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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Nehemiah 2

 

 

Verses 1-8

Nehemiah 2:1-8

And it came to pass in the month Nizan.

Divine interposition

I. Was opportune.

1. That God’s plans are worked out with the utmost precision.

2. That God often interferes on His people’s behalf when they least expect it.

3. That God generally interferes on His people’s behalf in their most urgent extremity.

II. required human co-operation.

III. was accompanied by providential coincidences.

1. Nehemiah was unusually sad.

2. The king was unusually friendly.

3. The queen also was present. (Homiletic Commentary.)

A true patriot

That is only a small part of the gospel which leads a man to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The glorious gospel of the blessed God goes forth with us interested in everything that concerns us as men--at home, in business, in town, in country, in all national affairs, in the whole world. A Christian may thoughtlessly throw himself into political exitement with no other motive than that of party feeling; but because he is a Christian he will be glad to let the light of God shine in upon his aims and motives, and will be glad to see his duty in the quietness and sacredness of this hour. The Bible, which gives us examples of men in every position where duty leads, has given us amongst its most brilliant and noble characters this of the statesman. If any should think such a position inseparable from ambitious craft and party ends, let them note this fact. Nehemiah is living at the court of the king, occupying a position of high rank, of much influence, of great trust. If the chief thing in life is to take care of one’s own ease and luxury, and not to trouble much about the wants and sorrows of other people, then here is a man who has all that heart can wish. There are men, thousands of them, who have no thought or purpose in life beyond themselves. Surely that is to degrade our manhood. But what of any man who should call himself a Christian and yet should live all taken up in himself as if nothing were worth a thought but how he may be as happy as possible on earth--and then happier still in another world? Now to the court where Nehemiah dwells come certain Jews from Jerusalem, and he goes forth to inquire about the state of his countrymen and the beloved city. As a man, as a brother, as a servant of the Living God, he is bound to feel the deepest concern in the welfare of his nation. It is easy enough to think of what Nehemiah might have said, if he had been easy-going and selfish, “I really am sorry, very sorry--but I do not see that I can do anything, you know. It is as much as I can do to look after my own duties here without troubling myself about the affairs of the nation.” There are some good people who talk so to-day and think it sounds pious. He might have given them a subscription, say of a guinea. And then he could have turned into the palace thankful not to be mixed up in these worldly matters. Or he might have sipped his wine out of a golden goblet and thought what a pity it was that everybody could not be as comfortable as he was. Well, if he had, you may be sure that neither this Book of God nor any other would have found a place for his name. Or he might have pleaded that he was in a very delicate and responsible position, holding office under the king, and that it would never do for him to get mixed up in these matters. Those good people who separate themselves from the duties of citizenship can find no example in the Scriptures. Of all false notions about regenerating the world, the most utterly false, as well as the laziest, is to think that this is the victory which overcometh the world to run away from it. This Book does not teach that the world is the devil’s, and the less we can have to do with it the better. No, indeed! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” The men of the Bible are not monks and recluses; but they are in the very midst of the world and busied with its affairs. Its prophets and messengers are men whose whole life has to do with the councils of kings, with the ways of cities and courts. Surely it is impossible to think of the religion of Jesus Christ as anything but a profound and eager interest in the welfare of our fellow-men--of their bodies as well as their souls; of their work as well as their worship; of their homes on earth as well as their getting to heaven. Nor have any the right to hold themselves aloof from politics because it is mixed up with party strife. We deplore and condemn the bitterness of party politics--but is there not a great deal of nonsense talked about party politics? How are you going ever to have polities at all without party politics? If you want abuses overthrown, and iniquities set right, and the privileges of the few shared by the many, and abominations like the opium trade swept away, and the great curses of drink and lust and gambling east out, are we to fold our hands because we are Christians, and let the devil have his own way because these things involve strife! Of course they do, and always will. We must expect opposition, excitement, abuse. The blessed Lord Jesus accepted and discharged the duties of citizenship. Together with His holiness, His meekness, His majesty, there is another grace and virtue--there is in Him a perfect patriotism. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets and stonest them that are cent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” And this example, sublime it is, is followed closely by the apostle Paul, whose passionate love to his countrymen prompts that daring utterance (Romans 9:1). And now to turn to ourselves. What think you? Can we dare to call ourselves by the name of Jesus Christ and yet be indifferent to the needs, the sorrows, the wants, the burdens of our country? Lastly, see how this brave man served his country. Nehemiah sees that his power to help his country is not mostly in his rank, nor in his influence with royalty; it is in his power to pray. This is the great truth we want to lay hold of. The greatest power to bless this land is in our power to pray for it. Here all are on a level. Women as well as men. We need not wait for Parliament in this matter. Women’s rights are as ours at the throne of the heavenly grace. Beginning thus in prayer right speedily a glorious reformation is wrought in the face of plotting foes. In spite of the poverty and fewness of the people the city is rebuilt. So shall the city of God once more be set up in the midst of men, if every Christian man and woman will take in upon their heart the wants, the woes, the wrongs, the sorrows of our land, and will plead with God to send us a parliament that shall seek first in all things His kingdom and its righteousness. (M. G. Pearse.)

Religious patriotism exemplified in the history of Nehemiah

The patriotism of Nehemiah was based on religion; and hence the interest which he discovered in his far distant but afflicted countrymen, and the sacrifices which he made for their welfare. The love of country, because it is the country of our birth, and of countrymen, is no narrow-minded bigotry, as some shallow infidels in their pretended love of universal mankind have imagined. It is a principle of human nature implanted in our hearts for the wisest purposes. There is a patriotism which is quite selfish in its nature. Their own aggrandisement, or that of their friends and partisans, is the sum and substance of their patriotism. True patriotism, like every other great virtue, must be founded in true religion. Had not Nehemiah been a pious man, and loved the God of his fathers with all his heart, and loved his countrymen because they bore the image of God, he never would have relinquished his high advantages in the palace of Artaxerxes, and sacrificed so largely for their benefit. The true way to love man is to begin by loving God. On hearing of the affliction of his countrymen, who he might have expected by this time would have been in prosperous circumstances, Nehemiah betakes himself to prayer. All this shows Nehemiah’s acquaintance with his Bible, and also the warmth of his piety. We might have expected that living at heathen court, remote from the means of grace, with few to strengthen or encourage him, he, though a good man, would have discovered in his piety the disadvantage of the circumstances in which he had been placed. But no--God can and often does compensate in richer effusions of His grace, for an adverse outward situation. And here let us mark the course which he pursued in seeking to relieve and restore his afflicted countrymen. He did not say, as many would have done, in a proud, vaunting spirit, “I am the king’s cup-bearer. Backed by his authority, and armed besides with wealth and power, I will soon reduce Jerusalem and its people to a right condition; I will soon quell all opposition, rebuild the wall, and set up the gates, and make the city glorious as of old.” This had been the spirit of man flushed with the pride of power; but he had been taught of God, and so begins with humility and prayer. Let us, and let all, follow his example. All are occasionally in the providence of God required to discharge great duties. Important undertakings, involving the glory of God and the good of others, ever and anon call for our services. How should we engage in them? In a spirit of pride and self-confidence? No. But in a spirit of prayer and penitence. We are apt to despair of an undertaking when it is suspended on the will of man, and he is high above us, and we have ground to apprehend his hostility. Let this encourage us to be much in prayer for a good cause, even where it seems to hang upon the will of man, and that will appear hopelessly opposed. Nehemiah having thus prepared himself by prayer, is not slow in setting out in his work. Here we may notice the prudence and piety of this excellent Jew. He showed prudence in addressing a motive to the mind of the king for his journey, which the monarch could understand and appreciate. He did not ask leave to go to Jerusalem for the sake of his religion, but for the sake of his fathers’ sepulchres. This was an argument to which even a heathen would defer. With regard, again, to his piety, he did not only pray to God for counsel before making his request, but he strengthened and emboldened himself by prayer at the very time he stood in the presence of Artaxerxes. And then, after he had been successful in the petition, he did not refer the success to his own wisdom, or to his services as a faithful servant, but to the good hand of God upon him. He arrogated nothing to himself; he ascribed all to God. How much piety is here, and how beautiful is the union between piety and prudence! Considering the difficulties with which Christians have to struggle, well may the Saviour exhort His followers to be wise as serpents, at the same time that they are harmless as doves. It is worthy of notice, that deeply prayerful and dependent on God as Nehemiah was, he was not unmindful of the duty of using all legitimate means to secure the important object which he had in view. Prayer rightly understood does not destroy the use of means; it only strengthens and regulates its application. Prayer without means, and means without prayer, are equally presumptuous. Duty lies in employing both, but keeping both in their right place. This excellent man now set out on his journey, received the aid of the heathen governors upon the way, and soon reached Jerusalem in safety. With his usual prudence he did not, in the first instance, inform any one--priests, nobles, or rulers--what his intentions were. He wished to see the city with his own eyes, and draw his own conclusions, before acquainting them with the object of his mission. This enabled him to speak from personal observation, and so to speak with greater effect. (J. G. Lorimer.)

Why is thy countenance sad?--

Royal dislike of the sight of suffering

A late empress of Russia enacted a severe penalty, if any funeral procession should pass within sight of her palace. A princess of France, on her way to the capital, once ordered all beggars and persons suffering under disease to be removed from the line of her journey that she might not behold them. This Persian monarch notes signs of grief on his faithful servant with signs of displeasure. How different it is with our Saviour King! His heart is the seat of compassion for the afflicted. (W. Ritchie.)

So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Effective ejaculatory prayer the outcome of the habit of prayer

It is he that cultivates the habit of prayer that will seize the fitting opportunity for such ejaculations. Some think because they may pray in any place and at all times that therefore seasons of prayer may be neglected with impunity; but only he who delights in communion with God, and does not omit set times for such communion, finds that when the emergency arises, and but a moment is given, he can pray as truly and with as much calmness as in his own closet. (W. P. Lockhart.)

Ejaculatory prayer

I. The nature of ejaculatory prayer. It differs from other kinds of prayer, in that--

1. It is dependent upon no place. Prayer is founded upon a full conviction of the natural perfection of God; His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. On the conviction that the object of prayer is everywhere present, and that we may in every place make known our request. Artisan, merchant, physician can pray wherever they may be.

2. It is dependent on no particular time.

3. It is dependent on no particular occasion. No need to wait for Sabbath or hour of public worship.

II. Examples of ejaculatory prayer. Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:12); Samson ( 16:28); Stephen (Acts 7:59-60); Christ on various occasions.

III. Necessary occasions for ejaculatory prayer.

1. When suddenly called to important and difficult duties.

2. The Sabbath day and the assembly of the faithful. If hearers were more engaged in ejaculatory prayer, ministers would be more successful preachers.

3. The hour of temptation.

4. The hour of sickness.

IV. The advantages of ejaculatory prayer.

1. It main-rains an habitual sense of our dependence upon God.

2. It preserves our minds in a proper tone for the various exercises of devotion.

3. It is a powerful preventive against sin.

4. It makes us bold to contend with enemies or difficulties.

5. It quickens our zeal and activity in the cause of God. (J. A. James.)

Spiritual recollectedness

This is a remarkable illustration of religious presence of mind.

I. The outcome of a consecrated life.

II. The result of long habit.

III. A mark of self-distrusting humility.

IV. A source of incalculable blessing. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Ejaculatory prayer

It was--

I. Suddenly required.

II. Silently offered.

III. Suitably addressed.

IV. Very brief.

V. Completely successful. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Ejaculatory prayer

Nehemiah had made inquiry as to the state of the city of Jerusalem, and the tidings he heard caused him bitter grief. “Why should not my countenance be sad,” he said, “when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” He could not endure that it should be a mere ruinous heap. Laying the matter to heart, he did not begin to speak to other people about what they would do, nor did he draw up a wonderful scheme about what might be done if so many thousand people joined in the enterprise; but it occurred to him that he would do something himself. This is just the way that practical men start a matter. The unpractical will plan, arrange, and speculate about what may be done, but the genuine, thorough-going lover of Zion puts this question to himself--“What can you do?” Coming so far, he resolved to set apart a time for prayer. He never had it off his mind for nearly four months. When he slept he dreamed about Jerusalem. When he woke, the first thought was “Poor Jerusalem!” The man of one thing, you know, is a terrible man; and when one single passion has absorbed the whole of his manhood something will be sure to come of it. Before long Nehemiah had an opportunity. Men of God, if you want to serve God and cannot find the propitious occasion, wait awhile in prayer and your opportunity will break on your path like a sunbeam. There was never a true and valiant heart that failed to find a fitting sphere somewhere or other in His service. That opportunity came, it is true, in a way which he could not have expected. It came through his own sadness of heart. This matter preyed upon his mind till he began to look exceedingly unhappy. But you see when the opportunity did come there was trouble with it, for he says, “I was very sore afraid.” You want to serve God, young man; you want to be at work. Perhaps you do not know what that work involves It is not all pleasure. Thus have we traced Nehemiah up to the particular point where our text concerns him.

I. The fact that nehemiah prayed challenges attention. He had been asked a question by his sovereign. The proper thing you would suppose was to answer it. Not so. Before he answered he prayed to the God of heaven. I do not suppose the king noticed the pause. Probably the interval was not long enough to be noticed, but it was long enough for God to notice it. We are the more astonished at his praying, because he was so evidently perturbed in mind. When you are fluttered and put out you may forget to pray. Do you not, some of you, account it a valid excuse for omitting your ordinary devotion? At least, if any one had said to you, “You did not pray when you were about that business,” you would have replied, “How could I?” So habitually was he in communion with God that as soon as he found himself in a dilemma he flew away to God, just as the dove would fly to hide herself in the clefts of the rock.

1. His prayer was the more remarkable on this occasion, because he must have felt very eager about his object. The king asks him what it is he wants, and his whole heart is set upon building up Jerusalem. Are not you surprised that he did not at once say, “O king, live for ever. I long to build up Jerusalem’s walls. Give me all the help thou canst”? But no, eager as he was to pounce upon the desired object, he withdraws his hand until it is said, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” I would that every Christian’s heart might have just that holy caution that did not permit him to make such haste as to find ill-speed.

2. It is all the more surprising that he should have deliberately prayed just then, because he had been already praying for the past three or four months concerning the selfsame matter. Some of us would have said, “That is the thing I have been praying for; now all I have got to do is to take it and use it. Why pray any more?” But no, you will always find that the man who has prayed much is the man to pray more. If you are familiar with the mercy-seat you will constantly visit it.

3. One thing more is worth recollecting, namely, that he was in a king’s palace, and in the palace of a heathen king, too; and he was in the very act of handing up to the king the goblet of wine. But this devout Israelite, at such a time and in such a place, when he stands at the king’s foot to hold up to him the golden goblet, refrains from answering the king’s question until first he has prayed to the God of heaven.

II. The manner of this prayer.

1. It was what we call ejaculatory prayer--prayer which, as it were, hurls a dart and then it is done. It was not the prayer which stands knocking at mercy’s door.

2. Notice, how very short it must have been. It was introduced--slipped in, sandwiched in--between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s answer.

3. We know, also, that it must have been a silent prayer; and not merely silent as to sounds but silent as to any outward signs--perfectly secret. Artaxerxes never knew that Nehemiah prayed, though he stood probably within a yard of him. In the innermost shrine of the temple--in the holy of holies of his own secret soul--there did he pray. It was a prayer on the spot. He did not go to his chamber as Daniel did, and open the window.

4. I have no doubt from the very wording of the text that it was a very intense and direct prayer. That was Nehemiah’s favourite name for God--the God of heaven. He knew whom he was praying to. He did not draw a bow at a venture and shoot his prayers anyhow.

5. It was a prayer of a remarkable kind. I know it was so, because Nehemiah never forgot that he did pray it.

III. To recommend to you this excellent style of praying.

1. To deal with this matter practically, then, it is the duty and privilege of every Christian to have set times of prayer.

2. But now, having urged the importance of such habitual piety, I want to impress on you the value of another sort of prayer, namely, the short brief, quick, frequent ejaculations of which Nehemiah gives us a specimen. And I recommend this, because it hinders no engagement and occupies no time. It requires you to go to no particular place. No altar, no church, no so-called sacred place is needed, but wherever you are, just such a little prayer as that will reach the ear of God, and win a blessing. Such a prayer as that can be offered anywhere, under any circumstances. The advantage of such a way of praying is that you can pray often and pray always. Such prayer may be suggested by all sorts of surroundings.

3. These prayers are commendable, because they are truly spiritual. This kind of prayer is free from any suspicion that it is prompted by the corrupt motive of being offered to please men. If I see sparks coming out of a chimney I know there is a fire inside somewhere, and ejaculatory prayers are like the sparks that fly from a soul that is filled with burning coals of love to Jesus Christ. Short, ejaculatory prayers are of great use to us. Oftentimes they check us. Bad-tempered people, if you were always to pray just a little before you let angry expressions fly from your lips, why many times you would not say those naughty words at all. The bit of offering these brief prayers would also check your confidence in your self. It would show your dependence upon God.

4. Besides, they actually bring us blessings from heaven. I believe it is very suitable to some persons of a peculiar temperament who could not pray for a long time to save their lives. Their minds are rapid and quick. But if I must give you a selection of suitable times I should mention such as these. Whenever you have a great joy, cry, “Lord, make this a real blessing to me.” Do not exclaim with others, “Am I not a lucky fellow?” but say, “Lord, give me more grace, and more gratitude, now that Thou dost multiply Thy favours.” When you have got any arduous undertaking on hand or a heavy piece of business, do not touch it till you have breathed your soul out in a, short prayer. When you have a difficulty before you, and you are seriously perplexed, when business has got into a tangle or a confusion which you cannot unravel or arrange, breathe a prayer. Are the children particularly troublesome to you? Do you think that there is a temptation before you? Do you begin to suspect that somebody is plotting against you? Now for a prayer, “Lead me in plain path, because of mine enemies.” Are you at work at the bench, or in a shop, or a warehouse, where lewd conversation and shameful blasphemies assail your ears? Now for a short prayer. Does sin begin to fascinate you? Now for a prayer--a warm, earnest, passionate cry, “Lord, hold Thou me up.” And when the shadow of death gathers round you, and strange feelings flush or chill you, and plainly tell that you near the journey’s end, then pray. Oh! that is a time for ejaculation. “Hide not Thy face from me, O Lord”; or this, “Be not far from me, O God,” will doubtless suit you. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” were the thrilling words of Stephen in his extremity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Ejaculatory prayer

Such a sudden uplifting of the soul to God is the most real of all prayers. The man who can thus find God in a moment must be in the habit of frequently resorting to the Divine presence. This ready prayer only springs to the lips of a man who lives in a daily habit of prayer. The deliberate exercises of adoration, confession, and petition prepare for the one sudden ejaculation. There we see the deep river which supplies the sea of devotion from which the momentary prayer is cast up as the spray of a wave. We may compare Nehemiah’s two kinds of prayer with our Lord’s full and calm intercession in John 17:1-26. and the short, agonised cry from the Cross. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Ejaculatory prayer

I. The person named.

1. As patriot.

2. As statesman.

3. As a man of God. Not guided by the policy of the world. He did nothing without prayer.

II. The occasion. A moment needing great wisdom.

III. The lesson taught. The great duty of ejaculatory prayer. Various uses:

1. Throws light on such texts as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31.

2. Comfort in bodily pain (Psalms 103:13; Psalms 119:2).

3. Helps to victory over sin. (Canon Titcomb, M. A.)

Prayer before choosing

At the outset two things strike us here.

1. A rare opportunity for worldly advancement. Here is a king saying to his cupbearer, “What dost thou want me to do for thee?” What a chance this for any man! Wealth, dignity, influence, all put within his reach, left to depend upon his choice.

2. A rare treatment of such an opportunity. What should we say if our sovereign should speak thus to us? Most would say, “Give us a mansion to live in, lordly estate as our inheritance, dazzling titles and extensive patronage.” What said Nehemiah? He paused and reflected, and then he prayed. He would not choose for himself. Man is a choosing creature; his daily life is made up of a series of choices; he has to reject and accept in order to live.

I. God alone knows what is best for us. “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life?” Man is constantly making mistakes in this matter. What he wants and struggles for as a prize sometimes turns out to be one of his sorest calamities. Because Moses looked to heaven in such a case, he chose a life which to unregenerate man would be revolting.

II. God always desires what is best for us. He made us to be happy. That He desires our happiness is clear--

1. From the capacity of enjoyment with which He has endowed us.

2. From the elements of happiness with which the world abounds.

3. From the mission of His only-begotten Son.

III. God, in answer to prayer, is ever ready to bestow what is best for us. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Conclusion: Let us act ever upon the principle that prayer should precede choice. (Homilist.)

The spiritual telegraph

I. How great is the privilege of prayer. Great indeed is the privilege of all this access to the mercy-seat, but how unspeakable is the joy and the consolation of habitual communion with God, and of taking occasion from duties, trials, or mercies, as they follow one another, to lift up the heart in pious ejaculation. The word ejaculation is derived from the Latin “jaculum,” an arrow, and suggests the rapidity and earnestness with which such a prayer can be winged up to the God of heaven. We have seen how Nehemiah interposed a prayer of this kind as a devout parenthesis between the king’s request and his own reply. And there is no book of Scripture so remarkable for ejaculatory prayer as the Book of Nehemiah. Such an acknowledgment of God in our ways is no hindrance, but rather a mighty help in business. That which calms the mind, fixes the purpose, and strengthens moral principle, must be a great assistance, whether in duty or trial. As Fuller remarks, “Ejaculations take not up any room in the soul. They give liberty of callings, so that at the same instant one may follow his proper vocation. The husbandman may dart forth an ejaculation, and not make a halt the more. The seaman nevertheless steers his ship right in the darkest night. The field wherein the bees feed is no whir the barer for their biting: when they have taken their full repast on flowers or grass, the ox may feed, the sheep fatten on their reversions. The reason is because those little chemists distil only the refined part of the flower, leaving the greaser substance thereof. So ejaculations bind not men to any bodily observance, only busy the spiritual half, which maketh them consistent with the prosecution of any other employment.” The rapidity and brevity of ejaculatory prayer has frequently been illustrated by a reference to the electric telegraph, the greatest achievement of modern science. Christ has opened a pathway down which redeeming mercy may flow into the heart of the sinner, and by which the aspirations and longings of that penitent sinner may climb up to his reconciled God and Father. Christians, however, can tell of something quicker far than electricity. Thought, winging its way by prayer, travels instantaneously from the depths of a penitent’s need to the height of God’s throne in heaven. Who can estimate the distance thus travelled, or the relief thus experienced? The child cries, and the Father answers. The sinner weeps, and the Saviour draws near to wipe away his tears, and to fill him with an overflowing gladness.

II. But if the privilege of prayer be great, How intensely joyous is the answer. Recurring to the narrative, let us observe in the gracious answer to Nehemiah’s prayer that delay is not denial. Four weary months passed before Nehemiah had the opportunity of bringing under the king’s notice the desolation of Zion. The answer to prayer is as sure as Divine power, faithfulness, and love can make it. The providence of God concurs sweetly with His grace in this answer. The answer, moreover, to Nehemiah’s request, through the good hand of his God upon him, was overflowing and abundant. The utmost, probably, that he had anticipated would be a full permission to resign his duties at court, and to go to Jerusalem. But he received much more than this. He had the large-hearted sanction of his master for all his undertakings. He was provided with a cavalry escort, with letters for safe conduct beyond the river, and ample material for his work. Our God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. (J. M. Randall.)

Ejaculatory prayer in critical junctures

This kind is a short petition, hurled like a dart at its mark.

I. When? In critical junctures.

1. Before choice.

2. Before sudden action.

3. In danger. (The sinking Peter.)

II. Why?

1. Because critical junctures admit of no other kind.

2. Because it leads to wisdom (Proverbs 3:6).

3. Because it tranquilises the mind.

4. Because it would prevent sudden action.

III. How?

1. Do we pray at all?

2. Do we cultivate the spirit of prayer? (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

3. Do occasions arise for ejaculatory prayer?

4. Would it help us when buying or selling, when making calls and tempted to gossip or tell “white lies”? (L. O. Thompson.)

The praying patriot

The true secret of his success was Divine interposition in his behalf.

1. Nehemiah, under God, made the most of this opportunity. He had waited patiently for it; and now, when it came, he did not fail to turn it to the best account. It is not always that this is done. Many, we fear, if they had the chance, would be more ready to injure the servants of Christ than to do them good, and to cripple and damage His cause rather than extend it. And where another spirit prevails, have we not often to mourn over lost opportunities of doing good? or over opportunities of doing good that have been very imperfectly improved?

2. We are reminded that prayer does not supersede efforts in other directions. Nehemiah did not content himself with the thought that he had prayed for Jerusalem, and for its poor inhabitants. He supple mented his praying by using his best endeavours to secure such help as man could render. And did he under-estimate the power of prayer by this procedure? We think not. His conduct showed that he was neither irreligious, on the one hand, nor fanatical on the other. Some objects are best accomplished by prayer alone. Some persons are so placed now that all we can do in their behalf is to pray for them; and some objects are of such a nature that we cannot advance them other wise than by giving them an interest in our prayers. But, as a rule, we may, and ought, to do something more than this for a good cause.

3. Answers to prayer should be gratefully acknowledged. (T. Rowson.)

Ejaculatory prayer

In hard havens, so choked up with the envious sands that great ships, drawing many feet of water, cannot come near, lighter and lesser pinnaces may freely and safely arrive. When we are time-bound, place-bound, so that we cannot compose our selves to make a large, solemn prayer, this is the right instant for ejaculations, whether orally uttered or only poured forth inwardly in the heart. (A. Fuller.)

The flame of devotion constant

The sacrifices of prayer and praise cannot be always ascending; but the flame of devotion to kindle them, as opportunity may serve, ought never to wax dim. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)

The devotional spirit

Of all the habits of the new man, there is none more distinctive, none more conducive to his soul’s health and happiness, none more essential to his consistency of conduct and beauty of holiness, than the devotional spirit. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)

Prayer in few words

We make a great many mistakes about prayer; and one of them is that we don’t think we have prayed properly unless we have prayed a certain time. But a few moments of real prayer are better than many minutes of only formal prayer. “For my own part,” says a friend, “if one may talk of a ‘best’ in the matter of one’s prayers, I find that the best prayers I can make are very short ones indeed. Sometimes they have only one sentence, and they are by no means always said upon my knees. They are offered up while I am walking about, or lying awake at night, or riding in the train.” When Bengel, the great commentator, was too weary to pray, all he said was, “Lord, Thou knowest that it is between us to-day as it was yesterday”; and so he went to sleep. A young man, who was worn by sick ness and suffering, had only strength to pray in short and broken sentences His heart was filled with foreboding as Satan whispered that the great God could never listen to such a prayer. Suddenly he came upon these words: “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few.” “Ah!” he said, “I have found a verse written expressly for me. God will accept the few words I can utter; now I will trust and not be afraid.” If no man is heard for his much speaking, no man is rejected for his little speaking--if compressed into that little be the earnestness of his heart. (Signal.)

Prayer in perplexity

A little child, playing with a handful of cords, when they begin to get into a tangle, goes at once to her mother, that her patient fingers may unravel the snarl. How much better this than to pull and tug at the cords till the tangle becomes inextricable I May not many of us learn a lesson from the little child? Would it not be better for us, whenever we find the slightest entanglement in any of our affairs, or the arising of any perplexity, to take it at once to God, that His skilful hands may set it right?

Prayer heard in heaven

Ejaculatory prayer is like the rope of a belfry; the bell is in one room, and the end of the rope which sets it a-ringing in another. Perhaps the bell may not be heard in the apartment where the rope is, but it is heard in its own apartment. Moses laid hold of the rope and pulled it hard on the shore of the Red Sea; and though no one heard or knew anything about it in the lower chamber, the bell rang loudly in the upper one. (Williams of Wern.)

The swiftness of prayer

We may, if we please, have a mail to heaven, conveying in a moment intelligence of our condition and concerns, our wants and our desires, to our God and Father, and bringing back to us a gracious answer, with advice and comfort, protection and help. Prayer is the swift courier, and sighs are the winged messengers. Doves have been trained to fly from place to place, carrying letters in a little casket fastened to their neck or foot. They are swift of flight; but our prayers and sighs are swifter, for they take but a moment to pass from earth to heaven, and bear the troubles of our heart to the heart of God. (R. Scriver.)

Ejaculatory prayer possible to busy people

The following extract is from a letter addressed by a poor woman to the editor of the Banner of Faith: “Poor women with large families often think they have little time for prayer or praise. As I am a poor woman with a large family, and know the value of prayer and praise, I will tell them how I find time for it. Whilst I am cleaning the house I lift my heart to God and say, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, for Christ’s sake. Amen.’ When I am washing the clothes I say, ‘Wash me in Thy blood, O Jesus; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ Then as I get to each of my children’s clothes I pray for them separately, not aloud, but in my heart. Again, if I pick up the shirt of one who drinks, I ask God to change his heart, to show him his state in God’s sight, and to help him to give up drink and become a sober, godly youth. If I am washing the shirt of another who has a horrid temper, that is a terror to us all, I pray to God to break his stubborn temper, to soften his heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh. If I am washing anything belonging to a girl who is idle, then I pray God to show her her sin, and change her whole nature, by the Holy Spirit. Yes, I pray for each as I know their need. Then when I am sewing I find lots of time both for prayer and praise. When I light or mend the fire, I say in my heart, ‘Kindle, O Lord, a sacred fire in this cold heart of mine.’“ (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)


Verses 1-8

Nehemiah 2:1-8

And it came to pass in the month Nizan.

Divine interposition

I. Was opportune.

1. That God’s plans are worked out with the utmost precision.

2. That God often interferes on His people’s behalf when they least expect it.

3. That God generally interferes on His people’s behalf in their most urgent extremity.

II. required human co-operation.

III. was accompanied by providential coincidences.

1. Nehemiah was unusually sad.

2. The king was unusually friendly.

3. The queen also was present. (Homiletic Commentary.)

A true patriot

That is only a small part of the gospel which leads a man to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The glorious gospel of the blessed God goes forth with us interested in everything that concerns us as men--at home, in business, in town, in country, in all national affairs, in the whole world. A Christian may thoughtlessly throw himself into political exitement with no other motive than that of party feeling; but because he is a Christian he will be glad to let the light of God shine in upon his aims and motives, and will be glad to see his duty in the quietness and sacredness of this hour. The Bible, which gives us examples of men in every position where duty leads, has given us amongst its most brilliant and noble characters this of the statesman. If any should think such a position inseparable from ambitious craft and party ends, let them note this fact. Nehemiah is living at the court of the king, occupying a position of high rank, of much influence, of great trust. If the chief thing in life is to take care of one’s own ease and luxury, and not to trouble much about the wants and sorrows of other people, then here is a man who has all that heart can wish. There are men, thousands of them, who have no thought or purpose in life beyond themselves. Surely that is to degrade our manhood. But what of any man who should call himself a Christian and yet should live all taken up in himself as if nothing were worth a thought but how he may be as happy as possible on earth--and then happier still in another world? Now to the court where Nehemiah dwells come certain Jews from Jerusalem, and he goes forth to inquire about the state of his countrymen and the beloved city. As a man, as a brother, as a servant of the Living God, he is bound to feel the deepest concern in the welfare of his nation. It is easy enough to think of what Nehemiah might have said, if he had been easy-going and selfish, “I really am sorry, very sorry--but I do not see that I can do anything, you know. It is as much as I can do to look after my own duties here without troubling myself about the affairs of the nation.” There are some good people who talk so to-day and think it sounds pious. He might have given them a subscription, say of a guinea. And then he could have turned into the palace thankful not to be mixed up in these worldly matters. Or he might have sipped his wine out of a golden goblet and thought what a pity it was that everybody could not be as comfortable as he was. Well, if he had, you may be sure that neither this Book of God nor any other would have found a place for his name. Or he might have pleaded that he was in a very delicate and responsible position, holding office under the king, and that it would never do for him to get mixed up in these matters. Those good people who separate themselves from the duties of citizenship can find no example in the Scriptures. Of all false notions about regenerating the world, the most utterly false, as well as the laziest, is to think that this is the victory which overcometh the world to run away from it. This Book does not teach that the world is the devil’s, and the less we can have to do with it the better. No, indeed! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” The men of the Bible are not monks and recluses; but they are in the very midst of the world and busied with its affairs. Its prophets and messengers are men whose whole life has to do with the councils of kings, with the ways of cities and courts. Surely it is impossible to think of the religion of Jesus Christ as anything but a profound and eager interest in the welfare of our fellow-men--of their bodies as well as their souls; of their work as well as their worship; of their homes on earth as well as their getting to heaven. Nor have any the right to hold themselves aloof from politics because it is mixed up with party strife. We deplore and condemn the bitterness of party politics--but is there not a great deal of nonsense talked about party politics? How are you going ever to have polities at all without party politics? If you want abuses overthrown, and iniquities set right, and the privileges of the few shared by the many, and abominations like the opium trade swept away, and the great curses of drink and lust and gambling east out, are we to fold our hands because we are Christians, and let the devil have his own way because these things involve strife! Of course they do, and always will. We must expect opposition, excitement, abuse. The blessed Lord Jesus accepted and discharged the duties of citizenship. Together with His holiness, His meekness, His majesty, there is another grace and virtue--there is in Him a perfect patriotism. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets and stonest them that are cent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” And this example, sublime it is, is followed closely by the apostle Paul, whose passionate love to his countrymen prompts that daring utterance (Romans 9:1). And now to turn to ourselves. What think you? Can we dare to call ourselves by the name of Jesus Christ and yet be indifferent to the needs, the sorrows, the wants, the burdens of our country? Lastly, see how this brave man served his country. Nehemiah sees that his power to help his country is not mostly in his rank, nor in his influence with royalty; it is in his power to pray. This is the great truth we want to lay hold of. The greatest power to bless this land is in our power to pray for it. Here all are on a level. Women as well as men. We need not wait for Parliament in this matter. Women’s rights are as ours at the throne of the heavenly grace. Beginning thus in prayer right speedily a glorious reformation is wrought in the face of plotting foes. In spite of the poverty and fewness of the people the city is rebuilt. So shall the city of God once more be set up in the midst of men, if every Christian man and woman will take in upon their heart the wants, the woes, the wrongs, the sorrows of our land, and will plead with God to send us a parliament that shall seek first in all things His kingdom and its righteousness. (M. G. Pearse.)

Religious patriotism exemplified in the history of Nehemiah

The patriotism of Nehemiah was based on religion; and hence the interest which he discovered in his far distant but afflicted countrymen, and the sacrifices which he made for their welfare. The love of country, because it is the country of our birth, and of countrymen, is no narrow-minded bigotry, as some shallow infidels in their pretended love of universal mankind have imagined. It is a principle of human nature implanted in our hearts for the wisest purposes. There is a patriotism which is quite selfish in its nature. Their own aggrandisement, or that of their friends and partisans, is the sum and substance of their patriotism. True patriotism, like every other great virtue, must be founded in true religion. Had not Nehemiah been a pious man, and loved the God of his fathers with all his heart, and loved his countrymen because they bore the image of God, he never would have relinquished his high advantages in the palace of Artaxerxes, and sacrificed so largely for their benefit. The true way to love man is to begin by loving God. On hearing of the affliction of his countrymen, who he might have expected by this time would have been in prosperous circumstances, Nehemiah betakes himself to prayer. All this shows Nehemiah’s acquaintance with his Bible, and also the warmth of his piety. We might have expected that living at heathen court, remote from the means of grace, with few to strengthen or encourage him, he, though a good man, would have discovered in his piety the disadvantage of the circumstances in which he had been placed. But no--God can and often does compensate in richer effusions of His grace, for an adverse outward situation. And here let us mark the course which he pursued in seeking to relieve and restore his afflicted countrymen. He did not say, as many would have done, in a proud, vaunting spirit, “I am the king’s cup-bearer. Backed by his authority, and armed besides with wealth and power, I will soon reduce Jerusalem and its people to a right condition; I will soon quell all opposition, rebuild the wall, and set up the gates, and make the city glorious as of old.” This had been the spirit of man flushed with the pride of power; but he had been taught of God, and so begins with humility and prayer. Let us, and let all, follow his example. All are occasionally in the providence of God required to discharge great duties. Important undertakings, involving the glory of God and the good of others, ever and anon call for our services. How should we engage in them? In a spirit of pride and self-confidence? No. But in a spirit of prayer and penitence. We are apt to despair of an undertaking when it is suspended on the will of man, and he is high above us, and we have ground to apprehend his hostility. Let this encourage us to be much in prayer for a good cause, even where it seems to hang upon the will of man, and that will appear hopelessly opposed. Nehemiah having thus prepared himself by prayer, is not slow in setting out in his work. Here we may notice the prudence and piety of this excellent Jew. He showed prudence in addressing a motive to the mind of the king for his journey, which the monarch could understand and appreciate. He did not ask leave to go to Jerusalem for the sake of his religion, but for the sake of his fathers’ sepulchres. This was an argument to which even a heathen would defer. With regard, again, to his piety, he did not only pray to God for counsel before making his request, but he strengthened and emboldened himself by prayer at the very time he stood in the presence of Artaxerxes. And then, after he had been successful in the petition, he did not refer the success to his own wisdom, or to his services as a faithful servant, but to the good hand of God upon him. He arrogated nothing to himself; he ascribed all to God. How much piety is here, and how beautiful is the union between piety and prudence! Considering the difficulties with which Christians have to struggle, well may the Saviour exhort His followers to be wise as serpents, at the same time that they are harmless as doves. It is worthy of notice, that deeply prayerful and dependent on God as Nehemiah was, he was not unmindful of the duty of using all legitimate means to secure the important object which he had in view. Prayer rightly understood does not destroy the use of means; it only strengthens and regulates its application. Prayer without means, and means without prayer, are equally presumptuous. Duty lies in employing both, but keeping both in their right place. This excellent man now set out on his journey, received the aid of the heathen governors upon the way, and soon reached Jerusalem in safety. With his usual prudence he did not, in the first instance, inform any one--priests, nobles, or rulers--what his intentions were. He wished to see the city with his own eyes, and draw his own conclusions, before acquainting them with the object of his mission. This enabled him to speak from personal observation, and so to speak with greater effect. (J. G. Lorimer.)

Why is thy countenance sad?--

Royal dislike of the sight of suffering

A late empress of Russia enacted a severe penalty, if any funeral procession should pass within sight of her palace. A princess of France, on her way to the capital, once ordered all beggars and persons suffering under disease to be removed from the line of her journey that she might not behold them. This Persian monarch notes signs of grief on his faithful servant with signs of displeasure. How different it is with our Saviour King! His heart is the seat of compassion for the afflicted. (W. Ritchie.)

So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Effective ejaculatory prayer the outcome of the habit of prayer

It is he that cultivates the habit of prayer that will seize the fitting opportunity for such ejaculations. Some think because they may pray in any place and at all times that therefore seasons of prayer may be neglected with impunity; but only he who delights in communion with God, and does not omit set times for such communion, finds that when the emergency arises, and but a moment is given, he can pray as truly and with as much calmness as in his own closet. (W. P. Lockhart.)

Ejaculatory prayer

I. The nature of ejaculatory prayer. It differs from other kinds of prayer, in that--

1. It is dependent upon no place. Prayer is founded upon a full conviction of the natural perfection of God; His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. On the conviction that the object of prayer is everywhere present, and that we may in every place make known our request. Artisan, merchant, physician can pray wherever they may be.

2. It is dependent on no particular time.

3. It is dependent on no particular occasion. No need to wait for Sabbath or hour of public worship.

II. Examples of ejaculatory prayer. Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:12); Samson ( 16:28); Stephen (Acts 7:59-60); Christ on various occasions.

III. Necessary occasions for ejaculatory prayer.

1. When suddenly called to important and difficult duties.

2. The Sabbath day and the assembly of the faithful. If hearers were more engaged in ejaculatory prayer, ministers would be more successful preachers.

3. The hour of temptation.

4. The hour of sickness.

IV. The advantages of ejaculatory prayer.

1. It main-rains an habitual sense of our dependence upon God.

2. It preserves our minds in a proper tone for the various exercises of devotion.

3. It is a powerful preventive against sin.

4. It makes us bold to contend with enemies or difficulties.

5. It quickens our zeal and activity in the cause of God. (J. A. James.)

Spiritual recollectedness

This is a remarkable illustration of religious presence of mind.

I. The outcome of a consecrated life.

II. The result of long habit.

III. A mark of self-distrusting humility.

IV. A source of incalculable blessing. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Ejaculatory prayer

It was--

I. Suddenly required.

II. Silently offered.

III. Suitably addressed.

IV. Very brief.

V. Completely successful. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Ejaculatory prayer

Nehemiah had made inquiry as to the state of the city of Jerusalem, and the tidings he heard caused him bitter grief. “Why should not my countenance be sad,” he said, “when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” He could not endure that it should be a mere ruinous heap. Laying the matter to heart, he did not begin to speak to other people about what they would do, nor did he draw up a wonderful scheme about what might be done if so many thousand people joined in the enterprise; but it occurred to him that he would do something himself. This is just the way that practical men start a matter. The unpractical will plan, arrange, and speculate about what may be done, but the genuine, thorough-going lover of Zion puts this question to himself--“What can you do?” Coming so far, he resolved to set apart a time for prayer. He never had it off his mind for nearly four months. When he slept he dreamed about Jerusalem. When he woke, the first thought was “Poor Jerusalem!” The man of one thing, you know, is a terrible man; and when one single passion has absorbed the whole of his manhood something will be sure to come of it. Before long Nehemiah had an opportunity. Men of God, if you want to serve God and cannot find the propitious occasion, wait awhile in prayer and your opportunity will break on your path like a sunbeam. There was never a true and valiant heart that failed to find a fitting sphere somewhere or other in His service. That opportunity came, it is true, in a way which he could not have expected. It came through his own sadness of heart. This matter preyed upon his mind till he began to look exceedingly unhappy. But you see when the opportunity did come there was trouble with it, for he says, “I was very sore afraid.” You want to serve God, young man; you want to be at work. Perhaps you do not know what that work involves It is not all pleasure. Thus have we traced Nehemiah up to the particular point where our text concerns him.

I. The fact that nehemiah prayed challenges attention. He had been asked a question by his sovereign. The proper thing you would suppose was to answer it. Not so. Before he answered he prayed to the God of heaven. I do not suppose the king noticed the pause. Probably the interval was not long enough to be noticed, but it was long enough for God to notice it. We are the more astonished at his praying, because he was so evidently perturbed in mind. When you are fluttered and put out you may forget to pray. Do you not, some of you, account it a valid excuse for omitting your ordinary devotion? At least, if any one had said to you, “You did not pray when you were about that business,” you would have replied, “How could I?” So habitually was he in communion with God that as soon as he found himself in a dilemma he flew away to God, just as the dove would fly to hide herself in the clefts of the rock.

1. His prayer was the more remarkable on this occasion, because he must have felt very eager about his object. The king asks him what it is he wants, and his whole heart is set upon building up Jerusalem. Are not you surprised that he did not at once say, “O king, live for ever. I long to build up Jerusalem’s walls. Give me all the help thou canst”? But no, eager as he was to pounce upon the desired object, he withdraws his hand until it is said, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” I would that every Christian’s heart might have just that holy caution that did not permit him to make such haste as to find ill-speed.

2. It is all the more surprising that he should have deliberately prayed just then, because he had been already praying for the past three or four months concerning the selfsame matter. Some of us would have said, “That is the thing I have been praying for; now all I have got to do is to take it and use it. Why pray any more?” But no, you will always find that the man who has prayed much is the man to pray more. If you are familiar with the mercy-seat you will constantly visit it.

3. One thing more is worth recollecting, namely, that he was in a king’s palace, and in the palace of a heathen king, too; and he was in the very act of handing up to the king the goblet of wine. But this devout Israelite, at such a time and in such a place, when he stands at the king’s foot to hold up to him the golden goblet, refrains from answering the king’s question until first he has prayed to the God of heaven.

II. The manner of this prayer.

1. It was what we call ejaculatory prayer--prayer which, as it were, hurls a dart and then it is done. It was not the prayer which stands knocking at mercy’s door.

2. Notice, how very short it must have been. It was introduced--slipped in, sandwiched in--between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s answer.

3. We know, also, that it must have been a silent prayer; and not merely silent as to sounds but silent as to any outward signs--perfectly secret. Artaxerxes never knew that Nehemiah prayed, though he stood probably within a yard of him. In the innermost shrine of the temple--in the holy of holies of his own secret soul--there did he pray. It was a prayer on the spot. He did not go to his chamber as Daniel did, and open the window.

4. I have no doubt from the very wording of the text that it was a very intense and direct prayer. That was Nehemiah’s favourite name for God--the God of heaven. He knew whom he was praying to. He did not draw a bow at a venture and shoot his prayers anyhow.

5. It was a prayer of a remarkable kind. I know it was so, because Nehemiah never forgot that he did pray it.

III. To recommend to you this excellent style of praying.

1. To deal with this matter practically, then, it is the duty and privilege of every Christian to have set times of prayer.

2. But now, having urged the importance of such habitual piety, I want to impress on you the value of another sort of prayer, namely, the short brief, quick, frequent ejaculations of which Nehemiah gives us a specimen. And I recommend this, because it hinders no engagement and occupies no time. It requires you to go to no particular place. No altar, no church, no so-called sacred place is needed, but wherever you are, just such a little prayer as that will reach the ear of God, and win a blessing. Such a prayer as that can be offered anywhere, under any circumstances. The advantage of such a way of praying is that you can pray often and pray always. Such prayer may be suggested by all sorts of surroundings.

3. These prayers are commendable, because they are truly spiritual. This kind of prayer is free from any suspicion that it is prompted by the corrupt motive of being offered to please men. If I see sparks coming out of a chimney I know there is a fire inside somewhere, and ejaculatory prayers are like the sparks that fly from a soul that is filled with burning coals of love to Jesus Christ. Short, ejaculatory prayers are of great use to us. Oftentimes they check us. Bad-tempered people, if you were always to pray just a little before you let angry expressions fly from your lips, why many times you would not say those naughty words at all. The bit of offering these brief prayers would also check your confidence in your self. It would show your dependence upon God.

4. Besides, they actually bring us blessings from heaven. I believe it is very suitable to some persons of a peculiar temperament who could not pray for a long time to save their lives. Their minds are rapid and quick. But if I must give you a selection of suitable times I should mention such as these. Whenever you have a great joy, cry, “Lord, make this a real blessing to me.” Do not exclaim with others, “Am I not a lucky fellow?” but say, “Lord, give me more grace, and more gratitude, now that Thou dost multiply Thy favours.” When you have got any arduous undertaking on hand or a heavy piece of business, do not touch it till you have breathed your soul out in a, short prayer. When you have a difficulty before you, and you are seriously perplexed, when business has got into a tangle or a confusion which you cannot unravel or arrange, breathe a prayer. Are the children particularly troublesome to you? Do you think that there is a temptation before you? Do you begin to suspect that somebody is plotting against you? Now for a prayer, “Lead me in plain path, because of mine enemies.” Are you at work at the bench, or in a shop, or a warehouse, where lewd conversation and shameful blasphemies assail your ears? Now for a short prayer. Does sin begin to fascinate you? Now for a prayer--a warm, earnest, passionate cry, “Lord, hold Thou me up.” And when the shadow of death gathers round you, and strange feelings flush or chill you, and plainly tell that you near the journey’s end, then pray. Oh! that is a time for ejaculation. “Hide not Thy face from me, O Lord”; or this, “Be not far from me, O God,” will doubtless suit you. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” were the thrilling words of Stephen in his extremity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Ejaculatory prayer

Such a sudden uplifting of the soul to God is the most real of all prayers. The man who can thus find God in a moment must be in the habit of frequently resorting to the Divine presence. This ready prayer only springs to the lips of a man who lives in a daily habit of prayer. The deliberate exercises of adoration, confession, and petition prepare for the one sudden ejaculation. There we see the deep river which supplies the sea of devotion from which the momentary prayer is cast up as the spray of a wave. We may compare Nehemiah’s two kinds of prayer with our Lord’s full and calm intercession in John 17:1-26. and the short, agonised cry from the Cross. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Ejaculatory prayer

I. The person named.

1. As patriot.

2. As statesman.

3. As a man of God. Not guided by the policy of the world. He did nothing without prayer.

II. The occasion. A moment needing great wisdom.

III. The lesson taught. The great duty of ejaculatory prayer. Various uses:

1. Throws light on such texts as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31.

2. Comfort in bodily pain (Psalms 103:13; Psalms 119:2).

3. Helps to victory over sin. (Canon Titcomb, M. A.)

Prayer before choosing

At the outset two things strike us here.

1. A rare opportunity for worldly advancement. Here is a king saying to his cupbearer, “What dost thou want me to do for thee?” What a chance this for any man! Wealth, dignity, influence, all put within his reach, left to depend upon his choice.

2. A rare treatment of such an opportunity. What should we say if our sovereign should speak thus to us? Most would say, “Give us a mansion to live in, lordly estate as our inheritance, dazzling titles and extensive patronage.” What said Nehemiah? He paused and reflected, and then he prayed. He would not choose for himself. Man is a choosing creature; his daily life is made up of a series of choices; he has to reject and accept in order to live.

I. God alone knows what is best for us. “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life?” Man is constantly making mistakes in this matter. What he wants and struggles for as a prize sometimes turns out to be one of his sorest calamities. Because Moses looked to heaven in such a case, he chose a life which to unregenerate man would be revolting.

II. God always desires what is best for us. He made us to be happy. That He desires our happiness is clear--

1. From the capacity of enjoyment with which He has endowed us.

2. From the elements of happiness with which the world abounds.

3. From the mission of His only-begotten Son.

III. God, in answer to prayer, is ever ready to bestow what is best for us. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Conclusion: Let us act ever upon the principle that prayer should precede choice. (Homilist.)

The spiritual telegraph

I. How great is the privilege of prayer. Great indeed is the privilege of all this access to the mercy-seat, but how unspeakable is the joy and the consolation of habitual communion with God, and of taking occasion from duties, trials, or mercies, as they follow one another, to lift up the heart in pious ejaculation. The word ejaculation is derived from the Latin “jaculum,” an arrow, and suggests the rapidity and earnestness with which such a prayer can be winged up to the God of heaven. We have seen how Nehemiah interposed a prayer of this kind as a devout parenthesis between the king’s request and his own reply. And there is no book of Scripture so remarkable for ejaculatory prayer as the Book of Nehemiah. Such an acknowledgment of God in our ways is no hindrance, but rather a mighty help in business. That which calms the mind, fixes the purpose, and strengthens moral principle, must be a great assistance, whether in duty or trial. As Fuller remarks, “Ejaculations take not up any room in the soul. They give liberty of callings, so that at the same instant one may follow his proper vocation. The husbandman may dart forth an ejaculation, and not make a halt the more. The seaman nevertheless steers his ship right in the darkest night. The field wherein the bees feed is no whir the barer for their biting: when they have taken their full repast on flowers or grass, the ox may feed, the sheep fatten on their reversions. The reason is because those little chemists distil only the refined part of the flower, leaving the greaser substance thereof. So ejaculations bind not men to any bodily observance, only busy the spiritual half, which maketh them consistent with the prosecution of any other employment.” The rapidity and brevity of ejaculatory prayer has frequently been illustrated by a reference to the electric telegraph, the greatest achievement of modern science. Christ has opened a pathway down which redeeming mercy may flow into the heart of the sinner, and by which the aspirations and longings of that penitent sinner may climb up to his reconciled God and Father. Christians, however, can tell of something quicker far than electricity. Thought, winging its way by prayer, travels instantaneously from the depths of a penitent’s need to the height of God’s throne in heaven. Who can estimate the distance thus travelled, or the relief thus experienced? The child cries, and the Father answers. The sinner weeps, and the Saviour draws near to wipe away his tears, and to fill him with an overflowing gladness.

II. But if the privilege of prayer be great, How intensely joyous is the answer. Recurring to the narrative, let us observe in the gracious answer to Nehemiah’s prayer that delay is not denial. Four weary months passed before Nehemiah had the opportunity of bringing under the king’s notice the desolation of Zion. The answer to prayer is as sure as Divine power, faithfulness, and love can make it. The providence of God concurs sweetly with His grace in this answer. The answer, moreover, to Nehemiah’s request, through the good hand of his God upon him, was overflowing and abundant. The utmost, probably, that he had anticipated would be a full permission to resign his duties at court, and to go to Jerusalem. But he received much more than this. He had the large-hearted sanction of his master for all his undertakings. He was provided with a cavalry escort, with letters for safe conduct beyond the river, and ample material for his work. Our God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. (J. M. Randall.)

Ejaculatory prayer in critical junctures

This kind is a short petition, hurled like a dart at its mark.

I. When? In critical junctures.

1. Before choice.

2. Before sudden action.

3. In danger. (The sinking Peter.)

II. Why?

1. Because critical junctures admit of no other kind.

2. Because it leads to wisdom (Proverbs 3:6).

3. Because it tranquilises the mind.

4. Because it would prevent sudden action.

III. How?

1. Do we pray at all?

2. Do we cultivate the spirit of prayer? (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

3. Do occasions arise for ejaculatory prayer?

4. Would it help us when buying or selling, when making calls and tempted to gossip or tell “white lies”? (L. O. Thompson.)

The praying patriot

The true secret of his success was Divine interposition in his behalf.

1. Nehemiah, under God, made the most of this opportunity. He had waited patiently for it; and now, when it came, he did not fail to turn it to the best account. It is not always that this is done. Many, we fear, if they had the chance, would be more ready to injure the servants of Christ than to do them good, and to cripple and damage His cause rather than extend it. And where another spirit prevails, have we not often to mourn over lost opportunities of doing good? or over opportunities of doing good that have been very imperfectly improved?

2. We are reminded that prayer does not supersede efforts in other directions. Nehemiah did not content himself with the thought that he had prayed for Jerusalem, and for its poor inhabitants. He supple mented his praying by using his best endeavours to secure such help as man could render. And did he under-estimate the power of prayer by this procedure? We think not. His conduct showed that he was neither irreligious, on the one hand, nor fanatical on the other. Some objects are best accomplished by prayer alone. Some persons are so placed now that all we can do in their behalf is to pray for them; and some objects are of such a nature that we cannot advance them other wise than by giving them an interest in our prayers. But, as a rule, we may, and ought, to do something more than this for a good cause.

3. Answers to prayer should be gratefully acknowledged. (T. Rowson.)

Ejaculatory prayer

In hard havens, so choked up with the envious sands that great ships, drawing many feet of water, cannot come near, lighter and lesser pinnaces may freely and safely arrive. When we are time-bound, place-bound, so that we cannot compose our selves to make a large, solemn prayer, this is the right instant for ejaculations, whether orally uttered or only poured forth inwardly in the heart. (A. Fuller.)

The flame of devotion constant

The sacrifices of prayer and praise cannot be always ascending; but the flame of devotion to kindle them, as opportunity may serve, ought never to wax dim. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)

The devotional spirit

Of all the habits of the new man, there is none more distinctive, none more conducive to his soul’s health and happiness, none more essential to his consistency of conduct and beauty of holiness, than the devotional spirit. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)

Prayer in few words

We make a great many mistakes about prayer; and one of them is that we don’t think we have prayed properly unless we have prayed a certain time. But a few moments of real prayer are better than many minutes of only formal prayer. “For my own part,” says a friend, “if one may talk of a ‘best’ in the matter of one’s prayers, I find that the best prayers I can make are very short ones indeed. Sometimes they have only one sentence, and they are by no means always said upon my knees. They are offered up while I am walking about, or lying awake at night, or riding in the train.” When Bengel, the great commentator, was too weary to pray, all he said was, “Lord, Thou knowest that it is between us to-day as it was yesterday”; and so he went to sleep. A young man, who was worn by sick ness and suffering, had only strength to pray in short and broken sentences His heart was filled with foreboding as Satan whispered that the great God could never listen to such a prayer. Suddenly he came upon these words: “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few.” “Ah!” he said, “I have found a verse written expressly for me. God will accept the few words I can utter; now I will trust and not be afraid.” If no man is heard for his much speaking, no man is rejected for his little speaking--if compressed into that little be the earnestness of his heart. (Signal.)

Prayer in perplexity

A little child, playing with a handful of cords, when they begin to get into a tangle, goes at once to her mother, that her patient fingers may unravel the snarl. How much better this than to pull and tug at the cords till the tangle becomes inextricable I May not many of us learn a lesson from the little child? Would it not be better for us, whenever we find the slightest entanglement in any of our affairs, or the arising of any perplexity, to take it at once to God, that His skilful hands may set it right?

Prayer heard in heaven

Ejaculatory prayer is like the rope of a belfry; the bell is in one room, and the end of the rope which sets it a-ringing in another. Perhaps the bell may not be heard in the apartment where the rope is, but it is heard in its own apartment. Moses laid hold of the rope and pulled it hard on the shore of the Red Sea; and though no one heard or knew anything about it in the lower chamber, the bell rang loudly in the upper one. (Williams of Wern.)

The swiftness of prayer

We may, if we please, have a mail to heaven, conveying in a moment intelligence of our condition and concerns, our wants and our desires, to our God and Father, and bringing back to us a gracious answer, with advice and comfort, protection and help. Prayer is the swift courier, and sighs are the winged messengers. Doves have been trained to fly from place to place, carrying letters in a little casket fastened to their neck or foot. They are swift of flight; but our prayers and sighs are swifter, for they take but a moment to pass from earth to heaven, and bear the troubles of our heart to the heart of God. (R. Scriver.)

Ejaculatory prayer possible to busy people

The following extract is from a letter addressed by a poor woman to the editor of the Banner of Faith: “Poor women with large families often think they have little time for prayer or praise. As I am a poor woman with a large family, and know the value of prayer and praise, I will tell them how I find time for it. Whilst I am cleaning the house I lift my heart to God and say, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, for Christ’s sake. Amen.’ When I am washing the clothes I say, ‘Wash me in Thy blood, O Jesus; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ Then as I get to each of my children’s clothes I pray for them separately, not aloud, but in my heart. Again, if I pick up the shirt of one who drinks, I ask God to change his heart, to show him his state in God’s sight, and to help him to give up drink and become a sober, godly youth. If I am washing the shirt of another who has a horrid temper, that is a terror to us all, I pray to God to break his stubborn temper, to soften his heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh. If I am washing anything belonging to a girl who is idle, then I pray God to show her her sin, and change her whole nature, by the Holy Spirit. Yes, I pray for each as I know their need. Then when I am sewing I find lots of time both for prayer and praise. When I light or mend the fire, I say in my heart, ‘Kindle, O Lord, a sacred fire in this cold heart of mine.’“ (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)


Verse 5

Nehemiah 2:5

If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour.

The man of business

Such a man was Nehemiah. His strong practical sagacity is manifest throughout the whole record of his work in Jerusalem. And in his case this business ability was blended with enthusiasm. It is by such men--men combining practical sagacity with noble impulse--that the best work of the world is done. Sometimes we find men of enthusiastic zeal or true piety who have little or no business faculty, who are deficient in powers of observation and management, who lack the tough energy of perseverance, who perhaps scorn tact and prudence, and who have little capability of adapting means to ends. Such men are apt to become either crotchety or fanatical; they waste both time and strength on impracticable schemes; they may have noble aims, but they seek to carry them out by unwise methods; they damage the cause which they have at heart by their own blundering; they isolate themselves from those with whom they ought to work, and alienate those whom they ought to conciliate; they grow impatient of their imperfect instruments and agents; and, failing to realise the best conceivable, they become careless as to realising the best practicable. And, on the other hand, we find men of shrewd sagacity and business ability, of keen observation and ready tact, who lack all the higher inspiration of noble and generous impulse; who are deficient in imagination, affection, and piety; who have no real enthusiasm even in their business; and who carry on their practical work with the successful persistency of a cold, clever, and calculating selfishness. A man of this type might have gone to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem if he had been well paid for the work, and if he had received money with which to hire the labour of the builders; but he would never have gone, like Nehemiah, impelled by the fervours of a pious patriotism, nor could he have roused the people, as Nehemiah did, to voluntary effort and sacrifice. The practical business faculty is a gift of no mean order; but, like all other gifts, it ought to be devoted to the service of God. If a man possesses energy, persistency, tact, quickness in forecasting necessities and results, skill in adapting means to ends, he ought not to regard these powers as mere instruments for the promotion of his own selfish objects. These faculties are part of himself, and he is himself called to live as a servant of God. Then, again, the exclusive development of mere business faculty is attended with the utmost danger. It is, indeed, a faculty for which we may well thank God; but there are other powers of our nature-some of them higher and more important--which ought also to be exercised. The whole spiritual side of our being, looking out on God, on righteousness, and on eternity, calls for cultivation. Nor ought we to neglect the affections and emotions of the heart. Even the culture of the imagination is not to be despised; it furnishes a healthy counterpoise where the practical faculty is keen and strong. If there be no exercise of the imagination, no deepening of the affections, no quickening of the conscience and the spiritual nature, then a man’s practical sagacity may only tend to make him a hard-headed and hardhearted worldling. His tact will be constantly degenerating into mere manoeuvre, finesse, and deceit. His power of managing men will lead him to deal with them as tools. He may thus “get on” in the world, as some people count getting on; he may perhaps gather wealth, and leave it behind him to his heirs. But his own nature will deteriorate; it will become narrow, stunted, and impoverished, and he will never do any of the best kind of work in the world, either for God or for mankind. By all means let a man cultivate practical sagacity; but let him take care to consecrate it to God, and to make it the handmaid of aims that shall be worthy of his spiritual nature. We want neither fanatics nor worldlings, neither unpractical dreamers nor mere selfish tacticians; we want men who, like Nehemiah, are open to the promptings of generous impulse and pure enthusiasm, and at the same time can carry out their projects with wise foresight, patient energy, and prudent self-control. (T. C. Finlayson.)

The mission of Nehemiah

The text harmonises with the historic truth that for every great work there must be an inspired leader. Every great revival has hinged upon the deeds of some one man. The success of Nehemiah depended upon three traits, which must be characteristic of every great leader in human affairs. A lack as to either one of the three would render his undertaking a failure.

I. His faith. There is nothing in this world more sublime than the man of faith, and there is no one more truly ridiculed. Faith, dissatisfied with the present, looks into futurity. The multitudes are content with to-day’s attainments. Nehemiah pondered upon the Jerusalem which should be. Plans, at the first, were indistinct. It seemed an impossibility. His were the words of faith and not of sight: “The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build.”

II. His sagacity. Faith incites to the purest wisdom. The intellect of man is made to be the servant his faith. His faith was reasonable, yet, after it had become most perfect, in order to attain its object he was compelled to reason out each step of the way. Thus is it many a man works out his prayers. Artaxerxes had chosen a sagacious man for his cup-bearer, and Jehovah said Artaxerxes had chosen wisely. Jehovah needed not only a man of faith, but a shrewd man, to restore Jerusalem to its former greatness.

III. His courage. Grant him to have been a man of strongest faith, and of shrewdest mind to reason out the successive steps, yet without courage to take each step, he had failed after all. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Nehemiah before Artaxerxes

And now it was that the man of piety appeared in the man of patriotism; and admirably does Nehemiah stand forth as an example to those who profess to have at heart their country’s good, and to be stricken by its calamities. He did not immediately call a meeting of the Jews, to consult what might be done for their afflicted countrymen. He did not gather round him a knot of politicians, that plans might be discussed, and assistance levied. But Nehemiah “sat down, and wept.” But Nehemiah did not count his part done when he had thus, in all humility, confessed the sins of his nation, and entreated the interference of God. He was not one of those who substitute prayer for endeavour, though he would not make an endeavour until he had prepared himself by prayer. Fortified through humiliation and supplication, he now sought to take advantage of his position with the king, and, true patriot as he was, to render that position useful to his countrymen. Nehemiah was sore afraid when Artaxerxes, struck with the sorrow depicted on his features, imperiously asked the cause of the too evident grief. It was the moment for which he had wished, yea, for which he had prayed, yet, now that it had come, he felt so deeply what consequences hung upon a word, that he was almost unmanned, and could scarce venture to unburden his heart. The facts are these: the first, that it was as the city of his fathers’ sepulchres that Jerusalem excited the solicitude of Nehemiah the second, that Nehemiah found a moment before answering the king to offer petition to the Almighty. Now Jerusalem had not yet received its most illustrious distinction, forasmuch as “the fulness of time” had not arrived, and therefore there had not yet been transacted within her circuits the wondrous scenes of the redemption of the world. Nevertheless, to every man, especially to a devout Jew, there were already reasons in abundance why thought should turn to Jerusalem, and centre there as on a place of peculiar sanctity and interest. There had a temple been reared, “magnifical” beyond what earth beforetime had seen, rich with the marble and the gold, but richer in the visible tokens of the presence of the universal Lord. There had sacrifices been continually offered, whose efficacy was manifest even to those who discerned not their typical import, forasmuch as at times they prevailed to the arrest of temporal visitations, and pestilence was dispersed by the smoke of the oblation. There had monarchs reigned of singular and wide-spread renown. Hence, it might easily have been accounted for why Nehemiah should have looked with thrilling interest to Jerusalem. But the observable thing is, that Nehemiah fixes not on any of these obvious reasons when he would explain, or account for, his interest in Jerusalem. Before he offered his silent prayer to God, and afterwards, when he might be supposed to have received fresh wisdom from above, he spake of the city merely as the place of the sepulchres of his fathers, as though no stronger reason could be given why he should wish to rebuild it; none, at least, whose force was more felt by himself, or more likely to be confessed by the king. The language of Nehemiah is too express and too personal to allow of our supposing that he adopted it merely from thinking that it would prevail with Artaxerxes. If we may argue from the expressions of Nehemiah, then, it is a melancholy sight--that of a ruined town, a shattered navy, or a country laid waste by famine and war; but there is s more melancholy sight too, that of a churchyard, where sleeps the dust of our kindred, desecrated and destroyed, whether by violence or neglect. There is something so ungenerous in forgetfulness or contempt of the dead--they cannot speak for themselves; they so seem, in dying, to bequeath their dust to survivors, as though they would give affection something to cherish, and some kind office still to perform. We do not, however, suppose that the strong marks of respect for the dead, which occur so frequently in the Bible, are to be thoroughly accounted for by the workings of human feelings and affections. We must have recourse to the great doctrine of the resurrection of the body if we would fully understand why the dying Joseph “gave commandment concerning his bones,” and Nehemiah offered no description of Jerusalem, but that it was the place of the sepulchres of his fathers. The doctrine of the resurrection throws, as you must all admit, a sacredness round the remains of the dead, because it proves, that, though we have committed the body to the ground, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” that body is reserved for noble allotments, destined to reappear in a loftier scene, and discharge more glorious functions. Then the well-kept churchyard, with its various monuments, each inscribed with lines not more laudatory of the past than hopeful of the future, what is it but the public testimony, to all that is precious in Christianity, forasmuch as it is the public testimony that the dead shall live again? We are now to detach our minds from Nehemiah pleading for his fathers’ sepulchres, and fix them upon Nehemiah addressing himself to God in ejaculatory prayer. Under how practical and comforting a point of view does this place the truth of the omnipresence of God. Yet, with all its mysteriousness, this is no merely sublime but barren speculation, no subject to exercise the mind rather than benefit the heart. It should minister wondrously to our comfort, to know that, whether we can explain it or not, we are always, so to speak, in contact with God; so that in the crowd and in the solitude, in the retirement of the closet, the bustle of business, and the privacies of home, by day and by night, He is alike close at hand, near enough for every whisper, and plenteous enough for every want. It is not so with a human patron or friend, who, whatever be his power, and his desire to use it on our behalf, cannot always be with us, to observe each necessity, and appoint each supply. It is not indispensable that there should be outward prostration and set supplication. The heart has but to breathe its desire, and God is acquainted with it so soon as formed, and may grant it, if He will, before the tongue could have given it utterance. The man of business, he need not enter on a single undertaking without prayer; the mariner, he need not unfurl a sail without prayer; the traveller, he need not face a danger without prayer; the statesman, he need not engage in a debate without prayer; the invalid, he need not try a remedy without prayer; the accused, he need not meet an accuser without prayer. We may hallow and enlighten everything by prayer, though we seem, and are, engaged from morning to night with secular business, and thronged by eager adherents. We cannot be in a difficulty for which we have not time to ask guidance, in a peril so sudden that we cannot find a guardian, in a spot so remote that we may not people it with supporters. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres.

The place of my fathers’ sepulchres

Any reference to the history of the fame and power of the city of God might have inflamed the jealousy of the Persian king, and fixed his resolution to leave it in its present ruin. But the human heart naturally softens into tenderness at the graves of the dead. Hence the consummate skill and delicacy with which Nehemiah frames his plea for sorrow. (W. Ritchie.)

Wise musings

Men love to think of the honour of their fathers’ titles, or of the grandeur of their fathers’ habitations. It is wise in us to muse sometimes on the place of our fathers’ sepulchres. The graves where they lie are mementoes whither we must follow them, and from their tomb they call us to prepare for entering the narrow house appointed, for all living. (W. Ritchie.)

God always helps His faithful witnesses

In these touching and powerful words we remark the almighty aid God gives His servants in pleading for, and bearing witness to, His cause. He gives Nehemiah mouth and wisdom in this trying hour. It has been so with all faithful witnesses for God in every age. It was so with Luther at the Diet of Worms. (W. Ritchie.)


Verse 7

Nehemiah 2:7

If it please the king, let letters be given me.

Religious prudence

I. That prudent forethought is essential to success in spiritual as in secular enterprises (Psalms 112:5; Proverbs 11:29; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 14:15; Luke 14:28).

II. That prudent forethought is not opposed, but helpful, to spiritual faith.

1. It furnishes a rational basis for expecting success.

2. It acts upon the supposition that mental powers were given to be employed in the service of God.

3. It takes no step without seeking Divine guidance and approval. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Common sense in religious work

When we go about the Lord’s work, we must not leave our wits behind us, or forget the principles of business and the rules of daily life. Neither should we ignore difficulties or suppose that they will disappear before some miracle-working power. Although depending solely on the Lord, we need not denude ourselves of judgment and common sense. (W. P. Lockhart.)

Prayer and common sense

So I stood and “prayed unto the God of heaven--then I asked the king to give me letters.” This is the true model of prayer to pray to the King of kings and then to accept the ordinary appointments of life; to invoke Omnipotence, and then to use your senses. Have you been praying? Did you sit in your chair and pray that you might be able at the end of the week to make both ends meet, and then fall asleep until the time came, and wake up to find that both ends did not meet? That was not prayer at all. I will pray God to help me to pay every debt I owe, to overcome every difficulty in my way. Now, having said my prayer, let me go out and do it. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 8

Nehemiah 2:8

And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon us.

The power of God in the individual Christian

The secret of success is to have God with us, and what we want in our day is not more machinery or new methods of work, but more of the power of God in individual Christians. Nehemiah, in his prolonged prayerfulness, shows us how this power is to be obtained, for it is when we know God in His fulness and have enlightened communion with the Lord, that we are fitted to become “workers together with Him.” (W. P. Lockhart.)

God’s hand

I. A spirit of dependence. There breathes forth a feeling of insignificance. The speaker feels scarcely able to trust himself.

1. Man’s technical skill. Having arrived at so high a standard in design, construction, and art, we are very apt to think very highly of ourselves. We gaze on the railway, the steam-engine, the ocean-steamer, the tunnel under the hills, and the canal through the land, and fancy we can do anything.

2. Man’s natural conceit. There is a great tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Satan employs this tendency to induce man to lift up his hand against God.

II. A spirit of trust. This spirit of reliance will save us from many trials. It will prevent--

1. Anxious care. If we leave our concerns in God’s hand, we shall not be careful and cumbered about many things. It will prevent--

2. Worldly-mindedness of disposition. The spirit that leaves its cares in God’s hand will leave its joys there also.

3. All bitterness of sorrow. (Homilist.)

The recognition of God

He recognised God in all. Not to his favourable circumstances, nor to the opportunity of presenting his petition, nor to the good mood the monarch was in, nor to all of these combined, did he ascribe his success. Secondary causes would not explain the result; it must be traced to its true source--God and God alone must have all the glory. (W. P. Lockhart.)


Verses 9-20

Nehemiah 2:9-20

Then I came to the governors beyond the river.

The initial stages of a great reformation

Great reformations often have an insignificant commencement and are slow in developing their true proportions. Reformation work--

I. Requires a vigorous leader.

II. Should not be undertaken without a deliberate estimate of its magnitude and difficulty.

III. In its initial stages is almost certain to provoke opposition.

IV. Cannot be carried on without mutual co-operation.

V. Cannot succeed without the divine blessing. (Homiletic Commentary.)

And gave them the king’s letters.

The king’s letters

Here is a beautiful picture of the Christian evangelist. When he goes abroad he has no introduction of himself to make--he simply delivers the King’s letters. When the preacher appears in the pulpit, all he has to do is to give the people the King’s letters; when the student bends his head over his desk in the study, it is only that he may study what is written in the letters of the King. The moment we begin to write letters of commendation for ourselves, we become as other men; our distinctiveness as ambassadors is lost. The King’s letters are full of light and love. They are addressed to every man. (J. Parker, D. D.)

When Sanballat the Horonite . . . it grieved them exceedingly.--

Secret jealousy

There is jealousy--

I. Tyrannical in its spirit.

II. Anti-religious in its attitude.

III. Covetously selfish in its motives.

IV. Self-torturing in its effects. (Homiletic Commentary.)


Verses 9-20

Nehemiah 2:9-20

Then I came to the governors beyond the river.

The initial stages of a great reformation

Great reformations often have an insignificant commencement and are slow in developing their true proportions. Reformation work--

I. Requires a vigorous leader.

II. Should not be undertaken without a deliberate estimate of its magnitude and difficulty.

III. In its initial stages is almost certain to provoke opposition.

IV. Cannot be carried on without mutual co-operation.

V. Cannot succeed without the divine blessing. (Homiletic Commentary.)

And gave them the king’s letters.

The king’s letters

Here is a beautiful picture of the Christian evangelist. When he goes abroad he has no introduction of himself to make--he simply delivers the King’s letters. When the preacher appears in the pulpit, all he has to do is to give the people the King’s letters; when the student bends his head over his desk in the study, it is only that he may study what is written in the letters of the King. The moment we begin to write letters of commendation for ourselves, we become as other men; our distinctiveness as ambassadors is lost. The King’s letters are full of light and love. They are addressed to every man. (J. Parker, D. D.)

When Sanballat the Horonite . . . it grieved them exceedingly.--

Secret jealousy

There is jealousy--

I. Tyrannical in its spirit.

II. Anti-religious in its attitude.

III. Covetously selfish in its motives.

IV. Self-torturing in its effects. (Homiletic Commentary.)


Verse 10

Verse 11

Nehemiah 2:11

So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

Days of quiet

Some workers of the present day would have sent round the bellman and summoned the leading inhabitants to a preliminary convention within half an hour of their arrival; but there was no such unbelieving hurry-scurry with Nehemiah, and therefore three days were allowed to elapse. It was necessary to recover from the fatigue of the journey. He who is the God of our bodies as well as of our souls knows full well the limit of our powers, and would not have us outrage physical laws, even in seeking to do Him honour. These three days may have been needful also for further prayer and waiting upon God. It may have been also that God would not have him begin work under mere natural impulse or human excitement. Hence the need of three days of quiet. Men under excitement can do wonderful things, whether in storming a redoubt or in conducting what in modem times is called a “mission”; but God does not want His work done under excitement. Calm and quiet of soul are more favourable to that true reliance upon Him which gives Him all the glory and seeks none for ourselves. (W. P. Lockhart.)

The wisdom of waiting

This interval would no doubt be occupied in reflecting on the difficulties of his enterprise--in maturing his course of procedure. Besides, he was probably in doubt how to proceed, till God revealed to him His will; and for this he needed to make his requests known to Him in prayer. This is ever the discipline of a religious life. A pious writer remarks, “I need just as much patience to wait as the lamp needs oil, till the day break, and the shadows flee away.” (W. Ritchie.)

Preparatory retirement

God’s servants frequently thus retired for deliberation before entering upon arduous tasks. Moses, Paul, Christ Himself. Nehemiah’s retirement--

I. Gave him time to look round.

II. Gave him time to look forward.

III. Gave him time to look within.

IV. Gave him time to look upward. (Homiletic Commentary.)


Verses 12-20

Nehemiah 2:12-20

And I arose in the night.

Nehemiah, the model worker

I. He works thoughtfully. Before he commences this tremendous task he spends some time in deliberation. Who can tell the thoughts of Nehemiah as he moved amidst the ruins of Jerusalem this night? Jerusalem was the home of his fathers, the centre of his most hallowed associations. Before we undertake a work we should gauge its magnitude and become convinced of its practicability (Luke 14:28-30). Men, from the impulse of the hour, put their hand to undertakings which they have never given themselves time to understand, and for which they are not fitted; and hence, when the excitement is over, they abandon the work in disappointment, if not in disgust.

II. He works independently. “I arose in the night, I and some few men with me, neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.” It is not thus that we are wont to act in this age. There are but few men who would take up any great work, and set about it themselves, without seeking the sympathy and counsel of their fellow-men. If we have some work which presses on us as a duty of general importance, almost the first thing we do is to call our friends together, get their sanction, and form a committee to aid us in carrying it out. We, in these days, work by organisations. Our individuality in work is scarcely seen or felt. We are the limbs of societies, wheels in organisations. What we want is more individualism in action, more of the independent man, and less of the society. Two things will show the importance of this.

1. The opinions of others cannot determine our duty. Duty is between us and God. It is something that is perfectly independent of men’s thoughts.

2. The opinions of others may embarrass us in duty. Duty generally comes to us in very legible writing, wants no interpreter, speaks to us in a very distinct voice. Amid the din of human opinion there is danger of its losing its voice. Let us, therefore, cultivate the habit of acting independently; not proudly, not despising the opinions of others, or refusing their co-operation, but working ever from the force of our own convictions.

III. He worked influentially. The next chapter shows that, under his influence, all classes, male and female, set to work in right earnest.

1. The people saw that he understood the matter. They recognised in him at once a man who knew what he was about, a man of intellectual grasp and might.

2. The people saw that he was thoroughly in earnest. What he said he meant.

IV. He worked heroically.

1. Look at the sacrifices he made.

2. Look at the enemies he encountered. He had, at least, three desperate enemies (verse 19)--Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men showed their opposition--

3. The labour he effected. He finished the work in fifty-two days, notwithstanding all the difficulties that seemed insurmountable. He overcame the enemies who were malignant, he triumphed over all.

V. He worked religiously. “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was upon me,” etc. (verses 18-20).

1. His impulses to act he ascribed to God.

2. His rule of action he derived from Him (verse 18).

3. His sacrifices in the work he made for Him (Nehemiah 5:15).

4. The spirit with which he performed his work was that of dependence upon Him (Nehemiah 4:9-12).

This religion is the philosophy of his power. He felt himself the messenger and the servant of God. (Homilist.)

Preparation before work

We often undertake one thing and another, both in our spiritual and temporal life, without preparation; and for the want of this, failure ensues. Before Dr. Nansen, the Norwegian, started on his Polar expedition, he slept under his silk tent for the double purpose of testing it and acclimatising himself. Other members of the expedition slept in the open air covered with the wolf-skins they were taking out with them. A very famous writer, in order to secure as good a description of a thunderstorm as possible, took up his position during six such storms on the top of a cathedral tower, getting himself drenched to the skin each time. It is not only the doing of a thing, but the preparation for doing it, which in many cases issues in success. No time spent in preparation for what is worth doing is lost. (Signal.)

Purposes not to be prematurely divulged

The purposes of ruling spirits are sometimes so grand and daring in their character as to be incapable of deriving support from other minds; and were they to be prematurely divulged, they would be ruined in their execution. Lord Clive was wont to say that he never called a council of war but once, and if he had acted on the advice given, the battle of Plessey would not have been fought, and India would have been lost to the British Empire. (W. Ritchie.)

A time for silence

Learn--Good intentions are best kept secret.

I. Until they are ascertained to be practicable.

II. Until they can be carried out with decisive energy.

III. From those who are likely to oppose them.

IV. Until the co-operation essential to success can re relied on. (Homiletic Commentary.)

The Divine visit to the soul

In this visit of generous sorrow to a scene of temple desolation we are reminded of the first approach of the Holy Spirit in mercy to our ruined souls. (W. Ritchie.)

Personal exploration

Take your own measure of the destitution of the world. Every Christian man should go about in the world, so far As he is able to do so, by the aid of reports--to take his own measure of the situation--steal out by night and see what the devil has done with this human nature of ours, and he should say, “God helping me, I will do my utmost to undo this mischief and to repair the shattered house of the Lord.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

The midnight horseman

I. My subject impresses me with the idea what an intense thing is attachment to the house of god. It is through the spectacles of this scene that we discover the ardent attachment of Nehemiah for that sacred Jerusalem which in all ages has been the type of the Church of God, our Jerusalem, which we love just as much as Nehemiah loved his Jerusalem. What Jerusalem was to Nehemiah the house of God is to you. Infidels may scoff at the Church as an obsolete affair, as a relic of the dark ages, as a convention of goody-goody people, but all the impression they have ever made on your mind against the Church of God is absolutely nothing. You would make more sacrifices for it to-day than for any other institution, and if it were needful, you would die in its defence.

II. The ruins must be explored before the work of reconstruction can begin. The reason that so many people in this day, apparently converted, do not remain converted, is because they did not first explore the ruin of their own heart. There was a superstructure of religion built on a substratum of unrepented sins. The trouble with a good deal of modern theology is that, instead of building on the right foundation, it builds on debris of an unregenerated nature. They attempt to rebuild Jerusalem before, in the midnight of conviction, they have seen the ghastliness of the ruin. A dentist said to me a few days ago, “Does that hurt?” I replied, “Of course it hurts. It is in your business as in my profession--we have to hurt before we can help; we have to explore and dig away before we can put in the gold.” You will never understand redemption until you understand ruin. A man comes to me to talk about religion. The first question I ask him is, “Do you feel yourself to be a sinner?” If he says, “Well, I--yes,” the hesitancy makes me feel that the man wants a ride on Nehemiah’s horse by midnight through the ruins--in at the gate of his affections, out at the gate of his will, by the dragon well; and before he has got through with that midnight ride he will drop the reins on the horse’s neck, and he will take his right hand and smite on his heart, and say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

III. My subject gives me a specimen of busy and triumphant sadness. If there was any man in the world who had a right to mope and give up everything as lost, it was Nehemiah. You say, “He was a cupbearer in the palace of Shushan, and it was a grand place.” So it was. But you know very well that fine architecture will not put down home-sickness. Although he had a grief so intense that it excited the commiseration of the king, yet he rouses himself up to rebuild the city. He gets his permission of absence; he gets his passports, he hastens away to Jerusalem. By night he rides through the ruins; he arouses the piety and patriotism of the people, and in less than two months Jerusalem was rebuilt. That’s what I call busy and triumphant sadness. The whole temptation is with you, when you have trouble, to do just the opposite to the behaviour of Nehemiah, and that is to give up. You say, “I have lost my child, and can never smile again.” You say, “I have lost my property, and I can never repair my fortunes.” You say, “I have fallen into sin, and I can never start again for a new life.” If Satan can make you form that resolution, and make you keep it, he has ruined you. Trouble is not sent to crush you, but to arouse you, to animate you, to propel you. Oh, that the Lord God of Nehemiah would arouse up all broken-hearted people to rebuild. Whipped, betrayed, shipwrecked, imprisoned, Paul went right on. I knew a mother who buried her babe on Friday, and on the Sabbath appeared in the house of God, and said, “Give me a class; give me a Sabbath-school class. I have no child now left me, and I would like to have a class of little children. Give me really poor children. Give me a class off the back street.” That is beautiful. That is triumphant sadness. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

An inspiration for workers

It was like the magic horn that awoke the inmates of the enchanted castle. The spell was broken. The torpor of the Jews gave place to hope and energy. Nehemiah brought with him no new labourers; but he brought what was better, the one essential requisite for every great enterprise--an inspiration. This is the one supreme need at present. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Nehemiah’s appeal

I. The appeal to the inhabitants of jerusalem. The distress under which the city was then groaning was the result--

1. Of the opposition of enemies.

2. The indifference of friends.

II. The invitation in connection with the appeal. It was an invitation--

1. To laborious and self-denying exertion.

2. To immediate exertion.

3. To individual, to combined, to persevering exertion.

III. The considerations by which the invitation is enforced.

1. He appeals to their sense of shame.

2. He notices the encouragement which was afforded them by God.

3. He appeals to the encouraging circumstances of the times.

IV. The effect which all this had upon the minds of the people.

1. It raised their enthusiasm.

2. It led them to exertion.

3. It led to mutual excitement and cooperation.

4. It led to final success. (W. Orme.)

The call to build

I. A type of all God’s true repairers. Think of our English Church alone, Ridley at Cambridge, musing in his walks over St. Paul’s Epistles; Wesley in days when our pulpits were too much filled with “apes of Epictetus,” brooding over the gospel of grace and the sweetness of the name of Jesus; Simeon, maturing the views which stirred so many stagnant parishes, and gave a fresh spring to missionary work; in the last few years Aitken, often spending six hours in prayer within his church upon the Cornish cliff, and then going out with his soul on fire to speak to sinners of redeeming love--what are these and many others but Christian Nehemiahs? Such men began with prayer their survey in solitude and silence of the wall which was broken down. They ended by crying with a voice that went forth with the winds, and entered with the power of God into hundreds of spirits--“Come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem.”

II. Lessons for all such repairers.

1. The builders worked under arms. Those who at this crisis would do a real work of spiritual restoration in the English Church, must “every one have his sword girded by his side,” and “so build.” Those who seek three great ends--a more reverent worship, a ministry fuller of individual consolation, and a tenderer devotion--must, even while they build, be equipped and vigilant against a hostile influence.

(a) We are often told that we must have among us habitual private confession, and absolution, and systematic spiritual guidance. I hold with Mason, who says, “We have not only a public absolution in our Church, but a private one also, for there are many who want particular comfort. And therefore we use a private absolution in the visitation of the sick, and so often as the broken hearts and wounded consciences of particular persons do require it.” But if any desire to go further--to change confession from a medicine for the morbid into a good for all--they are aiming at that which the genius of Teutonic Christianity, the character of the English people, and of the English Reformation, render an impossibility.

(b) A second point, in which our builders need to wear the sword while they repair the wall, concerns the form of the devotions which they may introduce or recommend. Let me instance that of which so much has lately been heard--the worship of the Sacred Heart.

2. The builders worked under the harmonious co-operation of priesthood and laity. Ezra and Nehemiah combined in the restoration. (Abp. Alexander.)

A desolate city

A desolate city tells a tale of past greatness, past resources, past life. Who can look upon the nations of China and India and not mourn over their moral and spiritual desolation? There are God’s gifts in abundance, but superstition reigns supreme. The teeming millions are in a state of moral ruin. Shall we not feel compassion for them? Let us arise and restore the breaches made by sin, Satan, and superstition. (J. M. Randall.)

The ruins of Jerusalem

Nehemiah is for us an example. Like him, we would build again the walls of Jerusalem.

I. Let us see is what way our situation recalls to us the times of Nehemiah.

1. Jerusalem, for us, is the Church. I use the word in the wide and yet exact sense that the Scripture does. The Church, according to the expression of Paul, is the spiritual house of God, built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone. The Church, according to the expression of Peter, is that building to which we ought to belong as living stones in order to be a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. The Church is that family whose members are known to God alone; it is that great city of souls of which our various Churches are but imperfect realisations. If the house in which we have grown up is dear to us above all, what then will be the Church, especially when it has transmitted to us with the treasures of the gospel examples of heroic fidelity? Let us then love the Church we belong to--love it more than others; it is our right, it is our duty; but above this, let us maintain the grand reality which is called the universal Church, and which must be to us an object of faith.

2. “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down,” said the fugitives to Nehemiah. Is not this the message that many voices bring to us to-day from all parts of Christendom? The Protestant Church has been surprised. Protected heretofore by the rampart of the authority of the Scriptures which the Reformation had built up, and behind which, no doubt, were sheltered many intestine struggles, it was unanimous in rushing to the breach when it was necessary to defend its liberty against Catholicism, its faith in the God of revelation against infidelity. To-day that rampart has been forced; criticism has penetrated into the place like a vast and impetuous torrent. The authenticity of the sacred books, facts, and doctrines, all have been shaken; and, after having denied the reality of a supernatural revelation, it sees itself outstripped by a philosophy which, enlarging the breach which it has forced open, destroys even the religious sentiment itself, well knowing that nothing will have been accomplished so long as the voice within the recesses of the human soul, which calls for succour and pardon from the living God, has not been stifled.

II. Let us now see what his example ought to teach us. Notice--

1. His sorrow. Do you understand such sorrow as Nehemiah’s? Do you know what it is to groan as he did over the desolation of Jerusalem? Our age has signalised sorrow; its poets have sung of the secret melancholy of the soul with a vivid emotion; but in the sadness which inspects itself, which analyses itself with complacent curiosity, which exhibits itself to the world, what egotism is there, what bitter pride or trivial vanity! How rare is sorrow for the cause of God. Curious about everything, even of evil, diverted by everything, distracted from the one thing needful, we are hardly able to comprehend the sorrow of an Elijah making lament over erring Israel, of a Nehemiah shedding heartfelt tears over the ruins of Jerusalem, or a Paul full of holy bitterness in the presence of Athenian idolatry, of a Calvin consumed with sadness at the sight of the persecuted Churches.

2. His spirit of sacrifice. Nehemiah does more than lament. He acts, and to act he knows how to sacrifice all. To the peace which he enjoys he prefers the dangers of a struggle without a truce; to the brilliant future which awaits him, the reproach of his people. It is this spirit which always distinguishes those who wish to serve God here below. In every age they must be separated from the world. I have seen, in another denomination, young men and maidens, at the age when life promised them its enchantments, giving all up, even their very name, putting on the serge or the cassock, and for ever enlisting themselves in the service of the poor, in school or hospital. We like an easy religion. They alone are able and worthy to raise the walls of Jerusalem who, as Nehemiah, will know how to sacrifice all for God.

3. His earnestness in the work he has undertaken. Notice here the greatness of his faith, as measured by the paucity of his resources and by the vast obstacles which he encounters: Possibly more than one person in this assembly has felt his zeal paralysed by the spectacle of the Church, by the smallness of our resources compared with the vastness of the obstacles! You also, like Nehemiah, have passed dark nights in which you have reviewed one after another all the ruins which our century piles up. Old beliefs, holy, venerated traditions, which mingle in a far-off recollection with the prayers of the cradle, scouted, abandoned to the derision of the multitude! Have you not seen in those souls which are dear to you the hopes and consolations of the gospel wear away one by one? Have you not heard from lips which once prayed as yours the cold denials of a pitiless criticism? Once they heard, when beholding the skies, the song of worlds praising their creator God; now they catch nothing more than the inevitable evolution of an eternal mechanism. Once it was Providence, without whose permission not a sparrow falls to the ground, and who counts our tears; now it is man, who stands solitary in face of the cold immensities of space, where God is no more. Alas! before such ruins I understand how the heart shudders. But it is the very magnificence of these ruins that fills us with hope. Between the living God of Christianity and the nullity of fatalism there is nothing which remains standing; not one system which keeps together even sufficient stones to build a piece of wall or a shelter. Now humanity does not live upon nothing. It sins, it suffers, it dies; it has need of pardon, of consolation, of hope; and if, before those supreme questions which we can shun to-day, but which will return to-morrow, science must confess its entire ignorance; if, to the spirit which has a thirst for the absolute, to the heart which has a thirst for love, to the conscience which has a thirst for righteousness, it replies, “Leave those reveries; I acknowledge nothing but what I touch and what I see”; if such are its latest words, as we are given to understand, humanity must go away elsewhere to seek for repose, peace, certitude, May it then find opened before it the Jerusalem of the living God I Come then, I say to you, come, and let us raise again the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. To the work, in days of difficulty; to the work, notwithstanding the want of success. “O God,” said a great Christian, “success is Thine affair; as for me, give me obedience.” (E. Bersier, D. D.)

And they said, Let us rise up and build.--

Prepared hearts

There are moments when human hearts are so prepared by God that great truths require only to be addressed to them to meet an immediate reception. They are as the paper made ready by the photographer for receiving the impress of a likeness; the object has only to be presented before it in a proper light, when it takes on its exact image. It was so in this instance with these men of Judah. They readily responded to Nehemiah’s appeal. (W. Ritchie.)

Enthusiasm

The power of enthusiasm, the worth of an enthusiastic man, is the lesson here impressed upon our minds.

1. Nehemiah comes all on fire for his undertaking. He is not only enthusiastic, but wise. Enthusiasm without forethought is blind force. It is like the ocean foaming away its power in battle with an iron-bound coast. United with prudence it is like the stream of a broad, deep river fertilising the soil, bearing on its breast the ships of merchants, giving an impulse to industry, to enterprise, and to the spirit of adventure and discovery.

2. Christianity is a feeble power if it is not enthusiastic. It is the amazing spectacle of the great Redeemer of the world laying clown His life for the world which has created the Church, and which is the life and energy of her every message and mission.

3. Enthusiasm is the need of the Church of God. Hearts with fire, souls with passion glowing within them. Before such men the mountain becomes a plain, the rough places smooth, the impossible possible. It is humanity’s true cleansing stream and motive power. The enthusiasm of Christ is for us all the safeguard of conduct, the mightiest inspiration to a holy and useful life. (A. J. Griffith.)

Leaders wanted

Often what people are waiting for is simply a leader--a man of courage, energy, and hopefulness, who can stimulate their zeal by the contagion of his own, and who, at the same time, has practical ability to marshal their powers and to organise and direct their resources. Such a man was Nehemiah. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)

The strength of unity -

I. Consists in its power to protect individual workers against discouragement.

1. Isolated workers are always liable to depression.

2. Mutual sympathy and conference relieve mental strain, and renew exhausted energy.

II. Consists in its power of resisting. Combined opposition from without.

III. Consists in its power to cope with the inherent difficulties of the work, which otherwise would be insurmountable. (Homiletic Commentary.)

The rebuilding of Jerusalem

I remember a saying of Edward Irving’s which proved a guiding light to so great a man as Frederick Maurice, when he was in doubt and darkness. It was this: “The Old Testament is the dictionary of the New!” We can use the Old Testament reverently as such to-day, and may find the meaning and motive of modern service in this story of earlier days. Let us try to look, then, under the surface and see--

I. The nature of this work--the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

1. It was for religious ends that it was undertaken. Babylon and Shushan were noble cities; but the work of erecting others like them would not have inspired Nehemiah with this self-sacrificing fervour. Some cities are the creatures of commerce, and grow, as London grows, by the numbers who come to it for work or speculation; and then they decay, as many a city has done, because the highway to the sea gets closed up by the mass of matter poured down by the river and silted up by the tides. Other cities are planted by a conqueror for military purposes, to dominate some disaffected district, or to guard a threatened frontier--as Metz was fortified in modern days, and as most Roman towns were erected in our own country. But Jerusalem was not a military centre; it was on no great highway, and its site would have been ill chosen for commercial enterprise. That city was pre-eminently a sacred city, containing a temple whose ritual enshrined truths which the world could not have done without. If you read the subsequent history of this rebuilding you will see the uses to which the city was put directly it was safe against attack. And those were the purposes the builders contemplated. The law of God was read to the people by Ezra; the Feast of Tabernacles was kept, as it had not been for many a year; the Day of Atonement was solemnly observed; and the former covenant with Jehovah was renewed. And then righteous laws were enforced, and justice was done to all the people. This teaches us that all our undertakings, as God’s people--even though they are as material as building a city or enlarging a church--are to be begun and carried on with such ends in view.

2. Again, the good work these Jews had to do was amid the ruins of what had been noble. Every dislodged stone, every chiselled capital, every broken pillar, every charred fragment of carved woodwork was an evidence of the beauty and glory which had been. Ruins! we Christian workers see them everywhere. Heathen sacrifices and penances--what are these but the fragments, the dimly-remembered traditions, of a nobler faith? And inspiring utterances from the lips and pens of great thinkers, who doubt or deny the existence of God, are only the shattered columns which tell us of what has been given of God, though now marred by human folly. Aye, and in the Church are ruins of theological systems which once imperfectly set forth the Divine ideal, now broken up, not to be destroyed, but to be rebuilt in statelier and nobler forms. And, sadder far, we see around us ruins of manhood, ruins of womanhood, ruins of childhood, faces besotted by drink, bodies debased by impurity, living temples defiled and desecrated, till the very angels might weep over them. God help us to do a little upbuilding, and give us grace to this end to undertake the lowliest work.

3. Such labour is called for by God.

II. The advantages of such work.

1. Its tendency is to increase strength. I have seen some Churches ruined by rust, through lying by like a disused plough in fallow ground; but I never saw (or heard of) one broken down by overwork. So long as there is a spirit of enterprise, a longing to do greater things--not from a desire for self-glorification, but from a sincere wish to advance the cause of the Master--so long there is life, and life which becomes more abundant. Use develops and improves living things and living gifts always. There is more muscle in the ironworker than in the student; more keenness of sight in the Highland gillie than in the shopman; more intellectual power in the student than in the ploughman--because in each the gift has been developed by exercise. Let a Church transmute its feeling of love for the brethren into actual service for the poor, and its love will abound yet more and more.

2. Its tendency is to make more real fellowship among the workers.

III. The spirit in which all work for God should be undertaken.

1. In the spirit of earnestness. How seldom we pause to ask, “Is this the best I can do?” Is this “the most I can afford”? Nehemiah sacrificed ease and wealth, but our Lord sacrificed Himself; and in the presence of Christ’s Cross how poor our offerings and services seem! Yet men who do not profess what we do sometimes put us to shame. Did you read, in your newspaper, about that terrible accident at the Clifton Colliery, near Manchester, whereby about one hundred and fifty men and boys lost their lives? It seemed going down to certain death to descend the shaft; yet when there was a call for volunteers there was eager competition for the honour of risking life to save the men entombed below. And one of the men down there at the time--Thomas Worrall, the surviving underlooker--knocked to the ground by the force of the explosion, recovered consciousness only to devote himself to the guidance and the deliverance of the frightened men and lads about him; and when he reached the main shaft he sent up all the injured, and then the uninjured, himself remaining in danger till the last. In another part of the pit was a fireman, George Hickson, whose duty it was to manipulate the signals between the bottom of the shaft and the engine-house above. He stood there at the post of duty, refusing to leave, whatever happened; for he was the appointed means of communication between the rescuers up in light and those to be rescued down in darkness. We admire and praise the earnestness and devotion of such heroes in humble life; but should we not emulate them if we profess to be the disciples of Him who gave His life for the world? Standing as we do, like that poor collier, between the living and the dead, the mediators--holding God with the hand of faith, and holding man with the hand of love--let us realise our responsibility and be true to our duty.

2. In the spirit of hopefulness.

3. In the spirit of prayerfulness. (A. Rowland, LL. B. , B. A.)

They laughed us to scorn.--

Derision

A poor, godly man was the subject of much profane ridicule amongst his neighbours. On being asked if these persecutions did not sometimes make him ready to give up his profession of religion, he replied, “No. I recollect that our minister once said in his sermon, that if we were so foolish as to permit such people to laugh us out of our religion, till at last we dropped into hell, they could not laugh us out again.”

Fortified against derision

Admiral Colpoys relates that when he first left his lodgings to join his ship as a midshipman, his landlady presented him with a Bible and a guinea, saying, “God bless you, and prosper you my lad; and as long as you live never suffer yourself to be laughed out of your money or your prayers.” This advice he carefully followed through life.

Open derision

The sin of mocking--

I. Weakens every virtous restraint.

II. Strengthens vicious propensities.

III. Gives great advantage to your worst enemies.

IV. Exposes to peculiar marks of God’s displeasure (2 Kings 2:23).

V. Terminates in remediless woe (Isaiah 66:3-4; Proverbs 1:25-26). (J. Kidd.)

Ridicule confronted

There are some natures--and these by no means the most ignoble--that are peculiarly sensitive to ridicule. They could meet a blow better than a sneer, and would rather be persecuted than despised. If we hold certain views on political questions, let us, indeed, make sure that we are holding them on good grounds; but let us not give them up, or be ashamed of them, merely because we may be sneered at as being “behind the age.” There is an intellectual self-conceit which shelters its own ignorance behind the authority of great names, and all but exhausts its own shallow powers in flippant sarcasm and clever scorn. Or, again, if we take an interest in Christian missioner or try to teach a few children in a Sunday-school, or aim at lifting some of our companions into a more thoughtful life, let us not give up our endeavours merely because some Sanballat or Tobiah may jeer at us. If our work is one which the God of heaven is likely to smile upon and prosper, we can afford to despise all this foolish scorn. Or, again, if we are seeking to build up our own character into true godliness, let us learn to confront all ridicule with calmness. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)

The God of heaven, He will prosper us.--

Confidence in God an incentive to work

Because--

I. It suggests almighty protection.

II. It suggests providential direction.

III. It suggests divine benediction.

IV. It anticipates ultimate success. (Homiletic Commentary.)

Signs of prosperity

We are not called to build a wall; but to raise something more noble than that. We are called of God to go and search amongst the rubbish of our poor fallen humanity, and find our precious stones that shall be polished after the similitude of a palace. We are called to build a city of living stones that shall be a habitation of God through the Spirit. The times in which we are doing this are no whit better than they were in Nehemiah’s day. The men who scoffed in that day sent their spirit flitting through the ages, and in their children they scoff still. I hear them sneer, and say, “What are these poor people trying to do? Do they presume to tread upon our domain, and think of building on our ruins? Why, if a fox comes against their work it will fall.” Well, what is our answer? “The God of heaven, He will prosper us.”

I. Signs of prosperity.

1. A bold independence of the world.

2. A total dependence upon God.

3. A third sign of prosperity is the spirit and power of prayer in a Church. This is the great secret of her strength and success, and the power that moves all her machinery. My little child wants to know what makes the hands of my watch go round and tell me the time. I explain the power of the spring, and assure her that is the secret of the hands going round. I want to know the secret of so much prosperity in some Churches. I see it is there in abundance, and wonder if the secret is in the learning and eloquence of the preacher, or the wealth of the deacons, or the respectability of the congregation. I have found out the secret. There is a crowd of earnest men, and in the crowd the spirit and power of prayer.

4. When the work of conversion goes on in the congregation.

II. THE SOURCE OF PROSPERITY.

III. THE CERTAINTY OF PROSPERITY. (W. Cuff.)

The worker’s watchword

I. The honourable name Nehemiah appropriates to himself and to his fellow-labourers: a servant of God. To know God is the highest aim of science; to be like God, the highest ideal of humanity; to serve God, the joy of angels. A child of God is a more precious designation than that of servant of God. Yet there is a resemblance between them, for true liberty, greatness, salvation consists in this--serving God.

II. The holy purpose Nehemiah had before him. “We will rise and build.” The true servant of God must be building the house of God.

1. In his own heart.

2. In his home.

3. In society.

4. In the state.

5. In the Church.

6. In the world.

III. His severe strife. His work does not prosper without conflict. The world and the kingdom of God are as opposed to one another as the Samaritans and Jews were of old. Ethics they hold to be of value still, but care nothing for the revelation of the saving grace of God to sinful men.

IV. The true support.

V. A conscious fidelity. Nehemiah was conscious of his own fidelity. The Lord still knows those who preserve their fidelity. For their fidelity they are responsible, not for the results.

VI. A glorious triumph. The Lord causes the work to succeed. If we build and trust, pray and work, the like success will be ours. (J. J. Van Oosterzee.)

A well-grounded resolution

I. The answer to the adversaries.

II. The confidence expressed.

III. The resolution to work. (J. Wells.)

Nehemiah’s answer to his reproachful adversaries

I. The subject-matter of Nehemiah’s answer and what it teaches us. It reminds us--

1. Whence all true prosperity and success in the Lord’s work are to be looked for and obtained. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord.” It is “ God that giveth the increase.” What the Word of God thus plainly teaches, providence abundantly illustrates, and human experience amply confirms.

2. That this ought to have the effect of stirring us up to earnest united exertion, and of keeping us ever actively engaged in the Lord’s service.

II. The spirit in which this answer was made.

1. It was made in a strong, unwavering confidence in God, with the humble assurance of Divine help and success in the work.

2. It was the spirit of enlightened zeal for the cause of God and the Divine glory.

3. It was the spirit of fearless determination to prosecute the work on which he was entering at all hazards.

4. It was one of self-denying patriotism.

Conclusion: We ought to cultivate the spirit and imitate the example of Nehemiah--

1. In the work of our own individual salvation.

2. In furthering the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the world. (J. Sturrock.)

Inspiring mottoes for Christian workers

There was an excellent missionary who, from his conversion to his death, adopted three texts as his daily mottoes.

1. Personal hope: “Looking unto Jesus.”

2. Personal strength: “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

3. Personal service: “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” (J. M. Randall.)
.


Verse 19

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 2:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/nehemiah-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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