Now when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and was filled with indignation. He ridiculed the Jews
I. DEVOTION ASSAILED BY DERISION (vers. 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" (ver. 1). "What do these feeble Jews?" said Sanballat (ver. 2). "If a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall," said Tobiah (ver. 3), using the strongest language of derision. Here was
(1) 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." We understand what he did for the world, and what a "crown of righteousness" he was winning for himself. To the shallow judgment of the Samaritans, Nehemiah and his workmen seemed to be engaged in a work that would come to nought - they would "have their labour 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
(a) fleshly strength, a thing of muscle and nerve, may despise the mind with which it competes; or
(b) material force (money, muskets, arms) the spiritual strength against which it is arrayed; or
(c) mere numbers, without truth and without God, the feeble band which is in a small minority, but which has truth, righteousness, God on its side. Very misplaced contempt, as time will soon show. Sanballat and Tobiah, in their superciliousness, used
(2) an easily-forged weapon - ridicule. Nothing is easier than to turn good things, even the very best things, into ridicule. It is the favourite 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 (ver. 2), or in Tobiah's reference to the fox breaking down the wall (ver. 3), but it probably excited the derisive laughter of "the brethren and the army of Samaria" (ver. 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
(3) a blade that cuts deeply. Nehemiah felt it keenly. "Hear, O our God; for we are despised" (ver. 4). And the imprecation (ver. 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 -
II. DEVOTION BETAKING ITSELF TO ITS REFUGE (vers. 4, 5). 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. (ver. 4). In all time of our distress from persecution we should
(1) 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" (Hebrews 4:15), having been himself tried on this point even as we are.
(2) Ask his interposition with our enemies; only, as we have learned of Christ, asking not for retaliation (ver. 5), but for the victory of love, for their conversion to a better mind.
III. DEVOTION DRIVEN TO DO ITS BEST (ver. 6). Under the inspiration of an attack from without, Nehemiah and his brethren went on with their work
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
(3) With heartiness. "The people had a mind to work." No instru- ments, 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" (2 Corinthians 8:12) in the work of the Lord, and then the busy hand will quickly "build the wall." - C.
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth.
1. Now, in the first place, diabolically wicked as party spirit too often becomes, this must be clearly understood about party spirit, that, after all, it is but the excess, and the perversion, and the depravity of an originally natural and a perfectly proper principle in our hearts. It was of God, and it was of human nature as God had made it, that Sanballat should love and serve Samaria best; and that Nehemiah should love and serve Jerusalem best. And all party spirit among ourselves also, at its beginning, is but our natural and dutiful love for our own land, and for our own city, and for our own Church, and for those who think with us, and work with us, and love us.
2. But then, when it comes to its worst, as it too often does come, party spirit is the complete destruction both of truth and of love. The truth is hateful to the out-and-out partisan. We all know that in ourselves. As many lies as you like, but not the truth. It exasperates us to hear it. You are henceforth our enemy if you will insist on speaking it. It is not truth that divides us up into such opposed parties as we see all around us in Church and State, it is far more lies. It is not principle once in ten times. Nine times out of ten it is pure party spirit. And I cling to that bad spirit, and to all its works, as if it were my life. I feel unhappy when you tell me the truth, if it is good truth, about my rival. And where truth is hated in that way love can have no possible home. Truth is love in the mind, just as love is truth in the heart. Trample on the one and you crush the other to death. Now the full-blown party spirit is utter poison to the spirit of love as well as to the spirit of truth. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love rejoiceth not in iniquity, etc. But party spirit is the clean contradiction of an that.
3. By the just and righteous ordination of Almighty God all our sins carry their own punishment immediately and inseparably with them. And party spirit, being such a wicked spirit, it infallibly inflicts a very swift and a very severe punishment on the man who entertains it. You know yourselves how party spirit hardens your heart, and narrows, and imprisons, and impoverishes your mind. You must all know how party spirit poisons your feelings, and fills you with antipathy at men you never saw, as well as at men all around you who never hurt a hair of your head, and would not if they could.
4. Another Divine punishment of party spirit is seen in the way that it provokes retaliation, and thus reproduces and perpetuates itself till the iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate the truth and murder love. And, inheriting no little good from our contending forefathers, we have inherited too many of their injuries, and retaliations, and antipathies, and alienations also. And the worst of it is that we look on it as true patriotism, and the perfection of religious principle, to keep up and perpetuate all those ancient misunderstandings, and injuries, and recriminations, and alienations.
5. Who, then, is a wise man, and endued with wisdom among you? Who would fain be such a man? Who would behave to his rivals and enemies, not as Nehemiah, good man though he was, behaved to the Samaritans, but as Jesus Christ behaved to them? Who, in one word, would escape the sin, and the misery, and the long-lasting mischief of party spirit? Butler has an inimitable way of saying some of his very best and very deepest things. And here is one of his great sayings that has helped me more in this matter than I can tell you.
4. "Let us remember," he says, "that we differ as much from other men as they differ from us." What a lamp to our feet is that sentence as we go through this world! And then, when at any time, and towards any party, or towards any person whatsoever, you find in yourself that you are growing in love, and in peace, and in patience, and in toleration, and in goodwill, and in good wishes, acknowledge it to yourself; see it, understand it, and confess it. Do not be afraid to admit it, for that is God within your heart. That is the Divine Nature — that is the Holy Ghost. Just go on in that Spirit, and ere ever you are aware you will be caught up and taken home to that Holy Land where there is neither Jerusalem nor Samaria. There will be no party spirit there. There will be no controversy there.
(A. Whyte, D. D.)
What do these feeble Jews? —
Christian Age.It is often more difficult to endure the stinging of insects than to face the bravest perils. Explorers in tropical countries find these tiny, noxious creatures much more destructive of their peace and comfort than the larger and more deadly animals which sometimes beset them. Many a man faces courageously a grave peril who becomes a coward when a set of petty annoyances have worn his nerves out and irritated him to the point of loss of self-control. Every man who attempts an independent course of life, whether of thought, habit, or action, finds himself beset by a cloud of petty critics, who are, for the most part, without malice, but whose stings, inspired by ignorance, are quite as hard to bear as they would be if inspired by hate. The misrepresentations and misconceptions which good men suffer are a part of the pathos of life. The real answer to criticism is a man's life and work. A busy man has no time to stop and meet his critics in detail; he must do his work, and let that be his answer to criticism.
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