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Nehemiah - Chapter 4
Ridicule and Response, Verses 1-9,
The enthusiasm and zeal of the Jews in the construction of the walls of Jerusalem did not escape the anxious attention of their enemies, led by Sanballat. The official position of Sanballat in the land is uncertain, but he must have felt threatened by the re-establishment and strengthening of Jerusalem. He was not a little displeased, for he became very wroth and indignant. Doubtless he felt frustration at not being able to bring it to a stop. He spoke of their work with sarcastic contempt and mocked their efforts. He spread the word to his cohorts in an effort to enlist them in his effort to stop the work. Speaking to his fellows, who made up the army of Samaria, he asked suggestive questions. "What are these feeble Jews up to? Do they intend to fortify their city (suggesting they might have rebellion in mind)? Do they plan to sacrifice? The reason for this question may have been contempt for their temple worship, which they refused to allow the Samaritans to join in. Maybe their wall was to keep out those they denied the privilege of sacrificing in their temple. Then all this zeal and enthusiasm! Do they think they can finish their wall in a day? Will they simply resurrect the burned stones out of the ground and have them take their place in their wall by a miraculous feat?"
In this diatribe Sanballat was joined by his companion, Tobiah the Ammonite, who was a Persian officer of some kind. He commented that the wall was so hurriedly constructed that it could not stand if a small fox leaped upon it.
Nehemiah responded in the spirit which Jesus admonished His servants to have (Matthew 5:11-12). He took it to the Lord in prayer, calling on Him to hear the despising of their enemies and to judge .them according to His own provocation. Nehemiah realized that it was not really the Jews who should be provoked, but the Lord by whose command they were engaged in rebuilding the wall.
Nehemiah’s prayer-must have kept up the courage of his workers,
for they continued steadily on the job (cf. Galatians 6:9, for the present day). Very soon the wall was raised to the halfway mark, because, said Nehemiah, "the people had a mind to work." Much is always accomplished if the Lord’s people are willing to put forth the effort required, according to the ability of each (2 Corinthians 8:12).
All those around heard that the walls were progressing at an astounding rate. With Sanballat and Tobiah the ringleaders, animosity appeared from the ranks of various nations around Judaea, the Arabians from the desert south, the Ammonites from the Transjordan, and the Ashdodites from the Philistine coastland. They had heard that the broken gaps of the ruined walls were being filled and the wall steadily going up, and they were very displeased at the news. It was a very formidable opposition, doubtless much stronger numerically than the Jews.
So determined were they to stop the work they planned to join themselves in force and compel the Jews to cease the work by fighting against them. Nehemiah and his people learned of their plans, but did not quit. Instead they made special prayers to God for His watchcare and set their own watch both day and night lest they be surprised by an attack. There is no place for the Lord’s people to quit when in His work, regardless of the odds the Devil is able to mount against them.
More Discouragement, Verses 10-23
The indication of verse 10 is that the people of Judah were collectively becoming affected by the campaigns of their enemies against them. Some of the same old ridicule became the subject of their protests, that the job was just too great for them, and they might as well give up the effort. Then, too, a rumor was spreading that the enemy army would strike them unexpectedly, kill some, and put a stop to the building. And the Jews who lived adjacent to the enemies brought reports having heard that the enemies planned to cut off all places to which they might escape. The Devil was putting forth his most cunning tricks, attacking from within the ranks of the builders themselves to sow discord and doubt.
Nehemiah refused to be defeated, and his stand kept most of the people ready to support him. He took representatives from each of the families of the workmen and stationed them around the wall to prevent a surprise attack. On the higher places there were lookouts, and in the lower places armed men to prevent an incursion. They were armed with swords, spears, and bows. He also made a speech of exhortation to the nobles and rulers of the Jews, along with all the people, admonishing them to have no fear, assuring them of the great and terrible power of the Lord who was ready to help them. They should boldly fight for families and homes. It was a lengthy Old Testament application of the admonition of the Apostle Peter, "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
The bold determination and opposition of the Jews paid off. The enemies learned that the Jews had discovered their plans. There could be no surprise attack, so they discontinued their plan and took another tack.
The workmen returned to the walls, but Nehemiah did not discontinue his vigilance against the opposition. Thereafter he engaged half his men in building the wall and the other half he armed with spears, shields, bows, and habergeons (breastplates). The rulers of the Jews stood with Nehemiah behind the people to keep up their courage for the work.
Every precaution was taken, with the workmen each being armed with a sword at his side and a work implement in his hand. Nehemiah kept the trumpeter with him so he could order him to sound an alarm if such should be required. To the captains of the people Nehemiah explained his plan. The work was great and large, the people were widely scattered around the wall; therefore, when they heard the sound the trumpet they should rally to defend themselves against the attack. He reminded them that God would fight for them. Compare the admonition of Paul to the Christian in his warfare (Ephesians 6:10-11).
The Jewish laborers worked long days, from the rising of the sun in the morning to the appearance of the stars at night. As an extra precaution, and probably as an expedient of time as well, Nehemiah requested those who lived outside Jerusalem to remain overnight in the city. So everyone, laborer, servant, ruler, Nehemiah himself, all slept in their clothes, never taking them off except to launder them. Their steadfast tenacity and dependence on the Lord must gain them the victory.
From chapter four there are many good lessons, some of which are: 1) Zealous Christian workers can expect ridicule from the world; 2) prayer and faithfulness will get the Lord’s work done; 3) the power of evil is very great, but it can be overcome in the Lord; 4) great danger exists when the Devil is able to infiltrate the ranks of God’s people; 5) one confident, determined leader can influence all to persevere; 6) the need for vigilance in the cause of Christ is never ended.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13