NEHEMIAH'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (Nehemiah 3:9-11). On his way to Jerusalem, Nehemiah would pass through the provinces of various Persian satraps and governors. To those beyond the Euphrates he carried letters, which he took care to deliver, though by doing so he aroused the hostility of San-ballat. Being accompanied by an escort of Persian soldiers, he experienced neither difficulty nor danger by the way, but effected his journey in about three months.
I came to the governors beyond the river. Josephus gives the name of the satrap, of Syria at this time as Adieus ('Ant. Jud; Nehemiah 11:5, § 6, ad fin), but it is uncertain on what authority. The other "governors" he calls Hipparchs.
Sanballat. According to Josephus, Sanballat was "satrap of Samaria" under the Persians, and by descent a Cuthaean ('Ant. Jud.,' Nehemiah 11:7, § 2). He was probably included among the governors to whom Nehemiah had brought letters, and learnt the fact that "a man was come to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" by the delivery of the letters to him. The Horonite, Born, i.e; at one of the two Beth-horons, the upper or the lower, mentioned in Joshua (Joshua 16:3, Joshua 16:5) as belonging to Ephraim, and now under Samaria. Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite. It has been usual to regard Tobiah as a native chief of the Ammonites, who, after having been a page or other servant at the Persian court, had been made head of the nation. But it seems to be quite as likely that he was a servant of Sanballat's, who stood high in his favour, gave him counsel, and was perhaps his secretary (Nehemiah 6:17, Nehemiah 6:19). It grieved them exceedingly. From the time that Zerub-babel rejected the co-operation of the Samaritans in the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:3), an enmity set in between the two peoples which continued till the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. The two capitals were too near not to be rivals; and the greater (general) prosperity of Jerusalem made Samaria the bitterer adversary.
I… was there three days. Compare Ezra 8:32. After the long journey, three days of rest were necessary.
STEPS TAKEN BY NEHEMIAH PRELIMINARY TO HIS BUILDING OF THE WALL, AND FIRST APPEARANCE OF OPPOSITION (Nehemiah 2:12-20). Hitherto Nehemiah had communicated his purpose to no one but the king and queen of Persia. He expected opposition, and resolved to baffle his opponents, as long as possible, by concealing his exact designs. Even when further concealment was on the point of becoming impossible, he made his survey of the wall by night, that it might escape observation. At last, the time for action being come, he was obliged to lay the matter before the head men of the city (verse 17), whom he easily persuaded when he assured them of Artaxerxes' consent and goodwill Preparations then began to be made; and immediately murmurs of opposition arose. Three opponents are now spoken of—Sanballat, Tobiah, and an Arabian, Geshem or Gashmu, not previously mentioned. These persons appear to have sent a formal message to the authorities of Jerualem (verse 19), taxing them with an intention to rebel Nehemiah made no direct reply to this charge, but boldly stated his resolve to "arise and build," and denied Sanballat's right to interfere with him (verse 20).
Some few men with me. All the arrangements are made to avoid notice. Nehemiah goes out by night, with few attendants, and with only one beast. He is anxious to see with his own eyes what is the extent of the repair needed, but wishes as few as possible to know of his proceedings.
The valley gate. A gate on the western or south-western side of Jerusalem, opening towards the valley of Hinnom. There are no means of fixing its exact position. It was one of those which Uzziah fortified (2 Chronicles 26:9). The dragon well. Dean Stanley suggests that "the dragon well" is the spring known generally as "the pool of Siloam," and that the legend, which describes the intermittent flow of the Siloam water as produced by the opening and closing of a dragon s mouth, had already sprung up; but the Siloam spring seems to lie too far to the eastward to suit the present passage, and is most likely represented by the "king's pool" of Nehemiah 2:14. The dung port. "The gate outside of which lay the piles of the sweepings and offscourings of the streets" ('Stanley,' 1. s.c.); situated towards the middle of the southern wall
The gate of the fountain. A gate near the pool of Siloam (which, though bearing that name in Nehemiah 3:15, seems to be here called "the king's pool" ); perhaps the "gate between two walls of 2 Kings 25:4. There was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. The accumulated rubbish blocked the way. The animal could not proceed. Nehemiah therefore dismounted, and "in the night, dark as it was, pursued his way on foot.
By the brook. "The brook Kidron," which skirted the city on the east. From this he would be able to "look up at the eastern wall" along its whole length, and see its condition. Following the brook, he was brought to the north-eastern angle of the city; on reaching which he seems to have "turned back" towards the point from which he had started, and skirting the northern wall, to have re-entered by the gate of the valley.
The rulers. On Nehemiah's arrival at Jerusalem he found no single individual exercising authority, but a number of persons, a sort of town-council, whom he calls khorim and saganim. It is not clear that he made his commission known to them at first, or indeed that he divulged it before the interview mentioned in verses 17 and 18. The rest that did the work This seems to be said by anticipation, and to mean those who subsequently built the wall.
Then said I unto them. Ewald boldly assumes that this happened the next day; but there is nothing to show that it was so soon. The original contains, no note of time—not even the word "then." Nehemiah simply says, "And I said to them." The distress. Or "affliction," as the word is translated in Nehemiah 1:3. No special suffering seems to be intended, beyond that of lying open to attack, and being a "reproach" in the sight of the heathen. Lieth waste. On this hyperbole see the comment upon Nehemiah 1:3.
Then I told them of the hand of my God. Nehemiah sketched the history of his past life, and showed how God's providence had always shielded him and supported him. This, however, would scarcely have had any great effect had he not been able to appeal further to the king's words that he had spoken. These words clearly contained permission to rebuild the wall, and took away the danger of their so doing being regarded as an act of rebellion by the Persians. What others might think was not of very much account. And they said, Let us rise up and build. Nehemiah's address had all the effect he hoped for from it. He was anxious to carry the nation with him, and induce them, one and. all, to engage heartily in the work, which must be accomplished, if it was to be accomplished at all, by something like a burst of enthusiasm. Such a burst he evokes, and its result is seen in the next chapter. Almost the whole people came forward, and set to work with zeal So they strengthened their hands for this good work. The original is briefer, and more emphatic—"And they strengthened their hands for good." They embraced the good cause, took the good part, set themselves to work heartily on the right side.
Geshem the Arabian, elsewhere called Gashmu (Nehemiah 6:6), may have been an independent sheikh possessing authority in Idumea, or in the desert country adjoining upon Ammon; but it seems quite as likely that he was merely the head of a body of Arab troops maintained by Sanballat at Samaria (Nehemiah 4:7). Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are united so closely, and act so much together (Nehemiah 4:1-7; Nehemiah 6:1, Nehemiah 6:2, Nehemiah 6:6, Nehemiah 6:12, Nehemiah 6:14), that it is difficult to suppose them to be three chieftains residing on three sides of Judaea, the north, the east, and the south, merely holding diplomatic intercourse with each other, which is the ordinary idea. Note that Tobiah is present with Sanballat in Samaria on one occasion (Nehemiah 4:3), and that Geshem and Sanballat propose a joint interview with Nehemiah on another (Nehemiah 6:2). They laughed us to scorn, and said. Either by messengers, like Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:17-35), or by a formal written communication, as Ewald supposes. Will ye rebel? Compare Nehemiah 6:6; and see also Ezra 4:12-16. Had Artaxerxes not granted permission, Nehemiah's proceedings might naturally have borne this interpretation.
Then answered I. It is remarkable that Nehemiah takes no notice of the serious charge brought against him, does not say that he had the king's permission, but rather leaves the "adversaries" to suppose that he had not. Perhaps he thought that to reveal the truth would drive them to some desperate attempt, and therefore suppressed it. The God of heaven, he will prosper us. Instead of a human, Nehemiah claims a Divine sanction for his proceedings. He and his brethren will build as servants of the God of heaven. Compare the answer made to Tatnai in Zerubbabel's time—"We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago" (Ezra 5:11). Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem. As the claim of the Samaritans to interfere in the affairs of the Jews had been disallowed when they came with an offer of aid (Ezra 4:2, Ezra 4:3), so now, when their interference is hostile in character, it is still more fiercely and indignantly rejected. They are told that they have no part in Jerusalem, no right, not even so much as a place in the recollections of the inhabitants. Their interference is officious, impertinent—what have they to do with Nehemiah, or the Israelites, or Jerusalem? Let them be content to manage the affairs of their own idolatrous community, and not trouble the worshippers of the true God. Nehemiah avoids opposition by concealment as long as he can; but when opposition nevertheless appears, he meets it with defiance.
Preparation for a great work.
A record of the first steps taken by Nehemiah in the execution of his commission.
I. HIS JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (verses 9, 11). He no doubt lost no time in setting out; and he made the journey with suitable dignity, and in safety, owing to the escort granted by the king, and the obedience of the "governors beyond the river" to "the king's letters."
II. HIS PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION (verses 12-15). This was—
1. Personal. He would see with his own eyes the condition of the wall, so as to judge of the practicability of his plan for restoring it.
2. Secret. Perhaps that foes without might not be able to hinder him, nor their partisans within inform them of his movements.
3. Thorough. Notwithstanding the difficulty of completing it. In all enterprises careful inquiry must precede action if they are to prosper. Our Lord enjoins those who are thinking of becoming his disciples to "count the cost;" and a similar previous consideration is necessary in endeavours to advance his kingdom. Whoever would revive, reform, or restore, must first ascertain the existing state of things, and reckon up his resources for effecting his object. "The knowledge of a disease is half its cure." Rash zeal is likely to end in failure. Only we must take heed of putting consideration in the place of action; of "thinking about" decision in religion instead of deciding; of "considering" how we can do good until the opportunity of doing it is gone.
III. HIS SUCCESSFUL APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE. Notwithstanding the ruinous condition of the wall, and the feebleness of the Jews—
1. He was confident and resolute himself. Assured that the work could be done, and prepared to do his part, and more.
2. He infused his spirit into the people.
(a) Reminding them of the present condition of the city. Ruinous, defenceless, exciting contempt.
(b) Informing them of the favourable turn which affairs had taken. God's kind interposition. The king's commission to him, and gracious words.
(c) Summoning them to join him in building the wall.
(a) Prompt and determined resolve.
(b) Mutual incitement.
(c) Confidence and courage.
"So they strengthened their hands for the good work." Observe—
1. The worth of competent leaders. The multitude helpless without them. One man, able and resolute, may turn weakness into strength, and depression into prosperity. In the work of Christ good leaders are of incalculable value. The advent of such often changes the whole aspect of things.
2. The duty of those who are fitted to be leaders. A great responsibility rests on them. Let them not decline the posts for which they are fitted on account of the expense or self-denial involved in filling them. Let them study to lead well, not for the sake of their own honour, but for the glory of Christ and the good of their brethren. Let them lead by their example as well as their speeches; so that they can say with Nehemiah, "Come, and let us build," etc.
3. The duty of the people towards them. To recognise them, welcome them thankfully, co-operate with them heartily. If the people are weak without good leaders, these are equally weak without the people. But both uniting heartily, they may work wonders.
IV. HIS TREATMENT OF ILL-DISPOSED NEIGHBOURS.
1. How they regarded his proceedings.
2. How he dealt with them.
1. Every good work will meet with opposition, if not with contempt.
2. Such opposition is best met by trust in God, earnest resolution, and increased activity.
Seeking the welfare of the Church.
"There was a man come to seek the welfare of the children of Israel." Thus, with some contempt, Sanballat and Tobiah thought and spoke of the coming of Nehemiah to Palestine. But if meant as a scoff, it may be accepted as a eulogium: like" a friend of publicans and sinners." Nehemiah is correctly described in the words. They set before us conduct to be imitated by citizens and statesmen in respect to the general community, by Christians in respect to the Church, and to the world at large.
I. TO SEEK THE WELFARE OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS INCUMBENT ON ALL CHRISTIANS. The maintenance of religions ordinances, the spread of Christianity, the increase and prosperity of the Church, the benefit of its individual members, are the concern of every Christian, and ought not to be left to a few. The efforts of all are needed; each can do something, and should do it heartily and cheerfully. The great motives to zeal apply to all, as really as to the few who feel their power. When the many can be described as those who with all their might "seek the welfare" of the Church and kingdom of God, a new era in the history of Christianity will begin.
1. How we should seek the welfare of the Church. By our exertions, gifts, prayers.
2. Why we are bound to do so. The nature of our religion, which is love; the purpose of our calling as Christians—to be "lights in the world;" the express commands of our Lord; the Divine examples and many human; the blessings we have received from the gospel and the Church; the blessings we may impart; the nobleness of the unselfish spirit and pursuits, and the increase they secure to the true wealth and blessedness of our own being—all are powerful reasons why we should interest ourselves in the good of the Church, and so of the world, and do all we can to promote it.
II. IT IS ESPECIALLY INCUMBENT ON THOSE WHO HAVE SPECIAL TALENTS. All talents can find employment in this service; all should be consecrated to it. The more we have of faculty and aptitude, the more we are bound to employ them. Bodily energy, mental power and culture, spiritual attainments, wealth, social position and influence, should all be cheerfully devoted to Christ and the good of men. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."
III. THE PUBLIC SPIRIT SHOWN BY ANY WHO ARE SPECIALLY QUALIFIED TO DO GOOD SHOULD AWAKEN THANKFULNESS, AND THEIR SERVICES BE GLADLY ACCEPTED. Because such men are greatly needed, and if well supported can do much more good than ordinary men; and because the number of such is comparatively small, so strong are the temptations to a lower style of life. Yet even in a time of depression, the appearance on the scene of a man of unusual ability and resources, willing to devote himself to the general good, is not always welcomed by all. Not only, outside, the Sanballats and Tobiahs are grieved and angry, but within are found some who feel their own importance in the community threatened, and allow jealousy, envy, and uncharitableness, culminating perhaps in open hostility, to prevail over such faint love for Christ, his cause and people, as they may possess.
IV. THE MISSION AND WORK OF NEHEMIAH MAY WELL REMIND US OF HIS WHO IN LOVING SERVICE IS "HIGHER THAN THE HIGHEST." He came "to seek the welfare" not of "the children of Israel" only, but of the world. He came with the commission not of an earthly monarch, but of the Father in heaven. His personal qualifications were not simply those of an excellent and able man, but of perfect humanity united to perfect Deity. His compassion for men was that of incarnate love. His toils and sufferings, ending in a death of agony and shame, surpass incalculably all that the best men have ever endured in serving their fellows. His resources are those of the universe—"all power in heaven and earth." The benefits he confers are of corresponding magnitude and duration. Yet men viewed him with hate and envy, and still turn away from him; and his people render him a love and co-operation miserably small, far inferior to what Nehemiah received from his fellow Jews. Let us be careful to receive him with hearty faith and submission for our own salvation; and then consecrate our all to his service, counting nothing too great to do for him, no sacrifice too painful to make in promoting his designs for the present and eternal welfare of men.
God-given thoughts and impulse.
"Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem."
I. WHEN WE MAY SAFELY ASCRIBE TO GOD WHAT HAS ARISEN IN OUR HEARTS. There is a danger, to which fervent religiousness exposes men, of delusion, fanaticism, and impiety in ascribing their thoughts, feelings, or purposes to God. When may we safely say, "God put it into my heart"?
1. When the thought, feeling, or purpose is manifestly good. God is the author of all good, and only of good. He cannot put evil into the heart. To ascribe it to him is blasphemy. Hatred, malice, uncharitableness, misrepresentation, injustice, cruelty, even though they assume the garb of piety, cannot be from him. They bear upon them the stamp of their father, the devil. Let furious bigots, calumniators of their Christian brethren, and persecutors, lay this to heart. Before ascribing to God what is in our heart, we must compare it with what we know to be from him—the teaching of our Lord, his character, the enumerations of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 5:9). Whatever corresponds with these we may safely conclude to be from God. And the closer the correspondence, the more certain the conclusion.
2. When it issues in great good. Nehemiah, writing after he had executed his purpose and seen its beneficial results, could speak confidently as to its source. This rule for determining the Divine origin of our mental operations must, however, be applied with caution. It is only subordinate, not sufficient of itself. For
II. WHY WE SHOULD ASCRIBE TO GOD THE GOOD WHICH ARISES IN OUR HEARTS.
1. It is manifestly according to truth.
2. It is required by gratitude A great benefit and honour is thus conferred upon us.
3. Humility demands and is promoted by it. Yet the human heart is so deceitful, that under a show of humility pride and self-complacency may hide, and be fostered by the thought of the distinction thus enjoyed.
4. Due regard for the glory of God will induce us to do this.
5. It is acceptable to God, who will reward by "more grace."
III. THE PROPRIETY AND WISDOM OF SOMETIMES CONCEALING FROM MEN WHAT GOD HAS PUT INTO OUR HEARTS. There is "a time to be silent;" yet there is also "a time to speak."
1. Reticence as to our pious thoughts, emotions, and purposes may be right. As for instance when indulged—
2. Reticence may be, or become, wrong. It is so—
"And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for the good work." Narrates the effect produced on all classes at Jerusalem by Nehemiah's address.
I. WHAT MOVED THEM.
1. There was a plain need for energetic and united action.
2. They had a good leader. Competent, resolute, courageous, generous, devoted, self-denying; and withal having authority.
3. There were many encouragements and helps.
4. In all, the will and favourable providence of God seemed manifest.
II. TO WHAT IT LED THEM.
1. Ardent enthusiasm.
2. Resolute determination.
3. Mutual exhortation. "Let us rise up and build."
4. Confidence and courage.
5. All combining to impart vigour for the work.
"They strengthened their hands," braced themselves "for the good work." Note throughout that Christians have similar incentives to their work, and should be similarly affected by them. There is sadder and more wide-spread ruin to move our hearts; we have a Divine leader; the word, the grace, and the providence of God combine to urge and encourage us. Let us "provoke" one another "to love and good works," and give ourselves to them with unanimous zeal, resolution, and confidence; thus "strengthening our hands for the good work."
Assurance of Divine co-operation.
"The God of heaven, he will prosper us," etc. Nehemiah's reply to opponents who wished to deter him from the work he was undertaking.
I. WHEN WE MAY CHERISH THE ASSURANCE OF DIVINE AID AND BLESSING IN OUR ENDEAVOURS. In general when our endeavours are in accordance with the will of God—in the line of his plans and purposes. And this is the case when—
1. The work is good.
2. The Divine call to it is clear. This is ascertainable from
3. Our motives are pure and Christian.
4. Our methods right. Being according to the directions and in harmony with the spirit of Christ.
5. The blessing of God is relied upon and earnestly sought.
II. THE EFFECTS WHICH SUCH ASSURANCE WILL PRODUCE.
1. Confidence of success. Notwithstanding difficulties, misrepresentation, contempt, opposition (see verse 19), and occasional desponding thoughts.
2. Strenuous exertion. "Therefore," etc; not, "Therefore we need not work, or may be lax in our endeavours." Confidence which thus operates is presumption. God will do most when men do their best.
3. Rejection of alien interference. This took the form of opposition in the case of Sanballat, etc. Yet Nehemiah's language seems to imply that these objectors would have co-operated, if allowed to do so, on terms acceptable to them. "We his servants will arise and build; but ye have no portion," etc. So it was at least as to the erection of the temple (Ezra 4:1-3). And in our day many who are "of the world" arc willing to unite with the Church in her works. The peril is that in welcoming their aid the Church should imbibe their spirit, and so lose her own proper strength. We cannot, it is true, draw as sharp a line between the Church and the world as Nehemiah between Jews, and non-Jews. But we have great need to be on our guard against the insidious influence of the worldly spirit, and the adoption of worldly means of doing what professes to be, but then ceases to be, Christ's work. We may not be justified in rejecting the material aid of worldly men when proffered without conditions (Nehemiah had accepted that of Artaxerxes), but we must never accept their counsels. The world is more dangerous within the Church than in open opposition. Faith in Divine aid will preserve from such a policy. Cherishing this, we shall feel that whether the world smile or frown we shall succeed in the end; but that if God were to withdraw his help we must fail; and that he is likely to abandon us if we so rely on others as to be unfaithful and disobedient to him, by surrendering our distinctiveness as the disciples of Christ.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Ungodly (unchristian) jealousy.
Nehemiah, attended by a Persian escort, came safely to Jerusalem. The king had dealt liberally with him; he provided him with a military guard to protect him from the dangers of the road, and with letters of instruction to use at his journey's end (verse 9). But the prophet soon found—what we all find soon enough—that the work we attempt for God can only be accomplished by triumphing over difficulty. The path of holy service lies over many a scorching plain, up many a steep mountain, along many a "slippery place." . Nehemiah's great obstacle was to be found in the virulent enmity of Sanballat and Tobiah. When these men heard of his arrival, "it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (verse 10). Looking at this statement concerning these men, we notice—
I. THEIR COMPARATIVE INNOCENCY WHEN JUDGED BY HUMAN STANDARDS. At first thought it seems almost incredible that they should have been "grieved exceedingly" because a man had come to seek the welfare of their neighbours. But when we ask if Sanballat and Tobiah were so very much worse than mankind in general, we are compelled to own that theirs was but an instance of ordinary human selfishness. In every land and through every age men have been jealous of their rivals' prosperity. These men concluded that the elevation of Jerusalem virtually meant the depression of Samaria; that, indirectly, Nehemiah had come to lower the dignity if not to lessen the prosperity of their state, and they counted him an enemy. So have men argued everywhere even until now. Wars that were avowedly waged on some small pretext were really fought because one strong nation was jealous of the growing vigour of some neighbouring power. Not only nations, but tribes, families, societies, and (it must be sorrowfully admitted) Christian Churches have allowed themselves to be jealous of the growth of other nations, other tribes, other Churches, and have been grieved when men "sought" and promoted "their welfare." So general and widespread is this selfishness, taking the form of jealousy of the prosperity of others, that it is not for us to "cast the first stone" of bitter reproach. But we must see—
II. THEIR ACTUAL GUILT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. A selfish jealousy like this of Sanballat and Tobiah, a grief at the prosperity of neighbours and competitors, whether in the civil or religious world, is in the sight of God
(a) unrighteous. Our neighbours have every whit as much right to make the most of their powers and opportunities as we have of ours; to rise above us by lawful means as we to remain above them. We, as well as they, have received our heritage from men and from God, and we have no moral right to limit their success, or to object to their power, or be offended at their superiority.
(b) Short-sighted. We ought to understand that we are enriched by one another's prosperity. "We are members one of another, and should rejoice in one another's welfare. This is so with
The more one prospers, the more another will prosper too. If a man comes to "seek the welfare" of any "Israel," we should not be "exceedingly grieved," but heartily glad.
(c) Sinful. Though we may not denounce one another, we are all, together, under the condemnation of God. How can he be otherwise than grieved with us when we envy the welfare of our own brethren? That those who are children of the same Divine Father and members of the same family should wish ill to one another must vex his loving spirit.
(d) Something of which we shall live to be utterly ashamed. How many have to remember with shame that when men "came seeking the welfare of God's people," they were antagonistic when they should have been friendly.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
True work Divinely succeeded.
Here is the enterprise briefly sketched out: the ruin to be built up; the surrounding sea of scorn, hatred, and opposition to be kept back; the co-operation of rulers and people to be maintained. One man evidently to be the life and soul of the whole work. "I told not a man what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem."
I. All truly religious work should be accomplished in the spirit of UNCOMPROMISING FAITHFULNESS.
1. Complete independence of those who have no heart to "seek the welfare of the children of Israel."
2. Fearlessness of opposition whether open or treacherous.
3. Wise discretion in the use of methods. The less confident must be held up by the men of stronger faith. It is well sometimes to commit the energies of good men to a worthy enterprise before they calculate too much, lest their hearts should misgive them.
4. The true leader must not wait for others. Promptitude is the soul of activity and the seal of success. Nehemiah begins with his night expedition of survey: "I and some few men with me."
II. REALITY AND TRUTH is the basis of all faith and zeal for God. Look at the facts. "Ye see the distress." Jerusalem lying waste; its gates burned with fire; actual reproach on the people of God. Whatever we attempt to build up, whether the edifice of our own religious life, or the prosperity of the Church, or the structure of Christian evidence, let us be sure that we understand the real state of the case; what is in ruins, what remains unshaken, what will be expected of us, what is the reproach which has to be wiped away; we must neither extenuate nor exaggerate.
III. FELLOWSHIP and CO-OPERATION the hope of a revived Church. "Come and let us build." However needful that good men should, in some respects and for a time, work alone (Nehemiah told nothing at first to the Jews—"priests, nobles rulers and the rest"), when the great effort has to be made, it should be made in the spirit of union and brotherly love. "I told them." "And they said, Let us rise up and build." The true co-operation will not be a mere association of individuals, but a spiritual brotherhood, a covenant with God and with one another, recognising the "hand of God," and the "good work," and the Divinely-appointed ministry, and the special guidance and grace, both already bestowed and promised.
IV. ALL SUCCESS, as against the world and its enmity, in face of scorn, contumely, falsehood, and evil devices, MUST COME OUT OF THE HARMONY BETWEEN GOD'S PURPOSES AND OUR WILL. He will prosper. We will arise and build. We must look to it that our portion, our right, our memorial are in Jerusalem. There are the three great supports to every earnest worker's confidence and hope. He has cast in his lot with God's people; he has entered into covenant relation with God, and has therefore a right in Jerusalem; it is the seat and fountain of his most blessed memories. "There his best friends, his kindred dwell; there God his Saviour reigns." All happy, successful work in the Church of Christ will be work done by spiritual men, actuated by spiritual motives, and depending on spiritual strength. The greatest hindrance to the progress of true religion has been the meddling with its operations by those who "have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem."—R.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Wise procedure in presence of a great work.
Nehemiah before Jerusalem, the earnest patriot prophet before the city of God, lying waste and exposed, suggests to us—
I. THE PRESENCE OF A GREAT WORK AWAITING US. "So I came to Jerusalem" (verse 11). There are to-day many Churches, societies, interests, more or less dear to God, which are "in distress" (verse 17), urgently needing restoration and defence, that they be not open to attack, and that they may" be no more a reproach" (verse 17) to the people of God. Our work, like that of Nehemiah before Jerusalem, may be great, inasmuch as
II. WISE PROCEDURE IN OUR WORK. The first and very essential point is—
1. Full consideration, in private before making proposals in public. Nehemiah "was there three days (verse 11) before taking action. Instead of illustrating the maxim, "More haste, worse speed," he acted on another and better one, "Quickly enough if well enough;" indeed, on another and better still, "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16). After waiting three days at Jerusalem, he made a very careful inspection of the city, going all round and examining it thoroughly (verses 12-15). He "went out by night" (verse 13), in order that he might be the more unobserved, and he took care that "the rulers knew not whither he went, or what he did" (verse 16); nor did he tell any one, priest, ruler, noble, or workman (verse 16), what he was about. First he took, as we should, "counsel with himself;" he examined searchingly, considered fully, went into and went round the matter in his own mind. A little time spent in earnest, devout meditation beforehand will often save an "age of care," and a "world of trouble" afterwards. Then Nehemiah spake.
2. Free consultation before other action. "Then said I unto them," etc. (verse 17). Evidently he made a full statement to them "in public meeting assembled." He called them together, no doubt using the king's commission. He took counsel with the leaders (those specified in verse 16). Consultation is wise, just, with a view to co-operation. It
(a) conciliates those whose goodwill we need. Men do not like to be treated as if their judgment were worthless and their consent unnecessary.
(b) Brings out valuable suggestions. The wisest man overlooks some things, and they who devote all their powers to particular industries, obtain a knowledge and can furnish help in council in matters relating to their own department which others cannot contribute.
3. Forcible presentation of motives. Nehemiah laid the whole case before them, and appealed to ―
(a) The urgency of their need: the distress they were in; Jerusalem waste; the gates burnt (verse 17).
(b) The sign of God's favour resting upon them. "The hand of my God which was good upon me" (verse 18).
(c) The encouragement they had from man as well as God. "The king's words" (verse 18).
(d) The need there was to regain the honour they had lost among the nations. "That we be no more a reproach."
We should omit none that can be brought, for all are helpful, and one will avail with one man, and another with another.
4. Energetic resolution. "They said, Let us arise and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work" (verse 18). Zest at the commencement is not everything, but it is much. It is vastly better than contention or cold-heartedness. Let us gird ourselves to the fight with energy of soul, and the battle is half won already.
5. Disregard of ridicule (verses 19, 20). Zeal is deaf to sarcasm; it brushes aside the spears of scorn; it turns the idlers out of the field.—C.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The way to view and repair ruined fortunes.
I. The way to VIEW ruined fortunes. "And viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down" (Nehemiah 2:13). There are broken fortunes in the Church, in business, and in the home; let us see how we are to regard them.
1. Thoughtfully. Nehemiah made a careful inspection of the ruined city.
2. Religiously. "What God hath put in my heart to do at Jerusalem" (verse 12).
3. Conscientiously. "Which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire" (verse 13). Nehemiah did not try to persuade himself that the city was in a better state than it really was; he saw things in their right aspect.
4. Independently. "And the rulers knew not whither I went" (verse 16). Nehemiah was animated by a strong purpose.
5. Cautiously. "And I arose in the night" (verse 12).
6. Reproachfully. We must look on our broken fortunes as a reproach to us.
II. The way to REPAIR ruined fortunes.
1. Energy must be awakened. "Come and let us build up the wall."
2. Providence must be recognised. "The hand of my God which was good upon me."
3. Circumstances must be utilised. "As also the king's words that he had spoken unto me."
4. Mutual co-operation must be effected. "So they strengthened their hands for this good work."
5. Scorn must be withstood (verses 9-20).—E.
Nehemiah 2:19, Nehemiah 2:20
Religion and ridicule.
I. That religion is often made the subject of RIDICULE. "They laughed us to scorn."
1. Its doctrines are ridiculed. Men laugh at the supernatural.
2. Its enterprise is ridiculed. Men scorn the idea of a world-wide moral conquest.
3. Its agencies are ridiculed. "Is not this the carpenter's son?"
4. Its experiences are ridiculed. "Much learning doth make thee mad." This ridicule is
"Will ye rebel against the king?" Christ was despised and rejected of men.
II. The REPLY which religion should make to ridicule.
1. That it is often wise to reply to ridicule. "Then answered I them."
2. That religion must meet ridicule by expressing confidence in God. "The God of heaven, he will prosper us."
3. That religion must meet ridicule by determination which cannot be moved by it. "Therefore we his servants will arise and build."
4. That religion must meet ridicule by denying its right or ability to interfere. "But ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem."
5. That religion must meet ridicule by declaring it alien to the high privileges of the truth. It has no portion in Jerusalem. This is the ideal reply to derision.—E.