Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1-14) The enemies, whose wrath had been before much mingled with mockery, now resort to stratagem.
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;)(1) And the rest of our enemies.—The Three always have the pre-eminence.
The doors upon the gates.—Within the gates. This parenthesis is a note of historical accuracy, and intimates that what had been before said as to the setting up of the doors (see Nehemiah 3) was by way of anticipation.
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.(2) Sanballat and Geshem.—In the original of Nehemiah 6:1, Tobiah is not distinguished from Sanballat by another preposition, as Geshem is; and here he is omitted, as not to appear in the conference otherwise than as Sanballat’s secretary.
In some one of the villages in the plain of Ono.—Probably, in Hahkiphirem, the name of a village in the plain of Ono, which was on the borders of Philistia, more than twenty miles from Jerusalem.
Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;(5) The fifth time with an open letter in his hand.—Four times they strive to induce Nehemiah to meet them, under various pretexts, with the intention of doing him personal harm. Each time his reply was to the effect that he was finishing his own work, not without a touch of irony. This answer has an universal application, which preachers have known how to use. In the fifth letter the tactics are changed: the silken bag containing the missive was not sealed, and it was hoped that Nehemiah would be alarmed by the thought that its contents had been read by the people.
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.(6) It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it.—Nehemiah can quote the very letter, with its dialectical change of Geshem into Gashmu. Sanballat sends Tobiah in his own name, and represents Geshem as circulating a report which, reaching the distant king, would be interpreted as rebellion. It is hinted that the heathen, or the nations, would take the part of the king. And the words of the prophets concerning the future King are referred to as likely to be attributed to Nehemiah’s ambition. Finally, the letter suggests the desirableness of friendly counsel to avert the danger.
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.(9) Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.—The answer sent was that the thing was not true, and that the report itself did not exist. The reflection in Nehemiah’s journal was that they sought to make him afraid. Quoting this, he adds the prayer that he recorded when he wrote it. It is one of those sudden, interjectional petitions which abound in the narrative, and is all the more remarkable from the absence of the words “O God,” which are here inserted.
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.(10) I came unto the house.—As a specimen of another kind of attack, through false prophets, Shemaiah’s plot is mentioned. This man—probably a priest—Nehemiah found shut up in his house; probably he sent for the governor, and represented himself as being in danger from the common enemy. He predicted that on the night ensuing an attempt would be made on Nehemiah’s life, and proposed that they should meet “within the Temple”—that is, in the holy place, between the Holiest and the outer court—for security.
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.(11) Should such a man as I flee?—First, the expression of personal dignity. Then of fear: “Who, being as I am” (a layman), “would go into the Temple to save his life?” Rather, and live? (Numbers 18:7).
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.(13) An evil report.—Nehemiah perceived that not God, but Shemaiah himself, had uttered the prophecy “against me,” and that he was hired to bring the governor into discredit as a violator of law.
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.(14) Think thou upon Tobiah.—This appeal to God is to be understood as an official prophetic prayer. Nehemiah puts God’s own cause into God’s own hands. The mention of the name of Noadiah, nowhere else referred to, shows the circumstantial nature of the narrative, and is an indirect evidence of its truth.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.(15, 16) The finishing of the wall is recorded in the implest manner: first, with a formal specification of the date and time; then in its effect upon the enemies, and as redounding to the glory of God.
(15) In fifty and two days.—The twenty-fifth day of Elul answers to about our September 15th; and, dating back, the wall began in the latter part of July, soon after Nehemiah’s arrival. If we bear in mind that the wall was only partially overthrown, that the materials for restoration were at hand, and that the utmost skill had been shown in organising the bands of workmen, the time will not appear too short. There is no need to adopt the suggestion of Josephus, that the rebuilding occupied two years and four months.
They perceived that this work was wrought of our God.—Not miraculously, but under the Divine sanction and help. By this expression Nehemiah at once triumphs over his foes, and gives the glory where it was due. His own heroic part in the work is utterly forgotten.
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.(16) The enemies heard of it, and saw the result, and were ashamed.
Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them.(17-19) A supplementary account is here introduced, explaining the intrigues within Jerusalem to which reference has been made.
(17) Many letters.—There was a large correspondence between Tobiah and the nobles of Judah.
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.(18) Sworn unto him.—Shechaniah was of the family of Arah, which had come over with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:5). Tobiah had married his daughter, and Tobiah’s son had married a daughter of Meshullam, one of the builders of the wall (Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:30). This family connection led to a conspiracy by oath to thwart the governor. The names of Tobiah and his son are Hebrew; and it is probable that, though naturalised Ammonites, they were of Hebrew extraction. This renders it easier to understand the facility with which the affinity was contracted.
Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.(19) Reported his good deeds.—Besides the correspondence thus carried on. these nobles strove to exalt the character of Tobiah to tne governor, while they made the enemy acquainted with all that went on. This intelligence enabled him to write the disquieting letters which Nehemiah says he was in the habit of receiving.