Opposition to the Work Continues
1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was quite upset. He derided the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his colleagues and the army of Samaria he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they be left to themselves? Will they again offer sacrifice? Will they finish this in a day? Can they bring these burnt stones to life again from piles of dust?”
3 Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was close by, said, “If even a fox were to climb up on what they are building, it would break down their wall of stones!”
4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised! Return their reproach on their own head! Reduce them to plunder in a land of exile! 5 Do not cover their iniquity, and do not wipe out their sin from before them. For they have bitterly offended the builders!
6 So we rebuilt the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height. The people were enthusiastic in their work.
7 When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to move with armed forces against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it. 9 So we prayed to our God and stationed a guard to protect against them both day and night. 10 Then those in Judah said, “The strength of the labourers has failed! The debris is so great that we are unable to rebuild the wall.”
11 Our adversaries also boasted, “Before they are aware or anticipate anything, we will come in among them and kill them, and we will bring this work to a halt!”
12 So it happened that the Jews who were living near them came and warned us repeatedly about all the schemes they were plotting against us.
13 So I stationed people at the lower places behind the wall in the exposed places. I stationed the people by families, with their swords, spears, and bows. 14 When I had made an inspection, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awesome Lord, and fight on behalf of your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your families!”
15 It so happened that when our adversaries heard that we were aware of these matters, God frustrated their intentions. Then all of us returned to the wall, each to his own work. 16 From that day forward, half of my men were doing the work and half of them were taking up spears, shields, bows, and body armour. Now the officers were behind all the people of Judah 17 who were rebuilding the wall. Those who were carrying loads did so by keeping one hand on the work and the other on their weapon. 18 The builders to a man had their swords strapped to their sides while they were building. But the trumpeter remained with me.
19 I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, “The work is demanding and extensive, and we are spread out on the wall, far removed from one another. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, gather there with us. Our God will fight for us!”
21 So we worked on, with half holding spears, from dawn till dusk. 22 At that time I instructed the people, “Let every man and his co-worker spend the night in Jerusalem and let them be guards for us by night and workers by day. 23 We did not change clothes – not I, nor my relatives, nor my workers, nor the watchmen who were with me. Each had his weapon, even when getting a drink of water.
C H Spurgeon
Nehemiah 4:1. 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.
It was needful to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, which had been lying in ruins. They went on pretty briskly, for everyone had a mind to work. There never was a good work yet but what there were some to oppose it, and there never will be till the Lord comes. Sanballat heard what the Jews were doing, and he was very angry. “He was wroth, and took great indignation.” He was all on fire with anger that God’s work was being continued.
Nehemiah 4:2. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews?
The enemies of God’s people generally take to sneering. It is a very easy way of showing opposition. 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? No doubt these questions were thought to be very witty and very sarcastic. The enemies of Christ are generally good hands at this kind of thing. Well, if it amuses them, I do not know that it need hurt us much; for, after all, it is their way of paying homage to God’s power.
Nehemiah 4:3. 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.
Such a man as Sanballat never lacks friends. If there is a bad man anywhere, there is sure to be another close at hand. The devil does not make a fire with one stick. When he has set the first one alight, he can generally find a fagot to put near it. Tobiah the Ammonite, who was tarred with the same brush as Sanballat the Horonite, was by him.
Nehemiah 4:4-5. 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; 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.
This was righteous indignation; but Nehemiah is not a perfect model for us. He was not only stern, but he mingled with his severity a measure of bitterness in his prayer that we must not imitate. Sometimes, when we have seen men plotting against God, seeking to ruin the souls of others, and trying to stop us in our endeavour to build up the church of God, we have felt such language as this trembling on our lips. It were better, however, for us to bow the knee, in humble imitation of our Lord upon the cross, and cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Nehemiah 4:6. So built we the wall.
You half expected to read, “So we stopped building the wall, and answered Sanballat and Tobiah.” Not a bit of it. They kept to their work and let these two men scoff as they pleased.
Nehemiah 4:6. And all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
They built the wall as high as they meant it to be ultimately; but they carried it all round, and joined it well together. If we cannot do all we would like to do, let us do what we can; and let us endeavour, as far as possible, to finish off the part that we do, waiting for better times to carry the walls higher.
Nehemiah 4:7. 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
They were “wroth” before; now they were “very wroth.” If a work has no opposition from Satan, we may be half afraid it is good for nothing. If you cannot make the devil roar, you have not done him much harm; but the more he roars, the more cause is there for the angels singing the praises of God before the throne.
Nehemiah 4:8. And conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
It is wonderful how unanimous bad men can be. It has always struck me as a very startling thing, that you have never heard of any division among the devils in hell. There are no sects among the devils; they seem to work together with an awful unanimity of purpose in their wicked design. In this one thing they seem to excel the family of God. Oh, that we were as hearty and united in the service of God as wicked men are in the service of Satan!
Nehemiah 4:9-10. Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them. And Judah said, —
Judah, you know, was the lion tribe. Christ is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” But Judah, instead of being lion-hearted, made a noise more like a mouse than a lion, for Judah said, —
Nehemiah 4:10. The strength of the bearers of burden is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.
Poor Judah! He ought to have been bolder and braver; but he was not. It is the same today; some who seem to be pillars, prove very weak in the hour of trial, and by their cowardice discourage the rest.
Nehemiah 4:11. 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.
While some were discouraging the people within the city, their enemies, without the walls, were plotting to take them by surprise, and slay them.
Nehemiah 4:12. 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.
These Jews ought to have been helping to build the wall; but they did not come to the help of the Lord’s people. Still, they were sufficiently friendly to tell Nehemiah of the plot that was being hatched by his enemies. God knows how, when his enemies are sinking a mine, to undermine them. If secrecy is necessary to the success of evil, somebody speaks out, and tells the story, so that the plot is discovered.
Nehemiah 4:13. 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.
When Nehemiah knew the danger to which the people were exposed, he took measures to guard against it. I like the common-sense of Nehemiah. He kept families together. “I set the people after their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” Beloved friends, I have no greater joy than such as I had last Tuesday, when I received five children of one family, all brought to Christ. May the Lord make our families to be the guards of the church!
Nehemiah 4:14. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not afraid of them.
Fear may waken us, but it must never be allowed to weaken us. We should put on the armour, and take the sword and spear and bow when there is cause for fear; we should never dream of running away.
Nehemiah 4:14-15. Remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses. 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.
There was no fighting after all. As soon as the enemy knew that their plot was found out, they did not make any assault. One commentator says: — “Some men, if they had been delivered from danger, would have returned every one to the ale-house; but these men returned every one to his work.” They went back to their building, and continued still in the service of the city.
Nehemiah 4:16. 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. 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.
They which builded on the wall, and they that bore burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. The sword and the trowel both guarded the city and builded the wall.
Nehemiah 4:18. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.
What the trumpet was for, we are told directly.
Nehemiah 4:19-20. 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. In what places, therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.
That is a grand sentence. The moment you hear the trumpet, you are to leave your place on the wall, and come to the point where the enemy is attacking us. But Nehemiah does not say, “You shall fight for us,” he puts it much better, “Our God shall fight for us.” So he will still.
Nehemiah 4:21. So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.
They made long days. Christian people do not want merely eight hours a day for Christ. We can sometimes do eighteen hours’ work for him in a day; and we wish that we could do twenty-four.
Nehemiah 4:22-23. Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let everyone with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day. 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.
Nehemiah was a good leader. He did not say, “Go,” he said, “Come”; and he bore the brunt of the service. Like Alexander, who went with the Macedonians into the rough places, and did the hard work, so did Nehemiah. He and those with him did not put off their clothes, even for sleeping.
Nehemiah 4:23. Saving that every one put them off for washing – which was necessary for cleanliness is next to godliness. The Lord sends us more Nehemiah’s and plenty of people to work with them, who can endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and who will also be good builders of the church of God!