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OPEN OPPOSITION OFFERED TO THE WORK BY SANBALLAT AND TOBIAH, AND ARRANGEMENTS MADE BY NEHEMIAH TO MEET IT (Nehemiah 4:1-23.). It would seem that Sanballat and his friends, when they first heard that the wall was actually being restored, the working parties formed, and the work taken in hand, could scarcely bring themselves to believe it. "What! These feeble Jews undertake so heavy a task, attempt a work that must occupy so long a time, and for which they had not even the necessary materials? (Nehemiah 4:2). Impossible! Such a wall as they could build would be so weak, that if a fox tried to get over it he would break it down" (Nehemiah 4:3). But when, despite their scoffs, the working parties laboured steadily, and the whole wall was brought to half the intended height (Nehemiah 4:6), and the gaps made in it by the Babylonians were filled up (Nehemiah 4:7), they changed their tone, admitted the seriousness of the undertaking, and the probability that it would succeed unless steps were taken to prevent it. The natural course to pursue, if they really believed that rebellion was intended (Nehemiah 2:19), or that the permission of Artaxerxes had not been obtained, was to act as Rehum and Shimshai had acted in the time of the Pseudo-Smerdis, and address a letter to the king informing him of Nehemiah's proceedings, and recommending that a stop should be put to them (see Ezr 4:11 -522). But probably they had by this time become aware that Artaxerxes was privy to the proceedings of his cupbearer, and would not easily be induced to interfere with them. The letter to Asaph which Nehemiah had obtained (Nehemiah 2:8) must have been delivered to him, and would become known; the fact that the king had sanctioned the restoration of the wall would be apparent; and all hope of a check from this quarter, if it ever existed, would be swept away. Besides, at the rate at which the work was progressing under Nehemiah's skilful arrangements, it would be accomplished before the court could be communicated with, unless other steps were taken. Accordingly, it was resolved to stop the building by main force. Sanballat and Tobiah, his Ammonite hanger-on, entered into a league with the neighbouring peoples, the Philistines of Ashdod, the Ammonites, and some Arab tribe or tribes, and agreed with them that a conjoint attack should be made upon Jerusalem by a confederate army (Nehemiah 3:7, Nehemiah 3:8). It was hoped to take the working parties by surprise, and to effect their complete destruction (ibid. verse 11). But Nehemiah, having learnt what was intended, made preparations to meet and repulse the assailants. He began by setting a watch day and night (verse 9) on the side on which the attack was expected. When an assault seemed imminent, he stopped the work, and drew up the whole people in battle array, with swords, spears, and bows, behind the wall, but in conspicuous places, so that they could be seen from a distance, and in this attitude awaited the enemy (verse 13). The result was that no actual assault was delivered. Sanballat and his allies, when they found such preparations made to receive them, came to the conclusion that discretion was the better part of valour, and drew off without proceeding to blows (verse 15). The work was then resumed, but under additional precautions. The labourers were compelled to work either with a weapon in one hand, or at the least with a sword at their side (verses 17, 18). Nehemiah's private attendants were armed and formed into two bands, one of which worked on the wall, while the other kept guard, and held the arms, offensive and defensive, of their fellow-servants (verse 16). At night the working parties retired to rest within the city, but Nehemiah himself, his brothers, his servants, and his bodyguard, remained outside, keeping watch by turns, and sleeping in their clothes, until the wall was finished (verses 22, 23).
Before his brethren. By "his brethren" would seem to be meant his chief counsellors—probably Tobiah among them. The army of Samaria. Some understand by this a Persian garrison, stationed in Samaria under its own commander, with which Sanballat had influence, but there is no real ground for such a supposition. Psalms 83:1-18, belongs probably to David's time; and as Samaria had doubtless its own native force of armed citizens, who were Sanballat's subjects, it is quite unnecessary to suppose that he addressed himself to any other "army" than this. The Persians would maintain a force in Damascus, but scarcely in Samaria; and Persian soldiers, had there been any in that city, would have been more likely to support a royal cupbearer than a petty governor with no influence at court. We can really only explain the disturbed state of things and approach to open hostility which appears in Nehemiah's narrative, by the weakness of Persia in these parts, and the consequent power of the native races to act pretty much as they pleased—even to the extent of making war one upon another. Will they fortify themselves? No other rendering is tenable. Ewald defends it successfully. Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? The meaning seems to be, "Will they begin and make an end in a day?" It is assumed that they will begin by offering a sacrifice to inaugurate their work. Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Rather, "Will they revive the burnt stones (the stones that are burned) out of the heaps of the rubbish?" Will they do what is im-possible-solidify and make into real stone the calcined and crumbling blocks which are all that they will find in the heaps of rubbish? If not, how are they to procure material?
Tobiah the Ammonite was by him. The presence of Tobiah on this occasion, before the alliance was made with the Ammonites (Nehemiah 4:8), is a strong indication that his position was not one of independent authority, but of dependence upon Sanballat. There is nothing to show that he was more than a favourite slave of the Samaritan governor. A fox. Or, "a jackal," which would be more likely than a fox to stray over a ruined wall into a town.
Hear, O our God. Compare Ezra's parenthetic burst of thanksgiving (Ezra 7:27, Ezra 7:28). That which in Ezra was a sudden impulse has become a settled habit with Nehemiah (comp. Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:9, Nehemiah 6:14; Nehemiah 13:14, Nehemiah 13:22, Nehemiah 13:29, Nehemiah 13:31). Turn their reproach upon their own head. The imprecations of Nehemiah are no pattern to Christians, any more than are those of the Psalmists (Psalms 69:22-28; Psalms 79:12; Psalms 109:6-20, etc.); but it cannot be denied that they are imprecations. Before men were taught to "love their enemies," and "bless those that cursed them" (Matthew 5:44), they gave vent to their natural feelings of anger and indignation by the utterance of maledictions. Nehemiah's spirit was hot and hasty; and as he records of himself (Nehemiah 13:25) that he "cursed" certain Jews who had taken foreign wives, so it is not to be wondered at that he uttered imprecations against his persistent enemies.
Cover not their iniquity, etc. Some of David's imprecations are very similar (Psalms 109:7, Psalms 109:14, Psalms 109:15, etc.), as also some of Jeremiah's (Jeremiah 18:23). They have provoked thee to anger before the builders. It is not as if they had merely "thought scorn" of thee, or insulted thee before one or two. They have uttered their insult publicly, so that it is known to the whole body of the builders. Therefore they deserve not to be forgiven.
So built we the wall. Rather, "and we (still) built the wall" Insults and gibes had no effect on us—did not touch us. Despite of them we steadily kept on our building, and the result was that soon all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof—the whole continuous line of wall was completed to half the contemplated height. For the people had a mind to work. Literally, "there was a heart to the people to work." They wrought, as we should say, "with a will"—they had their heart in the work. Insult and gibe rather stimulated than daunted them.
Ridicule of a good work.
Sanballat and his friends had at first thought it impossible that Nehemiah would attempt to repair and restore the wall of Jerusalem, But when they found that the work was actually begun, and making good progress, their anger was equalled only by their astonishment, and they gave vent to their wrath in scoffs and ridicule. Happily they seem to have been so misled by their contempt for the feebleness of the Jews as to have deemed it impossible that they could really complete the undertaking; and so they contented themselves with ridicule until the work was so far advanced, and the people so organised and inspirited, that more formidable measures were unavailing. Nehemiah, however, was much wounded by their scorn, expressed as it was not only before "the army of Samaria" (verse 2), but "before the builders" (verse 5), and adapted to discourage them; and he expressed his feelings strongly in prayer to God. But he and the people, so far from being disheartened, had only the greater "mind to work," and speedily completed the restoration up to half the height of the wall. Note—
I. THE CONTEMPT AND RIDICULE WHICH GOOD WORKS HAVE OFTEN TO ENCOUNTER, ESPECIALLY AT THEIR COMMENCEMENT. Many discoveries and inventions of a secular character might be cited in illustration. The Copernican system. Gas. Railways, and the speed of travelling expected on them. Ocean steam-ships. But, confining ourselves to Christian enterprises, the first preaching and avowed aims of the gospel, the efforts of Christian reformers and evangelists, the work of modern missions, may be referred to; and many an effort on a smaller scale to evangelise a dark and godless population.
1. The circumstances which are thought to justify contempt and ridicule.
(1) The supposed impossibility of accomplishing the proposed object. "Will they revive the stones," etc.
(2) The feebleness of those who undertake it. In number, wealth, mental capacity, and culture, etc. "What do these feeble Jews?"
(3) Their expectation of Divine aid. "Will they sacrifice?" Thus "the preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness;" and those who preach it are sometimes regarded as either knaves or fools.
2. Their actual causes.
(1) Dislike of the work and anger against the workers (verse 1). These help to produce blindness as to the real facts of the ease.
(2) Ignorance and unbelief. The world knows not the real resources of Christians, and cannot understand their motives. It has no faith in the gospel or the Holy Ghost, in the precepts or promises which impel and inspirit Christian workers, or the Divine love which constrains them. Hence cannot rightly estimate their conduct or the probabilities of their success. What the world can see is manifestly insufficient, and it cannot see what renders success certain.
(3) Felt paucity of solid grounds of objection. Ridicule often used as a substitute for argument.
II. THE EFFECT WHICH CONTEMPT AND RIDICULE SHOULD HAVE ON THOSE ENGAGED IN GOOD WORKS.
1. Care not to deserve them. It must be confessed that sometimes those engaged in religious enterprises invite ridicule, if not contempt; by manifest ignorance, by cowardly fears of advancing science, by clap-trap and worldly policy, by cant or weak sentimentalism, by glaring inconsistencies between their lofty professions and their actual conduct, etc. It is one of the wholesome functions of raillery to banish such follies from good undertakings, and thus make the work truer and stronger.
2. Prayer. Not like Nehemiah's, for vengeance on the despisers; but forgiveness, and that God would "turn their reproach on their head" by granting signal success to the work.
3. Calm confidence. In the assurance of that Divine favour and assistance of which the world takes little account, and thus of good success.
4. Steady, persevering toil. All the more vigorous because of the opposition. Thus Christian workers will live down contempt, even if, as in this case, it give place to violent hostility. It may, however, be followed by applause when the work has proved itself good by results which even the world can appreciate.
Despising the godly.
"Hear, O our God; for we are despised." The contempt of many for sincere and earnest Christians has respect not only to their undertakings, as here, but their whole religious life. Taking this more general subject, notice—
I. THE TREATMENT LAMENTED. "We are despised." How is it that Christians are ever despised? Sometimes, doubtless, they have themselves to blame (see, on the whole paragraph, II. 1). Thoroughly consistent Christians often obtain high respect from men of the world. But the feeling of others is that of contempt.
1. What they despise.
(1) Religion itself. Rejecting and disliking it, men persuade themselves that it is not worthy of serious regard; it cannot be, or persons so enlightened as they would be sure to recognise its worth. Hence they affect to think serious Christians credulous and foolish; believing what is unworthy of faith, spending thought, feeling, energy, money for that which is nought, and giving up real advantages and pleasures for phantoms; solid treasures for an estate in the clouds. Gradually they come to believe seriously what first they affected to believe, until all earnest Christians are regarded as ignorant fanatics.
(2) The contempt is sometimes increased by the circumstances with which religion is associated. Some Christians have so much which the world esteems as respectable, that their religion is overlooked or condoned. It may excite a smile, but does not awaken contempt. But when such things are wanting, and the one thing most prominent is piety, it is more apt to awaken feelings of hostility, and these to become contemptuous. These poor and ignorant folk, what right have they to deem themselves wiser and better than "their betters"? (see John 7:48, John 7:49).
(3) In some cases it is the form which religion assumes that awakens or intensifies contempt. A large part of the world, in a Christian country, deems it quite right to have a religion, but it must be that of the wealthy, respectable, and fashionable classes: all other it denounces, or with proud superciliousness ignores as unworthy of serious notice.
2. The real causes of their contempt.
(1) Unbelief. This the main cause. They do not really believe the truths of Christianity, faith in which is the mainspring of the Christian life. The Divine estimate of the relative worth of men and things is not accepted.
(2) Ignorance. Men highly intelligent in other departments—men of science, whose judgment is worthy of all respect in their own sphere—are often profoundly ignorant of the Christian religion, and the actual principles and motives which animate the Christian; yet "speak evil of the things which they understand not."
(3) Worldliness. Estimating all things by the worldly standard, "the things of the Spirit of God" are "foolishness unto them."
(4) Conceit of superiority. Pride of intellect, rank, etc; blinds them, and produces disdain of those whom they deem inferior to them. Hence they become "despisers of those that are good." It does not, however, require actual superiority to produce this effect; the conceit of it is enough.
II. THE FEELING WHICH SUCH TREATMENT AWAKENS. The feeling expressed in the text is evidently that of pain. It is singular that to be despised is harder to bear than any other kind of ill-treatment. It wounds self-respect more, perhaps pride. It is felt most keenly by those whose knowledge, or refinement, or position enables them best to appreciate the feelings which prompt it. St. Paul found it harder to bear the scorn of educated men than St. Peter. To be deeply affected by it, is in all cases a sign of too great regard for the good opinion of men. Habitual supreme regard for "the praise of God" would raise us above it.
III. THE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH WILL SUPPORT US UNDER IT. Let good men bear in mind—
1. Who it is that despise them. Those whose judgment, for the reasons given above, is of little account.
2. For what they are despised. For that which they know to be wise, noble, substantial, worthy of all honour.
3. With whom they are despised. God (1 Samuel 2:30; Psalms 10:13). Our Lord Jesus (Isaiah 53:3). Apostles, martyrs, saints in general, "the excellent of the earth."
4. The estimation in which they are held by the wisest and best beings. God esteems and treats them as especially his "sons and daughters." Christ "is not ashamed to call them brethren." Angels are "ministering spirits" to them, and rejoice when even "one sinner repents" and is added to their number.
5. The vindication of themselves, and the confusion of their despisers, which will take place at the last day.
IV. To WHAT WE SHOULD RESORT WHEN SUFFERING FROM IT. Prayer for those who despise us. "Pray for them which despitefully use you." "Being reviled, we bless." Prayer for ourselves; for needful strength to bear contempt meekly yet manfully. "Strengthened with might by God's Spirit in the inner man," we shall not heed it.
A mind to work.
"The people had a mind to work." In our age the calls and opportunities for Christian work are numerous and urgent. The prevalence of "a mind to work" is therefore of great importance; its existence throughout any Christian community is matter for thankfulness, when at least it springs from Christian principle, and is directed wisely to valuable ends.
I. WHENCE A TRULY CHRISTIAN "MIND TO WORK" SPRINGS.
1. Sense of necessity. Perception of evils needing to be removed; of good requiring to be done.
2. Sense of duty.
3. Gratitude and love to God and the Redeemer.
5. Hope. Of accomplishing good; of obtaining good.
6. All these may be excited and guided by good leaders. Such as Nehemiah.
II. How IT WILL SHOW ITSELF. In actual work.
5. Steady and persevering.
Notwithstanding scoffers, difficulties, etc.
III. WHAT IT WILL SECURE.
1. Freedom from fruitless speculation and unhealthy controversy.
2. Growth in true Christian life.
3. Success in doing good.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Derision and devotion.
Not the first nor the last instance was this one here recorded of—
I. DEVOTION ASSAILED BY DERISION (Nehemiah 4:1-3). Sanballat and Tobiah were contemptuously angry when they heard that the Jews had actually begun to build: they "took great indignation, and mocked the Jews" (Nehemiah 4:1). "What do these feeble Jews?" said Sanballat (Nehemiah 4:2). "If a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall," said Tobiah (Nehemiah 4:3), using the strongest language of derision. Here was
(1) misplaced contempt. A very ridiculous thing it must have seemed to Noah's contemporaries for him to be building a great ship so far from the sea; but the hour came when, as the waters rose, the scorners who had laughed at him knew that he was the one wise man, and they the fools. A pitiably ruinous thing the ministers of Pharaoh's court must have thought it in Moses to sacrifice his princely position in Egypt, and choose to "suffer affliction with the people of God" (Hebrews 11:25). We know now how wise he was. Many others beside Festus thought Paul mad to relinquish everything dear to man that he might be a leader of the despised sect, "everywhere spoken against." We understand what he did for the world, and what a "crown of righteousness" he was winning for himself. To the shallow judgment of the Samaritans, Nehemiah and his workmen seemed to be engaged in a work that would come to nought—they would "have their labour for their pains;" but their contempt was wholly misplaced. These men were earnest and devout workmen, guided by a resolute, high-minded leader, who had a plan in his head as well as a hope in his heart; they were to be congratulated, and not despised. So now
(a) fleshly strength, a thing of muscle and nerve, may despise the mind with which it competes; or
(b) material force (money, muskets, arms) the spiritual strength against which it is arrayed; or
(c) mere numbers, without truth and without God, the feeble band which is in a small minority, but which has truth, righteousness, God on its side. Very misplaced contempt, as time will soon show. Sanballat and Tobiah, in their superciliousness, used
(2) an easily-forged weapon—ridicule. Nothing is easier than to turn good things, even the very best things, into ridicule. It is the favourite weapon of wrong in its weakness. When men can do nothing else, they can laugh at goodness and virtue. Any simpleton may make filial piety seem ridiculous by a sneering allusion to a "mother's apron-string." The weakest-minded man can raise a laugh by speaking of death or of devotion in terms of flippancy. There was but the very smallest speck of cleverness in Sanballat's idea of turning ashes into stones (verse 2), or in Tobiah's reference to the fox breaking down the wall (verse 3), but it probably excited the derisive laughter of "the brethren and the army of Samaria" (verse 2). Let those who adopt the role of the mocker remember that it is the weapon of the fool which they are wielding. But though easily forged, this weapon of ridicule is
(3) a blade that cuts deeply. Nehemiah felt it keenly. "Hear, O our God; for we are despised" (verse 4). And the imprecation (verse 6) that follows shows very deep and intense feeling. Derision may be easily produced, but it is very hard to bear. It is but a shallow philosophy that says "hard words break no bones:" they do not break bones, but they bruise tender hearts. They crush sensitive spirits, which is more, and worse. "A wounded spirit who can bear?" (Proverbs 18:14). The full force of a human soul's contempt directed against a sensitive spirit, the brutal trampling of heartless malignity on the most sacred and cherished convictions of the soul, this is one of the worst sufferings we can be called to endure. But we have—
II. DEVOTION BETAKING ITSELF TO ITS REFUGE (verses 4, 5). Nehemiah, as his habit was, betook himself to God. He could not make light of the reproaches, but, smarting under them, he appealed to the Divine Comforter. "Hear, O our God," etc. (verse 4). In all time of our distress from persecution we should
(1) carry our burden to our God; especially remembering "him who endured such contradiction of sinners" (Hebrews 12:3), and appealing to him who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15), having been himself tried on this point even as we are.
(2) Ask his interposition with our enemies; only, as we have learned of Christ, asking not for retaliation (verse 5), but for the victory of love, for their conversion to a better mind.
III. DEVOTION DRIVEN TO DO ITS BEST (verse 6). Under the inspiration of an attack from without, Nehemiah and his brethren went on with their work
(1) with redoubled speed. "So built we the wall unto the half thereof." It grew rapidly under their busy hands, nerved and stimulated as they were to do their best.
(2) With perfect co-operation. "All the wall was joined together." There was no part left undone by any idlers or malcontents: each man did the work appointed him. The reproaches of them that are without knits together as one man those that are within.
(3) With heartiness. "The people had a mind to work." No instru- ments, however cunningly devised and well-made, will do much without the "mind to work;" but with our mind in the work we can do almost anything with such weapons as we have at hand. Pray for, cherish "the willing mind" (2 Corinthians 8:12) in the work of the Lord, and then the busy hand will quickly "build the wall."—C.
It came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, at Samaria, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, in their respective residences, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, or "that the (entire) wall of Jerusalem was of a (good) height," they were wroth. Observe that Tobiah is here quite separated from the nation of the Ammonites, and in no way represented as their leader. Jealousy of Jerusalem on the part of the Ammonites and Philistines is quite natural; and, if the Arabs are the Edomites, their opposition would be equally a matter of course (Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 25:12; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:10, Obadiah 1:14); but the Edomites are not called Arabs in Scripture, nor do Arabs appear very often among the enemies of the Jews. It has been suggested that the "Arabians" here mentioned are the descendants of a colony which Sargon planted in Samaria itself. This, of course, is possible; but they may perhaps have been one of the desert tribes, induced to come forward by the hope of plunder (Ewald), and influenced by the Ammonites, their neighbours.
To hinder it. Rather, "to do it hurt." The word used is a rare one. According to Gesenius, it has the two senses of "error" and "injury."
We … set a watch against them day and night, because of them. Rather, "over against, them,". "opposite to them"—opposite, that m, to the point from which they were expected to make their attack.
The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed. The complaint seems to be, that by the drawing off of men from the working parties to act as guards, those parties were so weakened that they could not continue the work, the quantity of rubbish being so great.
If the text is sound, it can only mean that the Jews who dwelt in the outlying towns, in the neighbourhood of Ammon, Samaria, Ashdod, etc; came repeatedly to Jerusalem, and tried to draw off their contingents, saying to them, "You must return to us." But it is suspected that there is a corruption of the original words of Nehemiah, and that what he wrote was, that these Jews came repeatedly to Jerusalem and warned him of the enemy's designs. (So Ewald, Houbigant, Dathe, A. Clarke, and others. )
Then set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places. There is no and m the original. Nehemiah means that in the less elevated places, where the wall was least strong by nature, he had his men posted on conspicuous spots within the walls, where they could be seen from a distance, and so deterred the enemy from advancing. He drew them up after their families, that each man might feel he was fighting for his brethren, sons, etc. (verse 14).
And I looked, and rose up, and said. A particular occasion seems to be spoken of. The allies had joined their forces; the army was advancing; Nehemiah had obtained information of the quarter from which the attack was to be expected; he had posted his men (verse 13); when he "looked, and rose up," and spoke, it was probably as the enemy was coming up to the attack; he then made this short but stirring appeal. That no conflict followed would seem to show, that "when the enemy approached, and saw from a distance the whole people awaiting them in perfect equipment, order, and spirit," they lost heart and "turned back". The Lord, which is great and terrible. See the comment on Nehemiah 1:5.
The half of my servants wrought in the work. Nehemiah divided his "servants" or slaves into two bodies, one of which laboured at the wall, while the other kept guard, fully armed, and held the spears, bows and arrows, shields, and corselets of their fellows. The rulers were behind. The "rulers" or "princes" did not labour, but stood behind the labourers, directing them, and ready to lead them on if the enemy ventured to come to blows.
And they which bare burdens, with those that laded. Rather, "both they which bare burdens, as they laded." The builders, or those engaged upon the work, are divided into two classes—
(1) actual builders, and
(2) those who carried the materials.
Of these, the latter did their work with one hand, while in their other hand they held a weapon; the former needed both hands for their employment, but even these wore swords in theft girdles.
For the builders. Rather, "and the (actual) builders"—masons, bricklayers, and the like, as distinct from the bearers of burthens, or carriers of material. He that sounded the trumpet. The signalman. Trumpeters appear both in the Egyptian and the Assyrian sculptures.
So we laboured: and half of them held the spears. This is a summary of the main points previously related: "So we continued to work; and one-half of my personal followers continued to keep watch, and to hold the spears" (Nehemiah 4:16). From the rising of the morning, etc. This is additional, and shows how early the work commenced each morning, and how late it continued.
Every one, with his servant. The material condition of the people had much improved since the return under Zerubbabel. Then there was only one slave to every six Israelites (Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65); now every Israelite had his slave, and many no doubt a large number. Lodge within Jerusalem. i.e. "sleep" or "pass the night" there, instead of returning to their several villages or towns. That in the night they may be a guard to us. The very fact that they were in Jerusalem, and known to be there, would tend to prevent an attack; and if the enemy assaulted by night, they would be at hand, and able to take their part in guarding the work.
My brethren. Actual brothers probably. That Nehemiah had brothers appears from Nehemiah 1:2; that one of them, Hanani, had accompanied him to Jerusalem is evident from Nehemiah 7:2. My servants. See above, Nehemiah 7:16. The men of the guard that followed me. As governor, Nehemiah would maintain a body-guard, in addition to his band of slaves. Saving that every one put them off for washing. So the Vulgate: "Unnsquisque tantum nudabatur ad baptismum;" but it is at least doubtful whether the Hebrew words can possibly have this meaning. The most natural and literal sense of them is that given by Maurer and Rambach—"Each man's weapon was his water;" the supposed connection of the clause with the preceding being, "No one took off his clothes," not even for the bath—no one bathed; "a man's only bath was his weapon." Some critics, however, defend the rendering of the A. V.; others take the words in the same way, but explain the term "water" differently, of a natural want (Ewald, Stanley); while many regard the text as unsound, and propose emendations. None, however, that has as yet been proposed is satisfactory.
Ridicule failing and the work progressing, the enemies of the Jews, more angry than ever, conspire to stop it by force of arms. We have here—
I. ENEMIES WITHOUT.
1. Various (Nehemiah 4:7).
2. Combined (Nehemiah 4:8).
3. Angry (Nehemiah 4:7).
4. Wily (Nehemiah 4:11).
5. Ruthless (ibid.).
6. Determined to stop the work.
II. DIFFICULTIES WITHIN.
1. The weariness and discouragement of the labourers (Nehemiah 4:10).
2. Pressing and repeated messages to those of them who came from the country to return to their homes.
Such seems the meaning of Nehemiah 4:12. Their neighbours and friends, aware of the designs of the foe, were anxious for their safety and that of their families whom they had left behind.
III. NEHEMIAH'S MEASURES. As difficulties thickened his courage rose, his capacity became more evident, and his ability to sway the many. Full of confidence and resolution, he inspired others with like feelings.
1. Prayer (Nehemiah 4:9).
2. Setting a watch.
3. Subsequently a general arming (Nehemiah 4:13).
4. Spirit-stirring address (Nehemiah 4:14).
IV. THEIR RESULTTS (Nehemiah 4:15).
1. Determent of the adversaries.
2. Resumption of the work.
1. For national life.
(1) Wars of defence are lawful when necessary, and should be waged bravely for the sake of homes, wives, and children.
(2) Preparation for war is a security for peace.
2. For the religious life.
(1) Christians must be prepared to fight as well as work. The enemies of their souls and of their Lord are various, numerous, and determined, and must be encountered.
(2) Prayer, watchfulness, and courage must be combined in the Christian warfare (comp. Ephesians 6:10-18).
(3) Faith in God and fear of him will conquer the fear of our adversaries, human or diabolic.
(4) Regard for the highest welfare of their families should inspire Christians in opposing the enemies of religion.
Prayer and watchfulness.
"Nevertheless we made our prayer unto God, and set a watch," etc.
I. The Christian's PERILS. His enemies are—
1. Numerous. Satan and his angels, his own corruptions, the world.
2. Diverse. Different in nature, and mode of attack; assuming different forms; appealing in turn to every passion and principle of our nature.
3. Insidious. "The wiles of the devil." He can take the form of "an angel of light." Evil often appears as good. Danger lurks where we should least suspect it: in needful occupations, in lawful pleasures, in the society and influence of dearest friends.
4. Intent on our destruction. "Seeking whom he may devour." Our highest interests, our eternal well-being, are imperilled.
II. The Christian's SAFEGUARDS.
1. Prayer. To him who is mightier than our mightiest foes; who has a perfect knowledge of them, and of our weaknesses; whose eye is ever upon them and us; who loves us and desires our safety; who has promised help and victory to those who call upon him. In his strength alone can we conquer.
2. Watchfulness. Habitual vigilance, for our foes may spring upon us from unexpected quarters; special watchfulness "over against them" (as the last words of the text should be rendered). Where from experience we have learned that our weakness and the enemy's strength lie.
3. The two combined. God will protect those who watch as well as pray. Prayer aids watching, and watching prayer. "Watch unto prayer." Prayer without watchfulness is presumption. Watchfulness without prayer, sinful self-confidence. Each without the other is sure to fail. Both together will insure deliverance.
Courage in the Christian war.
"Be not ye afraid of them," etc. A stirring battle-cry. Suitable in the Christian warfare.
I. THE CHURCH'S WARFARE. Each for himself and his family; all for the common good. Against the world, the flesh, and the devil, in all the forms they assume: infidelity, heresy, ungodliness, wickedness of all kinds. The war is—
1. Defensive. To preserve themselves, and their households and Churches, from spiritual and moral evil.
2. Offensive. To subdue the world to Christ. Destroying the errors and sins which prevail in it, and rescuing their victims.
II. THE CHURCH'S LIABILITY TO FEAR. On account of the number, and power, and subtlety of her enemies, and the hardships and perils of the war. There is a fear which is good. "Happy is the man that feareth alway." But not the craven fear which shuns the fight.
III. THE CHURCH'S REMEDY AGAINST FEAR.
1. Remembrance of God.
(1) His greatness. "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." He has all power to sustain his servants, give them the victory, and reward the victors.
(2) His terribleness. To his enemies to subdue them; to his professed friends if they decline to do battle for him.
"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear."
2. Thought of the interests involved. As here, of brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and houses.
3. Mutual encouragement. "Be not afraid," etc.
The enemies of the Jews, who meditated an attack upon them, finding that they were aware of their design and well prepared to receive them, withdrew their forces, and the work of restoring the wall went on again. Nehemiah, however, thought it necessary that the people should be prepared for resistance at any moment. He therefore kept half his own retinue always on guard, well armed, while the other half worked; he appointed that every labourer should work armed; those whose work permitted, holding a weapon in one hand while labouring with the other; the masons, whose work required both hands, having a sword by their side; he placed the rulers behind the people, to direct the work and, if need were, to lead the fight. He himself was everywhere, overlooking the workmen, and on the alert for the enemy; having a trumpeter by his side to summon all the people together to resist any assault that might be made. As an additional precaution, he ordered those of the people whose dwellings were elsewhere to lodge by night in the city; while he, his relatives, slaves, and other attendants, though compelled to sleep, never put off their clothes (unless the last very obscure words of the chapter state an exception) until all danger had passed.
The lessons from this paragraph for any Christian Church or society, and indeed for any community, are, the importance of—
1. Diligence in work, combined with readiness for contest. It is work that secures prosperity, but conflict may be necessary for the work's sake.
2. Thorough union.
3. Division of duties. Each taking what he is best fitted for, or is thought to be by those in authority.
4. Good organisation.
5. Good rulers.
6. Obedience to them.
7. Self-denial. In all—those highest in authority the most careful to practise it.
Nehemiah 4:17, Nehemiah 4:18
Building in readiness to fight.
"They which builded on the wall, etc. For the builders so builded." Regarding the work of building the wall of Jerusalem as an image of Christian edification, whether of the individual or of the Church, notice—
I. THE NEED WHICH CHRISTIANS HAVE or PREPARATION FOR COMBAT WHILE ENGAGED IN BUILDING.
1. In seeking each his own spiritual profit. Must be intent on improvement and growth, but at the same time ready to fight. For his spiritual foes are near, and may make their onset at any moment and from any direction.
2. In seeking to profit others. Instruction in the truth is of primary importance; but there must be preparedness to meet objections and reprove or warn against errors and sins. Applies peculiarly to Christian ministers. Their main work is to "edify;" but in doing so they must not only be ready for but actually do battle against iniquity and false teaching. Besides which, they, like Nehemiah and his retinue, must especially mount guard for the protection of the whole community against threatened assaults of unbelief, superstition, immorality, etc; and be ready, if necessary, to summon all to fight against them (see Ezekiel 3:17, seq.; Ezekiel 33:7, seq.).
II. THEIR RELATION TO EACH OTHER.
1. They are mutually helpful. Fighting, or readiness for it, renders building possible. If infidelity or sin get the upper hand, "edification" ceases. Building aids fighting. Gives strength for it, supplies with strongest motives to it. He who is well "built up" in Christian faith and life has an experience of the preciousness of that which the enemy assails which will make him earnest and bold in contending for it. So with a Church established in all goodness, and richly enjoying the privileges of the gospel. In the end, however (as when the wall was finished), building may render preparation for fighting unnecessary. The Christian who has arrived at great maturity becomes unassailable by either serious error or temptation to sin. Growth in grace renders the disciple more and more like his Master, who could say, "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me." After many a conflict, he settles down in quiet enjoyment of what he has won; his walls so strong, his gates so secure, that no enemy can enter, even if he do not cease the vain attempt. A Church, also, well built up at once in Christian life and character and in numbers, needs not take much heed of enemies without. Her life and works speak for her more powerfully than arguments.
2. Readiness for fighting may hinder or stop building. The attitude of mind favourable to the former is in no small degree unfavourable to the latter. Besides, when men are armed for conflict they may come to prefer it, and engage in it needlessly or excessively, to the neglect of edification. But no Church (or state) can live by fighting. This is partly true of direct battling with evil tendencies and habits in ourselves and others; let good be nourished and strengthened, and evil will decay. It is especially true of religious controversy. It is very apt to injure Christian life and character. The antagonistic spirit which it engenders is unfavourable to meekness and charity, and even justice and truthfulness. A Church must be militant and ever ready to fight; but a Church mainly militant will effect little good.
The lessons are—
1. Be "ready, aye, ready" for battle. With the "whole armour of God" about you, and trained to the use of your weapons. But—
2. Be mainly intent on building.
God fighting for his people.
"Our God shall fight for us." An inspiriting assurance. Grounds of it in the case of Nehemiah and the Jews.
I. WHEN WE MAY CHERISH THIS ASSURANCE. When we fight for God; which we do—
1. When we contend in and for his cause. When our contest is against Satan, sin, and error; and on behalf of Christ and truth and righteousness and souls—our own and others.
2. When we are actuated by sincere and supreme regard for him. Desiring his glory, and trusting him for strength and victory.
3. When we employ the weapons which he has given us. Not using Satan's arms, but the weapons of truth and love (see 2 Corinthians 10:4).
4. When we fight in the spirit which he prescribes and imparts (2 Timothy 2:25; James 1:20).
5. When we battle with all our power.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS ASSURANCE.
1. The relation of God to us. "Our God."
2. His interest in the contest. It concerns his "great name," the accomplishment of his purposes of love to mankind in Christ, the destruction of his enemies.
3. His summons to it.
4. His promises.
III. THE EFFECTS OF SUCH ASSURANCE.
1. Alacrity to engage in the combat.
3. Confidence of victory.
"If God be for us, who can be against us?" Finally, take heed lest any of you fight against God. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The wisdom of the Christian workman in the hour of peril.
We are reminded here of—
I. THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (Nehemiah 4:8). From sneers the enemies of Israel passed on to plots; from taunts to a mischievous conspiracy. They "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." This advance of theirs was brought about by their hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were "made up." The steadfast labour of the good led, incidentally, to the development of evil in the unholy. The relations of David with Saul, and of the Apostle Paul with his unbelieving countrymen, and, indeed, those of our Master himself with the religious leaders of his day, show that speaking the truth or doing the work of God may prove the occasion of the growth and outbreak of sin—the occasion, but not the responsible cause. We must not be deterred from speaking or doing the will and work of God by fear about incidental consequences on the part of the great enemy.
II. THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (Nehemiah 4:10, Nehemiah 4:11, Nehemiah 4:12). The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes:—
1. The craft and violence of its foes. The enemy said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease" (verse 11). Here was force combined with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.
2. The faint-heartedness of its friends. Judah, from whom better things might have been expected, said, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed," etc. (verse 10); and the neighbouring Jews who had come in to help kept saying ("ten times," verse 12) that they must return, fearing the wrath of the Samaritans. In every work of God there are sure to be some if not "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). This we must expect whenever we "put our hand to the plough" in the field of Christian labour. And happy shall we be if we have not to contend with the feebleness and pusillanimity of our friends, fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at the first alarm, and talking about "giving up."
III. THE WISDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which Nehemiah did.
1. Mindfulness of God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (verse 9). "Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible" (verse 14). An appeal to him for help, and the recollection of the fact that "greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us." "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee," etc. (Psalms 50:15).
2. Realisation of the great issues which are at stake (verse 14). "Fight for your brethren, your sons," etc. When we are working or fighting for the cause of God we are engaged on behalf of the truest, highest, and most enduring interests of those who are dearest to us, and of our own also. The cause of Christ is the cause of ourselves, of our families, of our country, as well as of our race.
3. Defence (verses 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work. Nehemiah's servants wrought with their weapon of defence in one hand and their instrument of labour in the other (verse 17). Or, while one was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once into the labourer's hand. Usually our work is rather to build than to strike, but there are times when we must be ready to fight our foes or aid those who are engaged in conflict. In the wide field of the Church's work there is always some work for the Christian soldier as well as for the Christian labourer. Let the one be the cheerful and appreciative co-operator with the other. The spear and the trowel are both wanted. The apologist and the preacher, the theologian and the evangelist, are both accepted servants of Christ.
4. Vigilance (verse 9). We "set a watch against them day and night." The Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, "Watch and pray."
5. Industry. Patient (verse 21): "We laboured in the work … from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared." United (verse 15): "All of us,… every one to his work." Self-forgetting (verse 23): "None of us put off our clothes," etc.
6. Order (verses 13, 19, 20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men were placed where most required (verse 13); those whose homes were outside came in (verse 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in case of attack (verses 19, 20). All must work cordially under the human as well as under the Divine leader.—C.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The work and warfare of the Church.
I. The weak of the Church.
1. Derided. "And mocked the Jews" (Nehemiah 4:1).
2. Under-estimated. "These feeble Jews" (Nehemiah 4:2).
3. Misrepresented. "If a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall" (Nehemiah 4:3).
4. Prayerful. "Hear, O our God" (Nehemiah 4:4).
5. Hearty. "For the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6).
6. Advancing. "Heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped" (Nehemiah 4:7).
II. The WARFARE of the Church.
1. Defensive. "And conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it" (Nehemiah 4:8).
2. Watchful. "Set a watch against them day and night" (Nehemiah 4:9).
3. Judicious. "I even set the people with their families" (Nehemiah 4:13).
4. Courageous. "Be not ye afraid" (Nehemiah 4:14).
5. Religious. "Remember the Lord" (Nehemiah 4:14).
6. Self-denying (Nehemiah 4:23).—E.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
This description of the building of the wall of Jerusalem may be taken as representing the life of the Church militant. The chief points are these:—
I. THE SPIRIT which pervades and actuates it. "The people had a mind to work." Activity, self-denial, fellowship, and fortitude.
II. THE METHOD. Division and distribution of the work. Builders, fighters, burden-bearers. Some in command, others waiting upon their word. A place for every one in which to work, and every one keeping his place, and doing his utmost in it.
III. THE DIFFICULTY. To do the work surrounded by enemies. Their mockery, their defiance, their active opposition. Every earnest labourer must be prepared to resist. There are special defenders of the faith, champions of truth, those who "hold the spears and the shields and the bows and the corslets, and the captains behind all the house of Judah." But beside these special fighters, the "builders had every one his sword girded by his side, and built." All the people of God should regard the defence of his truth and the protection of the life of his Church as their vocation. We cannot know at what point the attack will be made. Let all put on the armour.
IV. THE GROUND OF CONFIDENCE. "We made our prayer unto our God, and we set a watch against them day and night because of them." Watch and pray. The true dependence is that which looks up to heaven, and at the same time lifts up the hands, ready for activity.
V. THE VICTORY OVER HUMAN INFIRMITY. Some were discouraged. Judah said, The strength faileth, there is much rubbish, we are not able to build. The Jews nearest the danger were afraid. There will always be the discontented and the fearful ones to provoke discouragement. But there are the Nehemiahs, who "look, and rise up, and speak." The true leaders "remember the Lord." They get courage for themselves and for their brethren from the high places of faith and fellowship with God. The Church should keep its eye upon such men, and its ear open to them.
VI. THE TRUMPET-CALL. "In what place ye hear the sound of the trumpet, thither assemble yourselves unto us. Our God will fight for us." There are times and places which rally God's people. They must draw together. They must forsake for a while their special, individual appointment. They must obey the trumpet which summons them to united effort against a desperate assault. This especially true in connection with the attacks of infidelity and superstition.
VII. THE UNIVERSAL REQUIREMENT. Unpausing, unresting toil and vigilance till the work is done. "Night and day." "None of us put off our clothes." The Church must endure hardness if it will accomplish its mission to build the wall of Jerusalem. Special need at times to guard against the growth of the spirit of self-indulgence, sloth, and compromise. Too much of the work is committed to the few willing labourers. All should be doing, and always doing, and doing their all.—R.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13