Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.The enemies scoff, and are angry, Nehemiah 4:1-3. Nehemiah prayeth against them and continueth the work, Nehemiah 4:4-6. Understanding the wrath and design of their enemies, he setteth a watch, Nehemiah 4:7-12. He armeth and encourageth the labourers, Nehemiah 4:3-18; and giveth military precepts, Nehemiah 4:9-23.
Pretending contempt in his words when he had grief in his heart.
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?Before his brethren; Nehemiah 4:3, and Geshem, Nehemiah 2:19, and others, whom he calls
his brethren, because of their conjunction with him in office and interest.
The army of Samaria; whom he designed hereby to incense against them, or at least to understand their minds herein.
Will they make an end in a day? do they intend to begin and finish the work, and keep the feast of dedication by sacrifice, all in one day? for if they spend any long time about it, they cannot think that we, and the rest of their neighbours, will suffer them to do it. Thus he persuaded himself and his companions that their attempt was ridiculous; and this mistake kept him from giving them any disturbance till it was too late. So God infatuated him to his own grief and shame, and to the advantage of his people.
Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish? will they pick up their broken stones out of the ruins, and patch them together? for other materials they want.
Which are burned, i.e. which stones were burned, and broken, or consumed to powder, to wit, by the Chaldeans when they took the city. See Poole "Nehemiah 1:3".
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.He mentions the foxes, because they were very numerous in those parts, and because in the late desolations the foxes did walk in the mount and city of Zion, Lamentations 5:18, wherewith he seems to upbraid them.
He shall even break down their stone wall: it is so low, that a fox can easily get to the top of it; and so weak, and done so hastily and carelessly, that the least thrust will tumble it down.
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:Turn their reproach upon their own head; let them be really as contemptible as they represent us to be. This, and the following requests, may seem harsh, but they were both just, as being directed against such malicious, inveterate, and implacable enemies to God and to his people, and necessary for the vindication and defence of God’s honour, and worship, and people.
Give them for a prey in the land of captivity; let them be removed from our neighbourhood, and carried into captivity; and there let them find no favour, but further severity. Or,
give them for a prey to their enemies, and let these carry them into
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.Let not their sin be blotted out from before thee; let their wickedness be in thy sight, so as to bring down deserved judgments it. upon them, that either they may be convinced and reformed, or others may be warned by their example. God is said to cover or hide sin when he forbears to punish.
They have provoked thee to anger before the builders, i.e. they have not only provoked us builders, but thee also. Or, they have provoked or derided the builders to their face, i.e. openly and impudently, in contempt of God, and of this work, which is done by his direction and encouragement.
So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.Unto the half thereof; either,
1. In length; or rather,
2. In height; for the whole circumference of the wall was distributed among the builders, who also had carried on the work, beginning at the sheep-gate, and ending there also, as appears from Nehemiah 3:1,32; and the walls of Jerusalem are said to be made up, here, Nehemiah 4:7.
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,That the breaches began to be stopped, i.e. that the breaches which the Chaldeans had made and left in the walls were well-nigh stopped up.
And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.No text from Poole on this verse.
Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.No text from Poole on this verse.
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 Judah said, i.e. the Jews now dwelling in Judah, to wit, some of them, being partly terrified by their enemies, and partly wearied with hard and continual labours.
There is much rubbish; more than we are able suddenly to remove.
We are not able to build the wall; being forced to spend our time in removing the rubbish, and other works imposed upon us; and therefore we must desist at least for a season.
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.We will come secretly and unexpectedly upon them so as they shall neither foresee their danger, nor be able to prevent it.
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.Which dwelt by them, or, among them; whereby they came to the knowledge of their counsels.
Ten times, i.e. very often. A certain number for an uncertain.
They will be upon you, i.e. they will invade you every way, by which we can come to you, or you to us; and therefore do you keep watches on every side. But these words may be otherwise rendered thus, On all parts where you shall be quiet, or at rest, (i.e. secure; for the Hebrew schub signifies not only to return, but also to be quiet, or at ease, as Hebricians know,) they will be upon us, i.e. upon our people, and city Jerusalem, where you are. And they rather say upon us than upon you, to manifest their affection to them, and conjunction with them, and that they looked upon themselves as members of the same body and church with them, and took what was designed or done against them, as if it were against themselves, and therefore gave them this friendly notice. Or the place may be rendered thus, They told this (to wit, the enemy’s intentions) to us ten times, coming from all places where they dwelt, or rested, (Heb. you rested; the second person being put for the third, as it is both in the Hebrew language, as Genesis 10:19,30 Ge 25:18, and in the Hebrew text, Psalm 22:9, and in other languages and authors; of which see my Latin Synopsis upon Genesis 10:19; and that it is so here we have the consent of the LXX. and Arabic, and of some modern and accurate interpreters, who render it by a verb of the third person,) about us; whence they came purposely to inform and warn us. Or thus, They told this to us ten times from all places whence they did return to us: which phrase of returning to us, i.e. to Jerusalem, suits very well with those persons who came up with their brethren from Babylon to Jerusalem, and went thence into several parts of the country to dwell where they thought meet, and returned now, and at other times, as they had occasion, to their brethren at Jerusalem.
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.In the lower places behind the wall; to stand by and within the walls where they were lowest, and not yet raised to their due height, and therefore most liable to the enemy’s assault.
On the higher places; upon the tops of the walls where they were finished, and the towers which were built here and there upon the wall; whence they might shoot arrows or throw stones against their enemies, when they made their approaches.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Our enemies being frustrated in their hopes, which were wholly built upon the secrecy and suddenness of their attempt, we knowing this, returned to our business.
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.From that time forth, lest our enemies should repeat their enterprise.
The half of my servants; of my domestic servants, and of my guards, who should have attended upon my own person.
The spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons, i.e. all their weapons; they stood in their arms prepared for battle.
The rulers were behind all; partly to encourage them in their work, and sometimes to assist with their own hands; and partly to direct and command them in case of an assault.
The house of Judah, i.e. the Jews who were upon the wall.
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.This is not to be taken properly, for they could never have done their work with one hand; and the next verse tells us the sword was not in their hands, but by their sides: but figuratively; this being a proverbial speech, such as is frequent amongst the Latins, as when they say of a man pretending kindness with evil design, he carries bread in one hand, and a stone in another.
For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.To call the people together, when and where it was fit and necessary.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us.No text from Poole on this verse.
So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.Working very early and very late.
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.Within Jerusalem; not in the suburbs, or adjoining villages, as probably many of them did, returning thence to their work in the morning.
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.None of us put off our clothes; neither by day, nor by night, as the manner is when we go to bed; they constantly kept themselves in a readiness for fighting.
Saving that every one put them off for washing; when they were to wash and cleanse themselves from some natural or moral impurity, which might befall them or their garments.