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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Nehemiah 6



Nehemiah rejects the congress offered by Sanballat, and despises his threatening letters. He regards not the false prophets. The wall is finished in fifty-two days.

Before Christ 445.

Verse 5

Nehemiah 6:5. With an open letter in his hand Norden tells us, that when he and his company were at Essuaen, an express arrived there, dispatched by an Arab prince, who brought a letter directed to the reys, or master of their bark, enjoining him not to set out with his bark, or carry them any further; adding, that in a day's time he should be at Essuaen, and would there give his orders respecting them. "The letter, however, according to the usage of the Turks," says this author, "was open; and, as the reys was not on board, the pilot carried it to one of our fathers to read it." Sanballat's sending his servant, therefore, with an open letter, as here specified, did not appear an odd thing, it should seem: but, if it was according to their usages, why is this circumstance complained of, as it visibly is? Why, indeed, is it mentioned at all?—Because, however the sending of letters open to common people may be customary in these countries, it is not according to their usages to send them so to people of distinction. So Bishop Pococke, in his account of that very country where Norden was when this letter was brought, gives us, among other things, in the 57th plate, the figure of a Turkish letter put into a sattin bag, to be sent to a great man, with a paper tied to it, directed and sealed, and an ivory button tied on the wax. Indeed, according to D'Arvieux, the great emir of the Arabs was not wont to inclose his letters in these bags, any more than to have them adorned with flourishes; but then this is supposed to have been owing to the unpoliteness of the Arabs: and he tells us, that when he acted as secretary to the emir, he supplied these defects, and that his doing so was highly acceptable to the emir. Had this open letter then come from Geshem, who was an Arab, (Nehemiah 6:1.) it might have passed unnoticed; but as it was from Sanballat, the inclosing it in a handsome bag was a ceremony that Nehemiah had reason to expect from him, since he was a person of distinction in the Persian court, and at that time governor of Judea: and the not doing it was a great insult; insinuating, that though Nehemiah was, according to him, preparing to assume the royal dignity, he should be so far from acknowledging him in that character, that he would not even pay him the compliment due to every person of distinction. See the Observations, p. 295.

Verse 10

Nehemiah 6:10. In the house of God, within the temple Hereby is meant the sanctuary. Shemaiah had a good pretence to advise Nehemiah to retreat thither, because it was both a strong and a sacred place; being defended by a guard of Levites, and by its holiness privileged from all rude approaches: but his real design herein might be, not only to disgrace Nehemiah, and dishearten the people, when they saw their governor's cowardice, but to prepare the way likewise for the enemy's assaulting and taking the city, when there was no leader to oppose them; to give countenance to the calumny which had been spread abroad, of his affecting to be king, because he fled at the report of it; and perhaps, by the assistance of some other priests who were his confederates, either to destroy him, or to secure his person till the city was betrayed into the enemy's hand. See Bishop Patrick.

Verse 11

Nehemiah 6:11. Should such a man as I flee? &c.— There is something very significant, as well as magnanimous, in these words of Nehemiah. Should such a man as I flee? I, the chief governor; upon whose presence, counsel, and conduct, the very life and being of the whole city and nation, in a great measure, depend: I, who have professed such resolution, courage, and constancy in God: I, who have had such evident experience of God's gracious and powerful assistance; of his calling me to this employment, and carrying me through it, when the danger was greater than now; shall I dishonour God and religion, and betray the people and city of God by my pusillanimity? God forbid!

Verse 15

Nehemiah 6:15. The wall was finished—in fifty-and-two days How long Nehemiah was in finishing the walls of Jerusalem, interpreters are not agreed; because some of them, supposing the space of two-and-fifty days, here mentioned, to be too short for the perfecting of the whole, have begun their computation from the time that Nehemiah returned his answer to Sanballat's first message; and other, from the time that the stone wall was finished; and so allowing the whole fifty-two days for the perfecting of the rest. But if we look into the compass of time, from Nehemiah's being at Shushan, to the day of the month when these walls are said to have been finished, we shall find, that no more than fifty-two days could well be allowed for the perfecting of the whole. For it was in the first month (called Nisan, ch. 50) that Nehemiah was at Shushan, and obtained of the king leave to go to Jerusalem; and though we have no express account what time he spent in his journey, and when he came to Jerusalem; yet, if we may make a conjecture from the time that Ezra expended in the same journey, we can scarcely suppose that he arrived at Jerusalem before the end of the fourth month. Ezra set out on the first day of the first month. He made, indeed, a short stay at the river Ahava; but it was the first day of the fifth month before he reached Jerusalem. Nehemiah could not possibly set out so soon in the year, because his commission from the king, and instructions to the neighbouring governors, must have taken some time in passing through the several offices; and therefore we can hardly suppose that he reached Jerusalem sooner than the time specified; and from thence to the twenty-fifth day of the sixth month, including the three days of rest which he gave himself before he began, the space will be much about fifty-two days, wherein we suppose that the whole work was finished. And if Alexander the Great, as Arrian and Curtius relate, built the walls of Alexandria, which were seven miles in compass, in the space of twenty days, why should it be thought a thing incredible, that a great number, not of hired, but of voluntary men, full of zeal for the work themselves, animated by the example of their rulers, and ranged and distributed in a proper manner for dispatch, should in almost thrice that space of time, be able to finish a work of less compass, when they had long summer days for it, plenty of stones and other materials at hand, the foundation of the wall unrased, some parts of it standing entire, and here and there only breaches to be amended; and when their design in the whole was, not to study nicety but strength, and to provide themselves with such a fortification for the present as would secure them from any sudden invasion of their enemies? See Patrick and Poole.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The restless enemies of God's people could not bear to see the work so prosperous, without attempts to hinder and obstruct it; and therefore they lay a snare to take off Nehemiah, the great promoter of the work, by inviting him to a friendly conference in one of the villages of Benjamin. But, suspecting some plot, or having received some intelligence of their design, he refused to go, pleading the urgency of his work as his excuse for not meeting them. Four several times this proposal was made, and as often rejected with the same answer. Note; (1.) The proposals of known enemies should be weighed with jealous caution. (2.) When we have business that requires our attention, visits of compliment and civility must be postponed. (3.) Repeated solicitations to do what is evil or imprudent should meet with repeated denials.

2nd, When one design miscarries, Sanballat contrives another: since he cannot seduce Nehemiah from the work, he seeks to terrify him.
1. He sends a letter, intimating the information which Geshem, or Gashmu, had given, and desiring a conference thereupon; pretending friendship, as if, should the report spread, of his intention to rebel, and make himself king, the consequence might be dangerous. Note; (1.) Fair professions of friendship often cloak foul designs. (2.) It is an old trick of the enemies of God's people, to represent them as seditious, and make them noxious to the government.

2. Nehemiah easily saw that the design was to weaken his hands; and therefore, while he denies the accusation, and lays the invention at the door of his enemy, he looks to God to strengthen him, and then his foes may rage in vain. Note; (1.) No lies, or malevolent reports, should weaken our hand from the work of God. (2.) They who have almighty power engaged for them, may look up to God and be comforted; he will uphold them. (3.) The more the enemy rages, the more shall God's strength be perfected in our weakness.

3rdly, Despairing of success by his own contrivances, Sanballat, by bribes, engages some of the Jews to betray Nehemiah. The plot laid was, under pretence of zeal for his safety, to induce him to take refuge in the temple. But Nehemiah with scorn rejected the cowardly step to which he was advised, as highly unbecoming a man of his station and character. Note; (1.) The treachery of pretended friends is more to be feared, than the opposition of professed foes. (2.) Satan's ministers often wear the garb of God's prophets. We must not believe every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they be of God. (3.) When God's cause is at stake, our very life must not be dear to us. (4.) It is better to brave the greatest dangers than commit the least sin. (5.) The devil's design, in tempting us to sin, is, not only to wound our own souls, but to bring reproach upon our holy profession. (6.) The deepest-laid schemes for his people's hurt, God can disappoint, to his enemies' confusion. (7.) Woe to that sinner whose iniquity is marked before God, and whose judgment lingereth not.

4thly, If God bless us, then shall we be blessed in spite of every enemy. We have here,
1. The wall finished, to the great dismay and vexation of their neighbours, in fifty-two days. God's hand evidently appeared in the work, and therefore all opposition was impotent and vain. Note; (1.) When we are hearty in God's service, much may be done in a little time. (2.) The enemies of God's people shall be made to see and own his care over them. (3.) When God will work, none can hinder it.

2. The treacherous correspondence carried on between Tobiah and some of the nobles, with many of the people of Judah; so ungrateful were they to Nehemiah, and so false to the interests of their own country. Note; (1.) Nobility is no proof against baseness and bribery. The greater men of a state are often the betrayers of it. (2.) Intimate familiarity and connection with the ungodly cannot but tend to corrupt our own souls. (3.) Though the enemy threaten never so violently, we need not fear while God is on our side.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.