Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.CHAPTER 4
1. The indignation and sneers of the enemies (Nehemiah 4:1-3)
2. Nehemiah’s ejaculatory prayer (Nehemiah 4:4-6)
3. Conspiracy, and more prayer (Nehemiah 4:7-9)
4. Nehemiah’s precautions and confidence (Nehemiah 4:10-23)
Nehemiah 4:1-3. Sanballat (hate in disguise) having heard of the successful building of the wall, became very angry and mocked the Jews. And Tobiah the Ammonite used sarcasm. He said that which they build will be so weak that one of the foxes, which infested the broken-down walls (Psalm 63:10) could break these newly built walls again.
Nehemiah 4:4-6. The answer to these sneers was prayer. The language these two enemies used was provoking, but Nehemiah’s refuge is prayer. Hezekiah did the same when the Assyrian taunted him and defiled the God of Israel. It is another of the brief ejaculatory prayers of Nehemiah. There are seven of them in this book: chapters 2:4; 4:4-6; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29. He prayed, “Hear, 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; because they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.” He cast himself wholly upon God and with this prayer Nehemiah and the people put the matter in the hands of the Lord. They were an object of contempt, as His people who were doing the work of the Lord wanted to have done. Sanballat and Tobiah were the enemies of God. This prayer reminds us of the many imprecatory prayers in the psalms. When in the future another remnant of the Jews returns to the land, they will face in the great tribulation more powerful enemies than this remnant had to contend with. The man of sin, the Antichrist, will be in control, and it is then that they will pray these prayers, some of them almost like Nehemiah’s prayer (Psalm 109:14).
The work was not hindered by the taunts of the enemy. “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof, for the people had a mind to work.” If only God’s people are in touch with God and cast themselves wholly upon Him, all the efforts of the enemy are unavailing.
Nehemiah 4:7-9. As the work progressed and the Samaritan enemies saw that their taunts were unsuccessful, they became very wroth and conspired to use force and fight against Jerusalem. Sanballat and Tobiah had gathered others, the Arabians, Ammonites and Ashdodites, to hinder the work. Behind them stood the same enemy of God, Satan, who always hinders the work of God. His work of opposition is the same in every age. A very serious time had come to the builders of the wall. The enemy was threatening to fall upon them, and perhaps destroy what they had built. “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.” It was prayer, dependence on God, first. The next thing they did was to take precaution against the enemy--”and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.” But was not prayer enough? Why the setting of a watch if they trusted the Lord? If they had not done this it would have been presumption on their part. Their action did not clash with their trust in God.
Nehemiah 4:10-23. There was also discouragement in their midst. As the apostle wrote of himself, “without were fightings, within were fears” (2Corinthians 7:5), this was true of them. They became timid and fainthearted. It was Judah, the princely tribe, whose emblem was the lion, which showed discouragement and was ready to give up in despair. But Nehemiah made no answer to the complaint “we are not able to build the wall.” The best remedy was to keep right on praying, working and watching. The adversaries intended to make a surprise attack and slay the workmen and cause the work to cease. That was their plan; but they did not reckon with God, who watched over His people. Ten times the Jews which were scattered among these adversaries warned them of the great danger of the coming attack. This was another discouragement. Then Nehemiah acted in the energy of faith. He knew God was on their side and that He would fight for them. He prepared the people for the threatening conflict and armed them with swords, spears and bows. Then he addressed them with inspiring words. “Be not afraid of them: Remember the Lord, great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your houses.” All was at stake. No mercy could be expected from the wicked adversaries. It was a blessed battle-cry he gave to them: “Remember the Lord.” If He is remembered and kept before the heart defeat is impossible. The great preparation was soon reported to the enemies, by which they knew that their attack had become known. Nehemiah saw in it all God’s gracious and providential dealings, “God had brought their counsel to nought.” Then he continued to work at their task of building the wall. But they did not become careless. They continued to be on their guard. “Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work and with the other hand held a weapon.” A trumpeter stood at Nehemiah’s side. If he sounded the alarm they were to gather together; then, said Nehemiah, “our God shall fight for us.” “So we labored in the work, and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.” We leave it with the reader to apply all this to our spiritual warfare against our enemies. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and constant watching is needed for that.