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(1-23) The opposition of the enemies, and Nehemiah’s plans of defence.
(1) Mocked the Jews.—The mockery comes afterwards. Here, as often in Nehemiah, a general statement is made which is afterwards expanded.
(2) His brethren and the army of Samaria.—The counsellors and body-guard of Sanballat.
Will they fortify themselves?—Rather, will they leave them to themselves? The nations are referred to; but contempt is not scrupulous or precise.
Will they sacrifice?—This is the provocation of God mentioned in Nehemiah 4:5.
(4) Hear, O our God.—The habit of Nehemiah is to turn everything to devotion as he goes on. This prayer is full of an angry jealousy for the honour of a jealous God.
They have provoked thee.—The tone of its holy revenge pervades the Old Testament, and has not altogether departed in the New.
(6) Unto the half.—Up to half the height the wall was now continuous.
(7) Were made up.—Arose to the height before mentioned.
Began to be stopped.—The wall, they heard, was continuous. The tribes here enumerated were only small parties under the immediate influence of Sanballat: nothing beyond that would have been likely to occur among subjects in common of Persia.
(8) And conspired.—Not fearing the Persian authority, they resolved to attack the city; but it will be seen that they soon abandoned that project.
To hinder it.—Rather, to do it hurt.
(9) Because of them.—Rather, over against them: opposite to each point of their encampment. The setting watch was accompanied by solemn and united prayer.
(10) And Judah said.—As hereafter, in the case of the complaints of the people (Nehemiah 5:0), the writer gives a summary of difficulties. The Jews, or “Judah”—a significant term—complained of their growing feebleness, especially as so many were diverted to the watches.
(11) They shall not know.—As to the adversaries, their plan was evidently to watch and surprise, instead of making the threatened attack.
(12) From all places.—The neighbouring Jews in their terror said by repeated messages “from all places ‘Ye shall return to us,’ “: that is, for our protection.
(13) After their families.—In allusion to the ambushes of Nehemiah 4:11, Nehemiah set families together—besides the appointed guards—“ in the lower places,” where the wall was not raised to the due height, that is, really, “on the higher places,” or rather, the bare places, whence enemies might be better seen. The “lower” were the “bare” places.
(14) And I looked.—It appears that the energetic appeal now described was uttered on the actual approach of an attacking party.
(15) We returned.—This verse remarkably condenses the frustration of the attempt and the cessation of the special guard.
(16) My servants.—The building was resumed with special precautions, very minutely described. “Nehemiah’s own servants” are distinguished from “all the house of Judah.” The former were divided into two parties, one of which wrought on the work still unfinished and the other held their weapons.
Habergeons are coats of mail or corselets, thin plates of metal sewn upon leather.
The rulers were behind—Ready to lead the defence, if necessary.
(17) They which builded.—Divided into masons and their burden-bearers. The latter held in one hand a weapon; the former built with both hands, and had their weapons at their side.
(21) So we laboured.—This is a general recapitulation, with additional note of the length of the day’s work during this pressing season.
(23) Saving that every one put them off for washing.—This rendering is very improbable, as the words are simply: “every man his weapon water.” Some interpret that “each man’s weapon was his water”: evidently too subtle a turn of thought. It is best, on the whole, to supply the ellipsis: “every man went with his weapon to the water.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12