before his associates and the army of Samaria, saying, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Can they restore the wall by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?"
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.
The work is great...and we are separated upon the wall.
PeopleAmmonites, Arabians, Ashdodites, Sanballat, Tobiah, Tobijah
PlacesJerusalem, Samaria, Sheep Gate
TopicsArmy, Associates, Brethren, Bring, Brothers, Burned, Burnt, Complete, Countrymen, Dust, Dusty, Feeble, Finish, Force, Fortify, Heaps, Hearing, Jews, Offer, Offerings, Ones, Permitted, Presence, Restore, Revive, Rubbish, Rubble, Sacrifice, Sacrifices, Samaria, Sama'ria, Seeing, Spake, Spoke, Stones, Strong, Themselves, Wall, Weak, Wealthy, Yea
Outline1. While the enemies scoff, Nehemiah prays and continues the work
7. Understanding the wrath and secrets of the enemy, he sets a watch
13. He arms the laborers
19. and gives military precepts
Dictionary of Bible ThemesNehemiah 4:2
LibraryDiscouragements and Courage
'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 …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
The Two Guards, Praying and Watching
Centenary Commemoration of the Consecration of Bishop Seabury. 1884.
Letter xxxiv. To Marcella.
"If So be that the Spirit of God Dwell in You. Now if any Man have not the Spirit of Christ, He is None of His. "
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