Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the sheep gate; they sanctified it…
I. THE BUILDERS. The patriots have expressed their purpose to build the wall, and they proceed immediately to carry this good resolution into effect. We know nothing in all history like the scene here portrayed. We have read, indeed, of ancient Rome, when burned by fire, being rebuilt by her citizens; but these were still rich and powerful. We have heard, too, of ancient Carthage, when almost razed to the ground by foreign invaders, being repaired and fortified by the patriots of the nation; but these were yet numerous and wealthy. We know nothing, however, like this in the annals of the world, where the small remnant of the captives of Judah, with simple trust in God, set themselves to rebuild their fallen capital, while they were few in numbers, poor in resources, and surrounded with hosts of enemies frowning on their enterprise.
1. They were all Israelites in the land of Judah. In the book of Ezra we learn that aliens from the commonwealth of Israel were not permitted to join in rebuilding the temple, even though for sinister ends they proffered their services. They could not enter with spirit into the undertaking, and the labour of the hand was not accepted when unaccompanied with the love of the heart. And it is the spiritual Israel still who can labour in promoting Christ's cause and truth in the earth. They alone can effectually advance religion who love and exemplify it. They alone can truly know the truth so as to speak it and spread it. It is a profound observation of Pascal, "that natural things must be known to be loved, but Divine things must be loved in order to be known." Saving truth is not discerned by the mere power of natural reason, or through the acquirements of human learning; it can be perceived only through the illumination of the Holy Ghost. Believers of the word of salvation can alone declare that word with living power. It is a feeble, as well as a heartless thing, for a man to speak truth for the faith of others, that he does not believe in his own soul. It is in vain to expect earnest effort for the conversion of souls from those who have no mercy on themselves, and who have never repented of their own sins.
2. They were of diversified stations and gifts. It deserves remark, that those mentioned here not only gave contributions in money, that the work might advance, but they laboured by personal effort in the building of the wall. This is worthy of high praise, as showing a heart for the good cause, and wisdom in advancing it. Money can, no doubt, do much to procure or sustain effort in promoting the work of God; but there is a power in living activity, in the warm sympathy, in the personal influence, of the present believer helping forward a religious enterprise, that donations of gold can never secure. It is, hence, to the honour of those saints of Judah that they not merely gave their money, but they gave themselves, in life, in love, to labour with their hands in this work of God for building their city walls. In the narrative of these diversified personal efforts we observe —
(1) The priests and Levites joined in the work. "Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate" (ver. 1). And "after him repaired the Levites" (ver. 17). But the lowliest act done for the cause of God receives glory from its connection with Him; and the ministers of the sanctuary should be foremost in effort to build up the cause of truth in the earth.
(2) The governor and nobles laboured at the wall. There is, indeed, one notable exception to this patrician work. Respecting the nobles of the Takoites it is said, "But their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord" (ver. 5).
(3) The daughters of Judah shared this honourable toil. "Shallum, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters" (ver. 12).
(4) The young united in this sacred employment. "And Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another piece" (ver. 30). Youth are often tempted to think religion a gloomy thing, and that to embrace it in their early years would be to lose all the pleasures of life.
3. The builders here belonged to different parts of the Holy Land. They were there from Jericho, and Gibeon, and Keilah, and Mizpah, and Tekoa. These were not men of Jerusalem, but they loved the public interests of religion connected with the city of God, and, as true Israelites, they laboured for its restoration. The extension, the purity, the revival of the Church in every part of the world, is the common cause of all who name the name of Christ. Christians, then, should never be so absorbed with their own party interests as to forget the great cause of His glory, and the good of man. If they really love the Lord Jesus their regard for His honour must be tested by their active effort to overthrow the reign of sin, and advance the empire of righteousness.
II. THE PRGRESS OF THE WORK. In the call of Divine judgment for the overthrow of the city God commanded, "Begin at My sanctuary"; and so we remark, this work of restoration commences beside the temple, proceeds north, and westward, till it completes the circuit of the wall. "The priests built the sheep gate, and they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it." Through it the sacrifices were brought into the holy place, and the patriots first repaired it, that they might defend the house of God from all assaults or danger. They were the ministers of religion that performed this part of the work, and they thus teach their brethren that everything connected with Divine worship is to be guarded with religious care. From them, too, we learn that our first concern in all reform, as well as in the activities of life, should be for the safety and prosperity of the Church of God. But if the Church of Christ is dear to the hearts of her members, and is prosperous through their works of faith, the cause of humanity and of truth is secure in the earth. The work here was carried on by the labourers where each of them was most deeply interested. It is recorded of several of the householders of Jerusalem that "he repaired over against his house" (ver. 23), and respecting one who seems to have been only a lodger, it is said, "he repaired over against his chamber" (ver. 30). Labour near their respective dwellings was most convenient for the persons engaged, and it was necessary for their own safety that the wall there should not be broken down. Religion ever appeals to the instinct of self-love, and the strength of domestic affection in the human heart, to animate zeal for its advancement. Christian parent! your own children are dear to you, and you are appointed to labour and pray for their salvation. Christian philanthropist I your own country is the object of your love, and you are required to give your foremost endeavours for the religious welfare of your brethren, your kinsmen according to the flesh. This work, moreover, was prosecuted with varied zeal. The enterprise required co-operation of effort; and we find sometimes two persons united in setting up one gate. There was need, too, for diversity of zeal, for while one part had only to be repaired, another had to be entirely rebuilt; but the diversity of grace demanded was perseveringly displayed. To the honour of one we read, "Baruch earnestly repaired" (ver. 20), as if his diligence was such as to be manifest to all beholders. To the praise of others, we are given to understand that when they had raised up one part they proceeded to restore another. "Meremoth," and the "Tekoites" (vers. 21, 27), after finishing the work first allotted to them, undertook a second portion of labour, as if they felt there should be no remission from toil so long as any part of Jerusalem remained broken down.
III. THE OPPOSITION OF ENEMIES. It is not good that the spiritual life should flow on without trial, or that a great work should progress without admonition of its constant dependence on God. Long seasons of repose or prosperity are apt to produce self-complacency in the heart; God therefore subjects His servants to humbling reverses, and pours them from vessel to vessel, lest they should be settled on their lees. In the performance of s good work the encounter of difficulties is salutary, and it is permitted in profound wisdom. He that sits in the seat of the scornful seldom needs to sit long there alone. Here we observe the leading mocker is soon joined by a humble imitator, in the same strain of ridicule at the works of earnest piety. "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." And so it has been in all ages. The most solemn scenes and venerable characters, the greatest actions and the grandest enterprises, have encountered the derision of bad men, sitting in the seat of the scorner. The leading infidel of the Continent in the close of last century vented his malicious jests at the sublime verities of the Christian faith, and sneered at the redemption of the world by the blood of God's Son. Thus, too, the profane wits of the time laughed to scorn the commencement of the great enterprise of modern missions to the heathen, and derided the proposal to convert the world to the Christian faith, while only a few pounds were as yet in the treasury, and some illiterate artizans were consecrated the apostles of the gospel to India. All such mockers overlook this one thing, that the cause of truth has God for its author, and therefore faith in effort for its advancement rests on Omnipotence for success. It requires but little talent to raise a laugh against the affections and works of piety.
IV. THE DEVOTION OF JUDAH UNDER NEHEMIAH. In narrating the zeal of the builders, Nehemiah makes no mention of his own great service in the common cause. He was the soul of the whole undertaking — planning, animating, and sustaining it, at every, point; yet he never once refers to himself among those whose names are recorded with honour. In the outset of the enterprise, while it still prospers, this truly great man narrates the progress of the work in the third person, as if he had had no share in the honourable toil. But so soon as difficulties occur, the style of the history is changed, and he takes his place under the term "we," among the sufferers for the cause of truth. It is a beautiful example of modesty and humility to all the servants of God. Nehemiah in this hour of trial displays great forbearance under wrong. The proud scorn he encountered might have provoked his resentment to inflict punishment on its despicable authors. He was high in favour with the king, and it would probably have been easy for him to obtain power to chastise these adversaries of his country; but he is as distinguished for patience as for courage. There is not a Christian that suffers reproach in serving Christ, but the Lord feels it as done to Himself; and unless mercy is asked to pardon the affront, it will be visited with the wrath of the Lamb for evermore.
V. THE ZEAL OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE COMPLETION OF THE WORK. Derision and discouragement drive multitudes from the support of a good cause. Many have begun to run well in their religious course. How many, too, are frightened away from a good work by the sneers and opposition directed against those who are zealous in its promotion. They believe the enterprise to be right in itself, they are persuaded it is fraught with blessings to men; but they cannot bear the jests or banter which open adherence to it entails.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel.
WEB: Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up its doors; even to the tower of Hammeah they sanctified it, to the tower of Hananel.