The cries of oppressed poverty being stilled, we are now to enquire how
the building of the wall goes forward, and in this chapter we find it
carried on with vigour and finished with joy, notwithstanding the
restless attempts of the gates of hell to hinder it. How the Jews'
enemies were baffled in their design to put a stop to it by force we
Here we find how their endeavours to drive Nehemiah off from it were
I. When they courted him to an interview, with design to do him a
mischief, he would not stir,
II. When they would have made him believe his undertaking was
represented as seditious and treasonable, he regarded not the
III. When they hired pretended prophets to advise him to retire into
the temple for his own safety, still he kept his ground,
IV. Notwithstanding the secret correspondence that was kept up between
them and some false and treacherous Jews, the work was finished in a
Such as these were the struggles between the church and its enemies.
But great is God's cause and it will be prosperous and victorious.
|The Plot of Sanballat, &c.
||B. C. 445.|
1 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem
the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had
builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein;
(though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)
2 That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us
meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono.
But they thought to do me mischief.
3 And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great
work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease,
whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
4 Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I
answered them after the same manner.
5 Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the
fifth time with an open letter in his hand;
6 Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and
Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for
which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their
king, according to these words.
7 And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at
Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it
be reported to the king according to these words. Come now
therefore, and let us take counsel together.
8 Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done
as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.
9 For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be
weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O
God, strengthen my hands.
Two plots upon Nehemiah we have here an account of, how cunningly they
were laid by his enemies and how happily frustrated by God's good
providence and his prudence.
I. A plot to trepan him into a snare. The enemies had an account of the
good forwardness the work was in, that all the breaches of the wall
were made up, so that they considered it as good as done, though at
that time the doors of the gates were off the hinges
they must therefore now or never, by one bold stroke, take off
Nehemiah. They heard how well guarded he was, so that there was no
attacking him upon the spot; they will therefore try by all the arts of
wheedling to get him among them. Observe,
1. With what hellish subtlety they courted him to meet them, not in any
city, lest that should excite a suspicion that they intended to secure
him, but in a village in the lot of Benjamin: "Come, let us meet
together to consult about the common interests of our provinces."
Or they would have him think that they coveted his friendship, and
would be glad to be better acquainted with him, in order to a good
understanding between them and the settling of a good correspondence.
But they thought to do him a mischief. It is probable that he
had some secret intelligence given him that they designed to imprison
or murder him; or he knew them so well that, without breach of charity,
he concluded they aimed at his life, and therefore, when they spoke
fair, he believed them not.
2. See with what heavenly wisdom he declined the motion. His God did
instruct him to give them that prudent answer by messengers of his
own: "I am doing a great work, am very busy, and am loth to let
the work stand still while I leave it to come down to you,"
His care was that the work might not cease; he knew it would if he left
it ever so little; and why should it cease while I come down to
you? He says nothing of his jealousies, nor reproaches them for
their treacherous design, but gives them a good reason and one of the
true reasons why he would not come. Compliment must always give way to
business. Let those that are tempted to idle merry meetings by their
vain companions thus answer the temptation, "We have work to do, and
must not neglect it." Four times they attacked him with the same
solicitation, and he as often returned the same answer, which, we may
suppose, was very vexatious to them; for really it was the ceasing of
the work that they aimed at, and it would make them despair of breaking
the undertaking to see the undertaker so intent upon it. I answered
them (says he) after the same manner,
Note, We must never suffer ourselves to be overcome by the greatest
importunity to do any thing sinful or imprudent; but, when we are
attacked with the same temptation, must still resist it with the same
reason and resolution.
II. A plot to terrify him from his work. Could they but drive him off,
the work would cease of course. This therefore Sanballat attempts, but
1. He endeavours to possess Nehemiah with an apprehension that his
undertaking to build the walls of Jerusalem was generally represented
as factious and seditious, and would be resented accordingly at court,
The best men, even in their most innocent and excellent performances,
have lain under this imputation. This is written to him in an open
letter, as a thing generally known and talked of, that it was
reported among the nations, and Gashmu will aver it for truth, that
Nehemiah was aiming to make himself king and to shake off the Persian
yoke. Note, It is common for that which is the sense only of the
malicious to be falsely represented by them as the sense of the many.
Now Sanballat pretends to inform Nehemiah of this as a friend, that he
might hasten to court to clear himself, or stay his proceedings, for
fear they should be thus misconstrued; at least, upon this surmise, he
urges him to give him the meeting--"Let us take counsel together
how to quell the report," hoping by this means either to take him off,
or at least to take him off from his business. Thus were his words
softer than oil, and yet war was in his heart, and he
hoped, like Judas, to kiss and kill. But surely in vain is the net
spread in the sight of any bird. Nehemiah was soon aware what they
aimed at, to weaken their hands from the work
and therefore not only denied that such things were true, but that they
were reported; he was better known than to be thus suspected.
2. Thus he escaped the snare and kept his ground, nor would he be
frightened by winds and clouds from sowing and reaping. Suppose it was
thus reported, we must never omit known duty merely for fear it should
be misconstrued; but, while we keep a good conscience, let us trust God
with our good name. But indeed it was not thus reported. God's people,
though sufficiently loaded with reproach, yet are not really so low in
reputation as some would have them thought to be.
In the midst of his complaint of their malice, in endeavouring to
frighten him, and so weaken his hands, he lifts up his heart to Heaven
in this short prayer: Now therefore, O God! strengthen my hands.
It is the great support and relief of good people that in all their
straits and difficulties they have a good God to go to, from whom, by
faith and prayer, they may fetch in grace to silence their fears and
strengthen their hands when their enemies are endeavouring to
fill them with fears and weaken their hands. When, in our Christian
work and warfare, we are entering upon any particular services or
conflicts, this is a good prayer for us to put up: "I have such a duty
to do, such a temptation to grapple with; now therefore, O God!
strengthen my hands." Some read it, not as a prayer, but as a holy
resolution (for O God is supplied in our translation): Now
therefore I will strengthen my hands. Note, Christian fortitude
will be sharpened by opposition. Every temptation to draw us from duty
should quicken us so much the more to duty.
|Shemaiah's Plot Defeated.
||B. C. 445.|
10 Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of
Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said,
Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and
let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay
thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
11 And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there,
that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his
life? I will not go in.
12 And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he
pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had
13 Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do
so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil
report, that they might reproach me.
14 My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to
these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of
the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
The Jews' enemies leave no stone unturned, no way untried, to take
Nehemiah off from building the wall about Jerusalem. In order to this
they had tried to fetch him into the country to them, but in vain; now
they try to drive him into the temple for his own safety; let him be
any where but at his work. Observing him to be a cautious man, they
will endeavour to gain their point by making him cowardly.
I. How basely the enemies managed this temptation.
1. That which they designed was to bring Nehemiah to do a foolish
thing, that they might laugh at him, and insult over him for doing it,
and so lessen his interest and influence
That I should be afraid, and so they might have matter for an
evil report, and might reproach me. This was indeed doing
the devil's work, who is men's tempter that he may be their accuser,
draws men to sin that he may glory in their shame. The greatest
mischief our enemies can do us is to frighten us from our duty and
bring us to do what is sinful.
2. The tools they made use of were a pretended prophet and prophetess,
whom they hired to persuade Nehemiah to quit his work and retire for
his own safety. The pretended prophet was Shemaiah, of whom it is said
that he was shut up in his own house, either under pretence of
retirement for meditation and to consult the mind of God or to give
Nehemiah a sign in like manner to make himself a recluse. It should
seem, Nehemiah had a value for him, for he went to his house to consult
Other prophets there were, and one prophetess, Noadiah
that were in the interest of the Jews' enemies, pensioners to them and
traitors to their country. Whether they pretended to inspiration does
not appear; they do not say, Thus saith the Lord, as the false
prophets of old did; if not so, yet they would be thought to excel in
divine knowledge, and human prudence, and to have uncommon measures of
insight and foresight, and were therefore consulted in difficult cases,
as prophets had been. These the enemies feed to be of counsel for them.
Let us hence take occasion to lament,
(1.) The wickedness of such bad men as these prophets, that ever any
should be so perfidious as to betray the cause of God and their country
even under the pretence of communion with God and concern for their
(2.) The unhappiness of such good men as Nehemiah, who are in danger of
being imposed upon by such cheats, and to whom no temptation comes with
more force than that which comes under a colour of religion, of
revelation and devotion, and is brought by the hand of prophets.
3. The pretence was plausible. These prophets suggested to Nehemiah
that the enemies would come and slay him, in the night they
would slay him, which he had reason enough to believe was true; they
would, if they could, if they durst. They pretended to be much
concerned for his safety. The people would be all undone if any harm
should come to him; and therefore they very gravely advised him to hide
himself in the temple till the danger was over; that was a strong and
sacred place, where he would be under the special protection of Heaven,
If Nehemiah had been prevailed upon to do this, immediately the people
would both have left off their work and thrown down their arms, and
every one would have shifted for his own safety; and then the enemies
might easily, and without opposition, have demolished the works, broken
down the wall again, and so gained their point. Though
self-preservation is a fundamental principle of the law of nature, yet
that is not always the best and wisest counsel which pretends to go
upon that principle.
II. See how bravely Nehemiah vanquished this temptation, and came off a
1. He immediately resolved not to yield to it,
(1.) What his reasonings are: "Should such a man as I flee?
Shall I desert God's work, or discourage my own workmen whom I have
employed and encouraged? Shall I be over-credulous of report, and
over-solicitous about my own life? I that am the governor, on whom so
many eyes are, both of friends and foes? Another might flee, but not I.
Who is there that being as I am, in my post of honour, and
power, and trust, would go into the temple, and lurk there, when
business is to be done, yea, though it were to save his life?" Note,
When we are tempted to sin we should remember who and what we are, that
we may not do any thing unbecoming us, and the profession we make.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel!
(2.) What was the result of his reasonings. He is at a point: "I will
not go in. I will rather die at my work than live in an inglorious
retreat from it." Note, Holy courage and magnanimity will engage us,
whatever it cost us, never to decline a good work, nor ever to
do a bad one.
2. He was immediately aware of what was the rise of it
"I perceived that God had not sent him, that he gave this
advice, not by any divine direction, ordinary or extraordinary, but
with a design against me." The wickedness of such mercenary wretches
will sooner or later be brought to light. Two things Nehemiah says he
dreaded in that which he was advised to:--
(1.) Offending God: That I should be afraid, and do so, and sin.
Note, Sin is that which above any thing we should dread; and a good
preservative it is against sin to be afraid of nothing but sin.
(2.) Shaming himself: That they might reproach me. Note, Next to
the sinfulness of sin we should dread the scandalousness of it.
3. He humbly begs of God to reckon with them for their base designs
My God, think thou upon Tobiah, and the rest of them,
according to their works. As, when he had mentioned his own good
services, he did not covetously or ambitiously prescribe to God what
reward he should give him, but modestly prayed, Think upon me, my
so here he does not revengefully imprecate any particular judgment upon
his enemies, but refers the matter to God. "Thou knowest their hearts,
and art the avenger of falsehood and wrong; take cognizance of this
cause; judge between me and them, and take what way and time thou
mayest please to call them to an account for it." Note, Whatever
injuries are done us we must not avenge ourselves, but commit our cause
to him that judgeth righteously.
|The Completion of the Wall.
||B. C. 445.|
15 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of
the month Elul, in fifty and two days.
16 And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard
thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these
things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they
perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
17 Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters
unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them.
18 For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he
was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son
Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.
19 Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my
words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.
Nehemiah is here finishing the wall of Jerusalem, and yet still has
trouble created him by his enemies.
I. Tobiah, and the other adversaries of the Jews, had the mortification
to see the wall built up, notwithstanding all their attempts to hinder
it. The wall was begun and finished in fifty-two days, and yet
we have reason to believe they rested on the sabbaths,
Many were employed, and there was room for them; what they did they did
cheerfully, and minded their business because they loved it. The
threats of their enemies, which were intended to weaken them, it is
likely, quickened them to go on with their work the more vigorously,
that they might get it done before the enemy came. Thus out of the
eater came forth meat. See what a great deal of work may be done in
a little time if we would set about it in earnest and keep close to
it.When the enemies heard that the wall was finished before they
thought it was well begun, and, when they doubted not but to put a stop
to it, they were much cast down in their own eyes,
1. They were ashamed of their own confidence that they should cause
the work to cease; they were crest-fallen upon the disappointment.
2. They envied the prosperity and success of the Jews, grieved to see
the walls of Jerusalem built, while, it may be, the kings of Persia had
not permitted them thus to fortify the cities of Samaria. When Cain
envied his brother his countenance fell,
3. They despaired of ever doing them the mischief they designed them,
of bringing them down and making a prey of them; and well they might,
for they perceived, by the wonderful success, that the work was
wrought of God. Even these heathens had so much sense as,
[1.] To see a special providence of God conversant about the affairs of
the church when they did remarkably prosper. They said among the
heathen, The Lord has done great things for them; it is his doing,
God fighteth for Israel and worketh with them.
[2.] To believe that God's work would be perfect. When the perceived
that the work was of God they expected no other than that it
would go on and prosper.
[3.] To conclude that, if it were of God, it was to no purpose to think
of opposing it; it would certainly prevail and be victorious.
II. Nehemiah had the vexation, notwithstanding this, to see some of his
own people treacherously corresponding with Tobiah and serving his
interest; and a great grief and discouragement, no doubt, it was to
1. Even of the nobles of Judah there were those who had so little sense
of honour and their country's good as to communicate with Tobiah by
They wrote with all the freedom and familiarity of friends to him, and
welcomed his letters to them. Could nobles do a thing so mean? Nobles
of Judah so wicked a thing? It seems great men are not always wise, not
2. Many in Judah were in a strict but secret confederacy with him to
advance the interest of his country, though it would certainly be the
ruin of their own. They were sworn unto him, not as their
prince, but as their friend and ally, because both he and his son had
married daughters of Israel,
See the mischief of marrying with strangers; for one heathen that was
converted by it ten Jews were perverted. When once they became akin to
Tobiah they soon became sworn to him. A sinful love leads to a sinful
3. They had the impudence to court Nehemiah himself into a friendship
with him: "They reported his good deeds before me, represented
him as an intelligent gentleman and well worthy my acquaintance, an
honest gentleman and one that I might confide in." We are indeed
required to speak ill of no man, but never to speak well of bad
men. Those that forsake the law praise the wicked,
4. They were so false as to betray Nehemiah's counsels to him; they
uttered Nehemiah's words to him, perverting them, no doubt, and putting
false constructions upon them, which furnished Tobiah with matter for
letters to put him in fear and so drive him from his work and
discourage him in it. Thus were all their thoughts against him for
evil, yet God thought upon him for good.