Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)A Great Work
There are three thoughts in these words: a work—greatness—and elevation. They are exactly the three thoughts which every earnest man has about religion. They are exactly the three things which a man needs. An object—a feeling that his object is worthy—and a sense of height, which lifts him up, and does him good. 'I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.'
It is so essential that you should feel the greatness and the dignity of the 'work' to which you are called that I wish to place the matter before you a little more in detail.
I. Faith a Great Work.—I hold it to be a very 'great' and a very high 'work' to believe. Else, why do so few, so very few, really believe? That inner life of faith, and the cultivation of it, is a thing, I believe, higher than an archangel's work. No archangel is called to believe. Very remote is it from the processes of our common world. Yet if you will be always coming down to the things of sense and sight—if you will measure the invisible by what you find around—if you will reduce faith to a sort of materialism—if you will mix it up with the material, and qualify it by the ordinary principles of human reasoning—you cannot believe! Faith will not grow down there. The only hope for it is to keep up in that region, which is the region of ideas and affections—that upper region, where only such things live.
II. Sanctification a Great Work.—It is 'a great work' which a man is pursuing, when he is engaged in his own sanctification. Depend upon it, it is no light matter to send upwards what have such an almost irresistible tendency to be always going downwards. It is no trifle to take the iron out of a man's heart, and to get it into such a soft, melted state, that it may be moulded into a perfectly different shape from what it is—to take the image of God. Depend upon it, it is no light thing to root out that deep selfishness, and that miserable pride, and that clogging temper, which have so mingled themselves with you, that they have become your own moral being, and to show nothing in their place but daily proofs of a gentle, forgiving mind, a tenderness and self-forgetfulness.
III. Usefulness to Others a Great Work.—There is another 'work' in which every Christian is occupied—high, and blessed, and holy—the 'work' of being useful to others, and extending the kingdom of God. I very much suspect the Christianity of that man who has not some distinct engagement, in which he is, every day, endeavouring to do something to serve God. We are so constituted that we must 'work'. It was the sentence on the whole family of man—'labour'. The Gospel has turned it into blessing; but still the sentence is upon every living man—'labour'. And no mind can be healthy, no man's soul will go on well, which cannot say, concerning some undertaking—'I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down'.
References.—VI. 3.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 95. R. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 251. R. E. Hutton, The Grown of Christ, vol. i. p. 265. VI. 11.—W. L. Watkinson, Noonday Addresses, p. 98. VI. 14.—F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 198. VI. 15.—G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 217. VIII. 1.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 116. VIII. 1-12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, p. 371. VIII. 4, 5.—W. Page Roberts, Our Prayer Booh, Conformity and Conscience, p. 41.
That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.
And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.
Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;
Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.
And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.
Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.
For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.
And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.
My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.
And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them.
For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.
Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.