Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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.Enfeebled Burden-bearers
How often this happens! We frequently have to receive the disquieting intimation which was made to Nehemiah. Not seldom we have to make this announcement to ourselves, 'The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed'.
We have not travelled far from the workers upon the walls of Jerusalem. Geographically we are remote from them, but sympathetically we are near by. There are many points of affinity between us and them. Observe some of the links which bind us together. They were 'the bearers of burdens,' and so are we. Is not this a pathetic and accurate and vivid portraiture of humanity? You may write men down under a hundred descriptive epithets, but none could be more veracious than this. We are all 'the bearers of burdens'.
I. In Various Spheres 'the Strength of the Bearers of Burdens is Decayed'.—All kinds of strength are apt to fail under the burdens of life. In home life this is conspicuously so. What burdens domestic life involves! The father, the husband, the breadwinner, may well be described as the bearer of a burden. Great is the strain upon him. Never was it so severe as it is now. The wife, the mother, the housekeeper, may be similarly described. And her burdens are no less heavy because they are unheroic and monotonous. The Church ought to have words of 'sweet release' for the tired burden-bearers of home life.
How many enfeebled load-carriers there are in commercial life.
In the intellectual sphere the strength of the bearers of burdens often decays. The scholars, the students, the thinkers, how great are their burdens!
The strength of the bearers of burdens decays in the religious world.
In Christian service, too, the strength of the bearers of burdens decays. We who are by grace seeking to rebuild Jerusalem are called to carry great burdens. This is specially so in the age in which we live. The Church is full of exhausted workers.
II. From Many Causes 'the Strength of the Bearers of Burdens is Decayed'.—It often happens that the cause is physical. It was in the instance before us. Nehemiah's brave labourers had overtaxed their strength. They were emphatically overworked.
Sometimes the cause of the enfeeblement of burden-bearers is mental. The weary weight of modern thought has pressed you down. You have looked upon the sun and it has blinded you for a season. 'Brain fag' is a very familiar feature of modern life. Intellect is often robbed of its strength by the pressure of its burdens.
The cause is frequently circumstantial. A business trouble. A family sorrow. A crushing bereavement. How these things explain the decaying strength of the bearers of burdens!
Spiritual causes often operate to this sad end. My brother, why is your strength decayed? Is it some passing wave of depression? It may be what the Puritans called a 'desertion'. The Lord has withdrawn Himself for a while.
III. Great Precautions must be taken when 'the Strength of the Bearers of Burdens is Decayed'.—What shall we do in these enfeebled hours? Where shall we find our remedy?
Whatever other precautionary measure is adopted there must be Prayer. This is the supreme specific. God requires of His people that they ask for the strength He loves to impart.
When our strength decays there must be Adequate Rest. It is easy to retort that this is a counsel of perfection. But it is not. All tiredness is a call to rest, and somehow the summons must be obeyed. I know how difficult it is for many of us to secure the needed rest, but at all costs we must surmount the difficulty. We may bear heavier burdens than we ever bore if we will take temporary rest when our strength is decayed. Say not thy work is done. Take a space of rest. And out of it you shall emerge to build Jerusalem's walls and carry the heavy burdens with joyous vigour.
When the strength is decayed we must practice Watchfulness. That is what Nehemiah did. And his procedure is our example. Great and subtle dangers attend us in weary seasons. The devil is always next door to us, but he is at our elbow in tired moments. Watch, then, against discouragement. We are apt to discourage ourselves and others in such moods. Many foes come out against us when we are exhausted.
There must be great Trustfulness in such crises. Let not your faith fail. Cling in weakness to what you have proved in strength. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Be like John Wesley, who was never so calmly and hopefully trustful as when nature's strength decayed. Be like a great and saintly minister of whom a friend said, 'In the stress of his busy life it was his childlike faith and trust in the Heavenly Father that kept him from the wear and tear and worry of work'. Say to thy wearied soul, 'Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him'.
—Dinsdale T. Young, The Gospel of the Left Hand p. 27.
References.—V. 15.—J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 364. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, p. 361. V. 19.—Newman Hall, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 711. p. 357.
Sword and Trowel
Among the graphic scenes of this book none reads better, or counts for more in imagination, than the present sketch relating how they built the city walls. And in great part the interest revolves round Nehemiah himself. A singularly attractive figure, he stands out like a giant among children; and evidently it is to his tireless faith and perseverance, in the main, that we must ascribe success which crowned work of enormous difficulty.
This scene on the old walls of Jerusalem is a representation of the true life, as a building and a fight.
I. When they build a mansion in Rome or Jerusalem today, they have to dig, often through scores of feet of rubbish, the debris of old empires, ere they find what will bear the superincumbent weight; and just so if we are dead in earnest, and resolved that for us life shall rise firmly based on truth, as truth is in Jesus, then moral and spiritual excavation of a far-reaching kind may have to be the first stage of the business. These walls rising under the hand of these brave Jews were not merely designed for their own safety; their nobler aim was to enclose and be consecrated by the temple of the Holy One of Israel. Night and day they toiled at the battlements, putting tears and blood into the living task, but at the heart of all stood the sanctuary, more dear and more enduring still. So let us see to it that whatever we may build has a place for God at its centre, and that that place is filled.
II. Warfare goes along with work, rendering 'sword and trowel' the fittest motto for the experience that has been appointed us. Even when the capital is held by the true King, tumult and strife murmur on the frontier. It is the unwarlike life that ends in a heap of ruins.
—H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 156.
The Inadequacy of Spiritual Solitude
I. The great obstacle to the building of the old Jerusalem was the distance in space between the workmen: 'We are separated upon the wall, one far from another'. The great obstacle to the building of the new Jerusalem is also the distance in space between the workmen. This latter statement seems a paradox. We can understand how a physical wall requires a vast company to build it But we have always taught ourselves to believe that salvation is a personal matter, and that its wall must be constructed in solitude. We look upon companionship as existing for outside things—for the dance, for the orchestra, for the army, for the field of politics. But when a man begins to erect his own soul, we expect him to be alone with God.
II. Not thus shall I be able to build the walls of the new Jerusalem. The work of my salvation is not a solitary process. It is a solemn hour; but it is the solemnity, not of silence, but of crowdedness. I must summon into my sympathy all the sons of men. I cannot build up the virtues of my heart if I am thinking only of God. Would I be humble; mine must be a humility before man. Anyone could be humble before God. It does not need a redeemed soul to shrink in nothingness beneath the stars of night. But to sink my interests before a brother, to refrain from self-display in the presence of an inferior—that is humility! Would I be meek; it must be before man. I dare not answer God; all flesh is silent in His presence. But to be gentle with an equal, to be soft with a dependant, to be lenient with a fallen soul—that is meekness!
III. Would I be charitable; it must be before man. God needs not my silver nor my gold; they would add no drop to His ocean. But, to clothe a brother's rags, to soothe a sister's pain, to give the children bread, to help the orphan's cry, to bind the broken heart and comfort the wounded conscience—that is to succour God, that is charity! The walls of the new Jerusalem must be built in the presence of man.
—G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 129.
References.—IV. 19.—S. McFarlane, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 230. A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 168. V. 7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2123.
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.
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.
So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.
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.
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.