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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
Nehemiah 4

 

 

Verses 1-23

Chapter 4

Soldier - Servants

The work which was so precious in the eyes of the Lord was but a theme for mockery and scorn in the mind of the mixed people, whose overtures of participation on common ground had been refused. Sanballat’s rage is stirred; but for the present it takes outwardly the form of contemptuous sneering: “What do these feeble Jews?” he asks his Samaritan brethren. “Will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burned?” And Tobiah the Ammonite joins in the mockery, exclaiming with a lightness he evidently did not feel, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (vers. 1-3). Yet he and all his ilk were to prove later that, when guarded by Jehovah’s subject, servants, it was too strong a wall for such foxes as they to break through.

In the name of the Lord, Nehemiah and his companions built steadily on, and that Name was to prove a strong tower into which the righteous might safely retreat from the malignity of their foes. When the people of pod cleave, to His Word and exalt His name-they need fear no enemy, human or supernatural. It is themselves who are responsible for any breaches made in the wall. It is unbelief and self-will in the people of God that weaken or destroy, those battlements against which the enemies outside might batter in vain.

Realizing this in some measure, the people of Judah lift up their hearts to the One whose they were and whom they served. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised,” they cry; “and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity; and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before Thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders” (vers. 4, 5). If any feel the difference between this prayer and such as are suited to the Christian in this dispensation of grace, the explanation is involved in the question. That was not the time when grace and sufferance were enjoined. The dispensation of law was still in force, and we must view these utterances from that standpoint. The important thing for us to observe is the way in which the remnant cast themselves wholly upon God. Sanballat, Tobiah, and the rest are His enemies, not merely theirs, and they count on Him to deal with them.

And so they prayed and builded, for such is the force of “So built we the wall,” in verse 6. Thus with the help of God the breaches were repaired, for willing hands made light work, and “the people had a mind to work.”

But soon the opposition took a different form. When the united nations (notice the lengthened list-Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabians and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites) heard that the work was actually nearing completion, and that the wall was being repaired in a substantial manner, their indignation became greater than ever. They had hoped the rubbish would impede the progress of the work to such an extent as to completely dishearten the Jews; but bit by bit this had been cleared away, and the stones uncovered and set in their places. Hence these enemies of what is of God realize something more than mockery is required if they would not soon be effectually shut out of the holy city.

As one reads such a record, it is almost impossible not to observe how accurately the history of old fits a later work of God-even that of the present time. As a result of centuries of darkness and superstition, practically every precious truth of the Scriptures was overwhelmed by the ecclesiastical rubbish gradually accumulated. When at last the reformers were raised up to recall God’s people to God’s own Word, they found themselves confronted by just such a task as that which Nehemiah had to face; and ever since, when there has been a settling down on the part of God’s people, the rubbish has accumulated again at an alarming rate, human tradition soon swamping what was of God; and so the need of persistent, devoted, prayerful toil, to separate the precious from the vile has been ever manifest. Carnal professors will mock, so-called liberals will demonstrate their bitter hatred of everything holy, but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, and find all needed grace to stand in the evil day, and to distinguish between what is really divine and what is but of man in the great mounds of mingled truth and error, lying all about the ruined wall that once separated Church and world. Every fresh attempt to “try the things that differ” will provoke the ire of the worldly-religious mass; but what is of God is of too much value to be surrendered at the behest of fleshly foes. If The adversaries of Judah determined upon a sudden onslaught on the remnant, and so “conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (ver. 8). This was but a call to “watch and pray,” and so it was recognized by Nehemiah and his fellow-laborers. The language of verse 9 is most instructive: “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.” This was holding things in the right proportion. Prayer alone would have been presumption. But they watch against the enemy at the same time that they call upon God.

In verse 10 we have the first note of discouragement from within. Constant toil and watching have worn upon the spirits of the Jews, and so the report comes to Nehemiah: “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.” But to these disheartening words Nehemiah vouchsafes no reply, save to labor on. The adversaries continue their plotting without and the people grow faint within, but the Tirshatha continues to look up and count upon the living God.

A third trial is mentioned in verse 12. There were scattered Jews living among the Samaritans. They “came unto us ten times,” says Nehemiah, warning of the preparations for an assault, and declaring the utter inability of the remnant to stand against such powerful foes.

It was certainly discouraging to one who relied on a fleshly arm, but the man of faith could count on God through it all. Heretofore the people had labored, prayed, and watched. Now they must be prepared for conflict. So the governor set the people after their families in the vantage-places upon the wall, armed with swords, spears and bows. But he would not have them put their confidence in the weapons, but in the living God: “Be ye not afraid of them: remem- ber the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives and your houses” (ver. 14). This was to be their battle-cry, “Remember the Lord!”

Many a merely human conflict has been won by the inspiration of a watch-word recalling some past great event. In our own day, again and again, Spanish troops were repulsed as the American soldiery drove all before them with the cry, “Remember the Maine!” So Napoleon often inspirited his troops by causing them to remember some former victory. But what could stir the soul of an Israelite indeed more than such a cry as this, “Remember the Lord!” Similarly when pressing upon Timothy the need of devotedness in the Christian warfare, Paul cries, “Remember Jesus Christ!” (2 Timothy 2:8).10

This is faith’s resource. The God who gave His Son for our redemption, who raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in highest glory, can be counted on in every time of trial to supply all needed grace for seasonable help.

When Nehemiah’s enemies knew that their plans were known, and the citizens of Jerusalem armed and watchful, they gave up all hope of hindering by open warfare; while the remnant rejoiced that “God had brought their counsel to nought;” and so they returned every one with confidence to the work.

But this deliverance did not cause them to be any the less careful. Henceforth Nehemiah divided his own servants into two companies, one of which wrought in the work and the other stood guard heavily armed; while the builders and burden-bearers themselves labored, each with his sword girded by his side, or with a trowel in one hand and a weapon in the other. Both alike speak of the Word. The trowel is the Word used for edification, the sword is the Word used to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Significant are the words that close verse 18, after this vivid description of soldier-laborers: “And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.” The trumpet stands for the ministry of the Word, and it was meet that the trumpeter should abide with the ruler and get his instructions directly from him. So does the servant of Christ need to abide in Him that he may speak as the oracles of God, and then the trumpet gives no uncertain sound.

Scattered as the workers and soldiers were upon the whole length of the wall, it was important that all should be subject to one voice, the voice of Nehemiah, and this was expressed by the trumpet. Wherever the loud blast was heard, there all were to gather, counting upon God to fight for them (vers. 19, 20).

“So,”11 continues the inspired record, “we labored in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.”

There was much work to be done and time was pressing, so they dared not take their ease while there was light enough to labor. And at night all lodged within the wall, that they might be a defence to their brethren, though many had homes outside the city.

In all this devoted service, Nehemiah and his guard were ensamples to the rest, for so continuously were they on duty that they did not so much as remove their clothes, save for washing. It was a time to try men’s souls, but the testing only proved how zealously affected in a good thing were the governor and his helpers. In this they shine as examples for us, bidding us hold fast what God has committed to us, and hold forth the word of life to others, while refusing all compromise with the unholy spirit of the age in which we live.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/nehemiah-4.html. 1914.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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