cupbearer was likely also a favorite official who had considerable influence with the king. His close proximity to the monarch on a daily basis may have enabled him to decide who had access to the king.
Such a position may have had a bearing on the success of Nehemiah’s request to be allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. Nehemiah must have been highly valued by the king. The Anchor Bible Dictionary observes: “The king’s only reply was ‘How soon will you come back?’”—Nehemiah 2:1-6.