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.Nehemiah 4:1-2. And mocked the Jews — Pretending contempt in his words, when he had grief, anger, and vexation in his heart. And he spake before his brethren — Before Tobiah, Geshem, and others, whom Nehemiah calls his brethren, because of their conjunction with him in office and interest. And the army in Samaria — Whom he hereby designed to incense against them, or, at least, whose minds he thought thus to learn. What do these feeble Jews? Will they fortify, &c. — Do they intend to begin and finish the work, and keep the feast of dedication by sacrifice, all in one day? For if they spend any long time about it, they cannot think that we and the rest of their neighbours will suffer them to do it. Thus he persuaded himself and his companions that their attempt was ridiculous; and this mistake kept him from giving them any disturbance till it was too late. So did God infatuate him to his own grief and shame, and to the advantage of the Jews. Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish? — Will they pick up their broken stones out of the ruins, and patch them together? Which are burned — Which stones were burned, and broken by the Chaldeans, when they took the city.
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 burned?
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.Nehemiah 4:3. If a fox go up — He mentions foxes because they were very numerous in those parts, and because in the late desolation of Jerusalem, the foxes did frequent the mount and city of Zion, (Lamentations 5:18,) wherewith he seems to upbraid them. He shall even break down their stone wall — It is so low that a fox can easily ascend to the top of it, and so weak, and built so hastily and carelessly, that the least weight or thrust will tumble it down.
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:Nehemiah 4:4-5. Hear, O our God — Nehemiah here interrupts the relation, to mention the prayer he made on the occasion. Turn their reproach upon their own head — Let them really be as contemptible as they represent us to be. This and the following requests must seem harsh to us, who are taught by the Lord Jesus to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, and pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us. Probably they were uttered rather by a spirit of prophecy than a spirit of prayer, and are to be considered as declaratory of the judgments of God against persecutors. They certainly had their accomplishment in the subsequent doom of these nations. And give them for a prey in the land of their captivity — Let them be removed from our neighbourhood, and carried into captivity; and there let them find no favour, but further severity. Or, give them for a prey to their enemies, and let these carry them into the land of captivity. And cover not their iniquity — Let their wickedness be in thy sight, so as to bring down judgments upon them, that either they may be reformed, or others may be warned by their example. God is said to cover or hide sin, when he forbears to punish it. For they have provoked thee — They have not only provoked us builders, but thee also. Or, they have provoked, or derided, the builders to their face; that is, openly and impudently, in contempt of God, and of this work, which is done by his direction and encouragement. Nehemiah, in these petitions, if they be petitions, and not rather predictions, as has just been intimated, is not to be imitated by us, but rather he, whose disciples we profess to be, and who, when upon the cross, and under the bitterest agonies, prayed most fervently for the forgiveness of those that crucified him.
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.
So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.Nehemiah 4:6. All the wall was joined unto the half thereof — That is, the wall was built round the whole city, there being no space unbuilt, and it was carried up to half the height that it was intended to be. For the people had a mind to work — Were very much set upon it, and went about it cheerfully, notwithstanding the jeers and scoffs of their enemies.
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,Nehemiah 4:7-8. That the breaches began to be stopped — That is, the breaches which the Chaldeans had made and left in the walls were well nigh repaired. Then they were very wroth — They had flattered themselves with a notion that the work would soon stand still of itself; but when they heard that it went on and prospered, they were angry at the Jews for pushing it forward so hastily, and at themselves for being so slow in opposing it. And conspired all of them together — Though of different interests among themselves, yet they were unanimous in their opposition to the work of God. To come and fight against Jerusalem — Why? what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had the Jews 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 that this Sanballat and his brethren opposed and persecuted them. They hated the piety of the Jews, and were therefore vexed at their prosperity, and sought their ruin. And to hinder it — Or, to cause the work to cease, as it is expressed Nehemiah 4:11, which they doubted not but they should be able to effect. The hindering of a good work is that which bad men aim at, and promise themselves; but as a good work is God’s work, it shall prosper.
And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.Nehemiah 4:9. We made our prayer unto God — They committed themselves to the protection of God, whose servants they were, and whom they considered as being engaged for them. This was the way of good Nehemiah and his associates: all their cares, all their griefs, all their fears, they spread before God, and thereby made themselves easy. And set a watch against them day and night — They seconded their prayers by their endeavours, and kept a constant watch, that they might not be surprised by their enemies, for they knew them to be very vigilant to do mischief.
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.Nehemiah 4:10. And Judah said — That is, the Jews now dwelling in Judah; to wit, some of them, being partly terrified by their enemies, and partly wearied with continual labour: the strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed — The labourers have wrought so long and so hard that they are quite spent; and there is much rubbish — More than we are able soon to remove: so that we are not able to build the wall — Being forced to spend our time in removing the rubbish, and therefore we must desist for a season. Can Judah, that warlike, valiant tribe, speak thus? Active, leading men, have many times as much to do to grapple with the fears of their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.
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.Nehemiah 4:11. Our adversaries said, They shall not know, &c. — Their enemies resolved not to appear with an army before Jerusalem, but to march so secretly that the Jews should have no notice of their approach till they saw them in the city, armed and prepared to attack them suddenly, and put them to the sword.
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.Nehemiah 4:12. And the Jews which dwelt by them — Who were neighbours to that people; or dwelt among them, as the words may be rendered, whereby they became acquainted with their counsels. They said unto us ten times — That is, they came and informed us very often, for ten times, in Scripture, signifies a great many times. From all places whence ye shall return unto us, &c. — That is, they will attack you by all the ways by which we can come to you, or you to us, or wherever there is any communication between you and us; therefore take care to keep watches on every side. Hence it appears, that though those Jews, who dwelt near or among the Samaritans, had not zeal enough to induce them to come to Jerusalem to help their brethren in building the wall; yet, having discovered the enemies’ design, they had so much honesty, and affection to the cause, as to give intelligence of it: nay, that their information might be the more credited, they came themselves to make them acquainted with it, repeating it many times, as men in earnest, and under a concern to have it believed.
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.Nehemiah 4:13. Therefore, in the lower places behind the wall — Within the walls, where they were not yet raised to their due height, and therefore most liable to the enemies’ assault. On the higher places — Upon the tops of the walls, where they were finished, and the towers which were built here and there upon the wall, whence they might shoot arrows, or throw stones.
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 your houses.Nehemiah 4:14. I said unto the nobles, Be not afraid of them — All was at stake; therefore he exhorts them to be valiant, trusting in God. Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, &c. — You think your enemies are great and terrible; but what are they in comparison with God? especially in opposition to him?
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.Nehemiah 4:15. When our enemies heard that it was known unto us — When they heard that their plot was discovered, and they had no hope to surprise us, but found that we were ready to receive them, they laid aside their designs, and we went on with our work.
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.Nehemiah 4:16. It came to pass from that time forth — Lest our enemies should repeat their enterprise; that the half of my servants wrought in the work — Of my domestic servants, and of my guards, who should have attended upon my own person. And the other half held the spears, the shields, &c. — That is, all their weapons: they stood in their arms, prepared for battle. And the rulers were behind all — Partly to encourage them in their work, sometimes assisting them with their own hands; and partly to direct and command them in case of an assault.
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.Nehemiah 4:17. Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held a weapon — That is, they were well prepared either to build or fight; for the expression is figurative, it not being possible for them to work, if both hands had not been at liberty. Accordingly the next verse says, Every one had his sword girded by his side. Thus must we work out our salvation, with the weapons of our warfare in our hands. For in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies.
For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.Nehemiah 4:18. He that sounded the trumpet was by me — To give the alarm, and call the people together, when and where it was necessary. It appears by this he was continually with them while they wrought upon the wall.
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 place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.
So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.Nehemiah 4:21-22. Half of them held the spears — For the use of every man, if there should be occasion. From the rising of the morning till the stars appeared — Working very early and very late. Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem — Not in the suburbs or adjoining villages, as probably many of them had done, returning thence to their work in the morning: but now he would have them all lodge in Jerusalem, for the greater security of the city; and in turns to watch by night, or work on the walls by day.
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.
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.Nehemiah 4:23. None of us put off our clothes — Neither by day nor by night, as the manner is when people go to rest, but they constantly kept themselves in readiness to fight, if any assault were made on the city. Saving that every one put them off for washing — When they were to wash and cleanse themselves from some impurity, which might befall them or their garments.