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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 4

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

Verses 1-23


The Opposition to the Work

Nehemiah 4 . The roaring lion; or the outward opposition of the enemy.

Nehemiah 5 . The corruption of the flesh; or the work hindered by the low moral condition of the people.

Nehemiah 6 . The wiles of Satan; or the work hindered by the corrupt practices of the enemy.

Nehemiah 7 . The administration of the City; or the safeguards against the enemy.


Nehemiah 4

Every revival amongst the returned remnant calls forth opposition in one form or another.

Zerubbabel sets up the altar and lays the foundation of the temple, and immediately the adversaries, under the leadership of Rehum, raise opposition ( Ezra 4 ).

The second revival, under Haggai and Zechariah, is opposed by Tatnai and his companions ( Ezr_5:3 ).

The third revival under Ezra finds opposers in Jonathan and Jahaziah ( Ezr_10:15 . N. Tr.).

Finally the last revival under Nehemiah is opposed by Sanballat, Tobiah, and others associated with them. This opposition is presented in greater detail than the former ones and is full of instruction for those who, in these last days, are seeking to walk in separation from the corruptions of Christendom. As in the past, so to-day every attempt of God-fearing men to maintain separation from evil amongst the people of God stirs up every form of opposition. Satan knows full well that if he can break down separation between the people of God and the world, every truth will be weakened and the deeper truths of Christianity entirely lost. Whereas the maintenance of the walls of separation coupled with a right spiritual condition, will mean the preservation of every truth recovered in past revivals.

Coming now to the consideration of the opposition to this last revival under Nehemiah, it will be found that it takes different forms, the first being open opposition in which the enemy is seen as the roaring lion ( 1Pe_5:8 ). This form of opposition is mainly before us in chapter 4, together with the special difficulties that it creates.

It will be remembered that the arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem had grieved the enemy ( Neh_2:10 ). Then the decision to build the wall called forth their scorn ( Neh_2:19 ). Now that the good work is in hand it stirs up their rage and indignation ( Neh_4:1 ), leading to the adoption of violent measures, for they conspire "to come and fight against Jerusalem." At first, however, the opposers seek to cover their real feelings of rage by the affectation of contempt for a feeble people and their puny efforts, which, they say, a fox would bring to nothing. If this represented the true state of the case, it would have been needless to trouble themselves further. They could very well leave the matter to the fox to deal with.

Looking merely on the outward circumstances, the enemy with some show of truth speak of this little remnant as "feeble," and very well ask, "Shall they be permitted to go on." (N. Tr.), to sacrifice, to "finish," and "revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish?" But in such questions they left out God and His grace, and talked folly about a fox.

The course Nehemiah takes to meet this attack is simple and instructive. Faced by the rage of Sanballat, "his brethren, and the army of Samaria" he refuses to be drawn into any argument against them; he makes no appeal to them; he suggests no compromise with them; nor does he go forth to oppose them, but he turns to God.

The enemy left God out, Nehemiah brings God in. He owns that the people are despised and in "reproach" (4). When in Babylon he had owned the reproach of the people ( Neh_1:3 ), but how different the circumstances: then they were in reproach because of the ruin of the wall, now they are in reproach because of the building of the wall. In the former case "reproach" was to their shame, now it is to their honour.

Moreover having owned the affliction of the people, Nehemiah proceeds to spread out before God the sin of their opposers, and asks that they may be given "for a prey in the land of captivity." It is not ours, in this day of grace, to ask for judgment on those who oppose, and yet how constantly it is seen, in the government of God, that those who oppose the maintenance of the walls of separation fall into hopeless captivity to the religious world.

But while Nehemiah was fully aware of the opposition of the enemy and, in secret, meets it by the power of prayer, in public the work went on "for the people had a mind (lit. "a heart") to work." It was not simply that Nehemiah and a few earnest leaders had a mind to work, but "the people" had a mind to work. Their heart was in the work of maintaining what was due to God by means of the walls and gates. This unity of mind, and energy of purpose, gave sure evidence of a work of the Spirit of God.

Nor is it otherwise to-day. As then, God may call attention to the need of separation from evil by one or two, but if there is a general movement amongst the people of God uniting them in one mind and effort to maintain separation from evil, it will surely evidence a work of the Spirit of God.

The united perseverance of the people of God arouses the united opposition of the enemy (7, 8). Hitherto the opposition had come from individuals but now, Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites, unite with Sanballat and Tobiah "to fight against Jerusalem." People with very different interests and views can join hands in opposing a movement which is of God. And this united movement emboldens the opposition to violent measures. Commencing with sneers, developing into rage, it ends in violent methods. Again and again has this been verified in the history of God's people. Those who end in taking violent measures generally commence by speaking sneeringly of their brethren. Again as the spirit in which the people proceed with the work proves the movement to be of God, so the spirit of the opposition proves it to be a work of the enemy. For behind this joint attack there is "wrath" and "conspiracy." "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" ( Jam_1:20 ), and the Spirit of God will be no party to underhand human devices. Thus it is that the true character of the opposition can often be detected by its carnal methods.

The people of God have to remember that the weapons of their warfare are not carnal. This the remnant in Nehemiah's day realize, for they meet this united attack of the enemy by uniting in prayer to God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (9). They met the power of the enemy by the yet greater power of prayer. When men turned upon them in rage, they turned to God in prayer. But if they set their faces toward God they also "set a watch against the enemy." And this still has a voice for us, for has not the Lord said "Watch and pray" ( Mat_26:41 )? So too the Apostle, in the exhortation of the Epistle, unites "praying and watching" ( Eph_6:18 ). Moreover the Apostle has linked "perseverance" with watching and prayer, and this too is set forth by this feeble remnant for if they set a watch they do so "day and night."

Thus by prayer, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, the enemy is held at bay in this first opposition, but, as a result of the attack, the people of God are harassed, and this in a threefold way.

First, by corruption from within (10). Alas there are those who take a leading place among the people of God and yet would stop the building of the wall. Thus we read "Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall." The after-history will bring to light that the nobles of Judah are in constant communication with the enemy. For the moment this evil association with the enemy is not divulged, and the reasons they advance for stopping the work have no connection with the enemy. The facts they bring forward may be true, but the conclusion based upon the facts is entirely false. There is no question as to the weakness of those who bear the burdens, and it is also plain that there is much rubbish, but to conclude therefore that it is impossible to build the wails is false. Yet how often in our days have these facts been asserted to contend for a similar false conclusion. There are still those who say "The people of God are so weak, the corruption of Christendom is so great, evil is so universal, that it is really impossible to maintain a strict separation according to the word of God. We must accept things as they are and do the best we can." Such is the voice of Judah in our day. And as in Nehemiah's day, those who use such language are too often found in close association with the opposers of the truth.

Second, the remnant are further harassed by the fear of sudden and unexpected onslaughts of the enemy (verse 11). The adversaries say "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them." This is a deliberate effort to obtain a footing amongst the people of God in order "to slay them and cause the work to cease." Again there are not wanting to-day those who would creep in unawares to undermine the principle of separation that is sought to be maintained.

Thirdly there is the attempt to harass those engaged in the work by the constant repetition of disquieting rumours (12). There are those who dwell by the enemy, and seem very well acquainted with all his doings, and by the reports they bring from time to time tend to distract the builders. They are not enemies, but Jews who bring these reports. Possibly they have no intention of opposing, indeed they may think they are helping by giving timely warnings, nevertheless they are doing the enemies' work.

Here then we have a little remnant of God's people set upon keeping out evil, opposed by the open opposition of the enemy, and harassed by the corrupt arguments of men in league with the enemy, the apprehension of unexpected attacks, and the constant repetition of disquieting rumours.

The remainder of the chapter informs us how these different difficulties were met by Nehemiah. First he arms the people for the conflict and sets them in the exposed places (13). There were "the lower places" and "the higher places" in the walls which were peculiarly open to attack. The devil cares not how he gets a footing among the people of God, whether by 'low' walk or 'high' pretension. May we not say the wall was low in the Assembly at Corinth where the world was getting in through lasciviousness? At Colosse, where the Assembly was in danger of letting in religious flesh by lofty pretensions, may we not say there was danger "in the higher places"?

To meet either form or evil we need to put on the whole armour of God. But in Nehemiah's day the confidence of the people was not to be solely in their weapons of defence. The word was "Remember the Lord which is great and terrible" (14), and thus would they be delivered from all fear. So too in like spirit the Apostle precedes his exhortation as to the armour by saying "My brethren be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might."

Moreover in defending themselves they were fighting for their brethren and for those who would come after them (14). In all our conflicts against evil and for the maintenance of the truth, we do well to keep before us these three things.

1st. To remember the Lord - all that He is and all that is due to Him.

2nd. To remember our brethren - that in maintaining the truth, often in a local conflict, we are fighting for all our brethren.

3rd. we are helping to maintain the truth for those who may follow us - our sons and our daughters.

Thus it came to pass in the days of Nehemiah God brought to nought the counsel of opposers. Thus encouraged the work proceeded as we read, "We returned all of us to the wall 1, every one to his work" (15). Every one had his appointed work, some wrought in the actual work of building, some in conflict against the enemy; some "builded on the wall," some "bare burdens," some "loaded" the burdens, and there was one who sounded the trumpet to warn of danger. Every one had his appointed work but all contributed to one end - to build the wall and set up the gates.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/nehemiah-4.html. 1832.
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