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.
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.
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.
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.
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.