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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 4

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Nehemiah 4:1-23

1But [and] it came to pass that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. 2And he spake before his bretnren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day [by day, i.e., openly]? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the 3rubbish which are burned? Now [and] Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall. 4Hear, O our God; for we are despised [a contempt]: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity. 5And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee; for they have provoked thee to anger before [they have acted vexatiously against] the builders. 6So built we [and we built] the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for [and] the people had a mind [heart] to work. 7But [and] it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up [that a bandage was applied to the walls of Jerusalem], and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, 8and conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it [to do wickedness to it]. 9Nevertheless [and] we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them. 10And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that [and] we are not able to build the wall. 11And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease. 12And it came to pass, when the Jews which dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you [they said unto us ten times, i.e., frequently, from all places, Ye shall return unto us]. 13Therefore [and] I set in the lower places [lowest parts] behind the wall [at the place behind the wall], and in the higher places [in the exposed parts], I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses. 15And it came to pass when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work. 16And it came to pass from that time forth [from that day], that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. 17They which builded on the wall and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, [while carrying] every one with one 18of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For [and] the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me. 19And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we areseparated upon the wall, one far from another. 20In what place therefore ye hear 21the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us. So [and] we labored in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. 22Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that [and] in the 23night they may be a guard to us, and labor on the day [by day]. So [and] neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.


16. The ו seems to be misplaced. It should be with הַמָּגִנִּים, and not with הָרְמָחִם. Or the words may have changed places.

17. In עֹמְשִׂים the שׂ taken the place of ם.

22. Note the absence of ל with מִשְמָר and מְלָאכָה.


The Hindrances (1) From Sanballat and his allies

(N. B. Nehemiah 4:1-6 are in the Heb. Nehemiah 4:33–38 of Nehemiah 3:0).

Nehemiah 4:1. Mocked the Jews.—Sanballat was evidently afraid to use violence directly on account of the favor shown by the Persian monarch to the Jews. His great rage could exhibit itself only in mockery.

Nehemiah 4:2. Before his brethren,i.e., Tobiah and his brethren in council. The army of Samaria.—It is likely that Sanballat had actually brought an armed force in sight of the city to intimidate the Jews. In a speech to his officers he uses the language of mockery here given, Will they fortify themselves?—Perhaps, will they help themselves? Keil, comparing Psalms 10:14, reads it “will they leave it to themselves?” which is harsh. (See on Nehemiah 3:8 for the use of this word azab). Will they make an end in a day? Rather, will they make an end (i.e., accomplish it) by day (i.e., openly). So bayyom in Genesis 31:40; Proverbs 12:16; Judges 13:10.

Nehemiah 4:3. Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him.—The style of phrase in this verse suggests what we have already supposed, that when Sanballat addressed his armed men he was in sight of Jerusalem, looking with Tobiah and others at the Jews’ work.

Nehemiah 4:4. Hear, O our God.—Eight times in this book Nehemiah interjects a prayer. They are prayers while writing, not while acting. The grounds of this prayer are, (1) God’s people are despised; (2) excited to fear by the enemy. As in the imprecatory psalms, there is a prophetic power in this prayer. The prayer anticipates God’s justice.

Nehemiah 4:5. They have provoked thee to anger before the builders. Rather, they have vexed (with alarm) the builders. So kaas in Ezekiel 32:9. The leneged is that of hostility as in Daniel 10:13.

Nehemiah 4:6. Unto the half thereof in height. The people had a mind to work.—The disaffected (including probably the high-priest or at least many of his family) were a few, and they had to yield to the zeal of the great mass. Patriotism, piety and security made the wall-building a popular work. (The fourth chapter in the Heb divisions begins here).

Nehemiah 4:7. The Arabians.—Those in Samaria. See on Nehemiah 2:19.The Ammonites.—Tobiah’s influence had probably induced many Ammonites to take active part with Sanballat in opposing the Jews. If Sanballat was a Moabite (as we suppose), that fact would account for an Ammonitish alliance, as the two nations of Moab and Ammon were always closely united, especially against Israel. The Ashdodites, with the Philistine traditional hatred, remained hostile to the Jews until Jonathan, brother of Judas Maccabeus, three hundred years after this, destroyed Ashdod at the defeat of Apollonius.

That the walls of Jerusalem were made up.—Lit., that a bandage was applied to the walls of Jerusalem. So in 2 Chronicles 24:13.

Nehemiah 4:8. To hinder it.—Lit., to do wickedness to it. (So the word toah in Isaiah 32:6). These various nationalities might suppose that by acting in concert, they could show to the Persian king they were only acting in his behalf for the safety of the empire against an insurrectionary movement of the Jews. An attack of Sanballat alone might readily be understood at court as a matter of personal jealousy and aggrandizement. Hence the confederacy.

Nehemiah 4:10-12. And Judah said .… and our adversaries said … the Jews which dwelt by them said. Here were three sources of discouragement: (1) The severity of the work. (2) The threat of destruction by the confederacy. (3) The recall of the country Jews from the work by their timid fellows.

They said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you.—Rather, They said unto us ten times (i.e., frequently), From all places ye shall return unto us. The Jews from the outside towns that were near the enemy came to Jerusalem and endeavored to make their townsmen desist, through fear of injury from Sanballat. [The Heb. Asher as in Esther 3:4.]

Nehemiah 4:13. Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall and on the higher places I even set,etc.—Rather, Therefore set I in the lowest parts at the place behind the wall, in the exposed parts, I even set, etc. Nehemiah placed detachments, properly armed, at such points of the wall as had attained the least height and were thus most exposed to attack. These detachments were formed of the families who had been working at the portions of the wall where these gaps were. There was a temporary cessation from the work. “The lowest parts” and “the exposed parts” are in apposition. “The higher places” (E. V.) is a mistaken rendering. The word tsehihi means “a dry or bare place (comp. Ezekiel 26:4-14), and hence by a metaphorical use, an exposed part of the wall.

Nehemiah 4:14. And I looked.—Implying perhaps an observation of some fear on the part of the different classes of the community. Or it may refer to a simple review of the defenders in their positions.

Nehemiah 4:15. We returned all of us to the wall every one unto his work.—This shows that there had been a cessation of the work at the first alarm.

Nehemiah 4:16. My servants cannot be equal to “my subjects” as some hold, for naar could not be so used by Nehemiah, nor would he consider the people of Judah in the light of subjects. Nehemiah had probably a special band of men attached to his person, either by order of the king of Persia, or by the will of the people at Jerusalem. To these we suspect reference is here made. There is a distinction made between these and the others. These divided themselves into two parts, the one working while the other kept guard; but the others held a weapon while they wrought (Nehemiah 4:17). Habergeon. Old English for “coat of mail.” From hals (neck) and bergen (to protect).

Nehemiah 4:17. Read The builders of the wall and the burden-bearers while carrying. The builders and the burden-bearers each bore a javelin (shelah) in one hand, the builders (as distinct from the burden-bearers) also wearing a sword, as we see in Nehemiah 4:18.

Nehemiah 4:18. For.—Read “And.” The signal trumpet was directly under Nehemiah’s order, as commander of the defence.

Nehemiah 4:22. Lodge within Jerusalem.—That is, during the alarm, those that had their homes in the villages and distant towns should now continue night and day in the city.

Nehemiah 4:23. Only Nehemiah and his immediate family and attendants are here referred to as not putting off their clothes. It became them to be patterns of watchfulness and and diligence to the rest.—Saving that every one put them off from washing.—A puzzling sentence. It is literally “man his weapon the water.” The rendering of the E. V. is in accordance with the old Jewish authorities who regard shilho as a verb of equivalent meaning with pashat (to put off). Probably some words are lost.


1. The wrath and great indignation of Sanballat prove the insincerity of his taunts. If the Jews were so feeble a folk in his estimation, he would not have sought an alliance (Nehemiah 4:8) to fight against them. He had good reason to fear the sudden restoration of the Jewish power, and was merely exercising that which is praised as political wisdom when he used every energy to thwart Nehemiah’s purpose. It is probable that in Galilee there existed a growing remnant of Israel (the men of Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24) having been settled by the King of Assyria in Central Palestine), who, of course, sympathized with the movement at Jerusalem. Sanballat, situated between these two fragments of Israel, was the more alert to see danger in Israel’s growth. Hence his forwardness to move in the matter, for he was evidently the chief mover, although Arabians, Ammonites and Ashdodites were ready enough to take part.

2. The prayer of Nehemiah that the enemy’s reproaches might be turned upon their own head, and that their sin might never be forgiven (comp. Psalms 69:27-28, and Jeremiah 18:23), can only be understood by the soul that is so allied to God as to see His judgments proceeding forth from His holiness. The final judgment by the saints as assessors with God (Psalms 149:6-9 and Revelation 3:21) has the same character. Where the natural mind can only imagine revenge, the spiritual mind sees faith and holiness.

3. Prayer did not slacken the energy of the Jews. They experienced the redoubled zeal and activity which all true prayer produces. They made their prayer to God, and set a watch against their foes day and night. All the natural means whether of mind or matter form channels through which God conveys His grace in answer to prayer. To stop these channels is to cancel prayer. Prayer was never intended to foster idleness or diminish responsibility.

4. The remembrance of the Lord is the sure safe-guard against our afflictions. David says: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8).

Remembering the Lord is an act of faith, a new grasp upon His divine help, and, at the same time, a purification of the heart. Forgetfulness of God is the unguardedness of the soul.


Nehemiah 4:1-17. Our abiding tasks. 1) From work to conflict. (Nehemiah 4:1-8.) a) On account of defying enemies from without and within, b) In spite of faint-hearted friends. c) With faith in the Lord. 2) From conflict to work. Nehemiah 4:9-17.) a) Work remains the principal task. b) It can and must be advanced even during the preparation for conflict; the preparation for conflict does not hinder, but makes us active, zealous, and strong. c) Laziness and ease must be renounced, with self denial. Starke: We must guard ourselves well on all sides, that the devil may not make a breach, for he goes about us like a roaring lion, 1 Peter 5:8. In the common struggle against Satan and his hosts we must support and help one another. True builders of the church of Christ must not only industriously build, i.e., teach and preach, but also diligently act on the defensive, and resist all the powerful incursions of the devil, and all godless conduct, Titus 1:9. In the church militant we must work in full armor, and have the sword of the Spirit at hand, that we may be a match for temptations, Ephesians 6:16-17. God can easily put to naught the crafty attacks of the enemy, Job 5:12.

Nehemiah 4:1-8. The assaults of the people of God. 1) How they originate against it. a) Through enemies who threaten to undo His work. b) Through weak friends, who, in spite of, or, on account of watching and prayer, become depressed and dissuaded from the work. 2) How they are to be overcome. a) By readiness for the conflict, b) By confidence in the great, only-to-be-feared God, who fights for His people.—Bede: Plane hæc ira hæreticorum, hæc verba eorum sunt, qui se Samaritanos, hoc est, custodes legis Dei, frustra cognominant, cum sint maxime Deo contrarii ac legibus ejus, ut pote jamdudum a domo David, hoc est, ab unitate Christi et ecclesiæ per hæreses aut schismata aut mala opera segregati; qui ne sua forte impugnetur atque excludatur impietas, muros fidei ædificari metuunt. … Tales solent imbecilles appellare Judæos, hoc est, confessores fidei, et facile a gentibus superandos, dum in quotidiano animarum certamine plus amant vitia quam virtutis victoriæ palnam obtinere.—Starke: To pray and keep good watch are the best means in the time of danger, Ephesians 6:18. This is the way of many people; they make, indeed, a good start in the Lord’s work, but when it becomes hard they draw back, and wish to take no trouble, Matthew 13:20-21. Honest souls should not allow themselves to be frightened back by them. Nothing makes one more courageous in war than to be entirely assured that God is with us, and fights for us, Romans 8:31; Psalms 27:1.—Our task at the time of attack. 1) Towards defying enemies—to pray and watch, i.e., to be prepared for conflict (Nehemiah 4:1-3). 2) Towards depressed friends, who yet increase the defiance of the enemy—to confirm their confidence in Him who alone is to be feared, and to sharpen their consciousness of the duty of the conflict (Nehemiah 4:8).—What attacks befall the servants of the Lord (as Nehemiah) in their work for the honor of God. 1) Through dangers on the part of defiant enemies, who cannot endure the difference between the kingdom of God and the world. 2) From the dejection, hesitation, and foolishness on the part of weak friends, who easily interrupt the work and put it back. 3) Through the breaches in the walls of Jerusalem, which render the defences of the city difficult.—Our duty to watch and pray. 1) Its cause—the malice of the enemy, their power, their aim, the whole attitude of their hearts towards the kingdom of God. 2) Its result: its fulfilment is difficult to many, certainly faithlessness, increased defiance of the enemy, and dissuasion from the work on the part of weak friends are excited; but in contrast to these are a) watchfulness—b) readiness for the conflict—and c) the increasing the confidence in the Lord.—Bede: Hoc est unicum adversus hostes universos ecclesiæ suffugium oratio videlicet ad Deum, et industria doctorum qui die noctuque in lege ejus meditantes corda fidelium contra insidias diaboli ac militum ejus prædicando, consolando, exhortando præmuniant.

Nehemiah 4:9-17. What obligation does the enmity of the world against the building of the kingdom of God lay upon us? 1) To advance the building with all our might, in spite of dangers (Nehemiah 4:9-10). 2) To be armed while at work (Nehemiah 4:11-12). 3) To heed the signal of the leader, when he calls to conflict (Nehemiah 4:13-14). 4) Perseverance in the preparation for war (Nehemiah 4:15); joyful, sacrificing zeal in the work (Nehemiah 4:16). In all positions severity towards ourselves, particularly towards our love of ease, and laziness.—Starke: The church always needs those distinguished people, who can comfort the weak in faith, and timorous, and can give them a certain hope in the help of God, 1 Thessalonians 5:14. In Nehemiah the rulers of the city, and heads of the church, have an example of godliness in his confidence in God—of foresight and diligent watchfulness in his management of this important work, and his arrangement of such good order and war discipline, also of courage and boldness in his proved heroic spirit in the midst of such great fear, danger, and difficulty as that with which he was surrounded on every side in this difficult work. Also in the spiritual conflict it is obligatory upon teachers and watchmen of the church that they should set the example in watchfulness and perception of the public good, and not allow themselves to be annoyed by any trouble. Revelation 16:15; Luke 12:35.

Nehemiah 4:11-12. The preparation for war of the Christian. 1) Why it is necessary the Christian has to build. His building is an attack upon the world, which is irritated by it to the conflict. 2) In what it consists. The Christian bears, even at work, the right weapons. 3) At what it aims. We must and will secure the continuance of the work, and cultivate the feeling of joy and assurance. God will exercise us at the same time in sobriety, self-denial, and activity. Nehemiah 4:18-21. The voice of our general in face of the enemy 1) What it takes for granted—that we are prepared for the conflict, even when at work. 2) Of what it reminds us—of the greatness of the work which imposes upon us the building of the kingdom of God in others, and particularly in ourselves; and on the many dangers connected with it. 3) What it demands—that we should heed the signal for conflict, and join ourselves with all the faithful in the strife. 4) What it promises—that God will fight for us, and finally cause our work to succeed.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/nehemiah-4.html. 1857-84.
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