In this chapter me have an account of the opposition the builders of the wall met with from the common enemy. While they mock, Nehemiah takes refuge in prayer, and setteth a watch to prevent their evil designs.
(1) ¶ But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. (2) And he spake before his brethren 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? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? (3) Now 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.
I would have the Reader look beyond the mere historical relation, to the matter couched beneath the several expressions. It was not simply the walls of Jerusalem which excited the displeasure and malice of their foes; but it was the church of God that those enemies hated, and wished to bring to nought. Reader! the same takes place every day in the world. Let a sinner be only once seriously set out for the salvation of his soul, and all hell is up in arms to oppose him. What the Lord Jesus declared, his people find to be true; a man's foes are they of his own household. Hence, saith Christ, Think not that I am come to send peace, but rather division. Luke 12:51.
(4) Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: (5) And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.
Observe, in the conduct of Nehemiah, where the believer's resource is in the time of persecution: even at a throne of grace. Here we may lodge all our concerns. And here we are sure of success; for here is One, whom the Father heareth alway.
(6) So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
This good will in the people to the work, and the prosperity of the work itself, were sure answers of prayer.
(7) ¶ But 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, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, (8) And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
Evil men (saith an apostle) and seducers shall wax worse and worse. And here we see it.
(9) Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them. (10) And 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. (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. (12) And it came to pass, that 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. (13) Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. (14) And 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. (15) And 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, everyone unto his work.
Observe how the Lord must have been with the people, when the work, in spite of all impediments, and the fatigue of the people, was so shortly accomplished.
(16) ¶ And it came to pass from that time forth, 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. (17) They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. (18) For the builders, everyone had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me. (19) And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another. (20) In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us. (21) So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. (22) Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let everyone with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day. (23) So 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 everyone put them off for washing.
I hope the Reader will again and again, as he passeth through this whole chapter, carry his thoughts beyond the literal relation, to the contemplation of the church of God as represented in it. The Christian is both a warrior, and a builder; and sure he is, in every stage of his pursuit, in building the temple of the Lord, to meet with opposition. In all ages there have been Sanballats and Tobiahs. Like Nehemiah's servants, God's people must have the sword of the Spirit to oppose the adversary; and the whole armour of salvation, on the right hand, and on the left. It is on this account the apostle admonisheth the Ephesian Church to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Ephesians 6:10, etc.
READER! you and I shall derive very sweet improvements from this chapter, if, under the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, we discover our personal interest in it, and amidst all the oppositions we meet with from the enemies of our salvation, like Nehemiah, we learn where our strength is, and from whence help is to be derived. We are building for eternity, and there are many foes to obstruct our progress. But if our foundation be Jesus; and if he who hath founded Zion, gives us, by his Holy Spirit, to rest all upon this precious Corner Stone, then the promise is sure, we shall never be ashamed, nor confounded, world without end. Reader! are you thus engaged? Is Christ your foundation? Have you laid your rest upon him deep and firm? Have you quitted every other foundation? Do you heartily and cordially, lay the whole weight of your salvation on him? Do you live upon him, act faith daily, hourly, upon him? Do you not only live upon Jesus, but live to Jesus? These are heart-searching enquiries. But if the Lord enable you thus to build upon Christ, depend upon it, in defiance of all opposition, he that enabled you to begin, will help you to complete; and the top-stone will be at length brought home with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Let a thousand Sanballats arise, or ten thousand Tobiahs mock; yet he that is with you, is more than all that are against you. The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it. Go on, therefore, in the strength of the Lord; crying out in the words of the prophet; Who art thou, O great mountain? before our Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter