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EXPLANATORY NOTES.] Nehemiah 4:1-6 are in the Hebrew v. 33–38 of chap. Nehemiah 3:1
Nehemiah 4:1. Sanballat] See on chap. Nehemiah 2:10. That we builded the wall] That we were building it (participle expresses not merely resolve, but act of commencing). Mocked] Afraid to use violence.
Nehemiah 4:2. Before his brethren] i. e. Tobiah and his brethren in council. The army of Samaria] It is likely that Sanballat had brought an armed force in sight of the city. What do these feeble Jews? &c.] Keil makes two pairs of questions. Will they leave the building of the fortified walls to themselves? i. e. Do they think they are able with their poor resources to carry out this great work? Will they sacrifice? i. e. bring sacrifices to obtain God’s miraculous assistance? Sanballat casts scorn upon the Jews’ ability and upon their faith in God. Second pair of questions; Will they finish the work to-day, directly? Have they even the requisite materials? Will they revive? &c. The building-stone of Jerusalem was limestone, which, softened by fire, loses its vitality.
Nehemiah 4:3. Tobiah] See on chap. Nehemiah 2:10. If a fox go up] Foxes in great numbers infested the ruined and desolate places in the mount and city of Zion (Lamentations 5:18).
Nehemiah 4:4. Hear, O our God] An imprecatory prayer anticipating God’s justice.
Nehemiah 4:5. Cover not] i. e. forgive not (Psalms 85:2).
Nehemiah 4:6. All the wall was joined together unto the half thereof] Completed to the half of the intended height.
Nehemiah 4:7. The Arabians] Those in Samaria. See on chap. Nehemiah 2:19. The Ammonites] Incited by their countryman Tobiah. Ashdodites] Inhabitants of Ashdod, a Philistine city destroyed three hundred years after. That the walls of Jerusalem were made up] Lit. that a bandage was applied to the walls of Jerusalem. A Biblical expression (2 Chronicles 24:13; Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 30:17; Jeremiah 33:6).
Nehemiah 4:9. We] Nehemiah and the superintendents of the work.
Nehemiah 4:10. Judah said, &c] The labour is beyond our power.
Nehemiah 4:12. Ten times] i. e. frequently.
Nehemiah 4:13. Therefore set I, &c.] Nehemiah placed detachments properly armed at such points of the walls as had attained the least height, and were most exposed to attack.—Crosby.
Nehemiah 4:14. And I looked, &c] These words can only mean, When I saw the people thus placed with their weapons, I went to them, and said to the nobles, &c., “Be not afraid of them” (the enemies): “remember the Lord, the great and the terrible,” who will fight for you against your enemies (Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 20:4; Deuteronomy 31:6), and fight ye for your brethren, your sons and daughters, wives and houses, whom the enemies would destroy.—Keil.
Nehemiah 4:15. God had brought their counsel to nought] Although by natural means.
Nehemiah 4:16. My servants] Nehemiah’s personal retinue. Habergeon] Old English for “coat of mail.” The rulers, &c.] i. e. each was behind his own people who were employed on the work, to encourage them in their labour, and in case of attack to lead them against the enemy.
Nehemiah 4:17. They which builded, &c.] The burden-bearers worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other.
Nehemiah 4:18. The builders, &c.] Needing both hands for their work had swords girt to their sides.
Nehemiah 4:22. Lodge within Jerusalem] Those that had their homes in the villages and distant towns should now continue night and day in the city.
Nehemiah 4:23. Saving that every one put them off for washing] A puzzling sentence. Conjectures and emendations have been resorted to. The idea of the whole verse is clear—unceasing watchfulness.
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 4
Nehemiah 4:1-23. An Undaunted Heart.
Nehemiah 4:1-23. Active Hostility frustrated.
Nehemiah 4:1-23. The Soldier Builders.
Nehemiah 4:1-3. The Laws of Opposition.
Nehemiah 4:1. Anger.
Nehemiah 4:2. The Day of Small Things.
Nehemiah 4:4-9. Praying and Working.
Nehemiah 4:4-5. Imprecations.
Nehemiah 4:11. The Craft and Cruelty of the Church’s Adversaries.
Nehemiah 4:11. Satanic Subtlety.
Nehemiah 4:15. A Pause in the Work.
Nehemiah 4:17-18. The Work and Warfare of Life.
AN UNDAUNTED HEART
THE childlike piety and the white integrity of Nehemiah not more marked than his heroic undauntedness. Recapitulate his progress from the first resolution:—silent cherishing of his purpose; maturing of his plans; organized schemes and allotments of labour; vigilant precautions; cheery “FEAR NOT!” “Be not ye afraid” (Nehemiah 4:14). A model to the Christian workman and soldier.
I. Reasons for fear.
1. Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-3). “Mocked.” Jesus Christ mocked and spitted on. And it is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master (John 9:28). “Foolishness” of apostolic preaching. Greek philosophy and Roman civilization, scorn and reviling of the Nazarenes. Religion not the only department in which the right has been reviled by the wrong. Science has always begun to climb upward amid the laughter of circling ignorance. Most great principles have had a point in their history when they were believed in by one and ridiculed by all the rest. Instance—George Stephenson and the railway enterprise. (a) Don’t be ashamed of your Christian faith; let Sanballat and Tobiah laugh themselves hoarse; follow thou after life! (b) Don’t be ashamed of your Christian work. It is easy for a keen witling to pull out his cigar and point to a humorous element in your little tasks. “What do these feeble Christians? Will they revive the stony hearts of fallen men, and rear a dwelling-place for truth and peace amid the rubbish of the world?” They will, God being their helper!
2. Guile. In chap. 6 are accounts of strategy adopted by Nehemiah’s opponents where it required a wise head to keep the heart firm. Plausible pretences of enemies and feigned friendship were of no avail to bend the iron purpose of the Jewish liberator. Nehemiah’s enemies bade him join them for a conference in order to trap and hinder him (Nehemiah 6:2-3); they warned him to beware of his reputation (Nehemiah 6:6); they urged him to “show the white feather” (Nehemiah 6:11). “Satan is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). (a) How many plausible excuses a treacherous heart and a worldly friend can coin for postponement of religious decision and devotion, (b) How many reasons might not every one find in the world’s opinion for leaving his Christian work undone. “Be ye wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
3. Force (Nehemiah 4:8). The conspiring rabble around the rebuilders of Jerusalem but an emblem of the circling forces which press upon the servant of God. Our way is like the way of Paul’s mariners, against “contrary winds.” Our progress is disputed “inch by inch.”
(1) The oppositions to the culture of the Christian character are manifold. A false heart within; a sin-maximed world without j break-downs and discouragements in experience.
(2) So of the oppositions to Christian work. You must rebuild your fallen fellows into society not because you are invited to do it, but in face of oppositions; nay, “the very stones will cry out;” the people you want to lift up will try in this to throw you down, or at least will “conspire to hinder.” “But consider him!” (Hebrews 12:3).
II. Motives for courage.
1. The power of God (Nehemiah 4:14-15). The courage of Moses based on the “Certainly I will be with thee” of God (Exodus 3:12). David’s fearlessness rested on the “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:7). The three Hebrew children were firm because “our God is able to deliver us” (Daniel 3:17). The undaunted apostles were fixed on the same centre (Acts 4:29-30).
“And were this world all devils o’er,
And watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit.
For why? His doom is writ;
word shall quickly slay him.”
2. The strength of right. “Thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel just.”
“My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.”
“Great is truth, and shall prevail.” All such maxims of the ancient and the modern world bear the popular faith that RIGHT is MIGHT. “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17). To have “this testimony, that we please God,” is to be clad in triple steel.
III. Expedients of the imperilled.
1. Prayer (Nehemiah 4:4; Nehemiah 4:9). “We made our prayer unto God.” “I cried unto the Lord” is the Christian’s explanation of many a hairbreadth escape.
2. Vigilance (Nehemiah 4:9). “We set a watch against them day and night.”
“Hear the victors that o’ercame.
Still they mark each warrior’s way,
All with one sweet voice exclaim,
Watch and pray.”
3. Hope (Nehemiah 4:20). “Our God shall fight for us.” Giant Despair is a sad foe of Christian souls. The stroke of despondency stuns us like a blow on the head; therefore “take the helmet of hope” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
4. Perseverance (Nehemiah 4:21 and Nehemiah 4:23).
Application. In Christian life and in Christian work take as a motto Poly-carp’s words to his pupil—“Stand thou firm as an anvil that is beaten.”
“Write on thy heart this holy principle,
Nobly resolve and do as thou resolvest,
Thou shalt not die till victory crown thy brows.”
ACTIVE HOSTILITY FRUSTRATED
Various forms of active hostility frustrated through the combined vigilance and prayer of the Church. “The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces” (1 Samuel 2:10). Whenever a door of usefulness is opened there are many adversaries (1 Corinthians 16:9). Stand firm and fearless, “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (Philippians 1:28). “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord!” (a) Remember the Lord God, who has been described as All-eye. Let this encourage. He knows all the details of individual lives. Let this warn. He scrutinizes all thoughts and deeds. (b) Remember the Lord Christ. “All his adversaries were ashamed” (Luke 13:17).
I. Hostility to the work of God assuming phases of growing intensity.
1. Rage. Sanballat had laughed (Nehemiah 2:19); now he is enraged (Nehemiah 4:1).
2. Mockery (Nehemiah 4:2). Tobiah was only Sanballatʼs echo (Nehemiah 4:3).
3. Conspiracy (Nehemiah 4:7-8). This opposition a sign of success; an honour paid to truth. When Dr. Johnson wrote anything that was not vilified he said, “I did not strike hard enough, or the blow would rebound.” “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!” (Luke 6:26).
II. The Church fortifying herself against expected assault.
1. By appealing to God (Nehemiah 4:4-5). “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.”—Crosby. “Prayer is a sure anchor in all storms; and they never perish that humbly fly unto it and cleave unto it. Prayer is a salve for all sores; yea, it healeth not only body and soul, but even hard stony walls. No kind of earthly physic that God hath made is good for all kind of folk at all times, and all kind of diseases; but this heavenly physic of prayer, in wealth and woe, in plenty and poverty, in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and in health, in war and peace, in youth and age, in life and death, in mirth and sadness, yea, in all things and times, in the beginning, midst, and ending, prayer is most necessary and comfortable. Happy is that man that diligently useth it at all times.”—Pilkington.
2. By redoubled activity in prosecuting the work. “So built we the wall,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:6). “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.”—Crosby.
3. By organized vigilance (Nehemiah 4:9).
4. By defensive preparations (Nehemiah 4:13). “The Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward” (Exodus 14:15). There is a time to pray and a time to prepare to fight. Let the farmer sow his seed, and then pray for rain and sunshine.
5. By mutual encouragement (Nehemiah 4:14). Workers tire; warriors flee when hope dies.
6. By self-denying assiduity (Nehemiah 4:16; Nehemiah 4:21-23).
III. The evil counsels of the Church’s adversaries frustrated by Divine interposition. “God brought their counsel to nought” (Nehemiah 4:15). “Our God shall fight for us.” There are laws; is there not a law-giver? There are agencies; point they not to an agent? Will our modern magicians never say, like those of Egypt (Exodus 8:19), “This is the finger of God.”
“Oft in danger, oft in woe,
Onward, Christians, onward go;
Fight the fight, maintain the strife,
Strengthened with the bread of life.
Onward, then, to glory move,
More than conquerors ye shall prove:
Though opposed by many a foe,
Christian soldiers, onward go.”
THE SOLDIER BUILDERS
Energy, unity, and perseverance (chap, 3) give way to discouragement within and conspiracy without.
I. Combination of prayer and watchfulness (Nehemiah 4:9). Prayer without watchfulness is hypocrisy; watchfulness without prayer is presumption. An old writer, speaking of men as stewards, urges wise trading. Their WAREHOUSE (i. e. heart and memory) must store up precious things—holy affections, grateful remembrances, celestial preparations. Their WORKHOUSE (or their actions), wherein they retail to others. Their CLOCK-HOUSE (e. g. their speech), which must speak the truth. Their COUNTING-HOUSE (or conscience), which should be scrupulously kept, or everything else will fail.
II. Combination of precept and example. Nehemiah “looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:14). But he was not content with that. “WE returned to the wall” (Nehemiah 4:15). “He that sounded the trumpet was by me” (Nehemiah 4:18).
III. Every builder was also a soldier. “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded” (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
IV. A mutual co-operation went hand in hand with personal work and responsibility. “Every one unto his work” (Nehemiah 4:15).
(Abridged from Rev. J. M. Randall’s ‘Nehemiah, his Times and Lessons.’)
THE LAWS OF OPPOSITION
Nehemiah 4:3. But it came to pass, &c.
The unconscious working of men’s minds is a servant of law. There is a reign of law. Distinguished Christian thinkers hold that the great scientific doctrine of evolution “ratifies all that is highest and holiest in the nature of man,” and makes out a new “claim to reverent acceptance of supernatural truths.” There is a Divine government of the passions of men. “Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee,” &c. (Psalms 76:10). “The emotions excited by the passions in our senses are not free. An angry man is carried beyond himself in spite of himself. These emotions are not proportional. A timorous man turns as pale at the sight of a fanciful as of a real danger. These emotions do not obey the orders of our will. The movement is not a gentle stream, but a rapid flood.”—Saurin. Sanballat was angry; Tobiah was scornful.
I. Men seek in others what they find in themselves. The old maxim of English law. Every man is to be deemed honest until he is proved to be a rogue; the dishonest the reverse. Cowards disbelieve in bravery. There is a moral obliquity of vision. The unjust cannot appreciate justice. Impure men suspect impurity everywhere. The compact of the wicked is not binding. Judas and the priests. “I have sinned.” “What is that to us?” (Matthew 27:4-6). They cast off Judas when he had served their purpose, and took back their own accursed coins. All wrong-doing is blunder as well as crime. Marvellously deep and philosophic are the prophet’s words: “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?” (Isaiah 55:2).
II. All the branches of opposition grow out of the great trunk of selfishness. Sanballat the Samaritan and Tobiah the Ammonite rejoiced in the laying waste of Jerusalem. Its loss was their gain. “Our gain” explains many facts of history in ancient and modern times. Selfish gain has entered temples, disgraced senate houses, tarnished otherwise fair reputations. Gain has been England’s god. Speculation has been a species of madness. “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others,” is a peculiarly Christian injunction.
III. Great work is generally accomplished by a committee of one. There was one Nehemiah against Sanballat, Tobiah, men of Arabia, &c. (Nehemiah 4:7); one Luther against Rome, the monks, and the schoolmen; one Tindal against Bishop Tonstal and Sir Thomas More. John Evangelist Gossner was a solitary worker—“One-in-hand” somebody styled him. “It’s quite true,” he said, laughing, when it came to his ears; “and yet old ‘One-in-hand’ carries more passengers than your Four.” Organize, organize—that is well. But individuality is lost in the mass.
1. “We mortal millions dwell alone.”
2. The way of sorrow leadeth to the city of God.
3. Whatever has value is bought at a high price.
Illustrations:—The spirit of cynicism. “The Cynics were a sect of philosophers among the Greeks, founded by Antisthenes, who, on account of his snappish, snarling propensities, was frequently called ‘the dog;’ and probably enough it may have been on account of this that his school of philosophy was called the Cynic or Dog school. He was stern, proud, and unsympathetic. He taught that all human pleasure was to be despised. He was ostentatiously careless as to the opinions, the feelings, and the esteem of others. He used to appear in a threadbare dress, so that Socrates once exclaimed, ‘I see your pride, Antisthenes, peeping through the holes in your cloak!’ His temper was morose, and his language was coarse and indecent. It is from this old school of philosophy that we derive the term cynicism; and we commonly apply it now-a-days to that mood or habit of mind which looks out upon mankind with cold and bitter feeling, which finds little or nothing to admire in human character and action, which systematically depreciates human motives, which rejoices to catch men tripping, which sneers where others reverence, and dissects where others admire, and is hard where others pity, and suspects where others praise. Distinguish between cynicism and satire. No doubt the cynic is often satirical; satire is just the kind of weapon that comes ready to his hand. But the same weapon may-be wielded by very different hands, and in very different causes; and satire may often be employed by men who are anything but cynical. There is such a thing as genial satire—the light and even humorous play of irony or sarcasm around some venial fault, or some peculiar excrescence of character. Then there is also the satire of moral indignation, which applies the stinging lash to manifest vices, or pours the vials of scorn on some detestable meanness, in order to make the shameless ashamed, or to infuse a healthy contempt of vice into the souls of those who are still uncontaminated by it. The old Hebrew prophets knew how to wield this weapon, and even in the pages of the New Testament it finds its fitting place. In fact, all such satire as this—whether of the genial or the vehement type—is often used by men who are passionate admirers of human excellence, and who are not only warmly attached to individuals, but also earnest lovers of their race. Whereas it is the very characteristic of cynicism that it lacks earnestness. It knows nothing of a noble scorn. Its satire is neither genial nor vehement. Even its humour is always sardonic. Its very bitterness, although intense, is unimpassioned. It is a kind of acrid gelatine. The fully-developed cynic prides himself on his indifferentism. Remorselessly he dissects and analyzes human character and action; for, like Iago, he ‘is nothing, if not critical;’ but his criticism has no useful end in view; he is not seeking to make others wiser or better. He is scarcely earnest enough even to care about his success in stinging and wounding? It is simply his ‘way’ to pick faults and to sneer. We find the culmination of this cynicism in Goethe’s ‘Mephistopheles;’ and indeed the word ‘devil’ itself means ‘accuser’—the slanderer of God and man.”—Finlayson.
“Let us keep our scorn for our own weaknesses, our blame for our own sins, certain that we shall gain more instruction, though not amusement, by hunting out the good which is in anything than by hunting out the evil.”—Kingsley.
“Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil: for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.”—Carlyle.
Nehemiah 4:1. Sanballat was wroth, and took great indignation
It is not a sin to be angry, but hard not to sin when we are angry. Anger is a tender virtue, and such as by reason of our unskilfulness may be easily corrupted and made dangerous. He that in his anger would not sin, must not be angry at anything but sin. Our Saviour was angry with Peter, and angry with the Pharisees for the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 16:23; Mark 3:5). Moses was even blown up with holy anger at the people for the golden calf. “Do not I hate them that hate thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred,” saith David; “I count them mine enemies” (Psalms 139:21). This is the anger of zeal, found in Phinehas, Elijah, Elisha, our Saviour, John 2:17; and should have been found in Adam towards his wife, in Eli towards his sons, in Lot towards his servants (Genesis 13:7). It must have a good rise and a good end, saith Bucer, else it becomes a mortal, not a venial, sin, as the Papists fondly conclude from Matthew 5:22 : “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause,” &c. There is a just cause then of anger; sin, as an offence to God. And there must be a just measure observed, that our anger for sin render us not unfit either to pity the sinner (as our Saviour in his anger did the obstinate Pharisees) or to pray for him (as Moses for those idolaters he was so enraged at—Exodus 32:31-32). Anger that is not thus bounded is but a “momentary madness,” saith the heathen; it resteth in the bosom of fools, saith Solomon, whether it be anger, wrath, or hatred (for into those three degrees Damascen distinguisheth it). The one, saith he, hath beginning and motion, but presently ceaseth; the other taketh deep hold in the memory; the third desisteth not without revenge. Clichloveus compareth the first to fire in stubble; the second to fire in iron; the third to fire that is hid and never bewrayeth itself, but with the ruin of the matter wherein it hath caught. Some are sharp, some are bitter, a third kind are implacable, saith Aristotle. The first are the best, that, as children, are soon angry and as soon pleased again. “Be ye children in malice” (1 Corinthians 14:20). Of Beza, his colleagues would often say that, like the dove, he was without a gall. Giles of Brussels, martyr, when the friars (sent to reduce him) did any time miscall him, he ever held his peace, insomuch that those blasphemers would say abroad that he had a dumb devil in him. Cassianus reports that when a certain Christian was held captive of infidels, tormented with divers pains and ignominious taunts, being demanded by way of scorn and reproach, “Tell us what miracle thy Christ hath done?” he answered, “He hath done what you see, that I am not moved at all the-cruelties and contumelies you cast upon me.” Christ did “not strive, nor cry, nor did any man hear his voice in the streets;” who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (Matthew 12:19; 1 Peter 2:23). So did Moses when murmured against by Aaron and Miriam. He was meek, and complained not. The less any man strives for himself, the more is God his champion. Anger is a short devil, saith Chrysostom; the fury of the unclean spirit. “Wrath killeth the foolish man” (Job 5:2), delivers him to the destroyer, if it rest in his bosom especially, and lodge a night with him, which is the second degree above mentioned.
“Let not therefore the sun go down upon your wrath;” for that is all one as to give place to the devil, who hereby entereth the heart and takes possession. Many there are that suffer the sun not only to go down upon their anger, but to run his whole race, yea, many races, ere they can be reconciled; whereby their anger becomes inveterate, and turns into malice, for anger and malice differ but in age. Now “cursed be this anger, for it is fierce; and this wrath, for it is cruel” (Genesis 49:7). It is the murder of the heart (Matthew 5:21 seq.); the fountain of the murder both of the tongue and hand. Hence it is said, “He that hateth his brother is a man-slayer” (1 John 3:15). He is so in desire, he would be so in deed if he durst. There is a passion of hatred and there is the habit of it. The former is a kind of averseness and rising of the heart against a man when one sees him, so that he cannot away with him, nor speak to nor look courteously or peaceably upon him, but one’s countenance falls when he sees him, and he even turns away, and by his good will would have nothing to do with him: this is the passion of hatred. The habit of it is when the heart is so settled in this alienation and estrangement that it grows to wish and desire and seek his hurt. This is that third and worst sort of anger. Are we mortal, and shall our anger be immortal? To be revenged is more honourable than to be reconciled, saith Aristotle. This is the voice of nature. Thus “the spirit that is in us lusteth to envy.” But God giveth more grace.
1. Cease therefore from anger and refrain strife. “Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil” (Psalms 37:8). When thou findest thyself incensed and chafing ripe, presently lay a necessity of silence upon thyself; as Ahasuerus walked a while in his garden ere he would pass sentence upon Haman. Another repeated the Greek alphabet ere he would say or do anything in his anger. He doth better that repeateth some grave sentences of Scripture, such as these: “Be angry, but sin not; be slow to wrath; avenge not yourselves, but give place to wrath; submit to God; resist the devil, and he will fly from you.” This devil of anger, if thus resisted by Scripture, will surely fly; he cannot bide by it; especially if we set ourselves to pray it down.
2. Get thy heart purified by faith, for faith makes patience. When the disciples heard that they must forgive till seventy times seven times in a day, they prayed, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable (James 3:17). Unrepentant David was cruel to the Ammonites. The devils are most impure, and therefore most malicious; Christ, on the other side, most pure, and therefore most gentle.
3. Study to be quiet and do your own business. Seldom is a patient man inquisitive, or an inquisitive man patient. It doth require much study to live quietly.
4. Consider the deformity, disgrace, and danger of anger. Plato and Seneca have advised the angry man to look at his face in a glass. Anger hurteth not great minds.
5. Consider wisely of God’s providence, presence, patience. Set God before thy passions, and they will be soon hushed.
6. Add a constant endeavour to be lowly. Keep the strict watch of the Lord over your heart; pray down your passions. Your labour will not be in vain.
(From Trapp’s ‘Marrow of many good Authors.’)
THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS
Nehemiah 4:2. What do these feeble Jews?
Two great events in the history of the returned captives from Babylon: building the second temple; rebuilding and fortifying the city. Subject—That God produces great events by comparatively feeble means.
I. As it relates to the objects of personal religion. “What do these feeble Jews?” Zechariah said, Who hath despised the day of small things? (Nehemiah 4:10). We may ask, Who has not? All do. It is quite to the taste of human nature in its search after that which is great to overlook that which is small. The captives did so as well as their heathen persecutors; they wept when they saw the foundation (Ezra 3:12). Zerubbabel and Zechariah probably did too. “Not by might!” (Zechariah 4:6). Good men do, both in judging of their own religion and that of other people. It is possible to err on the side of despondency as well as on that of presumption. We dishonour God as much by denying the grace we have as by boasting of the grace we have not. We ought not to despise it because it is day. (α) A day which God originates; (β) the day of Christ’s power; (ϒ) a day which must advance to its perfection, and shall never know a night. Though man despises it, God does not. He sees the flower in the bud, the pearl in the shell, the man in the infant, the heir of glory in the child of grace. He sees not only what they are, but what they shall be. Remember that God accomplishes his greatest designs by apparently slight and inconsiderable means. (a) In nature. (b) In providence. (c) In grace. The birth of an infant child in the manger at Bethlehem seemed a very ordinary occurrence, but it was an event on which the salvation of the world was made to turn. The cross of Christ is to them that perish foolishness; to the saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). The rod of Moses; Gideon’s lamps, pitchers, and trumpets; the rams’ horns at Jericho; David’s sling and stone, worked wonders. Pharaoh’s dreams were made the means of Joseph’s advancement. The ark, though small, saved the heirs of a shipwrecked world. Zoar, a little city, saved Lot from the shower of fire. The mantle of Elijah divided the waters of Jordan. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32). The stone which the builders rejected was made the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing! (Matthew 21:42.)
II. That God accomplishes great events by small means encourages in all our efforts to promote the good of others.
1. To the preaching of the gospel at home and the diffusion of the gospel abroad. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are often discouraged. The disproportion between the means and the end; the slow progress of the renovating principle. We would recognize the presence and advance of the kingdom of God. Where is the Lord God of Elijah? (2 Kings 2:14). Where are the kings for nursing fathers? (Isaiah 49:23). Where are the great masters of science and literature? Where are the nations born in a day? The confederacies of guilt are still powerful, and the enemies of the truth replete with confidence. The answer to all this is, God’s ways are not our ways. That we can clothe our exertions with a power not our own. Remember, the most weak and uninfluential may be made to effect great things, as Naaman’s little maid. A mite cast into the treasury of God is not overlooked. It may produce ten talents.
2. The parent and Sunday school teacher.—Anonymous.
PRAYING AND WORKING
Nehemiah 4:4-9. Hear, O our God; for we are despised, &c.
The man-ward side of prayer.
I. It narrows the conditions of the strife. Who are Sanballat and Tobiah? Men of position, ranging under them Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites—a crowd of warriors. Who is Nehemiah? A chieftain of a handful of “feeble Jews.” “Hear, O our God!” The cause is thine. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. Establish thou the work of our hands upon us” (Psalms 90:16-17). When, like “Moses the man of God,” any man of God discovers that God’s work and his work are one and the same thing, the aspect of affairs is changed. The contest is then spiritual. The forces arrayed are light and darkness, truth and error, God and the devil.
II. It inspires energy. “So built we the wall,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:6). “Nevertheless we made,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:9). Nevertheless! The foes were many, powerful, determined, bloodthirsty. Nevertheless God was approachable. Work was possible, pressing, needing earnest minds and willing hands.
III. It awakens faith. Prayer first, then work, in the assurance that the prayer will be answered and the work successful.
“Patience! have faith, and thy prayer will be answered.
Look at this delicate plant that lifts its head from the meadow,
See how its leaves all point to the north as true as the magnet;
It is the compass-flower, that the finger of God has suspended
Here on its fragile stalk, to direct the traveller’s journey
Over the sea-like, pathless, limitless waste of the desert.
Such in the soul of man is faith.”
Illustrations:—“ ‘Ora et labora,’ writes Dr. Wichern in one of his pleasant papers, ‘is carved on a peasant’s house in the Vierland. “It must be French,” said a neighbour’s wife, as I stood looking at the legend; “but you know it just means—
With this hand work, and with the other pray, And God will bless them both from day to day.”
“Ora et labora is the legend of the Christian’s faith, and the plan of his life. His fervent prayer begets honest, manly, unshrinking work; his work, as it is faithful, and it is faithful in proportion as he realizes it is for God, throws him back upon prayer. It is true that this connection is regarded with some suspicion. It is associated with the failure, and worse, of monastic life. Ora et labora was the monkish watchword with which men went into the wilderness, and builded up their lonely cells, and toiled at their simple gardens, and knelt in solemn thought of the world behind them, through long fastings and wakeful nights. But on their lips it was a profound mistake. They had cut themselves off from brotherly sympathies and social duties, from the entire sphere of Christian work. They had thrown themselves upon the selfishness of lonely hours and solitary thoughts. Their ora, earnest and well meant at first, became mechanical and unreal; their labora was a fiction. They had no right to their motto. And remembering the hollowness and hypocrisy to which their system brought them, its utter worthlessness, its world-wide scandal, men have shrunk with fear from the truth they misused. Nor are they alone guilty. Those who by practice or speech arrogate to prayer the time and place of ordinary duties are in the same error. Divorced from the common charities of life, prayer must become mechanical and untrue. If it be used to set some apart, on some sacred and haughty height above the rest and the ordinary obligations of society, if it only make them more rigid censors of others, while they themselves are less kindly, less helpful, less useful, who can wonder that the world revolts, or that the more thoughtful and reverent minds are carried to the other extreme, and boldly say that work is prayer? Work is no more prayer than prayer is work, although the looseness of the expression is often forgiven for the deeper truth of the thought. Work is no more prayer than a walk in the fields is religious worship. To the devout man both are devout; to the undevout man they are nothing. Nay, work without prayer is as dangerous, ay, and more, than prayer without work. It is the practical ignoring of God, of a spiritual world and spiritual laws. It is the start downwards to the grossest and most superstitious materialism. It is a clear peril of our present time. We do not want to be reminded of the need and dignity and sacredness of work; the whole century is preaching that; but we do want to be taught the need and sacredness of prayer, and that it is a force, of which though the world knows nothing, yet it establishes greater than the world’s works.”—Stevenson.
“Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the Church. It is a godly Christian’s weapon, which no man knows or finds but only he who has the spirit of grace and of prayer.”—Luther.
Nehemiah 4:4-5. Hear, O our God; for we are despised, &c.
This prayer takes its tone, form, and expression from the imprecations in the Psalms—the “Cursing Psalms,” as some have styled them. Consider we then some Specimens of such, Psalms, that we way know where the difficulty lies; and in what way if any, this difficulty may be solved.
I. The following are fair specimens:—
Psalms 5:10. “Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.”
Psalms 10:15. “Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.”
Psalms 28:4. “(Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert.”
Psalms 40:14. “Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.”
Psalms 68:2. “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the tire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.”
Psalms 83:9-17. “Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; so persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish.”
Psalms 109:6-15. “Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let. another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers he remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.”
Psalms 137:7-9. “Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”
These passages seem to breathe a vindictive spirit; they seem to be opposed to the spirit of the New Testament.
II. In what way is the difficulty to be solved?
1. Whatever difficulty there exists is created by the Bible itself. It cannot be said that the writers indulged in feelings which they were unwilling to record. The Bible is thus a book of candour. There was some reason for making the record.
2. It may be a fair subject of inquiry how much of what is charged as wrong, harsh, and vindictive belongs to the spirit of the age. To know how much words express, we must understand the customs and habits of the times. The strong language used by a Covenanter or a Puritan may have expressed no other internal emotion than would be expressed by the milder language which we should use.
3. Part of these passages may undoubtedly be regarded as prophetic: expressing what would be, rather than indicating any wish that such things should be. Part—not all.
4. Some of the expressions are a mere record of the feelings of others. The inspired writer is only responsible for the fairness of the record; e. g. cruelty of sons of Jacob (Genesis 34:25-29; Genesis 49:6-7), David (2 Samuel 12:31), Joab, Ahithophel, Ahab. In Psalms 137:8-9 the pleasure which they would actually feel who should wreak vengeance on Babylon is described.
5. Can such imprecations ever be right? (a) David was a magistrate, a king. As a magistrate, he represented the state, the majesty of the law, the interests of justice. (b) Punishment is right when properly inflicted. (c) Arrangements are made in every community for detecting and punishing crime, (d) A Judge who prays that he may discharge his duty has no vindictive feeling.
6. There is another solution of the difficulty. These expressions are a mere record of what actually occurred in the mind of the Psalmist, and are pre-served to us as an illustration of human nature when partially sanctified. If such is a just view of the matter, then all that inspiration is responsible for is the correctness of the record; the authors of the Psalms actually recorded what was passing in their own minds. They gave vent to their internal emotions. They state feelings which men have actually had. They do not apologize for it; they do not pause to vindicate it; they offer no word in extenuation of it, any more than other sacred writers did when they recorded the facts about the errors in the lives of the patriarchs, of David, and of Peter. In some of these ways it is probable that all the difficulties with regard to “imprecations” in the Bible may be met. Those who deny the inspiration of the records that contain them should be able to show that these are not proper explanations of the difficulty; or that they are not consistent with any just notions of inspiration.—Barnes, abridged.
THE CRAFT AND CRUELTY OF THE CHURCH’S ADVERSARIES
Nehemiah 4:11. And 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
Chapter gives view of Nehemiah’s discouragements. Like waves of the sea breaking upon him, he an unshaken rock. Like Job’s messengers, one hardly gone before another comes. Like Ezekiel’s prophecy, mischief upon mischief.
First verse: adversaries’ rage. Second verse: venting itself in foam. But this is cool: it reaches blood-heat (Nehemiah 4:7-8).
I. A strong combination against the Church of God. “Adversaries.”
II. A wicked design they were combined in. “To cause the work to cease.”
III. A bloody means propounded. “Slay them.”
IV. A subtle way projected for the effecting of this. “Secretly, suddenly.”
Sum of the whole. The great design of the enemies of the Church is by craft or cruelty, or both, to hinder any work that tends to the establishment or promoting of the Church’s good.—Matthew Newcomen, 1642.
Nehemiah 4:11. And 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
The malice of Satan by his members is so great against the building of God’s city, that by all means, inward enemies and outward, fair words and foul, sword, fire and faggot, war and peace, in teaching or holding their tongue, knowledge or ignorance, undermining or conspiracies, and all other devices whatsoever, they let none slip, but try all, that they may overthrow all, and not so much to do themselves good as to hinder others; to set up themselves in the sight of the world, and to deface the glory of God; but in the end all is in vain, and our God shall have the victory. They will not yet use any open violence, but cunningly come on them unawares.
1. In this serpentine, crafty, and malicious dealing of these wicked men appeareth the old serpentine nature and malice of Satan, that old enemy of God and man from the beginning. God said to the serpent that the seed of the woman should tread upon his head, and the serpent should tread upon his heel (Genesis 3:0). Crafty and subtle men, when they will work a mischief, go privily about it, to deceive the good man. God endued man, when he made him, with such a majesty in his face, afore he fell to sin, that all creatures did reverence and fear him; and although sin hath much defaced and blotted out that noble majesty and grace that God endued him with, yet it is not utterly disgraced and taken away, but some spark and relic remaineth at this day, that no wild nor venomous beast dare look a man in the face boldly and hurt him, but will give place for the time, and seek how he may privily wound or hurt him when he seeth him not. These crafty and subtle foxes, therefore, like the seed of the serpent, would not openly invade nor gather any great power of men against them, but at unawares steal on them privily, afore they should suspect any such thing. This is the nature of wicked men, so craftily to undermine the godly.
2. The next property of the serpent that appeareth in these wicked men is, that they mercilessly would murder them when they had once thus suddenly invaded them. Satan was “a murderer from the beginning,” as St. John saith; and therefore no marvel if his children be bloodsuckers, like unto the father. When he would not spare the innocent Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, but most cruelly crucified him, why should we marvel to see him by his wicked children so greedily seek to shed innocent blood still?
3. The last property of Satan appeareth here most plainly in these wicked men, in that they would so gladly overthrow this building of Jerusalem, that it should never be thought on any more. Satan is “the prince of this world,” and therefore cannot abide another king to reign, nor any kingdom to be set up but his own; and for maintaining of that he will strive by his members unto death. And as it falleth out thus generally in the building of God’s spiritual house and city that all sorts of enemies most diligently apply themselves, their labour, wit, power, policy, and friendship to overthrow the true worship of God, so particularly “Satan goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” and therefore every man hath great need to be wary and circumspect, that he be not suddenly overthrown, but let him watch and put on “the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:13-18), that he may stand stoutly in the day of battle, and through the might of his God get the victory. The devil never ceaseth, for if he cannot overthrow the whole Church, yet he would be glad to catch any one that belongeth to the Lord if he could.—Bishop Pilkington.
A PAUSE IN THE WORK
Nehemiah 4:15. We returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work
A dangerous pause. Judah had become faint—hearted (Nehemiah 4:10). The opponents were gaining strength (Nehemiah 4:11). Terror had taken hold upon the neighbouring Jews (Nehemiah 4:12.) An armed outlook was necessary (Nehemiah 4:13). Nehemiah encouraged the workers to wait the issue (Nehemiah 4:14). The enemy noted the attitude and saw that God had brought their counsel to nought (Nehemiah 4:15). The pause was over. Once again to the work. There is the truth of life in this parable.
I. A period of preparation is essential to successful work. Lightly begun means easily discontinued. Count the cost (Luke 14:28-33). Raw haste is sister to undue delay. Find thy task, calculate thy strength, and rest not until the evening. Impetuous natures need patience and perseverance; fearful and timid natures need courage and self-reliance; all need encouragement. Moses—“Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11-22). Joshua—“Be strong” (Joshua 1:1-9). Jeremiah—“I am a child” (Jeremiah 1:4-10). Ezekiel—“Be not afraid of them” (Ezekiel 2:3-8). Nehemiah’s workmen—“Be not ye afraid” (Nehemiah 4:13-14).
II. Joyous acceptance of the allotted task is a great element of strength. Duty as duty, or duty joyously done, how different! Love thy task. Do it for its own sake, and it will become easier. Such service is perfect freedom. Men see what most interests them. An artist on entering a room sees pictures; a student books; an architect decorations.
“The wide world
Is full of work, and everything therein
Finds in it its best blessedness. The bee
Sings at his task throughout the summer day.”
III. Earnest work is sure to provoke opposition. Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1), compromise (Nehemiah 6:2), misrepresentation (Nehemiah 6:7), attack (Nehemiah 4:8).
IV. Work is instrumental in developing personal character. What canst thou do? Nehemiah proved his men by trial.
V. Fluctuation in the success of an undertaking is no reason for relinquishing it (Nehemiah 4:10-15).
George Stephenson’s motto was “PERSEVERE.” “Go on, sir, go on,” was D’Alembert’s advice to a young discouraged student. John Wesley, interrogated as to the remarkable success of his followers, said, “They are all at it, and always at it.”
VI. The power of combined action in meeting a common foe (Nehemiah 4:13; Nehemiah 4:23). Nelson the day before Trafalgar took two officers who were at variance to the spot where they could see the fleet opposed to them. “Yonder,” he said, “are your enemies; shake hands and be friends, like good Englishmen.”
“Oh! ye the ministers of Christ, and stewards of his truth,
Lead ye the band, all vigorous in faith’s immortal youth.
But not alone shall ye repair,
For all must aid in toil and prayer.
Then let them say the work is nought, to scoff us into fear.
What is the answer we must make? Calmly the walls to rear;
Building with weapons girded on;
Warriors until the work is done.”
Enlarged from ‘Scenes from the Life of Nehemiah.’
THE WORK AND WARFARE OF LIFE
Nehemiah 4:17-18. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one, &c.
Nehemiah 4:0 one of the Bible scenes that has indelibly impressed itself upon the popular imagination. Like the “lamps, pitchers, and trumpets” of Gideon’s army, the “sword and trowel” of Nehemiah’s army has passed into a proverb. Only scenes, books, pictures, sculptures become popular that present the elementary conditions of human life, that go down to the rock on which the structure of human society rests, e. g. the parables of Jesus, Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ Nehemiah 4 a picture of the work and warfare of life.
I. The conditions of the conflict.
1. Against the solicitations of self-indulgence. “The people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). Not always so. The spirit is not always willing. And when the spirit is willing the flesh is often weak. True (a) of the cultivation of personal character. To conquer pride, subdue passion, root out evil dispositions, to “grow in grace,” not an easy thing. In this sense “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” A Christian docs not always “sail with a straight course,” as did Paul on his first voyage to Europe (Acts 16:11). Oftener, like the same apostle on a later voyage, he “sails slowly” (Acts 27:7), or the “ship sticks fast and remains unmoveable” (Acts 27:41). Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward, is God’s message to the inspired leaders of every age. What doest thou here? is his question to every dispirited and inactive Elijah. Jonah may sit for awhile under the shadow of the gourd, but when the morning calls him to his work and to his labour the gourd perishes. True (b) of working for one’s fellows. Social and philanthropic work. How little response of gratitude from those to whom you give, from those whom you toil to raise. Religious teaching and influence. Manifold are difficulties and discouragements. Unless work be its own reward, who shall continue? No motive lower than the stars, no inspiration less stable than trust in God, will enable a man to war against the lust of self-indulgence.
2. Against foes. (a) Foes may be violent and pronounced as Sanballat (Nehemiah 4:1). With such as these a man can count. Rouse a lion, and the consequences are clear. The arch foe and many of his emissaries are not unwilling to show a bold front to a servant of God. Specially if it can be said of him—
“Servant of God, well done!
Well done! thy words are great and bold;
At times they seem to me
Like Luther’s in the days of old,
Half battles for the free!”
Words for freedom, for brotherhood, against oppressors, against shams, must count the cost. Reformers, Covenanters, Puritans “resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). (b) Foes may be subtle and plot in secret (Nehemiah 4:11). Against these we are comparatively defenceless. It is dastardly to stab in the dark. But the assassin is dastardly. Guilt makes cowards. (c) Foes have the advantage of numbers and possession (Nehemiah 4:7). They were on the ground. Nehemiah and his compatriots’ loss was their gain. “They conspired all of them together,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:8). The good have always been a minority. The great have too often been on the side of the majority. “Not many wise, not many mighty,” &c. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). “We wrestle not against flesh and blood” only, “but against principalities,” &c. (Ephesians 6:12-13).
3. Against friends, (a) Half-hearted friends (Nehemiah 4:12). They had patriotism enough to warn Nehemiah of danger. But they dwelt near the adversaries. A decided foe better than a doubtful friend. Gideon’s 300, who had not time to kneel to drink, better than countless crowds of self-indulgent people (Judges 7:0). “Art thou for us?” said Joshua to the angel-captain (Joshua 5:0.). For or against is understood. But half-heartedness never won a battle, never gained a victory. (b) Dispirited friends (Nehemiah 4:10). The wall was built somewhat, but they feared their strength would give out. Fear and faith are antagonists. Trust in thy cause, trust in the God of thy cause, cures for dispiritedness.
“I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed he will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.”
II. The conditions of victory.
1. All at it (Nehemiah 4:13). Every man at work. Every man at his own work. Every man under discipline—under the rulers (Nehemiah 4:14), under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 4:18-20). Generalize these particulars. Nobody can do my work. My task is my own. No man can lift responsibility off his own shoulders. There is a cry to every man from some helpless man, or mass of men, “Come over and help us.” The unnamed disciple of John 20:0 did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre; but Peter first went into the sepulchre. Had he more courage or less reverence? Never mind—each left the other scope to work. St. John has left a greater name than his brother James. But James died for the truth. In this holy war men call life the feeble cannot be dispensed with. Nehemiah conferred with the nobles (Nehemiah 4:14). Nehemiah needed the bearers of burdens (Nehemiah 4:17).
2. Unslumbering vigilance. We “set a watch” (Nehemiah 4:9). “I set the people,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:13). “And it came to pass,” &c. (Nehemiah 4:16). There is a lesson of life in the heading of this chapter in our Bibles—“Nehemiah prayeth and continueth the work.” Patient waiting is a grace; perseverance is a virtue. Men are sometimes enervated by success. They become unwatchful. “Doctor,” said his wife to Martin Luther one day, “how is it that, whilst subject to papacy, we prayed so often and with such fervour, whilst now we pray with the utmost coldness and very seldom?” “Every one with one hand held a weapon” (Nehemiah 4:17). “He that sounded the trumpet was by me” (Nehemiah 4:18). “In what place ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us” (Nehemiah 4:20). These are only the dictates of worldly prudence. So true is it that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). What said the greatest Christian Teacher? “The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore. What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:34-35; Mark 13:37).
Illustration:—“That man is happy who can combine work and watching in perfect harmony—who has Stephen’s life of labour and Stephen’s vision in the end. In every soul there should be the sisters of Bethany, active effort and quiet thought, and both agreeing in mutual love and help. But Mary no longer sits at the feet of Christ and looks in his face; she stands at the door and gazes out into the open sky to watch the tokens of his coming, while in this hope her sister in the house still works. In due time he will be here to crown every humble effort with overflowing grace, to satisfy the longing soul that looks for him, and to raise all the dead for whom we weep.”—Dr. Ker.
3. Resort to the unseen Refuge. “Hear, O our God” (Nehemiah 4:4). “Be not ye afraid: remember the Lord” (Nehemiah 4:14). “Our enemies heard that God had brought their counsel to nought” (Nehemiah 4:15). “Our God shall fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20). Our God—the attestation of experience. “He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee” (Job 5:19). The Apostle Paul appealed from Festus unto Cæsar. Nehemiah appealed from Sanballat to God. In the miracle of feeding our Lord turned an inward look upon the troubled, calculating thoughts of his disciples, though “he himself know what he would do.” He turned an outward look upon the hungry, trustful crowd: “Make the men sit down.” He directed an upward look to God: “When he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes he looked up to heaven.” The inward look revealed distrust; the outward look revealed need; the upward look revealed strength and supply. A parable of life. Look abroad—the work is great; look within—calculate resources; look up—“Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us. He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great. We will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord” (Psalms 115:0).
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 4
SENTENCES FROM OLD WRITERS
Sanballatʼs opposition (Nehemiah 4:1-2). “The devil and his servants have ever been utter enemies to reformation. Jabesh-gilead would send in none to help the Lord against the mighty (Judges 21:9); no more would Meroz (Judges 5:23). Josiah met with much opposition; so did St. Paul wherever he came to set up evangelical and spiritual worship, which is called a reformation (Hebrews 9:10). All the world was against Athanasius in his generation, and Luther in his; rejecting what they attempted with scorn and slander. Nehemiah and his Jews were not more busy in building than the enemies active in deriding, conspiring, practising to hinder and overthrow them.” “If thou hast not the favour of men, be not grieved at it; but take this to heart, that thou dost not behave thyself so warily and circumspectly as it becometh the servant of God and a devout, religious man.” “Why art thou troubled when things succeed not as thou wouldest or desirest? For who is he that hath all things according to his mind?”
Tobiah’s scorn, (Nehemiah 4:3). “Say not, ‘Should I suffer these things from so contemptible a fellow as this?’ Yes, truly; in consideration of that patient and meek spirit which was in Christ. No man will ever be reconciled by wrath or revenge. Victory consists in virtue, not in vice.” “One devil does not drive out another.” “We chiefly seek God for our inward witness, when outwardly we be contemned by men, and when there is no credit given unto us.” “Thou canst not have two paradises.” “Christ was willing to suffer and be despised; and darest thou complain of any man?” “Let thy thought be on the Highest.” “Whom God will keep no man’s perverseness shall be able to hurt.” “Have a good conscience, and God will well defend thee.”
Nehemiah’s prayers (Nehemiah 4:4-5; Nehemiah 4:9). “Nehemiah hateth not the men, but their wickedness; so we learn to put a difference betwixt the man and the sin of man, and pray for mercy to the one and justice to the other. Man is God’s good creature, and to be beloved of all sorts; sin is of the devil, and to be fled of all sorts.” “His prayer is not long, but full.” “Faithful prayer is never ineffectual. So built we the wall. This followed upon Nehemiah’s prayer as a gracious answer to it; the people were encouraged, and the wall finished.” “Beware of hating the person whilst thou abhorrest his sin.” “Prayer is the key of heaven; the pillar of the world; the fire of devotion; the light of knowledge; the repository of wisdom; the strength of the soul; the remedy against faint-heartedness; the forerunner of honour; the nurse of patience; the guardian of obedience; the fountain of quietness; the comfort of the sorrowful; the triumph of the just; the helper of the oppressed; the refreshment of this life; the sweetening of death; and the foretaste of the heavenly life.” “God prevents our prayers, meets us (as it were) half-way, and courts our friendship, being a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive.”
Nehemiah’s watchfulness (Nehemiah 4:9). “It is not sufficient to pray and then to neglect such means as God hath appointed us to use for our defence and comfort, no more than it is to say, when he hath prayed, I will live without meat and drink, and God himself shall feed me. For as the Lord hath taught us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ so he hath commanded us to work for it, and saith, ‘If any will not work, neither shall he eat.’ ” “Sin opens the door to the devil.” “Awaken us, O God, that we may watch; draw us to thee, and we will run the straight way, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Judah’s defection (Nehemiah 4:10). “It is an easy matter to begin a good work, but a special gift to stand in all storms and continue to the end.” “Judah’s escutcheon was a lion, but here he is unlike himself.” “Nehemiah might well have said to these men of Judah, as Alexander once did to a faint-hearted soldier of his that was of his own name, ‘Either leave off the name of Alexander, or be valiant.’ So either hold out and bear up under your burdens, or be Judah no more. Never was anything too hard for Alexander, because he never held anything impossible to be effected.”
Nehemiah’s policy and appeal (Nehemiah 4:11-14). “Their brethren from abroad gave the workmen intelligence; and this was a friendly office, for premonition is the best means of prevention.” “It was their duty to have come home, stood in storms, and help to build Jerusalem. But God, which turneth our negligence and foolishness to the setting forth of his wisdom and goodness, gave them a good will and boldness to further that building as they might.” “Away with that cowardly passion which unmans a man. Remember the Lord, whom he that feareth needs fear none else.” “God and the world cannot be friends; and that maketh so few courtiers to tread this road.”
Soldier-builders (Nehemiah 4:15-23). “Courage and strength without wisdom is foolish rashness, and wisdom without courage and strength is fearful cowardliness.” “Nehemiah was an active man, trading every talent.” “In the Christian’s panoply there is no mention of armour for the back, though there is for the breast, because a Christian soldier should never fly.” “In God’s cause a man must be bold and blush not.” “Fear of the enemy did not weaken them, but waken them.” “Time was precious, and they redeemed and improved it. The common complaint is, We want time; but the truth is, we do not so much want as waste it.” “Nehemiah said not to his men, Go YE, but, Go WE.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17