Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
1Now [and] 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); 2that Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But [and] they thought to do me mischief. 3And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that [and] I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I 4leave it and come down to you? Yet [and] they sent unto me four times after this sort [word]; and I answered them after the same manner [after this word]. 5Then [and] sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner [after this word] the 6fifth time with an open letter in his hand; wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen [i.e., nations] and Gashmu [i.e., Geshem] saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king [and thou art to them for king] according to these words. 7And 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 now come], and let us take counsel together. 8Then [and] I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest [there is not according to these words which thou sayest], but [for] thou feignest them out of thine own heart. 9For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done [and it shall not be done.] 10Now therefore, [And now], O God, strengthen my hands. Afterward [and] 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 [are coming] to slay thee; yea [and], in the night will they come [are they coming] to slay thee. 11And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there that being as I am 12would go into the temple to save his life [and live]? I will not go in. And lo, I perceived that [And I perceived and lo] God had not sent him, but that [for] he pronounced this prophecy against me, for [and] Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report [name], that they might reproach me. 14My God, think thou upon [remember] Tobiah and Sanballat according to their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would 15have put me in fear. So [and] the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. 16And 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 [and] they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
17Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah [multiplied their letters passing to Tobiah] and the letters of Tobiah came unto them 18[and those which 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 [to wife] the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Nehemiah 6:2. בַכְּפִרִים, as if from כְּפִיר, and not from כָּפָּר. This peculiarity helps the hypothesis that כְּפִירָה may be intended.
2 Nehemiah 6:3. עֲלֵלחֶם. The use of עַל for אֶל is noticeable. See Nehemiah 6:17, et al.
3 Nehemiah 6:6. גַּשְׁמוּ, for גֶּשֶם, not after the analogy of the prop. names in יָתוּ (where the variation is owing to a form of the divine name), but rather to be compared with יֶתֻר (Ex. 4:18) and יִתְרוֹ (Ex. 3:1).
4 Nehemiah 6:8. בּוֹדָאם, Aramaic for בּוֹדְאָם. See 1 Kings 12:33, for the only other use of the verb.
5 Nehemiah 6:13. לְמַעַן is properly “to the intent that.” The first one here anticipates the other two, thus “To this intent he was hired, to the intent that, etc.”
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
(3) Hindrances from the Heathen and their Jewish Confederates
Nehemiah 6:2. The omission of Tobiah’s name is an indication that he was merely an attaché of Sanballat. Notice also (in the Heb.) that the prep. is not repeated before Tobiah, as it is before Geshem.—Villages.—Some take this as a proper name, Chephirim.—Ono, with Lod and Hadid, is mentioned in Nehemiah 7:37 between Jericho and Senaah, as if it might be in the Jordan depression; but the name of Lod is generally identified with Ludd or Lydda in the Sharon plain, twenty-five miles north-west of Jerusalem. If so, the ordinary siting of Ono in that plain is doubtless correct. Eusebius places it at three miles from Lydda.
Why Sanballat should select so distant a spot is puzzling, unless he happened to be stationed there himself at the time. Otherwise he would know that the invitation would arouse Nehemiah’s suspicions. There may be another Ono near Chephirah, which is ten miles north-west of Jerusalem, and Chephirim (villages) may stand for Chephirah.
Nehemiah 6:5. An open letter, that its contents might alarm all the Jews, and create opposition to Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 6:6. Gashmu,i.e. Geshem.—According to these words.—Sanballat throughout makes no accusation, but refers to rumor. Nehemiah’s answer is (Nehemiah 6:8): There is not according to these words which thou sayest, i.e. there is no such rumor.
Strengthen my hands.—This interjected prayer must be taken from Nehemiah’s journal at the time. When he writes the narrative, he quotes his ejaculation, as showing where his dependence was at that trying time.
Nehemiah 6:10. Shemaiah evidently (see Nehemiah 6:12) was a prophet. The gift of prophecy did not prevent a man from selling himself to lie for others (see 1 Kings 22:22).—Shut up.—See Jer. 36:5. He was shut up perhaps in performance of a vow; Keil suggests as a symbol of his charge to Nehemiah. This use of ’azar is related to the derivative ’azarrah (a court).
The temple,i.e. the innermost building, the temple proper.
Nehemiah 6:11. Would go into the temple to save his life—Lit.: “would go into the temple and live.” The last clause may refer to the death of any one violating the sanctity of the temple. See Num. 18:7. It may also mean what our translators give.
Nehemiah 6:13. Do so and sin,i.e. shut myself up in fear, and enter the holy place, into which only the priests could enter.
Nehemiah 6:14. Sanballat evidently had a strong party in Jerusalem, and among them many of prophetic rank hired with his money.
Nehemiah 6:15. Elul was the sixth month corresponding to parts of August and September.—Fifty and two days.—Hence the work was begun on the fourth of Ab, the fifth month. The work went on during the hottest part of the year (say, from July 19th to Sept. 8th).
Nehemiah 6:16. The marvellously short time in which the work had been done, and that, too, by Jews, whom Sanballat knew to be divided into mutually hostile parties, impressed him and his coadjutors with the sense of a divine co-operation with Nehemiah.
Josephus turns the fifty-two days into eight hundred and forty days, probably in his desire to tone down the marvellous for his readers.
Nehemiah 6:18. Meshullam. See Nehemiah 3:4.
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. Nehemiah, when persistently declining the invitation to meet Sanballat at the plain of Ono, exposed himself to the charge of opposing peace measures. This is one of the hardest trials of virtue, to continue steadfast in a true course at the risk of impugned motives and damaged reputation. Sanballat’s fifth message and open letter sought to endanger Nehemiah with the king, while it seemed to show Sanballat’s devotion to the king’s interests. The refusal now to attend a conference would appear the worse. Yet the sturdy patriot and man of God rests upon his integrity and trusts in God. This persistence in the right, come what would, makes Nehemiah a great man as well as a good man.
2. “Shemaiah” was such a common name among the Jews, that it is impossible to identify this prophet with any other person of his name (as e.g. the one in Ezra 10:21). He must, however, have been a man of prominence, and one, too, who had been in Nehemiah’s confidence, or else the attempt would never have been made by Tobiah and Sanballat through him. It may have been the high position and reputation of Shemaiah that led the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets (Nehemiah 6:14) into the false dealings with Nehemiah.
3. The expression of Nehemiah’s soul for their punishment from God is the outcry for vindication, which one’s very purity of heart demands. In such outcry the persecuted and innocent soul finds rest. Let none confound this with revenge.
4. It is not strange that Sanballat saw that the wall-building was wrought of Israel’s God. The trouble with God’s enemies is not that their knowledge is defective, but that their hearts are alienated. Evidences are multiplying constantly before them, but produce no change in their opposition. Sanballat was vexed because he was thwarted by the Lord God of Israel. Those fifty-two days of wall-building were clearly to his mind a token of divine assistance; but this knowledge did not stop his opposition.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Nehemiah 6:1–3. Can the enticements of the dissembling world really make any impression upon us? 1) What are they? They all come to this one thing in the end, that we shall care before all for ourselves, that is, for our temporal well-being, and therefore shall descend from our due height as children of God, and they aim not towards our salvation, but towards our destruction. 2) What have we to place in opposition to them? That we have a great work to do, the building of the walls of Jerusalem, that is, the securing the kingdom of God in others, and particularly in ourselves, the spreading and the improvement thereof, only through the most faithful performance of this great, infinite work, can we reach the high goal of our salvation.—BEDE: Nehemias personam fidelium doctorum tenens, nequaquam ad profanos descendere neque eorum hostiis inquinari sentit, sed in conceptis virtutum operibus devotus persistit; et quo acrius terrere nitebantur inimici, eo magis ipse bene operando terribilis eisdem inimicis fieri contendit.
Nehemiah 6:1–9. The behaviour of those who grudge independence to the congregation. 1) They act as if they wish to aid it. 2) They seek to intimidate, as if the representatives of freedom were rendering themselves worthy of suspicion in a dangerous way. 3) Their only design is to rob the congregation of its capable leaders.
Nehemiah 6:10–19. The friends of the enemy. 1) They pretend that they are caring for the well-being and the security of the good. 2) They serve the enemy. 3) They only aim at destroying the good leaders.
Nehemiah 6:15–19. The most repulsive enemies. 1) They are not those from without who are grieved when the independence of the congregation is secured, and its work crowned with success. 2) They are much rather the false brethren, who always desire to incite the outside enemy anew to disturbing interference by smooth words.—BEDE: Semper habent electi foris pugnas, intus timores; nee solum apostolis, sed et prophetæ periculis ex genere, periculis ex gentibus, periculis ex falsis fratribus suspectam vitam agebant. STARKE: What Paul writes concerning false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26) that has Nehemiah also experienced for his portion. And it is indeed one of the heaviest griefs of the true servants of God, when they must see that that those connected with them in religion, yes, indeed at times their colleagues, who labor with them in the same work, stand in prejudicial intercourse with the enemies of Christ and His church, and yet wish to be considered as co-members, striving for the honor of God. Those whom God awakens for spiritual building should conduct themselves circumspectly and courageously against the snares of the enemy, and not allow themselves to be frightened off by their slander, but cheerfully proceed. In the end the enemy will be cast down with fear in their consciences, and must acknowledge that the work is of God. Acts 5:39. When we wander in the midst of anxiety God refreshes us, and stretches His hand over the rage of His enemies, and helps us with His right hand. Ps. 97:11.
Nehemiah 6:1–19. Concerning the most critical and saddest hinderance which opposes us in defence of the congregation. 1) From whom it proceeds. Not principally from the outside enemy, not even then when they feign friendship, and, under the pretence of helping us, aim at the worst, but much more from false prophets, who make common cause with the outside enemy, and yet pretend that they wish to protect us from their snares. They excite our humanity to allow ourselves, for our security or ease, that which can become ruinous to us. 2) How it serves us. Our zeal, our fidelity and perseverance, and our watchfulness must be so much the greater; we shall have opportunity to keep ourselves in sufferings, not for our injury, but for our salvation. 3) How it is to be overcome. Through precaution and fearlessness, through the fear of God in which are united humility and genuine high courage, also through great watchfulness.—STARKE: Great lords, who seek to further the good of the church of God and of the commonwealth, are a thorn in the devil’s eye. The cross is often never lifted from the godly, that they may live in continual communion with God. Ah, my God, I have also a great business to perform, namely, to save my soul, and better that of my neighbor. Grant that I may be faithful therein, then shall it go on well and succeed.
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;)