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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Nehemiah 4

 

 

Verses 1-23

DECISION IN THE FACE OF OPPOSITION

(vv. 1-23)

The diligent labor of the Jews drew out more bitter anger on the part of the enemy. Sanballat was furious and resorted to the moral weakness of mockery, speaking contemptuously of "these feeble Jews" (vv. 1-2). "Will they fortify themselves?" he asked. His very attitude showed that it was necessary for them to fortify themselves against him! Also, "Will they offer sacrifices?" In other words, he did not want them to honor God by sacrificing to Him. "Will they complete it in a day?" He feared the energy with which they were working. "Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish?" Can they possibly repair the wall after its being so demolished by the enemy? If Sanballat thought this was too ambitious a project, he would soon find out the answer. All these questions are too frequently asked by opposers of the work of God when believers seek to return to God's principles of truth in connection with the church of God.

Tobiah continued the same hateful ridicule by say, "Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall." Very well: Tobiah was a fox: Let him try to break down the wall! But how good it is to hear the involuntary prayer of Nehemiah, "Hear, O God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!" (v. 4). He added, "Do not let their sin be blotted out from before You, for they have provoked You to anger before the builders: (v.5). Where there is true repentance before God, sins will be blotted out (Isaiah 43:25), just as Israel will learn at the end of their Great Tribulation, but these men knew nothing of repentance, for they instead provoked the Lord to anger by their persecution of His servants. Nehemiah did not speak of how badly he himself felt, but of how God had been provoked to anger.

God's answer to this short prayer is seen in verse 6, "So we built the wall." Opposition did not stop the work: in fact, "the people had mind to work." May we too be stirred to continue in the work of the Lord in spite of whatever opposition. At such times too God gives special grace.

When the wall had been joined together up to half its height, Sanballat and Tobiah, together with Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites became very angry (v. 9). They had tried mockery and ridicule, but were frustrated in this. Therefore they conspired to attack Jerusalem in order to spread confusion among the builders (v. 8). But the Jews were aware of this determined conspiracy, and first prayed to God, then set a watch against them day and night (v. 9). This was certainly the right order of action. They did not panic and think of attacking the enemy, but rather depended on God and were watchful against the enemy, and God protected them.

However, not only was the opposition of the enemy a trial to them, but their labor was hindered by the fact of much rubbish being in their way. This was no doubt caused by the residue of the former broken down wall. The strength of the laborers was failing in the face of so monumental a task of clearing away the rubbish. In Christian profession today, there is much rubbish too, the rubbish of much false teaching, and it is no easy task to remove such rubbish so that people may be freed from weary confusion. Though some are truly burden bearers, the labor of this becomes so heavy as to take away strength. Well indeed do we need the exhortation, "let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Galatians 6:9).

Nehemiah also knew that their enemies were plotting, "They will neither know nor see anything, till be come into the midst and kill them and cause the work to cease" (v. 11). Nehemiah had Jewish informers who lived near these adversaries, who warned Nehemiah ten times that these enemies intended to attack them in spite of their precautions (v. 12). Therefore Nehemiah positioned men with armaments behind the lower parts of the wall and at the openings. These were prepared for conflict with swords, spears and bows (v. 13). May we be willing laborers in the work of God, and at the same time prepared for spiritual conflict.

In the Church of God today we also ought to be prepared for conflict, but "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). If we are prepared with such weapons which involve obedience to the Word of God, we may find the battle is already won, as did the workers on the wall.

For Nehemiah had spoken plainly, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses" (v. 14). Having the Lord with them, though being prepared to fight, they were not required to do so. Believers today may well experience the same thing. If they are prepared through study of scripture to watch against the subtleties of the enemy, Satan will be afraid to attack, for he would find himself facing the Lord rather than facing a weak believer. Satan wants to catch us off guard, not having our confidence firmly in the Lord: otherwise he knows he can do no damage. When the adversaries found that the Jews knew of their plotting, they could do nothing (v. 15). If we are ignorant of Satan's devices he will take advantage of us, but if we are on proper guard against those devices we shall be protected by the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Special plans had been made at that time, with half of Nehemiah's servants working on the wall and half being armed with spears, shields and bows, also having armor (v. 16). The leaders are mentioned as being "behind all the house of Judah," possibly to back up and encourage the work and the watchfulness of the guard. Both the builders and the burden bearers are said to have worked with one hand and carried a weapon in the other (v. 17). This is perhaps further explained in verse 18 as not literally always carrying the sword in the hand, but having it girded on his side, where he could easily use it if necessary.

Beside Nehemiah was one who sounded the trumpet. It was priests who did this service (Numbers 10:8). If warfare impended, they were to sound an alarm (Numbers 10:9). In this case it would be Nehemiah who gave orders to the trumpeter, for Nehemiah is a type of Christ, the Leader. He gave the reason for having the trumpeter with him, "The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us" (vv. 19-20). How good that he insists on this confidence in God!

Thus, the opposition did not succeed in hindering the work of God. The laborers continued their work from the break of day until the stars appeared at night (v. 21). This is a reminder of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 16:9, "For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." He does not say, "but there are many adversaries," as though this might excuse him from persisting in the work, but simply "and there are many adversaries," therefore it was the more important to have his whole heart in the service of God.

Nehemiah gave orders too that the workers and servants were to stay at night inside the walls of Jerusalem, thereby serving the purpose of guard duty at night as well as working by day (v. 22). This concerted concentration on the work of the Lord continued till the wall was built. What an example for believers today, who might take to heart the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

As to Nehemiah himself and his special servants and the men of the guard who attended him (not all the workers), they did not take off their clothes even for sleeping, though the one exception was for when they washed themselves. However busy we may be in the Lord's work, we must never neglect "the washing of water by the Word," for occupation with the work itself will cause some defilement which must be washed away by the application of the Word of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/nehemiah-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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