It came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, at Samaria, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, in their respective residences, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, or "that the (entire) wall of Jerusalem was of a (good) height," they were wroth. Observe that Tobiah is here quite separated from the nation of the Ammonites, and in no way represented as their leader. Jealousy of Jerusalem on the part of the Ammonites and Philistines is quite natural; and, if the Arabs are the Edomites, their opposition would be equally a matter of course (Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 25:12; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:10, Obadiah 1:14); but the Edomites are not called Arabs in Scripture, nor do Arabs appear very often among the enemies of the Jews. It has been suggested that the "Arabians" here mentioned are the descendants of a colony which Sargon planted in Samaria itself. This, of course, is possible; but they may perhaps have been one of the desert tribes, induced to come forward by the hope of plunder (Ewald), and influenced by the Ammonites, their neighbours.
To hinder it. Rather, "to do it hurt." The word used is a rare one. According to Gesenius, it has the two senses of "error" and "injury."
We … set a watch against them day and night, because of them. Rather, "over against, them,". "opposite to them"—opposite, that m, to the point from which they were expected to make their attack.
The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed. The complaint seems to be, that by the drawing off of men from the working parties to act as guards, those parties were so weakened that they could not continue the work, the quantity of rubbish being so great.
If the text is sound, it can only mean that the Jews who dwelt in the outlying towns, in the neighbourhood of Ammon, Samaria, Ashdod, etc; came repeatedly to Jerusalem, and tried to draw off their contingents, saying to them, "You must return to us." But it is suspected that there is a corruption of the original words of Nehemiah, and that what he wrote was, that these Jews came repeatedly to Jerusalem and warned him of the enemy's designs. (So Ewald, Houbigant, Dathe, A. Clarke, and others. )
Then set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places. There is no and m the original. Nehemiah means that in the less elevated places, where the wall was least strong by nature, he had his men posted on conspicuous spots within the walls, where they could be seen from a distance, and so deterred the enemy from advancing. He drew them up after their families, that each man might feel he was fighting for his brethren, sons, etc. (verse 14).
And I looked, and rose up, and said. A particular occasion seems to be spoken of. The allies had joined their forces; the army was advancing; Nehemiah had obtained information of the quarter from which the attack was to be expected; he had posted his men (verse 13); when he "looked, and rose up," and spoke, it was probably as the enemy was coming up to the attack; he then made this short but stirring appeal. That no conflict followed would seem to show, that "when the enemy approached, and saw from a distance the whole people awaiting them in perfect equipment, order, and spirit," they lost heart and "turned back". The Lord, which is great and terrible. See the comment on Nehemiah 1:5.
The half of my servants wrought in the work. Nehemiah divided his "servants" or slaves into two bodies, one of which laboured at the wall, while the other kept guard, fully armed, and held the spears, bows and arrows, shields, and corselets of their fellows. The rulers were behind. The "rulers" or "princes" did not labour, but stood behind the labourers, directing them, and ready to lead them on if the enemy ventured to come to blows.
And they which bare burdens, with those that laded. Rather, "both they which bare burdens, as they laded." The builders, or those engaged upon the work, are divided into two classes—
Of these, the latter did their work with one hand, while in their other hand they held a weapon; the former needed both hands for their employment, but even these wore swords in theft girdles.
For the builders. Rather, "and the (actual) builders"—masons, bricklayers, and the like, as distinct from the bearers of burthens, or carriers of material. He that sounded the trumpet. The signalman. Trumpeters appear both in the Egyptian and the Assyrian sculptures.
So we laboured: and half of them held the spears. This is a summary of the main points previously related: "So we continued to work; and one-half of my personal followers continued to keep watch, and to hold the spears" (Nehemiah 4:16). From the rising of the morning, etc. This is additional, and shows how early the work commenced each morning, and how late it continued.
Every one, with his servant. The material condition of the people had much improved since the return under Zerubbabel. Then there was only one slave to every six Israelites (Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65); now every Israelite had his slave, and many no doubt a large number. Lodge within Jerusalem. i.e. "sleep" or "pass the night" there, instead of returning to their several villages or towns. That in the night they may be a guard to us. The very fact that they were in Jerusalem, and known to be there, would tend to prevent an attack; and if the enemy assaulted by night, they would be at hand, and able to take their part in guarding the work.
My brethren. Actual brothers probably. That Nehemiah had brothers appears from Nehemiah 1:2; that one of them, Hanani, had accompanied him to Jerusalem is evident from Nehemiah 7:2. My servants. See above, Nehemiah 7:16. The men of the guard that followed me. As governor, Nehemiah would maintain a body-guard, in addition to his band of slaves. Saving that every one put them off for washing. So the Vulgate: "Unnsquisque tantum nudabatur ad baptismum;" but it is at least doubtful whether the Hebrew words can possibly have this meaning. The most natural and literal sense of them is that given by Maurer and Rambach—"Each man's weapon was his water;" the supposed connection of the clause with the preceding being, "No one took off his clothes," not even for the bath—no one bathed; "a man's only bath was his weapon." Some critics, however, defend the rendering of the A. V.; others take the words in the same way, but explain the term "water" differently, of a natural want (Ewald, Stanley); while many regard the text as unsound, and propose emendations. None, however, that has as yet been proposed is satisfactory.
Ridicule failing and the work progressing, the enemies of the Jews, more angry than ever, conspire to stop it by force of arms. We have here—
I. ENEMIES WITHOUT.
1. Various (Nehemiah 4:7).
2. Combined (Nehemiah 4:8).
3. Angry (Nehemiah 4:7).
4. Wily (Nehemiah 4:11).
5. Ruthless (ibid.).
6. Determined to stop the work.
II. DIFFICULTIES WITHIN.
1. The weariness and discouragement of the labourers (Nehemiah 4:10).
2. Pressing and repeated messages to those of them who came from the country to return to their homes.
Such seems the meaning of Nehemiah 4:12. Their neighbours and friends, aware of the designs of the foe, were anxious for their safety and that of their families whom they had left behind.
III. NEHEMIAH'S MEASURES. As difficulties thickened his courage rose, his capacity became more evident, and his ability to sway the many. Full of confidence and resolution, he inspired others with like feelings.
1. Prayer (Nehemiah 4:9).
2. Setting a watch.
3. Subsequently a general arming (Nehemiah 4:13).
4. Spirit-stirring address (Nehemiah 4:14).
IV. THEIR RESULTTS (Nehemiah 4:15).
1. Determent of the adversaries.
2. Resumption of the work.
1. For national life.
2. For the religious life.
Prayer and watchfulness.
"Nevertheless we made our prayer unto God, and set a watch," etc.
I. The Christian's PERILS. His enemies are—
1. Numerous. Satan and his angels, his own corruptions, the world.
2. Diverse. Different in nature, and mode of attack; assuming different forms; appealing in turn to every passion and principle of our nature.
3. Insidious. "The wiles of the devil." He can take the form of "an angel of light." Evil often appears as good. Danger lurks where we should least suspect it: in needful occupations, in lawful pleasures, in the society and influence of dearest friends.
4. Intent on our destruction. "Seeking whom he may devour." Our highest interests, our eternal well-being, are imperilled.
II. The Christian's SAFEGUARDS.
1. Prayer. To him who is mightier than our mightiest foes; who has a perfect knowledge of them, and of our weaknesses; whose eye is ever upon them and us; who loves us and desires our safety; who has promised help and victory to those who call upon him. In his strength alone can we conquer.
2. Watchfulness. Habitual vigilance, for our foes may spring upon us from unexpected quarters; special watchfulness "over against them" (as the last words of the text should be rendered). Where from experience we have learned that our weakness and the enemy's strength lie.
3. The two combined. God will protect those who watch as well as pray. Prayer aids watching, and watching prayer. "Watch unto prayer." Prayer without watchfulness is presumption. Watchfulness without prayer, sinful self-confidence. Each without the other is sure to fail. Both together will insure deliverance.
Courage in the Christian war.
"Be not ye afraid of them," etc. A stirring battle-cry. Suitable in the Christian warfare.
I. THE CHURCH'S WARFARE. Each for himself and his family; all for the common good. Against the world, the flesh, and the devil, in all the forms they assume: infidelity, heresy, ungodliness, wickedness of all kinds. The war is—
1. Defensive. To preserve themselves, and their households and Churches, from spiritual and moral evil.
2. Offensive. To subdue the world to Christ. Destroying the errors and sins which prevail in it, and rescuing their victims.
II. THE CHURCH'S LIABILITY TO FEAR. On account of the number, and power, and subtlety of her enemies, and the hardships and perils of the war. There is a fear which is good. "Happy is the man that feareth alway." But not the craven fear which shuns the fight.
III. THE CHURCH'S REMEDY AGAINST FEAR.
1. Remembrance of God.
"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear."
2. Thought of the interests involved. As here, of brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and houses.
3. Mutual encouragement. "Be not afraid," etc.
The enemies of the Jews, who meditated an attack upon them, finding that they were aware of their design and well prepared to receive them, withdrew their forces, and the work of restoring the wall went on again. Nehemiah, however, thought it necessary that the people should be prepared for resistance at any moment. He therefore kept half his own retinue always on guard, well armed, while the other half worked; he appointed that every labourer should work armed; those whose work permitted, holding a weapon in one hand while labouring with the other; the masons, whose work required both hands, having a sword by their side; he placed the rulers behind the people, to direct the work and, if need were, to lead the fight. He himself was everywhere, overlooking the workmen, and on the alert for the enemy; having a trumpeter by his side to summon all the people together to resist any assault that might be made. As an additional precaution, he ordered those of the people whose dwellings were elsewhere to lodge by night in the city; while he, his relatives, slaves, and other attendants, though compelled to sleep, never put off their clothes (unless the last very obscure words of the chapter state an exception) until all danger had passed.
The lessons from this paragraph for any Christian Church or society, and indeed for any community, are, the importance of—
1. Diligence in work, combined with readiness for contest. It is work that secures prosperity, but conflict may be necessary for the work's sake.
2. Thorough union.
3. Division of duties. Each taking what he is best fitted for, or is thought to be by those in authority.
4. Good organisation.
5. Good rulers.
6. Obedience to them.
7. Self-denial. In all—those highest in authority the most careful to practise it.
Nehemiah 4:17, Nehemiah 4:18
Building in readiness to fight.
"They which builded on the wall, etc. For the builders so builded." Regarding the work of building the wall of Jerusalem as an image of Christian edification, whether of the individual or of the Church, notice—
I. THE NEED WHICH CHRISTIANS HAVE or PREPARATION FOR COMBAT WHILE ENGAGED IN BUILDING.
1. In seeking each his own spiritual profit. Must be intent on improvement and growth, but at the same time ready to fight. For his spiritual foes are near, and may make their onset at any moment and from any direction.
2. In seeking to profit others. Instruction in the truth is of primary importance; but there must be preparedness to meet objections and reprove or warn against errors and sins. Applies peculiarly to Christian ministers. Their main work is to "edify;" but in doing so they must not only be ready for but actually do battle against iniquity and false teaching. Besides which, they, like Nehemiah and his retinue, must especially mount guard for the protection of the whole community against threatened assaults of unbelief, superstition, immorality, etc; and be ready, if necessary, to summon all to fight against them (see Ezekiel 3:17, seq.; Ezekiel 33:7, seq.).
II. THEIR RELATION TO EACH OTHER.
1. They are mutually helpful. Fighting, or readiness for it, renders building possible. If infidelity or sin get the upper hand, "edification" ceases. Building aids fighting. Gives strength for it, supplies with strongest motives to it. He who is well "built up" in Christian faith and life has an experience of the preciousness of that which the enemy assails which will make him earnest and bold in contending for it. So with a Church established in all goodness, and richly enjoying the privileges of the gospel. In the end, however (as when the wall was finished), building may render preparation for fighting unnecessary. The Christian who has arrived at great maturity becomes unassailable by either serious error or temptation to sin. Growth in grace renders the disciple more and more like his Master, who could say, "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me." After many a conflict, he settles down in quiet enjoyment of what he has won; his walls so strong, his gates so secure, that no enemy can enter, even if he do not cease the vain attempt. A Church, also, well built up at once in Christian life and character and in numbers, needs not take much heed of enemies without. Her life and works speak for her more powerfully than arguments.
2. Readiness for fighting may hinder or stop building. The attitude of mind favourable to the former is in no small degree unfavourable to the latter. Besides, when men are armed for conflict they may come to prefer it, and engage in it needlessly or excessively, to the neglect of edification. But no Church (or state) can live by fighting. This is partly true of direct battling with evil tendencies and habits in ourselves and others; let good be nourished and strengthened, and evil will decay. It is especially true of religious controversy. It is very apt to injure Christian life and character. The antagonistic spirit which it engenders is unfavourable to meekness and charity, and even justice and truthfulness. A Church must be militant and ever ready to fight; but a Church mainly militant will effect little good.
The lessons are—
1. Be "ready, aye, ready" for battle. With the "whole armour of God" about you, and trained to the use of your weapons. But—
2. Be mainly intent on building.
God fighting for his people.
"Our God shall fight for us." An inspiriting assurance. Grounds of it in the case of Nehemiah and the Jews.
I. WHEN WE MAY CHERISH THIS ASSURANCE. When we fight for God; which we do—
1. When we contend in and for his cause. When our contest is against Satan, sin, and error; and on behalf of Christ and truth and righteousness and souls—our own and others.
2. When we are actuated by sincere and supreme regard for him. Desiring his glory, and trusting him for strength and victory.
3. When we employ the weapons which he has given us. Not using Satan's arms, but the weapons of truth and love (see 2 Corinthians 10:4).
4. When we fight in the spirit which he prescribes and imparts (2 Timothy 2:25; James 1:20).
5. When we battle with all our power.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS ASSURANCE.
1. The relation of God to us. "Our God."
2. His interest in the contest. It concerns his "great name," the accomplishment of his purposes of love to mankind in Christ, the destruction of his enemies.
3. His summons to it.
4. His promises.
III. THE EFFECTS OF SUCH ASSURANCE.
1. Alacrity to engage in the combat.
3. Confidence of victory.
"If God be for us, who can be against us?" Finally, take heed lest any of you fight against God. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The wisdom of the Christian workman in the hour of peril.
We are reminded here of—
I. THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (Nehemiah 4:8). From sneers the enemies of Israel passed on to plots; from taunts to a mischievous conspiracy. They "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." This advance of theirs was brought about by their hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were "made up." The steadfast labour of the good led, incidentally, to the development of evil in the unholy. The relations of David with Saul, and of the Apostle Paul with his unbelieving countrymen, and, indeed, those of our Master himself with the religious leaders of his day, show that speaking the truth or doing the work of God may prove the occasion of the growth and outbreak of sin—the occasion, but not the responsible cause. We must not be deterred from speaking or doing the will and work of God by fear about incidental consequences on the part of the great enemy.
II. THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (Nehemiah 4:10, Nehemiah 4:11, Nehemiah 4:12). The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes:—
1. The craft and violence of its foes. The enemy said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease" (verse 11). Here was force combined with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.
2. The faint-heartedness of its friends. Judah, from whom better things might have been expected, said, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed," etc. (verse 10); and the neighbouring Jews who had come in to help kept saying ("ten times," verse 12) that they must return, fearing the wrath of the Samaritans. In every work of God there are sure to be some if not "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). This we must expect whenever we "put our hand to the plough" in the field of Christian labour. And happy shall we be if we have not to contend with the feebleness and pusillanimity of our friends, fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at the first alarm, and talking about "giving up."
III. THE WISDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which Nehemiah did.
1. Mindfulness of God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (verse 9). "Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible" (verse 14). An appeal to him for help, and the recollection of the fact that "greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us." "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee," etc. (Psalms 50:15).
2. Realisation of the great issues which are at stake (verse 14). "Fight for your brethren, your sons," etc. When we are working or fighting for the cause of God we are engaged on behalf of the truest, highest, and most enduring interests of those who are dearest to us, and of our own also. The cause of Christ is the cause of ourselves, of our families, of our country, as well as of our race.
3. Defence (verses 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work. Nehemiah's servants wrought with their weapon of defence in one hand and their instrument of labour in the other (verse 17). Or, while one was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once into the labourer's hand. Usually our work is rather to build than to strike, but there are times when we must be ready to fight our foes or aid those who are engaged in conflict. In the wide field of the Church's work there is always some work for the Christian soldier as well as for the Christian labourer. Let the one be the cheerful and appreciative co-operator with the other. The spear and the trowel are both wanted. The apologist and the preacher, the theologian and the evangelist, are both accepted servants of Christ.
4. Vigilance (verse 9). We "set a watch against them day and night." The Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, "Watch and pray."
5. Industry. Patient (verse 21): "We laboured in the work … from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared." United (verse 15): "All of us,… every one to his work." Self-forgetting (verse 23): "None of us put off our clothes," etc.
6. Order (verses 13, 19, 20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men were placed where most required (verse 13); those whose homes were outside came in (verse 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in case of attack (verses 19, 20). All must work cordially under the human as well as under the Divine leader.—C.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The work and warfare of the Church.
I. The weak of the Church.
1. Derided. "And mocked the Jews" (Nehemiah 4:1).
2. Under-estimated. "These feeble Jews" (Nehemiah 4:2).
3. Misrepresented. "If a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall" (Nehemiah 4:3).
4. Prayerful. "Hear, O our God" (Nehemiah 4:4).
5. Hearty. "For the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6).
6. Advancing. "Heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped" (Nehemiah 4:7).
II. The WARFARE of the Church.
1. Defensive. "And conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it" (Nehemiah 4:8).
2. Watchful. "Set a watch against them day and night" (Nehemiah 4:9).
3. Judicious. "I even set the people with their families" (Nehemiah 4:13).
4. Courageous. "Be not ye afraid" (Nehemiah 4:14).
5. Religious. "Remember the Lord" (Nehemiah 4:14).
6. Self-denying (Nehemiah 4:23).—E.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
This description of the building of the wall of Jerusalem may be taken as representing the life of the Church militant. The chief points are these:—
I. THE SPIRIT which pervades and actuates it. "The people had a mind to work." Activity, self-denial, fellowship, and fortitude.
II. THE METHOD. Division and distribution of the work. Builders, fighters, burden-bearers. Some in command, others waiting upon their word. A place for every one in which to work, and every one keeping his place, and doing his utmost in it.
III. THE DIFFICULTY. To do the work surrounded by enemies. Their mockery, their defiance, their active opposition. Every earnest labourer must be prepared to resist. There are special defenders of the faith, champions of truth, those who "hold the spears and the shields and the bows and the corslets, and the captains behind all the house of Judah." But beside these special fighters, the "builders had every one his sword girded by his side, and built." All the people of God should regard the defence of his truth and the protection of the life of his Church as their vocation. We cannot know at what point the attack will be made. Let all put on the armour.
IV. THE GROUND OF CONFIDENCE. "We made our prayer unto our God, and we set a watch against them day and night because of them." Watch and pray. The true dependence is that which looks up to heaven, and at the same time lifts up the hands, ready for activity.
V. THE VICTORY OVER HUMAN INFIRMITY. Some were discouraged. Judah said, The strength faileth, there is much rubbish, we are not able to build. The Jews nearest the danger were afraid. There will always be the discontented and the fearful ones to provoke discouragement. But there are the Nehemiahs, who "look, and rise up, and speak." The true leaders "remember the Lord." They get courage for themselves and for their brethren from the high places of faith and fellowship with God. The Church should keep its eye upon such men, and its ear open to them.
VI. THE TRUMPET-CALL. "In what place ye hear the sound of the trumpet, thither assemble yourselves unto us. Our God will fight for us." There are times and places which rally God's people. They must draw together. They must forsake for a while their special, individual appointment. They must obey the trumpet which summons them to united effort against a desperate assault. This especially true in connection with the attacks of infidelity and superstition.
VII. THE UNIVERSAL REQUIREMENT. Unpausing, unresting toil and vigilance till the work is done. "Night and day." "None of us put off our clothes." The Church must endure hardness if it will accomplish its mission to build the wall of Jerusalem. Special need at times to guard against the growth of the spirit of self-indulgence, sloth, and compromise. Too much of the work is committed to the few willing labourers. All should be doing, and always doing, and doing their all.—R.