Nehemiah 4





                                         MEET IT (vs. 1-23)


It would seem that Sanballat and his friends, when they first heard that the wall was

actually being restored, the working parties formed, and the work taken in hand,

could scarcely bring themselves to believe it. “What! These feeble Jews undertake so

heavy a task, attempt a work that must occupy so long a time, and for which they had

not even the necessary materials? (v. 2). Impossible! Such a wall as they

could build would be so weak, that if a fox tried to get over it he would

break it down” (v. 3). But when, despite their scoffs, the working parties

labored steadily, and the whole wall was brought to half the intended

height (v. 6), and the gaps made in it by the Babylonians were filled up

(v. 7), they changed their tone, admitted the seriousness of the undertaking,

and the probability that it would succeed unless steps were

taken to prevent it. The natural course to pursue, if they really believed that

rebellion was intended (ch.2:19), or that the permission of

Artaxerxes had not been obtained, was to act as Rehum and Shimshai had

acted in the time of the Pseudo-Smerdis, and address a letter to the king

informing him of Nehemiah’s proceedings, and recommending that a stop

should be put to them (see Ezra 4:11-22). But probably they had by

this time become aware that Artaxerxes was privy to the proceedings of his

cupbearer, and would not easily be induced to interfere with them. The

letter to Asaph which Nehemiah had obtained (ch.2:8) must

have been delivered to him, and would become known; the fact that the

king had sanctioned the restoration of the wall would be apparent; and all

hope of a check from this quarter, if it ever existed, would be swept away.

Besides, at the rate at which the work was progressing under Nehemiah’s

skillful arrangements, it would be accomplished before the court could be

communicated with, unless other steps were taken. Accordingly, it was

resolved to stop the building by main force. Sanballat and Tobiah, his

Ammonite hanger-on, entered into a league with the neighboring peoples,

the Philistines of Ashdod, the Ammonites, and some Arab tribe or tribes,

and agreed with them that a conjoint attack should be made upon

Jerusalem by a confederate army (vs.7-8). It was hoped to

take the working parties by surprise, and to effect their complete

destruction (ibid. v. 11). But Nehemiah, having learned what was

intended, made preparations to meet and repulse the assailants. He began

by setting a watch day and night (v. 9) on the side on which the attack

was expected. When an assault seemed imminent, he stopped the work,

and drew up the whole people in battle array, with swords, spears, and

bows, behind the wall, but in conspicuous places, so that they could be

seen from a distance, and in this attitude awaited the enemy (v. 13). The

result was that no actual assault was delivered. Sanballat and his allies,

when they found such preparations made to receive them, came to the

conclusion that discretion was the better part of valor, and drew off

without proceeding to blows (v. 15). The work was then resumed, but

under additional precautions. The laborers were compelled to work either

with a weapon in one hand, or at the least with a sword at their side (vs.

17-18). Nehemiah’s private attendants were armed and formed into two

bands, one of which worked on the wall, while the other kept guard, and

held the arms, offensive and defensive, of their fellow-servants (v. 16).

At night the working parties retired to rest within the city, but Nehemiah

himself, his brothers, his servants, and his bodyguard, remained outside,

keeping watch by turns, and sleeping in their clothes, until the wall was

finished (vs. 22-23).


1 “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the

wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the

Jews.  2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and

said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will

they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the

stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?”

Before his brethren. By “his brethren” would seem to be

meant his chief counselors — probably Tobiah among them. The army of

Samaria. Some understand by this a Persian garrison, stationed in Samaria

under its own commander, with which Sanballat had influence, but there is

no real ground for such a supposition. Psalm 83, belongs probably to David’s

time; and as Samaria had doubtless its own native force of armed citizens, who

were Sanballat’s subjects, it is quite unnecessary to suppose that he addressed

himself to any other “army” than this. The Persians would maintain a force in

Damascus, but scarcely in Samaria; and Persian soldiers, had there been any in that

city, would have been more likely to support a royal cupbearer than a petty

governor with no influence at court. We can really only explain the

disturbed state of things and approach to open hostility which appears in

Nehemiah’s narrative, by the weakness of Persia in these parts, and the

consequent power of the native races to act pretty much as they pleased —

even to the extent of making war one upon another. Will they fortify

themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? The meaning

seems to be, “Will they begin and make an end in a day?” It is assumed that

they will begin by offering a sacrifice to inaugurate their work. Will they revive

the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Rather, “Will they

revive the burnt stones (the stones that are burned) out of the heaps of the rubbish?”

Will they do what is impossible, solidify and make into real stone the

calcined and crumbling blocks which are all that they will find in the heaps

of rubbish? If not, how are they to procure material?


3 “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that

which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their

stone wall.” Tobiah the Ammonite was by him. The presence of Tobiah

on this occasion, before the alliance was made with the Ammonites (v. 8),

is a strong indication that his position was not one of independent

authority, but of dependence upon Sanballat. There is nothing to show that

he was more than a favorite slave of the Samaritan governor. A fox. Or,

a jackal,” which would be more likely than a fox to stray over a ruined

wall into a town.


4 “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon

their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity:”

Hear, O our God. Compare Ezra’s parenthetic burst of

thanksgiving (Ezra 7:27-28). That which in Ezra was a sudden impulse

has become a settled habit with Nehemiah (compare ch.5:19; 6:9,

14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31). Turn their reproach upon their own head. The

imprecations of Nehemiah are no pattern to Christians, any more than are

those of the Psalmists (Psalm 69:22-28; 79:12; 109:6-20, etc.); but it

cannot be denied that they are imprecations. Before men were taught to

love their enemies,” and “bless those that cursed them” (Matthew

5:44), they gave vent to their natural feelings of anger and indignation by

the utterance of maledictions. Nehemiah’s spirit was hot and hasty; and as

he records of himself (ch.13:25) that he “cursed” certain Jews

who had taken foreign wives, so it is not to be wondered at that he uttered

imprecations against his persistent enemies.



Despising the Godly (v. 4)


“Hear, O our God; for we are despised.” The contempt of many for sincere

and earnest Christians has respect not only to their undertakings, as here,

but their whole religious life. Taking this more general subject, notice:


  • THE TREATMENT LAMENTED. “We are despised.” How is it that

Christians are ever despised? Sometimes, doubtless, they have themselves

to blame. Thoroughly consistent Christians often obtain high respect from

men of the world. But the feeling of others is that of contempt.


Ø      What they despise.


o       Religion itself. Rejecting and disliking it, men persuade

themselves that it is not worthy of serious regard; it cannot

be, or persons so enlightened as they would be sure to recognize

its worth. Hence they affect to think serious Christians credulous

and foolish; believing what is unworthy of faith, spending

thought, feeling, energy, money for that which is naught,

and giving up real advantages and pleasures for phantoms;

solid treasures for an estate in the clouds. Gradually they come

to believe seriously what first they affected to believe, until all

earnest Christians are regarded as ignorant fanatics.


o       The contempt is sometimes increased by the circumstances

with which religion is associated. Some Christians have so much

which the world esteems as respectable, that their religion is

overlooked or condoned. It may excite a smile, but does not

awaken contempt. But when such things are wanting, and the

one thing most prominent is piety, it is more apt to awaken

feelings of hostility, and these to become contemptuous. These

poor and ignorant folk, what right have they to deem themselves

wiser and better than “their betters”? (see John 7:48-49).


o       In some cases it is the form which religion assumes that

 awakens or intensifies contempt. A large part of the world,

in a Christian country, deems it quite right to have a religion,

but it must be that of the wealthy, respectable, and

fashionable classes: all other it denounces, or with proud

haughtiness ignores as unworthy of serious notice.


Ø      The real causes of their contempt.


o       Unbelief. This the main cause. They do not really believe the

truths of Christianity, faith in which is the mainspring of the

Christian life. The Divine estimate of the relative worth of

men and things is not accepted.


o       Ignorance. Men highly intelligent in other departments —

men of science, whose judgment is worthy of all respect in

their own sphere — are often profoundly ignorant of the

Christian religion, and the actual principles and motives

which animate the Christian; yet “speak evil of the

things which they understand not.  (II Peter 2:12)


o       Worldliness. Estimating all things by the worldly standard,

the things of the Spirit of God” are “foolishness unto them.”

(I Corinthians 2:14)


o       Conceit of superiority. Pride of intellect, rank, etc., blinds them,

and produces disdain of those whom they deem inferior to them.

Hence they become “despisers of those that are good.”  (II

Timothy 3:3)  It does not, however, require actual superiority

to produce this effect; the conceit of it is enough.



feeling expressed in the text is evidently that of pain. It is singular that to

be despised is harder to bear than any other kind of ill-treatment. It wounds

self-respect more, perhaps pride. It is felt most keenly by those whose

knowledge, or refinement, or position enables them best to appreciate the

feelings which prompt it. Paul found it harder to bear the scorn of

educated men than Peter. To be deeply affected by it, is in all cases a

sign of too great regard for the good opinion of men. Habitual supreme

regard for “the praise of God” would raise us above it.



IT. Let good men bear in mind:


Ø      Who it is that despise them. Those whose judgment, for the reasons

given above, is of little account.

Ø      For what they are despised. For that which they know to be wise,

noble, substantial, worthy of all honor.

Ø      With whom they are despised. God (I Samuel 2:30; Psalm 10:13).

Our Lord Jesus (Isaiah 53:3). Apostles, martyrs, saints in

general, “the excellent of the earth.”

Ø      The estimation in which they are held by the wisest and best beings.

God esteems and treats them as especially His “sons and daughters.”

Christ “is not ashamed to call them brethren.”  (Hebrews 2:11)

Angels are “ministering spirits” (Ibid. 1:14) to them, and rejoice

when even “one sinner repents” (Luke 15:7) and is added to their


Ø      The vindication of themselves, and the confusion of their despisers,

which will take place at the last day.



Prayer for those who despise us. “Pray for them which despitefully use

you(Matthew 5:44).  “Being reviled, we bless.”  (I Corinthians 4:12)

Prayer for ourselves; for needful strength to bear contempt meekly yet

manfully. “Strengthened with might by God’s Spirit in the inner man”

(Ephesians 3:16),  we shall not heed it.


5  And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out

from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the

builders.”   Cover not their iniquity, etc. Some of David’s imprecations

are very similar (Psalm 109:7, 14-15, etc.), as also some of Jeremiah’s

(Jeremiah 18:23). They have provoked thee to anger before the

builders. It is not as if they had merely “thought scorn” of thee, or insulted

thee before one or two. They have uttered their insult publicly, so that it is

known to the whole body of the builders. Therefore they deserve not to be



6 “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the

half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.”  So built we the wall.

Rather, “and we (still) built the wall  Insults and gibes had no effect on us —

did not touch us. Despite of them we steadily kept on our building, and the

result was that soon all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof

the whole continuous line of wall was completed to half the contemplated

height. For the people had a mind to work. Literally, “there was a heart to

the people to work.”  They wrought, as we should say, “with a will”— they

had their heart in the work. Insult and gibe rather stimulated than daunted them.



Ridicule of a Good Work (vs. 1-6)


Sanballat and his friends had at first thought it impossible that Nehemiah

would attempt to repair and restore the wall of Jerusalem, But when they

found that the work was actually begun, and making good progress, their

anger was equaled only by their astonishment, and they gave vent to their

wrath in scoffs and ridicule. Happily they seem to have been so misled by

their contempt for the feebleness of the Jews as to have deemed it

impossible that they could really complete the undertaking; and so they

contented themselves with ridicule until the work was so far advanced, and

the people so organized and inspirited, that more formidable measures were

unavailing. Nehemiah, however, was much wounded by their scorn,

expressed as it was not only before “the army of Samaria (v. 2), but

before the builders” (v. 5), and adapted to discourage them; and he

expressed his feelings strongly in prayer to God. But he and the people, so

far from being disheartened, had only the greater “mind to work,” and

speedily completed the restoration up to half the height of the wall.




COMMENCEMENT. Many discoveries and inventions of a secular

character might be cited in illustration. The Copernican system. Gas.

Railways, and the speed of traveling expected on them. Ocean steamships.

(In more modern times, how about flight in airplanes, going to the moon,

etc. – CY – 2015)  But, confining ourselves to Christian enterprises, the

first preaching and avowed aims of the gospel, the efforts of Christian

reformers and evangelists, the work of modern missions, may be referred

to; and many an effort on a smaller scale to evangelize a dark and godless



Ø      The circumstances which are thought to justify contempt and ridicule.


o       The supposed impossibility of accomplishing the proposed object.

“Will they revive the stones,” etc.

o       The feebleness of those who undertake it. In number, wealth,

mental capacity, and culture, etc. “What do these feeble Jews?”

o       Their expectation of Divine aid. “Will they sacrifice?” Thus

the preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness;”

(I Corinthians 1:18) and those who preach it are sometimes

regarded as either knaves or fools.


Ø      Their actual causes.


o       Dislike of the work and anger against the workers (v. 1).

These help to produce blindness as to the real facts of the case.

o       Ignorance and unbelief. The world knows not the real resources

of Christians, and cannot understand their motives. It has no


§         in the gospel or the Holy Ghost,

§         in the precepts or promises which impel and inspirit

Christian workers, or

§         the Divine love which constrains them.

Hence they cannot rightly estimate their conduct or the

probabilities of their success.  What the world can see is

manifestly insufficient, and it cannot see what renders success


o       Felt dearth of solid grounds of objection. Ridicule is often

used  as a substitute for argument.





Ø      Care not to deserve them. It must be confessed that sometimes those

engaged in religious enterprises invite ridicule, if not contempt:

o       by manifest ignorance,

o       by cowardly fears of advancing science,

o       by clap-trap (rash) and worldly policy,

o       by cant or weak sentimentalism,

o       by glaring inconsistencies between their lofty professions

and their actual conduct, etc.

It is one of the wholesome functions of raillery to banish such follies

from good undertakings, and thus make the work truer and stronger.


Ø      Prayer. Not like Nehemiah’s, for vengeance on the despisers; but

forgiveness, and that God would “turn their reproach on their

head by granting signal success to the work.


Ø      Calm confidence. In the assurance of that Divine favor and

assistance of which the world takes little account, and thus of

good success.


Ø      Steady, persevering toil. All the more vigorous because of the

opposition. Thus Christian workers will live down contempt,

even if, as in this case, it give place to violent hostility. It may,

however, be followed by applause when the work has proved

itself good by results which even the world can appreciate.




Derision and Devotion (vs. 1-6)


  • DEVOTION ASSAILED BY DERISION (vs. 1-3). Sanballat and

Tobiah were contemptuously angry when they heard that the Jews had

actually begun to build: they “took great indignation, and mocked the

Jews” (v. 1). “What do these feeble Jews?” said Sanballat (v. 2). “If a

fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall,” said Tobiah (v. 3),

using the strongest language of derision. Here was:


Ø      misplaced contempt. A very ridiculous thing it must have seemed to

Noah’s contemporaries for him to be building a great ship so far

from the sea; but the hour came when, as the waters rose, the scorners

who had laughed at him knew that he was the one wise man, and they

the fools. A pitiably ruinous thing the ministers of Pharaoh’s court must

have thought it in Moses to sacrifice his princely position in Egypt, and

choose to “suffer affliction with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:25).

We know now how wise he was. Many others beside Festus thought

Paul mad to relinquish everything dear to man that he might be a leader

of the despised sect, “everywhere spoken against.”  (Acts 28:22) 

We understand what he did for the world, and what a “crown of

righteousness he was winning for himself (II Timothy 4:8).

To the shallow judgment of the Samaritans, Nehemiah and his

workmen seemed to be engaged in a work that would come to naught –

they would “have their labor for their pains;” but their contempt was

wholly misplaced. These men were earnest and devout workmen,

guided by a resolute, high-minded leader, who had a plan in his head

as well as a hope in his heart; they were to be congratulated, and not

despised. So now:

o       fleshly strength, a thing of muscle and nerve, may despise the

mind with which it competes; or

o       material force (money, guns, arms) the spiritual strength

against which it is arrayed; or

o       mere numbers, without truth and without God, the feeble band

`which is in a small minority, but which has truth, righteousness,


Very misplaced contempt, as time will soon show. Sanballat and Tobiah,

in their superciliousness, used:


Ø      an easily-forged weapon ridicule. Nothing is easier than to turn

good things, even the very best things, into ridicule. It is the favorite

weapon of wrong in its weakness. When men can do nothing else,

they can laugh at goodness and virtue. Any simpleton may make

filial piety seem ridiculous by a sneering allusion to a “mother’s apron-

string.” The weakest-minded man can raise a laugh by speaking of

death or of devotion in terms of flippancy. There was but the very

smallest speck of cleverness in Sanballat’s idea of turning ashes into

stones (v. 2), or in Tobiah’s reference to the fox breaking down the

wall (v. 3), but it probably excited the derisive laughter of “the

brethren and the army of Samaria (v. 2). Let those who adopt the

role of the mocker remember that it is the weapon of the fool which

they are wielding. But though easily forged, this weapon of ridicule is:


Ø      a blade that cuts deeply. Nehemiah felt it keenly. “Hear, O our God;

for we are despised” (v. 4). And the imprecation (v. 6) that follows

shows very deep and intense feeling. Derision may be easily produced,

but it is very hard to bear. It is but a shallow philosophy that says

hard words break no bones:” they do not break bones, but they bruise

tender hearts.  They crush sensitive spirits, which is more, and worse.

“A wounded spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14). The full force of

a human soul’s contempt directed against a sensitive spirit, the brutal

trampling of heartless malignity on the most sacred and cherished

convictions of the soul, this is one of the worst sufferings we can be

called to endure. But we have:



Nehemiah, as his habit was, betook himself to God. He could not make

light of the reproaches, but, smarting under them, he appealed to the

Divine Comforter. “Hear, O our God,” etc. (v. 4). In all time of our

distress from persecution we should:


Ø      carry our burden to our God; especially remembering “Him who

endured such contradiction of sinners” (Hebrews 12:3), and

appealing to Him who is “touched with the feeling of our

 infirmities (Ibid. ch.4:15), having been Himself tried on this

point even as we are.


Ø      Ask His interposition with our enemies; only, as we have learned of

Christ, asking not for retaliation (v. 5), but for the victory of love,

for their conversion to a better mind.


  • DEVOTION DRIVEN TO DO ITS BEST (v. 6). Under the

inspiration of an attack from without, Nehemiah and his brethren went on

with their work


Ø      with redoubled speed. “So built we the wall unto the half thereof.” It

grew rapidly under their busy hands, nerved and stimulated as they

were to do their best.


Ø      With perfect co-operation. All the wall was joined together.” There

was no part left undone by any idlers or malcontents: each man did the

work appointed him. The reproaches of them that are without knits

together as one man those that are within.


Ø      With heartiness. “The people had a mind to work.” No instruments,

however cunningly devised and well-made, will do much without the

mind to work;” but with our mind in the work we can do almost

anything with such weapons as we have at hand. Pray for, cherish

the willing mind” (II Corinthians 8:12) in the work of the Lord,

and then the busy hand will quickly “build the wall.”



A Mind to Work (v. 6)


“The people had a mind to work.” In our age the calls and opportunities

for Christian work are numerous and urgent. The prevalence of “a mind to

workis therefore of great importance; its existence throughout any

Christian community is matter for thankfulness, when at least it springs

from Christian principle, and is directed wisely to valuable ends.




Ø      Sense of necessity. Perception of evils needing to be removed; of

good requiring to be done.

Ø      Sense of duty.

Ø      Gratitude and love to God and the Redeemer.

Ø      Benevolence.

Ø      Hope. Of accomplishing good; of obtaining good.

Ø      All these may be excited and guided by good leaders

such as Nehemiah.


  • HOW IT WILL SHOW ITSELF. In actual work.


Ø      Prompt.

Ø      Hearty.

Ø      Happy.

Ø      Abundant.

Ø      Steady and persevering.


Notwithstanding scoffers, difficulties, etc.




Ø      Freedom from fruitless speculation and unhealthy controversy.

Ø      Growth in true Christian life.

Ø      Success in doing good.


7 “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the

Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the

walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to

be stopped, then they were very wroth,  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 (Psalm 137:7; Ezekiel 25:12; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:10, 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, and influenced

by the Ammonites, their neighbors.


8 “And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against

Jerusalem, and to hinder it.”  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.”


9 “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch

against them day and night, because of them.”  We… set a watch against

them day and night, because of them. Rather, “over against, them,”.opposite to

them” — opposite, that is, to the point from which they were expected to make

their attack.



Prayer and Watchfulness (v. 9)


“Nevertheless we made our prayer unto God, and set a watch!”


·         THE CHRISTIAN’S PERILS. His enemies are:


Ø      Numerous. Satan and his angels, his own corruptions, the world.

Ø      Diverse. Different in nature, and mode of attack; assuming

different orms; appealing in turn to every passion and principle

of our nature.

Ø      Treacherous. “The wiles of the devil.”  (Ephesians 6:11)  He can take

the form of “an angel of light.”  (II Corinthians 11:14)  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.

Ø      Intent on our destruction. “Seeking whom he may devour.

(I Peter 5:8)  Our highest interests, our eternal well-being,

are imperiled.




Ø      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.  (“I can do all things through

Christ who strengtheneth me.”  Philippians 4:13)

Ø      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.

Ø      The two combined. God will protect those who watch as well

as pray.  Prayer aids watching, and watching prayer. “Watch

unto prayer.”  (I Peter 4:7)  Prayer without watchfulness is

presumption. Watchfulness without prayer, sinful self-confidence.

Each without the other is sure to fail. Both together will

insure deliverance.


10 “And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed,

and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.

11 And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we

come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work

to cease.”  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.


12 “And it came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them

came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall

return unto us they will be upon you.”

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. )


13 “Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the

higher places, I even set the people after their families with their

swords, their spears, and their bows.”  Then set I in the lower places

behind the wall, and on the higher places. There is no and in 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. (v. 14).


14 “And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the

rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them:

remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your

brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your

houses.  15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known

unto us, and God had brought their counsel to naught, that we

returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.”

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 (v. 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

(Ewald, ‘History of Israel,’ vol. 5. p. 155). The Lord, which is great and

terrible. See the comment on ch. 1:5.



Courage in the Christian War (v. 14)


Be not ye afraid of them,” etc. A stirring battle-cry. Suitable in the

Christian warfare.  (“Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the

world.”  (I John 4:4)


·         THE CHURCH’S WARFARE. Each for himself and his family; all for

the common good. Against:

Ø      the world,

Ø      the flesh, and

Ø      the devil,

in all the forms they assume:

Ø      infidelity,

Ø      heresy,

Ø      ungodliness, and

Ø      wickedness of all kinds.


The war is:

Ø      Defensive. To preserve themselves, and their households and

Churches, from spiritual and moral evil.

Ø      Offensive. To subdue the world to Christ. Destroying the errors

and sins which prevail in it, and rescuing their victims.


·         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.”

(Proverbs 28:14)  But not the craven fear which shuns the fight.




Ø      Remembrance of God.


o       His greatness. He has all power to sustain His servants,

give them the victory, and reward the victors.

o       His terribleness. To His enemies to subdue them; to

      His professed friends if they decline to do battle for Him.

                                                “Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then

                                                     Have nothing else to fear.”

Ø      Thought of the interests involved. As here, of brothers, sons,

      daughters, wives, and houses.

Ø      Mutual encouragement. “Be not afraid,” etc.


16 “And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my

servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both

the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the

rulers were behind all the house of Judah.”  The half of my servants

wrought in the work. Nehemiah divided his “servants” or slaves into two bodies,

one of which labored 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 labor, but stood

behind the laborers, directing them, and ready to lead them on if the enemy

ventured to come to blows.


17 “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with

those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the

work, and with the other hand held a weapon.”

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:

  • actual builders, and
  • those who carried the materials.

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 their girdles.


18 “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so

builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.  19 And I said unto

the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great

and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another.

20 In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye

thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.”  For the builders. Rather, “and the

(actual) builders” masons, bricklayers, and the like, as distinct from the bearers

of burdens, or carriers of material. He that sounded the trumpet. The signalman.

Trumpeters appear both in the Egyptian and the Assyrian sculptures (see

‘Ancient Monarchies,’ vol. 1. p. 539, second ed.; Wilkinson, ‘Ancient

Egyptians,’ vol. 2. p. 260).



            Building in Readiness to Fight (vs. 17-18)


“They which builded on the wall, …. 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:





Ø      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.


Ø      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. This 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:

o       unbelief,

o       superstition, and

o       immorality, and

                        be ready, if necessary TO SUMMON ALL to fight against them

                        (see Ezekiel 3:17, seq.; 33:7, seq.).




Ø      They are mutually helpful. Fighting, or readiness for it, renders

      building possible. If infidelity or sin get the upper hand, “edification”

      ceases.  (As  happened in the United States in the last half-century!

      CY – 2015)  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.”  (John 14:30)  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.


Ø      Readiness for fighting may hinder or stop building. The attitude of

      mind favorable to the former is in no small degree unfavorable 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 unfavorable 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:

o       Be “ready, aye, ready” for battle. With the “whole armor

      of God” about you, and trained to the use of your weapons.

o       But be mainly intent on building.




                                    God Fighting for His People (v. 20)


“Our God shall fight for us.” An inspiriting assurance. Grounds of it in the

case of Nehemiah and the Jews.


·         WHEN WE MAY CHERISH THIS ASSURANCE. When we fight for

            God; which we do:


Ø      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.

Ø      When we are actuated by sincere and supreme regard for   Him.

      Desiring His glory, and trusting Him for strength and victory.

Ø      When we employ the weapons which He has given us. Not using

      Satan’s arms, but the weapons of truth and love (see II Corinthians


Ø      When we fight in the spirit which He prescribes and imparts

      (II Timothy 2:25; James 1:20).

Ø      When we battle with all our power.




Ø      The relation of God to us. “Our God.”

Ø      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.

Ø      His summons to it.

Ø      His promises.




Ø      Promptness to engage in the combat.

Ø      Courage.

Ø      Confidence of victory.


“If God be for us, who can be against us?”   (Romans 8:31)

Finally, take heed lest any of you fight against God.

“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker.”  (Isaiah 45:9)


21 “So we labored in the work: and half of them held the spears from

the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.”  So we labored: 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” (v. 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.


22  Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one

with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may

be a guard to us, and labor on the day.”  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 2:64-65);

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.


23 “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the

guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving

that every one put them off for washing.”  My brethren. Actual brothers

probably. That Nehemiah had brothers appears from ch.1:2; that one of them,

Hanani, had accompanied him to Jerusalem is evident from ch.7:2. My

servants. See above, v. 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 Authorized Version; others take

the words in the same way, but explain the term “water” differently, of a

natural want; while many regard the text as unsound, and propose

emendations. None, however, that has as yet been proposed is satisfactory.




The Wisdom of the Christian Workman in the Hour of Peril (vs. 7-23)

We are reminded here of:


·         THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (v. 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 labor 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.


·         THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (vs. 10-12).

            The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes:


Ø      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” (v. 11). Here was force combined

                        with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.


Ø      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. (v. 10); and the neighboring Jews who had

                        come in to help kept saying (“ten times,” v. 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” (I Corinthians 16:9). This

                        we must expect whenever we “put our hand to the plough” in the

                        field of Christian labor.  (Luke 9:62)  And happy shall we be if we have

                        not to contend with the feebleness and cowardliness of our friends,

                        fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at

                        the first alarm, and talking about “giving up.”



            The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which

            Nehemiah did.


Ø      Mindfulness of God. “We made our prayer unto our God” (v. 9).

                        “Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible” (v. 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. (Psalm 50:15).


Ø      Realization of the great issues which are at stake (v. 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.


Ø      Defense (vs. 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work.

                        Nehemiah’s servants wrought with their weapon of defense in one

                        hand and their instrument of labor in the other (v. 17). Or, while one

                        was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once

                        into the laborer’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

                        laborer. 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.


Ø      Vigilance (v. 9). We “set a watch against them day and night.” The

                        Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, “Watch and pray.”

                        (Matthew 26:41)


Ø      Industry. Patient (v. 21): “We labored in the work… from the rising

                        of the morning till the stars appeared.” United (v. 15): “All of us,…

                        every one to his work.” Self-forgetting (v. 23): “None of us put off our

                        clothes,” etc.


Ø      Order (vs. 13, 19-20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men

                        were placed where most required (v. 13); those whose homes were

                        outside came in (v. 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in

                        case of attack (vs. 19-20). All must work cordially under the human

                        as well as under the Divine leader.



                        Armed Workres (vs. 16-23)


The lessons from this paragraph for any Christian Church or society, and

indeed for any community, are, the importance of:


·         Diligence in work, combined with readiness for contest. It is work that

      secures prosperity, but conflict may be necessary for the work’s sake.

·         Thorough union.

·         Division of duties. Each taking what he is best fitted for, or is thought to

     be by those in authority.

·         Good organization.

·         Good rulers.

·         Obedience to them.

·         Self-denial. In all — those highest in authority the most careful to

     practice it.





·         For nations, wars of defense are lawful when necessary, and should be

waged bravely for the sake of homes, wives, and children.  A nation should

make preparation for war as a security for peace.


·         For individuals in their religious life, they must be prepared to fight as well

as work.  The enemies of their souls and of their Lord are various, numerous,

and determined, and must be encountered.  Prayer, watchfulness, and courage

must be combined in the Christian warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-18).


·         Faith in God and fear of Him will conquer the fear of our adversaries,

human or diabolic.


·         Regard for the highest welfare of their families should inspire Christians

in opposing the enemies of religion.




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