We left all hands at work for the building of the wall about Jerusalem.
But such good work is not wont to be carried on without opposition; now
here we are told what opposition was given to it, and what methods
Nehemiah took to forward the work, notwithstanding that opposition.
I. Their enemies reproached and ridiculed their undertaking, but their
scoffs they answered with prayers: they heeded them not, but went on
with their work notwithstanding,
II. They formed a bloody design against them, to hinder them by force
To guard against this Nehemiah prayed
and encouraged them to fight
by which the design was broken
and so the work was carried on with all needful precaution against a
In all this Nehemiah approved himself a man of great wisdom and
courage, as well as great piety.
|The Opposition of Sanballat, &c..
||B. C. 445.|
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
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
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
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.
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.
I. The spiteful scornful reflection which Sanballat and Tobiah cast
upon the Jews for their attempt to build the wall about Jerusalem. The
country rang of it presently; intelligence was brought of it to
Samaria, that nest of enemies to the Jews and their prosperity; and
here we are told how they received the tidings.
1. In heart. They were very angry at the undertaking, and had great
It vexed them that Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of
but, when they heard of this great undertaking for their good, they
were out of all patience. They had hitherto pleased themselves with the
thought that while Jerusalem was unwalled they could swallow it up and
make themselves masters of it when they pleased; but, if it be walled,
it will not only be fenced against them, but by degrees become
formidable to them. The strength and safety of the church are the grief
and vexation of its enemies.
2. In word. They despised it, and made it the subject of their
ridicule. In this they sufficiently displayed their malice; but good
was brought out of it; for, looking upon it as a foolish undertaking
that would sink under its own weight, they did not go about to obstruct
it till it was too late. Let us see with what pride and malice they set
themselves publicly to banter it.
(1.) Sanballat speaks with scorn of the workmen: "These feeble
"what will they do for materials? Will they revive the stones out of
the rubbish? And what mean they by being so hasty? Do they think to
make the walling of a city but one day's work, and to keep the feast of
dedication with sacrifice the next day? Poor silly people! See how
ridiculous they make themselves!"
(2.) Tobiah speaks with no less scorn of the work itself. He has his
jest too, and must show his wit,
Profane scoffers sharpen one another. "Sorry work," says he, "they are
likely to make of it; they themselves will be ashamed of it: If a
fox go up, not with his subtlety, but with his weight, he will
break down their stone wall." Many a good work has been thus looked
upon with contempt by the proud and haughty scorners.
II. Nehemiah's humble and devout address to God when he heard of these
reflections. He had notice brought him of what they said. It is
probable that they themselves sent him a message to this purport, to
discourage him, hoping to jeer him out of his attempt; but he did not
answer these fools according to their folly; he did not upbraid them
with their weakness, but looked up to God by prayer.
1. He begs of God to take notice of the indignities that were done them
and in this we are to imitate him: Hear, O our God! for we are
(1.) God's people have often been a despised people, and loaded with
(2.) God does, and will, hear all the slights that are put upon his
people, and it is their comfort that he does so and a good reason why
they should be as though they were deaf,
"Thou art our God to whom we appeal; our cause needs no more than a
2. He begs of God to avenge their cause and turn the reproach upon the
and this was spoken rather by a spirit of prophecy than by a spirit of
prayer, and is not to be imitated by us who are taught of Christ to
pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us.
Christ himself prayed for those that reproached him: Father, forgive
them. Nehemiah here prays, Cover not their iniquity. Note,
(1.) Those that cast contempt on God's people do but prepare
everlasting shame for themselves.
(2.) It is a sin from which sinners are seldom recovered. Doubtless
Nehemiah had reason to think the hearts of those sinners were
desperately hardened, so that they would never repent of it, else he
would not have prayed that it might never be blotted out. The
reason he gives is not, They have abused us, but, They have
provoked thee, and that before the builders, to whom, it is
likely, they sent a spiteful message. Note, We should be angry at the
malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it
is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God
will appear against it,
III. The vigour of the builders, notwithstanding these reflections,
They made such good speed that in a little time they had run up the
wall to half its height, for the people had a mind to work;
their hearts were upon it, and they would have it forwarded. Note,
1. Good work goes on well when people have a mind to it.
2. The reproaches of enemies should rather quicken us to our duty than
drive us from it.
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,
8 And conspired all of them together to come and to fight
against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
9 Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch
against them day and night, because of them.
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.
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.
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.
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
15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was
known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that
we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.
We have here,
I. The conspiracy which the Jews' enemies formed against them, to stay
the building by slaying the builders. The conspirators were not only
Sanballat and Tobiah, but other neighbouring people whom they had drawn
into the plot. They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work
would soon stand still of itself; but, when they heard that it went on
a prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the
work forward and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it
They were very wroth. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and
their wrath, for it was cruel. Nothing would serve but they would
fight against Jerusalem,
Why, what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had they done them any wrong?
Or did they design them any? No, they lived peaceably by them; but it
was merely out of envy and malice; they hated the Jews' piety, and were
therefore vexed at their prosperity and sought their ruin. Observe,
1. How unanimous they were: They conspired all of them together,
though of different interests among themselves, yet one in their
opposition to the work of God.
2. How close they were; they said, "They shall not know, neither
see, till we have them at our mercy." Thus they took crafty
counsel, and digged deep to hide it from the Lord, and promised
themselves security and success from the secresy of their management.
3. How cruel they were: We will come and slay them. If nothing
less than the murder of the workmen will put a stop to the work, they
will not stick at that; nay, it is their blood they thirst for, and
they are glad of any pretence to glut themselves with it.
4. What the design was and how confident they were of success: it was
to cause the work to cease
and this they were confident that they should effect. The hindering of
good work is that which bad men aim at and promise themselves; but good
work is God's work, and it shall prosper.
II. The discouragements which the builders themselves laboured under.
At the very time when the adversaries said, Let us cause the work to
cease, Judah said, "Let us even let it fall, for we are not able to
go forward with it,"
They represent the labourers as tired, and the remaining difficulties,
even of that first part of their work, the removing of the rubbish, as
insuperable, and therefore they think it advisable to desist for the
present. Can Judah, that warlike valiant tribe, sneak thus? Active
leading men have many times as much ado to grapple with the fears of
their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.
III. The information that was brought to Nehemiah of the enemies'
There were Jews that dwelt by them, in the country, who, though
they had not zeal enough to bring them to Jerusalem to help their
brethren in building the wall, yet, having by their situation
opportunity to discover the enemies' motions, had so much honesty and
affection to the cause as to give intelligence of them; nay, that their
intelligence might be the more credited, they came themselves to give
it, and they said it ten times, repeating it as men in earnest, and
under a concern, and the report was confirmed by many witnesses. The
intelligence they gave is expressed abruptly, and finds work for the
critics to make out the sense of it, which perhaps is designed to
intimate that they gave this intelligence as men out of breath and in
confusion, whose very looks would make up the deficiencies of their
words. I think it may be read, without supplying any thing:
"Whatever place you turn to, they are against us, so that you
have need to be upon your guard on all sides," Note, God has many ways
of bringing to light, and so bringing to nought, the devices and
designs of his and his church's enemies. Even the cold and feeble Jews
that contentedly dwell by them shall be made to serve as spies upon
them; nay, rather than fail, a bird of the air shall carry their
IV. The pious and prudent methods which Nehemiah, hereupon, took to
baffle the design, and to secure his work and workmen.
1. It is said
(1.) He looked up, engaged God for him, and put himself and his cause
under the divine protection
We made our prayer unto our God. That was the way of this good
man, and should be our way; all his cares, all his griefs, all his
fears, he spread before God, and thereby made himself easy. This was
the first thing he did; before he used any means, he made his prayer to
God, for with him we must always begin.
(2.) He looked about him. Having prayed, he set a watch against
them. The instructions Christ has given us in our spiritual warfare
agree with this example,
Watch and pray. If we think to secure ourselves by prayer only,
without watchfulness, we are slothful and tempt God; if by
watchfulness, without prayer, we are proud and slight God; and, either
way, we forfeit his protection.
(1.) How he posted the guards,
In the lower places he set them behind the wall, that
they might annoy the enemy over it, as a breast-work; but in the
higher places, where the wall was raised to its full height, he set
them upon it, that from the top of it they might throw down stones or
darts upon the heads of the assailants: he set them after their
families, that mutual relation might engage them to mutual
(2.) How he animated and encouraged the people,
He observed even the nobles and rulers themselves, as well as the rest
of the people, to be in a great consternation upon the intelligence
that was brought them, and ready to conclude that they were all undone,
by which their hands were weakened both for work and war, and
therefore, he endeavours to silence their fears. "Come," says he,
"be not afraid of them, but behave yourselves valiantly,
[1.] Whom you fight under. You cannot have a better captain:
Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible; you think your
enemies great and terrible, but what are they in comparison with
God, especially in opposition to him? He is great above them to control
them, and will be terrible to them when he comes to reckon with them."
Those that with an eye of faith see the church's God to be great and
terrible will see the church's enemies to be mean and despicable. The
reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of
man. He that is afraid of a man that shall die forgets the Lord his
[2.] "Whom you fight for. You cannot have a better cause; you fight for
your sons, and your daughters. All that is dear to you in their
world lies at stake; therefore behave yourselves valiantly."
V. The happy disappointment which this gave to the enemies,
When they found that their design was discovered, and that the Jews
were upon their guard, they concluded that it was to no purpose to
attempt any thing, but that God had brought their counsel to
nought. They knew they could not gain their point but by surprise,
and, if their plot was known, it was quashed. The Jews hereupon
returned every one to his work, with so much the more
cheerfulness because they saw plainly that God owned it and owned them
in the doing of it. Note, God's care of our safety should engage and
encourage us to go on with vigour in our duty. As soon as ever a danger
is over let us return to our work, and trust God another
|The Precautions of Nehemiah.
||B. C. 445.|
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.
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.
18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his
side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by
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.
21 So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears
from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.
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 labour on the day.
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.
When the builders had so far reason to think the design of the enemies
broken as to return to their work, yet they were not so secure
as to lay down their arms, knowing how restless and unwearied they were
in their attempts, and that, if one design failed, they would be
hatching another. Thus must we watch always against our spiritual
enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be accomplished till our
work is. See what course Nehemiah took, that the people might hold
themselves in a readiness, in case there should be an attack.
1. While one half were at work, the other half were under their arms,
holding spears, and shields, and bows, not only for themselves
but for the labourers too, who would immediately quit their work, and
betake themselves to their weapons, upon the first alarm,
It is probable that they changed services at stated hours, which would
relieve the fatigue of both, and particularly would be an ease to the
bearers of burdens, whose strength had decayed
while they held the weapons, they were eased and yet not idle. Thus
dividing their time between the trowels and the spears, they are said
to work with one hand and hold their weapons with the
which cannot be understood literally, for the work would require both
hands; but it intimates that they were equally employed in both. Thus
must we work out our salvation with the weapons of our warfare in our
hand; for in every duty we must expect to meet with opposition from our
spiritual enemies, against whom we must still be fighting the good
fight of faith.
2. Every builder had a sword by his side
which he could carry without hindering his labour. The word of God is
the sword of the Spirit, which we ought to have always at hand and
never to seek, both in our labours and in our conflicts as Christians.
3. Care was taken both to get and give early notice of the approach of
the enemy, in case they should endeavour to surprise them. Nehemiah
kept a trumpeter always by him to sound an alarm, upon the first
intimation of danger. The work was large, and the builders were
dispersed; for in all parts of the wall they were labouring at the same
time. Nehemiah continually walked round to oversee the work and
encourage the workmen, and so would have speedy intelligence if the
enemy made an attack, of which, by sound of trumpet, he would soon give
notice to all, and they must immediately repair to him with a full
assurance that their God would fight for them,
When they acted as workmen, it was requisite they should be dispersed
wherever there was work to do; but when as soldiers it was requisite
they should come into close order, and be found in a body. Thus should
the labourers in Christ's building be ready to unite against a common
4. The inhabitants of the villages were ordered to lodge within
Jerusalem, with their servants, not only that they might be the nearer
to their work in the morning, but that they might be ready to help in
case of an attack in the night,
The strength of a city lies more in its hands than in its walls; secure
them, and God's blessing upon them, and be secure.
5. Nehemiah himself, and all his men, kept closely to their business.
The spears were held up, with the sight of them to terrify the enemy,
not only from sun to sun, but from twilight to twilight every day,
Thus ought we to be always upon our guard against our spiritual
enemies, not only (as here) while it is light, but when it is
dark, for they are the rulers of the darkness of this world.
Nay, so very intent was Nehemiah upon his work, and so fast did he hold
his servants to it, that while the heat of the business lasted neither
he himself nor his attendants went into bed, but every night lay and
slept in their clothes
except that they shifted them now and then, either for cleanliness or
in a case of ceremonial pollution. It was a sign that their heart was
upon their work when they could not find time to dress and undress, but
resolved they would be at all times ready for service. Good work is
likely to go on successfully when those that labour in it thus make a
business of it.