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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Nehemiah 4



Half of the walls of Jerusalem are finished. Sanballat and Tobiah conspire together to hinder it: Nehemiah sets a watch near the wall.

Before Christ 445.

Verse 2

Nehemiah 4:2. What do these feeble Jews, &c.— Mr. Peters observes upon this passage, which is remarkable for its phraseology, that it seems to give no obscure intimation, that the doctrine of the resurrection was the popular belief of the Jews in these days. "Reviving of stones," says he, "is a very easy metaphor to those who are acquainted with the doctrine of the resurrection; but, otherwise, not so easy or obvious." The word היחיו hayechaiiu, vivisicabunt, is the very same that is used for raising the dead. Out of the heaps of rubble, is, in the Hebrew, heaps of dust עפר ערמות areimoth apar, another word often used when speaking of a resurrection; and what follows with an emphasis, and yet these same stones are burnt, points out to us the method of funeral [by burning] used particularly among those who had no belief or expectation of a resurrection.

The Jews to this day charge the poor remnant of the sect of Samaritans with the disbelief of a future resurrection; though, on the other hand, they deny and disavow the charge. It is highly probable, that in our Saviour's time they believed it; for they worshipped the same God, and had the same expectation of a Messiah, as appears from the Samaritan woman's discourse with our Lord, John 4:25. But in the days of Nehemiah they seem to have been little better than heathens; a sort of mixed breed, out of the scum of many nations. Nehemiah tells them, ch. Neh 2:20 that they had no right or portion in Jerusalem, being of a different religion from the Jews; it is highly probable, therefore, that they disbelieved a resurrection. Now if Sanballat, in that vein of mirth and buffoonery which he and his friend Tobiah appear at this time to be in, meant to ridicule this doctrine of the Jewish faith, as well as laugh at their attempt in building, we see a plain reason of that indignation which Nehemiah presently conceived at it, and which drew from him that solemn address to God, Nehemiah 4:4. Hear O our God; for we, thy worshippers, are despised, &c. Had there been no more in Sanballat's speech than in that of Tobiah which follows, (who with a scorn, perhaps, more affected than real, says, that a fox, if he were to jump upon it, might break down their stone walls,) so wise and good a man as Nehemiah, probably, would have treated it with silence and contempt: but we find, that he resents it in another manner; beseeches God to turn their reproach upon their own head; speaks of it as a sin or iniquity of the first magnitude; Neh 4:5 for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders; that is, in the most public manner, and in the face of God's people, had dared to utter their impieties, and ridicule that faith which they professed.

Verses 7-8

Nehemiah 4:7-8. When Sanballat and Tobiah, &c.— The ingenious publisher of the Ruins of Balbeck tells us, that in Palestine he has often seen the husbandman sowing, accompanied by an armed friend, to prevent his being robbed of the seed by the Arabs. This robbing the husbandman of his seed seems to have been an ancient practice of theirs, and to have been referred to, Psa 126:5-6 and made an image by the Psalmist of the happy issue of the first essays of the Jews to re-people their country. For surely it is much more natural to suppose that these verses referred to a violence of this sort, than to imagine, with many interpreters who have treated upon this circumstance, that they allude to a countryman's anxiety, who sows his corn in a very scarce time, and is afraid of the failure of his next crop. The Israelites, who returned to Babylon upon the proclamation of Cyrus, were undoubtedly in similar circumstances to husbandmen sowing their corn amidst surrounding encampments of oppressive Arabs. Their rebuilding their towns and their temple resembled a time of sowing; for from these things they were willing to hope for a great increase of people; but they who continued in Babylon had reason to be jealous that the neighbouring nations would defeat these efforts, and destroy these rising settlements. The sacred historian, in this passage, expressly mentions such difficulties; nor was it difficult to foresee these oppositions: the Arabs had, undoubtedly, pastured their flocks and herds, and pitched their tents all over Judea, when left desolate; and perhaps others of the neighbouring nations had seized upon some of the dispeopled districts which lay most convenient for them: it was the interest then of the Arabs, and of such other nations, to discourage, as far as in them lay, the return of Israel in any numbers into the country of their fathers. In opposition to this jealousy, the prophet expresses, perhaps predicts, his hope, that there would be a happy issue of these beginnings to re-people their country: "Make the people of our captivity to return, O Lord! into their country; and, like the streams of the south, to cause these desarts to flourish again. Let them be persuaded, that, though they lay these foundations of re-peopling their country with an anxiety like that of a poor husbandman, who goes forth weeping, for fear he should be robbed of his seed, they shall feel a joy hereafter, like his, when he brings back his sheaves with rejoicing, in the so thoroughly re-establishing Israel in Judea, as to have no cause to apprehend any thing from the surrounding nations." Observations, p. 52.

Verse 12

Nehemiah 4:12. They said unto us ten times, &c.— They told us frequently from all places that which they designed against us. Houbigant.

Verse 17

Nehemiah 4:17. Every one with one of his hands, &c.— This is figurative, and means only that they were prepared either to build or to fight, it being impossible for them to have worked, if both hands had not been at liberty.

Verse 23

Nehemiah 4:23. Saving that every one put them off for washing Even for a whole month. Houbigant.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Never did the cause of God begin to prosper, but the enemies of God began to malign and resist it. Let us never be discouraged, if we see this old enmity revive.

1. Sanballat and Tobiah, the sworn enemies of the Jews, no sooner have intelligence of the design, than, vexed at the heart, they set themselves to oppose it. They treat the feeble Jews with scorn, and ridicule the attempt as impracticable. Note; (1.) Ridicule and contempt are some of the sharp arrows in the world's quiver, which they never fail to throw at God's faithful labourers. (2.) Though many pretend to mock and despise the work of God, at heart they are grieved, and fear whereunto this will grow. (3.) One wicked man encourages another; but, though scoffers make their bands strong, God will cover them shortly with confusion.

2. Nehemiah prays against the revilings of his enemies; and, if he can interest God's regard for him, little cares for their opposition, which he knows God will then turn to their own shame. Note; (1.) The way to answer the scorn of the world is, by carrying our case to the Lord our God: he heareth, and judgeth. (2.) They who would be Christ's servants must expect the world's ill word and abuse. (3.) They who discourage the hearts of God's faithful labourers, treasure up a peculiar measure of wrath against the day of wrath.

3. The people, more encouraged by Nehemiah's prayer than deterred by their enemies' abuse, raised the wall all round the city to half its height; for their hearts were in the work. Note; (1.) Much may be done in a little time when all are hearty in lending their assistance. (2.) We need not fear the revilings of men, when we are assured of the blessing of God upon our labours.

2nd, When secret reviling prevented not the progress of the building, they prepared by open force to resist it.
1. Sanballat and Tobiah engaged the Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites, to assist them, and join their forces to attack the Jews, whose piety they as much hated, as they envied their growing prosperity. To crush them, therefore, in the bud, they in great wrath formed a league, secretly contriving to fall upon the builders before they were apprized of their danger, and there to massacre them, unarmed and unprepared; the consequence of which must needs be the interruption of the building. Note; (1.) The hatred of the wicked is a deadly hatred, which thirsteth for the precious life. Persecutors of God's people are ever cruel. (2.) When God's cause is to be oppressed, they who were ever so much at variance among themselves will cordially unite their forces against this hated object. (3.) Though craft and prayer be with the enemies of God's church, he that sitteth above the heavens mocks at their impotent attempts.

2. The faint-heartedness of some of the men of Judah was as great a discouragement as the threatenings of the Samaritans. Wearied with the service, disheartened at the difficulties, and despairing of success, they are ready to discontinue their efforts, as if tired out, and unable longer to support the fatigue. Note; Unbelieving Israelites are a greater hindrance than infidel enemies.

3. Intelligence was brought of their enemies' designs. Note; Though the counsels of the wicked are ever so secret, God can detect and disappoint them.

4. Nehemiah bravely and prudently provided against the impending danger. To God he first committed their case, in fervent prayer for direction and support; then placed a proper guard, some behind the wall, where it was lowest, and others on the higher part, or towers, whence they could most incommode the enemy. And, as he perceived the people in consternation, he encourages them to trust in God, their almighty aid, whose arm could easily baffle their foes; and animates them to fight, from the consideration that their all was at stake, and that on their courage the safety of all depended. Note; (1.) In every distress, our first recourse should be to God. (2.) Every prudent human means must be diligently used in dependance on him. (3.) Nothing inspires the heart of a believer with such courage, as the view of almighty grace engaged for his support.

5. The enemy hearing that their design was discovered, and seeing the preparations made to receive them, desisted from their enterprize, and the work again happily went forward. Note; Experience of God's care over us should engage our increasing fidelity and zeal in his service.

3rdly, Though the present storm was blown over, Nehemiah took care to be always prepared for any unforeseen attack. Security is dangerous: it becomes the soldier of Christ to be continually on his guard.
1. Half of Nehemiah's guards were at all times ready accoutred, while the other half worked on the wall; and they relieved each other. Every builder had his sword on his thigh, and his weapons at hand, that at a moment's warning he might be ready; and their rulers also stood behind them to encourage them. Note; (1.) They who labour for God have ever need of the sword of the Spirit, that they may be ready armed against every enemy. (2.) Union among christians is their great stability. (3.) They who are distinguished in station, gifts, or office, must be encouragers of others by their zeal and example.

2. To strengthen them against any surprise by night, Nehemiah caused all the country labourers to lodge in the city, that they might be at hand in case of attack. As for himself and his attendants, they never put off their clothes, except to change, or to wash for any ceremonial uncleanness. From the dawn of day to the twilight, they held their spears; and at night, while some kept guard, the rest were ready at a moment's call. Note; (1.) As we are ever in danger, we must continually watch: our spiritual enemies neither sleep nor slumber. (2.) Any hardship will the good soldier of Jesus Christ cheerfully endure, when called to it for the glory of God and the service of immortal souls.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.