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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Nehemiah 4

Verses 1-23

Opposition (4:1-23)

The antagonism which had been anticipated in the preceding references to the enemies of the Jews comes to more violent expression. As the work on the wall goes on in earnest it attracts the attention of Sanballat, whose questions (vs. 2) indicate a serious concern. The text of verse 2 is difficult, and the second question is especially uncertain. Tobiah, also mentioned before (Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19), resorts to ridicule.

Nehemiah’s reaction is a characteristic blend of prayer and work. The ejaculatory prayer in verses 4-5 is similar to others in this book (for example, Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:14). The tone and content are more like some of the Imprecatory Psalms, and, like these, is to be explained by the fact that the authors identified their own work with the purpose of God, hence their enemies as God’s. It cannot be denied, however, that Nehemiah’s prayer falls short of the New Testament ideal.

Verses 7-12 represent the climax of this stage of the opposition: on the one hand a coalition of neighboring tribes ("Ashdodites" would be dwellers in ancient Philistia), on the other hand the apprehension of the people in Jerusalem, all beautifully and dramatically expressed in a series of quotations — a lament by the community ("Judah"), an exultation by the enemy, and a frightening report by the Jews who lived in districts outside Jerusalem and hence nearer enemy territory.

The measures taken by Nehemiah are well known as an example of practicality wedded to genuine religious faith. Alternation of soldiers with the builders, provision of weapons for the builders themselves, a scheme for rallying all help to a threatened spot, and arrangements for keeping the people from the vicinity in the city overnight, were the practical methods which were strengthened by the steady example of Nehemiah himself (vs. 23) and the faith he expressed and inspired (vss. 14, 20).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/nehemiah-4.html.