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SECRET PROCEEDINGS OF SANBALLAT AND HIS FRIENDS TO HINDER THE BUILDING OF THE WALL, AND THEIR FAILURE. THE WALL COMPLETED (Nehemiah 6:1-19.). When the open opposition failed, when it was found that Nehemiah's arrangements for guarding the wall (Nehemiah 4:13-23) were such that success was not likely to attend the employment of force by the confederates, with such resources as they had at their disposal, and the idea of an assault was therefore given up, recourse was had to artifice and intrigue. First of all, Sanballat sent to propose a meeting between himself, Geshem, and Nehemiah in the open country about Ono, twenty-five or thirty miles from Jerusalem, hoping thus to draw him to a distance from his supporters, and intending to "do him a mischief" (verse 2). Nehemiah, who perceived the snare, declined; but Sanballat persisted, and made four other proposals for conferences, probably varying the place, but all without avail. On the fifth and last occasion the letter sent to Nehemiah was an open one, and taxed him with an intention to rebel and make himself king, an intention which was sure to come to the cars of Artaxerxes, and would bring the Jews into trouble. An open letter on a delicate subject is in the East an insult, and this step of Sanballat's could only have been taken in order to excite the mind of Nehemiah's subjects, and to bring pressure to bear on him from them. Nehemiah, however, was not to be intimidated, or diverted from his purpose. He protested that the charge made against him was a pure calumny, invented by Sanballat himself, and still declined a conference (verse 8). Hereupon intrigues began between Sanballat and Tobiah, on the one hand, and some of Nehemiah's subjects, on the other. Tobiah was connected by marriage with Jews of high position in Jerusalem (verse 18), and had thus an excuse for holding frequent correspondence with them (verse 17). His letters seem to have been allowed free admission into the Jewish capital, and he was thus enabled to cause serious trouble. At one time he addressed Nehemiah himself, and tried to intimidate him (verse 19). At another he worked upon certain members of the prophetical order, and by bribes or promises induced them to become his aiders and abettors. A certain Shemaiah, who appears to have been at once a prophet (verse 12) and a priest (verse 11), allowed himself to be "hired" by Tobiah and Sanballat, and laid a plot to bring Nehemiah into discredit. He sought an interview with the governor, and told him that his life was in danger—he knew by his prophetic gift that on the very next night an attempt would be made by some one, and Nehemiah would be murdered—that is to say, unless he took precautions. And he had a plan to propose. As a priest, he had free access to the temple building; he would take Nehemiah with him, at some risk to himself, for a bodily impurity made it illegal for him to enter the holy place, and they would pass the night together in the sanctuary. So Nehemiah's life would be preserved (verse 10). The object was to induce Nehemiah, though a layman, to enter the sanctuary, and so break the law (verse 13). But the simple manliness and straightforward piety of the governor frustrated this plot also. "Should a man in my position run away from danger and hide?" he said. "And if so, should a layman enter the temple? I will not enter" (verse 11). It was not till afterwards that he found out that the prophecy was a fiction, and the prophet a bribed liar (verse 12). Other similar attempts seem also to have been made, about the same time, by other members of the prophetical order, among whom one only is particularised—the prophetess Noadiah (verse 14). Nehemiah, however, stood firm as a rock throughout; and he is able to boast that "in fifty and two days, on the 25th of Elul, THE WALL WAS FINISHED" (verse 15). It was a proud moment for the indefatigable and stout-hearted governor, Who saw his dearest wish accomplished, and must have known that the accomplishment was mainly due to his own untiring efforts. But he does not claim the gloW for himself. "When the enemies (i.e. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem) heard of it," he says, "and the heathen round about us saw it, they were much cast down." And why? "They perceived that this work was wrought of our God."
When Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian heard. Literally, "When it was heard by Sanballat and Tobiah, and by Geshem the Arabian." The preposition לis repeated with Geshem, but not with Tobiah, probably because Tobiah was Sanballat's subordinate, but Geshem an independent chief. Hence, too, it was not proposed that Tobiah should be at the conference. At that time I had not set up the doors. This may appear to contradict Nehemiah 3:1, Nehemiah 3:3, Nehemiah 3:6, Nehemiah 3:13, etc. But the account of the building in Nehemiah 3:1-32. is carried on to the completion of the whole work, the object there being to state by whom the different parts were done, and not at what time. Chronologically, Nehemiah 4:1-23; Nehemiah 5:1-19; and 6. are parallel to Nehemiah 3:1-32, relating events that happened while the wall was being built. The hanging of the doors in the gateways was, naturally, the last thing done. Upon the gates. Rather, "in the gateways."
In some one of the villages. The Hebrew has "in the villages," which seems too vague. Bertheau therefore suggests, "in Hakkiphirim," taking the word as the name of a particular village, which is probably right. Ono was near Lydda, in the plain country bordering on Philistia. They thought to do me mischief. A euphemism for "they thought to murder me."
An open letter. Letters in the East are usually placed in silken bags, which are then tied up and carefully sealed. An "open letter" invited perusal; and the object of sending this one "open' must have been to create alarm among the Jews, and to excite them against Nehemiah. Compare the conduct of Sennacherib's ambassadors (2 Kings 18:27-33).
Gashmu saith it. "Gashmu" is probably the native Arabic form of the name which in a Hebrew mouth commonly became "Geshem." Thou and the Jews think to rebel. Compare Nehemiah 2:19, and Ezra 4:13, with the Comment. According to these words. i.e. "Agreeably to what is reported."
Thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah. Expressions of the religious teachers of the time, parallel to that of Zechariah,—"Behold, thy king cometh" (Zechariah 9:9),—may have been reported to Sanballat, and misunderstood or purposely misinterpreted.
They all made us afraid. Rather, "sought to affright us." Their attempts did not succeed. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. "O God" is not in the original; whence some critics do not see in the words used a prayer, but only a statement—"But I now strengthened my hands". This meaning, however, cannot be obtained from the present text.
A Shemaiah appears in the list of priests who afterwards signed the covenant (Nehemiah 10:8); but the names in that list do not appear to be personal. There is a Shemaiah also among the priests who took part in the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:42); he is not said, however, to be "the son of Delaiah." Shut up. Prevented, i.e; by some legal impurity from taking part in the temple service, or even entering the temple. In the house of God, within the temple. Rather, "within the sanctuary." The heykal was the same as the holy place, and meant that part of the temple building which intervened between the porch and the holy of holies. It corresponded, as Gesenius observes, to the body or nave of modern cathedrals. Let us shut the doors. Folding doors of fir wood separated the holy place from the porch in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:34); and these had no doubt their counterpart in the restored temple. Shemaiah suggested the shutting of these doors for greater security
Should such a man as I flee? i.e. Should a man in my position, the head of the state, bound to set an example to others, fly from danger and hide myself? Surely not. And who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? Rather, "could go into the temple and live?" Dean Stanley compares Becket's noble words,—"I will not turn the cathedral into a castle,"—but the parallel is not close. Nehemiah feels, not that he would profane the temple by making it into a place of refuge, but that he would break the law by simply entering it. Ewald shows that he has caught the point of the objection when he says, "Nehemiah thought that, as a layman, he must not break the Divine command by entering the sanctuary itself".
And, lo, I perceived, etc. Rather, "And I considered; and lo! God had not sent him." I reflected on the whole matter, and came to the conclusion that, though he might be a prophet, he had not on this occasion exercised his prophetical office—he had not declared to me God's will (compare the case of the "old prophet," 1 Kings 13:11-18). And I was right, "for (in fact) he had pronounced this prophecy against me, because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him." "Tobiah and Sanballat" here—not "Sanballat and Tobiah," as elsewhere (Nehemiah 2:10, Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:7; Nehemiah 6:1), because Tobiah was no doubt the immediate briber, Sanballat merely furnishing the funds.
Therefore was he hired, etc. Their motive for bribing him was, that I might be induced by-fear to do as Shemaiah suggested, and so to commit sin; whereby they would have a just ground for spreading an evil report concerning me, and making my misconduct a constant reproach to me. Nehemiah's influence depended greatly on the weight of his moral character. One false step, and he would have been lost; his influence would have been gone; and the work on which his heart was set would have come to nought.
Tobiah and Sanballat. See Nehemiah 6:12, with the comment. The prophetess Noadiah is not elsewhere mentioned. She has been supposed to have succumbed to a bribe, like Shemaiah (Ewald); but this is wholly uncertain. We only know that, together with certain soi-disant prophets, she endeavoured to "put Nehemiah in fear." It is clear that she was unsuccessful.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. According to Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' Nehemiah 11:5, § 8), the work of restoration occupied two years and four months, or 840 days, instead of fifty-two. And this period has been thought so much more probable than the smaller one, that moderns generally have accepted it, while some have even proposed to alter our present text of Nehemiah by the insertion of u-shnathayim, "and two years," at the end of this verse (Ewald). But the authority of Josephus on matters of remote history is so small, and the whole account of Nehemiah is so harmonious and consistent with itself, that alteration seems quite unnecessary. Nehemiah leaves Susa in Nisan, probably towards the middle or close of the month, for his preparations must have taken him some time. He would be likely to be nearly three months on his journey, and would thus reach Jerusalem about the middle of July—say July 15. He then rested three days, surveyed the wall, laid his plan before the nobles, arranged the working parties, and set to work. It was his object to hasten matters as much as possible; and he may well have commenced the rebuilding within ten days of his arrival. Fifty-two days from July 25 would bring him to Sept. 15, which corresponds, as nearly as may be, to the 25th of Elul. There is no difficulty in supposing that the wall could have been repaired in this space. The materials were ready at hand; the working parties were numerous; the workmen full of zeal. If we estimate the circumference of the wall at four miles, which is probably beyond the truth, and the working parties at forty-two (Ewald), it will follow that each party had, on the average, to repair 168 yards, or at the rate of between three and four yards a day. There was probably no work done on the sabbaths, and there may have been one or two days of interruption, when attack seemed imminent (Nehemiah 4:13-15); but otherwise the work was carried on without pause from early dawn to dark (ibid. verse 21). The wall attained to half its height in a very short time (ibid. verse 6),—there was then a brief interruption,—after which came the main work of completing the entire circuit to its full height. It is possible that the fifty-two days are counted from the "return to work (ibid. verse 15).
Our enemies. The Samaritans, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, and the Arabians under Oeshem are the special "enemies" here spoken of. The Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, etc. are the other "heathen round about" the Jews. Even these last were unfriendly, and disliked any increase of Jewish power and prosperity. They perceived that this work was wrought of our God. They could not but recognise a special Providence as befriending and protecting the Jews, who, after having been utterly crushed and rooted out by Nebuchadnezzar, were now re-established in a commanding position in Palestine, and allowed to make their city once more an almost impregnable fortress.
Moreover in those days. Ewald supposes that the circumstances here related (Nehemiah 6:17-19) were subsequent to the completion of the wall; but the expression "in those days" seems rather to throw back the events into the time during which the wall was in building. The passage is a sort of explanatory note, showing us how Tobiah came to be able to raise those intrigues inside Jerusalem which have been mentioned in Nehemiah 6:12-14. And the letters of Tobiah came unto them. Rather, "and many were the letters of Tobiah which came to them."
He was the son-in-law of Shechaniah. Rather, "related by marriage to Shechaniah"—perhaps, but not certainly, by having married his daughter. Son of Arah. Member, i.e; of the family, called the Beni-Arah, which had returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:5; Nehemiah 7:10). Meshullam the son of Berechiah is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1-32. as repairing two portions of the wall (Nehemiah 3:4, Nehemiah 3:30).
Also they reported his good deeds, etc. Rather, "they even reported"—they went so far as to speak to me of his good actions, perhaps representing the bribes which he dispensed (Nehemiah 6:12) as given from charitable motives. And they uttered my words, or "communicated my affairs, to him. They made him acquainted with all my proceedings.
Craft detected and baffled.
The enemies without make cunning proposals in vain.
I. THE OCCASION OF THEIR INTERFERENCE. They heard that the wall was completed, though the gates were not yet set up; and, thinking that further open opposition would be useless, adopted craft.
II. THE MANNER OF THEIR INTERFERENCE.
1. They repeatedly proposed a conference. Pretending probably that they wished to come to a good understanding with Nehemiah, but really intending to get him into their power, that even now, their leader being gone, the Jews might leave undone the rest of the work, or that in the confusion thus caused they might march on the city and take possession of it, or undo what had been done. But Nehemiah was too wise to be thus caught. Without letting them know that he saw through their cunning design, he replied truly enough, though not the whole truth, that he could not leave the great work he was doing, and let it cease, to come down to them; and as often as they repeated their proposal he sent the same answer.
2. They endeavoured to induce him to comply with their proposal by sending openly a false accusation against him. What they had insinuated before (Nehemiah 2:19) they declare now to be matter of common report, viz; that he and the Jews had fortified Jerusalem with the intention to rebel against the Persian monarch, adding that the report was also that Nehemiah was purposing to be king, and had indeed induced certain prophets to proclaim him king. And as these reports must needs reach the ears of Artaxerxes, they begged him to come to consult with them, wishing him apparently to understand that they would take such steps as might be agreed upon to prevent any ill consequences to himself, should this prove to be the case. The letter containing these accusations and proposal was sent "open," that the people at Jerusalem might know them, and be intimidated, and decline to put the finishing stroke to the work. Nehemiah, however, strong in the consciousness of rectitude, not only denied the truth of these pretended reports, but charged Sanballat with inventing them.
III. NEHEMIAH'S RESOURCE IN HIS DIFFICULTIES. He prayed God to strengthen his hands, i.e. to give him vigour and courage to complete his undertaking, and keep the people stedfast in the work until it was done. The paragraph suggests—
1. The persistence of the enemies of Christ in their opposition to his cause. His work in the individual, or in the Church as a whole. Now violence, and now craft is used; at one time flattery, at another calumny; now open enmity, and then pretended friendship; to-day appeal to hopes, to-morrow to fears. Leaders in the Church are particularly assailed, as the officers of an army in battle.
2. Their frequent unscrupulousness. Inventing, for instance, as here, false reports, and sometimes repeating them until they believe them. But we need be the less surprised at this when we watch controversies amongst Christians themselves, and observe how ready they are to believe and repeat any slander concerning those they oppose, and to put obviously false constructions on their words and deeds.
3. The manner in which they are to be met.
(1) By simplicity and godly sincerity. "Harmless as doves."
(2) By wariness and wisdom. "Wise as serpents."
(3) By firm refusal.
(4) By steady persistence in Christian life and work, every fresh stage of which, as here, furnishes additional defence against the foe.
(5) By prayer.
4. The liability of the best men to be slandered. Even in respect to their noblest actions; for many cannot understand nobleness, and enemies will not believe it of those they hate. Hence the best deeds may be ascribed to the worst motives. We should, therefore, be slow to believe evil reports, especially respecting men otherwise irreproachable. Rather than hastily receive them as true, we should suspect that they have originated in ignorance or malice.
"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." This reply of Nehemiah to his subtle enemies is worthy of adoption by us in relation to all that would hinder us in Christ's service. In giving them this turn, we may employ the words "come down," used here of locality, in the sense of descending to a lower mental or moral level.
I. WHO MAY WELL ADOPT THESE WORDS.
1. All Christians.
(1) In relation to their spiritual culture, the working out of their own salvation, which is indeed "a great work."
(2) In relation to their special calling in life. Which is to each his "great work"—that which must occupy most of his time and thought and toil; that in which he is especially to glorify God.
(3) In relation to any work of Christian benevolence in which each may be engaged.
2. Those who occupy positions of peculiar responsibility. Whether in secular life or in the Church. Statesmen; parents, the nurture and training of whose families is "a great work;" ministers of religion; all on whom others depend for guidance, etc.
II. To WHOM, AND OF WHAT, THEY MAY BE EMPLOYED. To all who would tempt us—
1. Into obvious sin.
2. Into whatever practice would hinder us in our duty.
What is right for one may be wrong for another, because it would hinder him in his Christian life or work. Each must judge for himself what would be a hindrance to him. Let every one "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," intent supremely on serving God and serving his generation according to the will of God, and all inferior things will be seen in their true light, and take their proper place. Let every one also leave his fellow Christians to order their lives according to their own judgment of what is right and good for them. He, however, who would live greatly for great ends must often say as to pursuits, amusements, gratifications of taste, social intercourse, etc; lawful or laudable in others, "I am doing," etc.
III. THE REASONABLENESS OF THE WORDS AS THUS EMPLOYED. Concentration of mind and energy is essential to success in all important pursuits, and is adopted by all who determine to succeed. Whatever would hinder, however tempting, has to be resolutely renounced. The same concentration and self-denial are required in the Christian life, and are the more imperative and reasonable on account of the greatness of its aims and the peculiar perils which attend it. In conclusion—
1. The sentiment of the text may be misapplied. As when a pastor "cannot come down" from his studies to visit the sick or the poor, or to give counsel to the inquiring or the perplexed; or parents "cannot come down" from any other employment, secular or spiritual, to care properly for the good of their children; or the contemplative and studious Christian "cannot come down" to works of active benevolence, or even to diligence in his secular calling.
2. The sentiment may be pushed too far. Human nature cannot bear a perpetual strain; is not the better for incessant concentration on even the highest subjects and pursuits. We need variety. Recreation (truly such) is as much a duty as serious occupation. Sin is always to be renounced, but not always are we to refuse to "come down" to lighter matters than those of our main business in life. The highest life we can reach will be not hindered, but promoted, by a wise descent to lower things; and that not only because of the relief thus gained, but because the highest principles can be exercised and nourished by employment in the smallest matters.
3. To all temptations to real neglect of our work the words of the text should be perseveringly applied. Like Nehemiah, let us to every renewed temptation "answer after the same manner."
Prayer for strength.
"Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands." Another instance of Nehemiah's prayerfulness. In every difficulty he calls upon God, and not in vain. Thus he obtains strength, and teaches us where to seek it, with assurance of finding it. The manner in which the prayer is recorded is noticeable. He does not say, Then I offered this prayer, etc; but abruptly writes down the .prayer itself. It seems as if, while recording the events of those times, he lived them m imagination and feeling over again; and so, experiencing the old anxiety, he half unconsciously prayed and wrote the old prayer as a present supplication to God.
I. WHAT WILL INCITE THE CHRISTIAN TO SUCH A PRAYER.
1. A great and good undertaking. Such as God approves.
2. Dependence of others engaged in the enterprise on our lead and spirit. Influence which our weakness would have on them.
3. Great difficulties in the work.
4. Great opposition to it.
5. Feebleness of fellow workers. In numbers, ability, zeal, courage. Fear of their defection.
6. Depression of spirit arising from these or other causes.
7. Strong desire to accomplish the work notwithstanding.
II. How THE PRAYER MAY BE ANSWERED.
1. By the gift of internal strength (see Ephesians 3:16). This may be given direct from heaven, or through the medium of encouragement from men (see Nehemiah 2:18).
2. By affording better external assistance. More and better helpers, or more favourable circumstances. Finally, some have good reason to offer this prayer with special emphasis on its last two words. They are strong in the head, and have strong emotions, but are weak in the hands for giving or doing. Unhappily, those who most need thus to pray are least disposed to do so.
I. FALSE PROPHETS. Who prostituted their office by hiring themselves to the enemies without. For they "loved the wages of unrighteousness."
1. One tempted him to break the law by fleeing into the holy place, and shutting himself up there, where no one but a priest or Levite might enter. This he did on the pretence that Nehemiah's life was in danger (verse 10); and he hoped that the governor, consenting to the proposal, would bring himself into disgrace with the people, and so lose his influence with them (verse 13). Nehemiah was preserved from this peril at once by his magnanimity and his reverence for the law (verse 11). And if not immediately, he afterwards perceived the true source and motives of the proposal (verses 12, 13).
2. Others, by other unrecorded means, endeavoured to excite his fears (verse 14). Perhaps by pretended messages from heaven.
II. TREACHEROUS NOBLES (verses 17-19). These, some of whom were allied to Tobiah by marriages, maintained an active correspondence with him, and sought to influence Nehemiah in his favour. They had many confederates. Probably Nehemiah's reforming zeal, which had already restrained their avarice, and was likely to proceed to other measures distasteful to them, fostered their disaffection.
III. THE RAPID COMPLETION OF THE FORTIFICATIONS, NOTWITHSTANDING ALL OPPOSITION (verse 15).
IV. THE IMPRESSION WHICH THIS MADE ON THE EXTERNAL FOES, AND OTHER PEOPLES AROUND (verse 16).
1. Great mortification. Disappointment, envy, despair of the success of further opposition.
2. Perception of God's hand.
From this paragraph we learn—
1. The peculiar danger to any community of internal disaffection and division.
2. The baseness of treachery.
3. The heinous wickedness of those who from worldly motives prostitute sacred functions.
4. The duty and wisdom of private judgment (see 1 John 4:1). Spiritual teachers, not only through love of money, but from other motives and influences, or from incapacity, may give counsel which our own sense of truth and right may pronounce evil. In such case we must follow our own convictions, although they may possibly be mistaken (see Jeremiah 5:30, Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 23:31, Jeremiah 23:32; Micah 3:11).
5. The insight and safety against temptation of a devout, pure, and manly heart.
6. The evil influence of close alliances between God's people and his enemies.
7. The propriety of due regard for our reputation. Our character is not only precious to ourselves, but an invaluable element of usefulness. Injury to the reputation of a Christian is injury to the Church. Care for our good name is a help against temptation.
8. The active providence and grace of God. Preserving his servants from evil, and giving success to their pious endeavours. Finally, we are reminded by this chapter of the conflicts and victories of a greater than Nehemiah, in whose conquests as our Leader we are more nearly interested.
Regard for special obligations.
"Should such a man as I flee?" Thus magnanimously Nehemiah gave one reason for not following the counsel of the lying prophet. The words remind us of the special obligations under which some are laid to avoid evil and practise good. Indeed every one of us has some specialty in his case which he should feel as binding him peculiarly to a right course.
I. SOME SPECIAL OBLIGATIONS TO CHRISTIAN CONSISTENCY. May be expressed thus: "Should such a man as I?"—
1. So greatly favoured. By the providence or by the grace of God—forgiven so much, so richly endowed, etc.
2. Occupying such a position, to which I have been so manifestly called. Position in the family, the Church, the world.
3. Who have made such professions.
4. Who have served the Lord so long, and done so much.
5. Whose influence is so great, for good or evil, upon others.
II. SINS AGAINST WHICH THE THOUGHT of such obligations should be a defence. "Should such a man as I"—
1. Flee. From Christ. From his post of duty.
2. Act unworthily. By inconsistencies of any sort—indifference, sloth, self-indulgence, intemperance, cowardice, parsimony, etc. Temptations to each and all may be met by this thought: "Should such a man as I be guilty of this sin?"
III. CONSIDERATIONS WHICH SHOULD DEEPEN THE SENSE OF OBLIGATION. If "such a man as I" fall, then I shall—
1. Incur deserved disgrace.
2. Bring reproach on the name and cause of Christ.
3. Give joy to his enemies.
4. Discourage and enfeeble his friends.
5. Cause injury and ruin to others. "Such a man as I" cannot fall alone.
6. Insure a heavier doom.
God's work recognised.
"They perceived that this work was wrought of our God." The work which had been done was so great; it had been accomplished by so feeble a people, in spite of so much opposition and so many obstacles, and in so short a time, that the people around, even those most opposed, could not but recognise that the God of Israel had wrought with his servants. The work of Christ's servants may produce a similar impression on others, not only fellow Christians, but those without. It is much to be desired that our work should be of such a kind, and so favoured of God, as to make such an impression.
I. WHEN IS GOD'S HAND APPARENT IN THE WORK OF HIS PEOPLE?
1. When the work done is manifestly good in itself. This can hardly be said of the merely outward: of the erection of churches, however grand and beautiful; of the maintenance of imposing services; of the gathering of great crowds, or the making of mere proselytes. Such work may spring from good and tend to good; but it may not. Merely human motives and impulses, perhaps quite unchristian, may explain all. But when the bad become good, and the good become eminently so; when through Christian teaching and influence the licentious become pure, drunkards sober, the proud humble, the selfish benevolent, the harsh kind; when a Christian people shines in the beauty of the loftiest Christian holiness and love, and especially in those practical virtues which all can appreciate, then the conviction is likely to be produced on others that God is working in and by them.
2. When the work done is extensive. Whole neighbourhoods, a whole class of irreligious and morally degraded men, have sometimes been transformed by the preaching of the gospel; even a nation to a great extent quickened and elevated. He must be blinded by sin or the worst bigotry who fails to see in such changes the agency of God.
3. When such beneficial changes are wrought very rapidly. As the work to which the text refers.
4. When serious difficulties and formidable opposition are overcome.
5. When the work proves lasting.
6. When the human instrumentality is manifestly insufficient to account for the results.
II. THE EFFECTS WHICH THE PERCEPTION OF GOD's HAND IN SUCH WORK WILL PRODUCE.
1. On the workers. Gratitude, humility, encouragement to labour on.
2. On fellow Christians. Praise to God. Recognition of the workers as their brethren. Prayer for them. Congratulations and good wishes. Co-operation if practicable. At least respect, and the withholding of censorious criticism.
3. On those desiring good for themselves. Attraction toward such people. "We will go with you, for we have heard"—nay, we see—"that God is with you."
4. On enemies. Discouragement, mortification, perhaps abandonment of active opposition (see Exodus 14:25); perhaps transformation into friends and fellow workers, which is best of all.
1. The evidences of Divine agency in Christianity and its effects should be seriously pondered by unbelievers.
2. Blindness to God's agency in the work of Christians is a fearful symptom. Yet it is found in some who profess to be Christians in respect to the work of those who "follow not with" them. Let them beware lest they become partakers of the guilt of those highly religious men of our Lord's day who saw not God in the works of Christ, but ascribed them to the agency of the devil, and whom he warned against, if he did not pronounce guilty of the unpardonable sin of "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost."
3. Let all Christians pray for such manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church as shall produce general conviction of his agency. The ordinary condition of our Churches, and results of their work, are, alas, little fitted to produce such a conviction. "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The Christian workman.
Nehemiah was an instance, and will ever be the type, of a faithful workman in the cause of God; from his conduct and career we may learn—
I. HOW VALUABLE ONE WORKMAN MAY PROVE (verses 1, 2). Sin sometimes pays an unconscious tribute to integrity and worth. It acts on the assumption that righteousness is more than equal to its energy, and that, to gain its evil end, it must have recourse to "poisoned weapons." Thus, e.g; Philip of Spain, striving vainly to extinguish Protestantism in Holland, concluded that it could only be done by "finishing Orange," and set plots on foot to murder that noble patriot. Sanballat concluded that he could not accomplish his evil designs until Nehemiah was subdued; hence his murderous plans. What a tribute to one man's influence! Men "full of faith" are also "full of power" (Acts 6:8). One single soul, animated by faith, love, and zeal, may defeat all the agencies of evil.
II. WHAT NEED HE HAS OF WARINESS (verses 2, 4). "They sought to do me mischief" (verse 2); "they sent unto me four times after this sort" (verse 4). The enemies of God endeavoured, with a persistency worthy of a better cause, to entrap Nehemiah and despatch him. But he, fearless as he afterwards proved, was not to be taken by their craft. Heroism is unsuspicious; but it is not, therefore, credulous. It can distinguish between the overtures of a friend and the machinations of an enemy. We read of "the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13); and both in the guarding of our own personal integrity, and in the defence of the Church of Christ, we must be on the alert against the enemy, who after the failure of open assault will probably resort to stealth.
III. WHAT NEED HE HAS OF COURAGE (verses 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Sanballat, failing to impose on the charity of Nehemiah, adopts another course: he intimates in an open letter which every one may read, that, if the interview be not given him, he will send an evil report to the king of Persia, putting the worst construction on the proceedings at Jerusalem (verses 5, 6, 7). Nehemiah, feeling that ceremony would be out of place, charges Sanballat with direct falsehood (verse 8). "Thou feignest them out of thine own heart." There are times when softness of speech is not courtesy, but weakness; when hard words are not rudeness, but faithfulness. But this ruse of the enemy threatened to succeed, notwithstanding the governor's un- varnished retort. "For they all made us afraid" (verse 9). Fear seems to have possessed the minds of many, and Nehemiah was driven to prayer. "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands." When other hearts are trembling, and timidity is within us, we must seek, and we shall gain, renewed courage at the throne of grace. "In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul" (Psalms 138:3). "For this cause I bow my knees to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Ephesians 3:16).
IV. How EXCELLENT IS DEVOTEDNESS TO WORK (verse 3). An admirable message was that of the patriot: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down," etc. His place was amongst his friends, encouraging and helping them to build, not outside, parleying with the enemy. To have left his post of active duty, of useful work, for such discussion would have been to "come down" indeed. To forsake the good and great work of building for Christ in order to debate with those who are hostile to it is to "come down," is a descent from devotion to danger. We axe safer and better employed in the high places of prayer and activity.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
God with us.
The true safety of God's people in the midst of the world's opposition. Nehemiah represents the spirit of consecration, zeal, single-mindedness, dependence upon God, personal responsibility, and confidence in final issues, which should be the spirit of all God's people, and especially of those who hold prominent places in the Church.
I. THE FACT OF OPPOSITION.
1. It is a constant fact. The form may change, but the substance is the same. Sleepless vigilance is necessary. When violent assault is out of the question, we must fear treachery. "Come, and let us meet together" is the most dangerous shape of the world's mischievous attempt. Special watchfulness required in times like these, lest we forsake our work and put ourselves into the hands of the enemies of Christ and his people.
2. We must expect that times of special success and rapid advancement will be the times when we have most to encounter from the world. When the work of God is making no way his enemies will leave it to itself. When they see that it approaches completion ("the wall built, and no breach therein"), then they will make desperate efforts to circumvent us, and to overthrow our work; and the more open our success, the more crafty will be their schemes.
3. In appreciating the dangers of our position, we should not be content with looking outside the Church; look within it too. There will be traitors among the Lord's people. There will be lying prophets, timid friends, worldly-minded fellow labourers. The true heart must be strong in God.
II. THE VICTORY OF FAITH IN THE TIME OF SPECIAL TEMPTATION.
1. It was a victory obtained by the Spirit of God is the spirit of man. What Nehemiah needed was penetration, wisdom, self-control, fortitude, fearlessness, devotion to his work. All these qualities are given by the Spirit of God and maintained by his grace. So long as they were uppermost in the individual man, the enemies had no chance.
2. It was a victory which was bestowed as a reward of faith, and in answer to prayer. The whole attitude of Nehemiah was that of dependence upon God. "My God, strengthen thou my hands."
3. It was a very decided and definite faith which gained the victory. "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down." The best defence against temptation is to be pledged to a positive public life of active service. The spirit of work should be set against the spirit of compromise. To leave duty unfulfilled is always to come down, and to come down is to be in the hands of enemies.
4. The victory was renewed many times. Each occasion added strength to the true heart. If God helps us to say No once, we shall find it easier each time afterwards. Courage grows by action. The conscious resistance of evil is both the best preparation to detect its presence, and the best uplifting of the heart above actual fears for life and safety.—R.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The temptations of earnest moral life and service.
I. THE WAY IN WHICH THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE ARE MADE KNOWN TO WICKED MEN. "Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein" (Nehemiah 6:1). Christian life and service will make themselves known—
1. Naturally. The finished walls must be seen.
2. Influentially. The rising walls affect other peoples; Christian life reveals itself in the moral influence it wields.
3. Rumour. The enemies of the good soon hear of the wall that has been built.
4. Vigilance. The wicked watch the activities of the good. The service of the good man must be thorough; there must be no "breach" left in it, though oftentime it is incomplete; its "doors" are not set upon the gates (Nehemiah 6:1). Piety, truth, earnest toil cannot be hid.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE ARE SURE TO BE TEMPTED BY WICKED MEN. The temptations to which Nehemiah was exposed were—
1. Subtle. "Come, let us meet together" (verse 2).
2. Persistent. "Yet they sent unto me four times" (verse 4).
3. Intimidating. "The fifth time with an open letter in his hand" (verse 5).
4. Calumniatory. "That thou and the Jews think to rebel;" "That thou mayest be their king" (verse 6).
5. Allied. A faithless prophet lends himself to the cause of the enemy (verses 10-13).
III. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE MUST MEET TEMPTATION.
1. With discernment. "But they thought to do me mischief" (verse 2).
2. With industry. "I am doing a great work" (verse 3).
3. With determination. "And I answered them after the same manner" (verse 4).
4. With exposure. "But thou feignest them out of thine own heart."
5. With prayer. "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands" (verse 9).
6. With courage. "Should such a man as I flee?" (verse 11).
IV. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE COMPLETE THEIR TASK NOTWITHSTANDING SEVERE TRIAL. "So the wall was finished" (verse 15).
1. The end of the task. "So the wall was finished."
2. The time of the task. "In fifty and two days."
3. The effect of the task. "Were very much cast down in their own eyes."
4. The praise of the task.
That it was completed under such difficult circumstances.—E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Trial and victory.
Defeated again, the enemy has recourse to other schemes. It would be interesting to know what were the expectations with which Nehemiah set out from Susa to enter upon the work before him. If we could tell what was then in his mind, we should probably find there anticipations very unlike indeed to his actual experiences. Probably, if he could have foreseen his difficulties, he might have shrunk from the task. Happily we do not foresee the perplexities of Christian toil; seen as by a prophetic glance, they would overwhelm us; but coining upon us one by one, they can be met bravely, and conquered successfully. We look now at—
I. THE TRIAL OF FAITH IN THE WORK OF GOD.
1. Their former plots failing, another yet more subtle is tried. Sanballat and Tobiah induce a prophet, Shemaiah (verse 10), and a prophetess, Noadiah (verse 14), to urge Nehemiah to take refuge from assassination in the temple; to hide himself unlawfully, lest he should be smitten at his post of duty; in fact, "to be afraid, and sin," and thus give occasion for "an evil report, that they might reproach" him (verse 13). The insidiousness of the temptation may be gathered from the words of indignation in which Nehemiah invokes the Divine reprobation on the guilty tempters (verse 14). But,
2. Nehemiah is yet further tried. His own people are keeping up a correspondence with the enemy. Nobles of Judah are writing to and hearing from Tobiah (verse 17). A dangerous alliance led to intimacy, to perversion, to conspiracy (verse 18). These men who should have been the first and the strongest to help are those who come to hinder; praising the man who was doing his utmost to overturn and ruin everything (verse 19), and carrying back to the enemy the words of the governor (verse 19). When we are doing our best to serve our Master and our fellows, and are naturally looking to those who are bound in the same holy bonds with ourselves, more especially to those who are as "prophets" or "prophetesses" in our ranks, or to those who are as "nobles" amongst us, to stand by our side and aid us in our toil, and when, instead of succour, we find them undermining our influence, we are tempted to despair, so keen is the trial of our faith. Yet we may win—
II. THE VICTORY OF THE BRAVE AND TRUE (verses 11, 15, 16). Here we have—
1. The fact of success. The wall was built: it was "finished in fifty and two days" (verse 15). Neither open threats nor secret plots weakened the strength or lessened the labour of the busy workmen, and the good work was accomplished.
2. A powerful incentive leading to victory. Nehemiah made an excellent appeal to himself. He considered who he was, and what was worthy and unworthy of the post he held. "Should such a man as I flee?" (verse 11).
3. The fruits of victory (verse 16). The enemy and all the heathen "were much cast down in their own eyes," and they "perceived that this work was wrought of our God." Their humiliation was an excellent thing for them, and the name of God being glorified was a source of joy and gratulation to the good. There is victory to be won under the fiercest temptation if we only be true to all we know. Let us, in the dark hour of the trial of faith—
1. Consider what is worthy of the position we hold. Should such as we are—missionaries, ministers, evangelists, teachers, leaders, members of the Church of Christ—flee from the post of duty or danger?
"Put on the gospel armour, and, watching unto prayer,
Where duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there."
The "guard" in his army "dies, but does not surrender."
2. Consider what will redound to the glory of Christ. If only we hold on, "faint yet pursuing," fighting till the day is won, the enemy will be humiliated, and his holy name be honoured. Our once crucified Saviour shall be "exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isaiah Leviticus 13:0).—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
The good work finished in spite of man by the power of God.
I. A great MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE POWER is a great casting down of God's enemies.
1. There is real weakness in all sin. "In their own eyes" defeat meant shame and confusion; but the true heart never doubts that its cause is right, even when success is delayed.
2. The world will perceive God's hand. When the finished work is before them they will not dare to deny who has accomplished it. Therefore we should hasten it on, and be more eager to bring it to completion.
3. The great facts of Divine grace spread their message not only among the enemies of the Church, but among the heathen, who have been sitting in darkness. A revived zeal and energy in God's people will have a mighty effect in casting down the imaginations which exalt themselves against the name of Christ.
II. The best preparation of the true Church against discouragements, both from without and from within, is to know that ITS WALLS ARE BUILT UP, AND ITS GATES IS THEIR PLACES.
1. That will put a stop to the corrupting intercourse between the Church and the world.
2. It will help the people of God to know their true leaders. The nobles were traitors; but henceforth men after the example of Nehemiah will be the defenders of Judah.
3. In the sight of the finished work the hearts of God's people are strong. In the best sense success makes success. "Tobiah's letters" will do no harm, for there are the walls speaking in the name of God, "epistles written by the Spirit of God, known and read of all men." Let the world trust as it may in its devices, we rejoice in "the walls of Jerusalem," which are "salvation," and "her gates" "praise."—R.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18