Now it came to pass when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had built the wall…
I. HIS TRIAL, FROM THE STRATAGEMS OF ENEMIES. The circumstances of his trial were peculiar. Faith and prayer and pains had now achieved great things in Jerusalem. For many days the patriots had persevered, with unremitting toil, to rebuild the wall. And now their enterprise was ready to be crowned with triumphant success. This, to them, was a time of joyous anticipation, mingled, no doubt, with solicitude, lest their work should be marred on the very eve of completion. But to the enemies of Zion it was a moment of vexation and dismay. "They heard," says Nehemiah, "that I had builded the wail, and that there was no breach left therein." In spite of their vaunting words and feeble arms the good work had advanced, and, unless they could instantly crush it, they plainly saw that all would be lost. Yet what shall they do to arrest the sacred enterprise? They have tried mockery already, but have found, to their chagrin, that these men of Judah will not be driven by ridicule from what, to them, is a work of conscience and religion. They have, moreover, attempted force; but they have learned, to their dismay, that the Israelites are ready to resist unto blood the invasion of their liberty to serve God in the city called by His name. Foiled, therefore, in these modes of attack, they are compelled to resort to stratagem in order, if possible, to gain their wicked purpose. This desperation of the enemies of Judah is just a picture of the rage of the great adversary at the progress of the Church and the growing sanctification of each believer in Christ. More than once in the history of the Church's advance has the devil come down in "great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time." But trials in the religious life often prove the occasion of higher manifestations of mercy than could have been experienced without them. Trial, therefore, here comes to Nehemiah; and what is the form in which it assails him?
1. He is first tried by the wiles of enemies to draw him from his work and involve him in danger. As if for the purpose of consultation, they sent unto him, saying, "Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of One." The object of these crafty foes was to get possession of the person of Nehemiah; and in all probability to take away his life. But the noble Israelite answered after this manner, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" Who can but admire the wisdom and fortitude of the servant of God in this hour of trial? Is not this a grand example to imitate in Christ's service and our own salvation? Our life on earth is so transient, and our work for eternity so arduous, that we have no time to waste. "This I say, then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."
2. Further, Nehemiah is tried by the false accusations of enemies, designed to undermine his character. "Sanballat sent his servant the fifth time with an open letter in his hand." And why was the letter sent "open"? It was no doubt intended to give all the people opportunity to know its contents, that their jealousy might be aroused at the alleged ambitious aims of their leader, or their fears be excited of incurring the wrath of the king by continuing their work; but it was meant, moreover, thus to offer an insult to Nehemiah. It might have been thought that a life singularly blameless and disinterested as his would have been exempt from reproach. But who may expect to be free from the assaults of malice and envy, since the Son of God, the holy, harmless, undefiled One, did not escape the shafts of calumny? And so here, one of the lowliest and most upright of good men is falsely accused of ambition and rebellion. How striking an instance is this of misrepresentation and craft in the enemies of truth to thwart a servant of God in a Divine work. It often happens, as here, that the sacred form of friendship is assumed to seduce the children of faith into a betrayal of their trust; and they who would draw them aside from duty pretend a regard to their welfare. Yet under the guise of affection there lurks a deadly hostility that seeks only their hurt and the ruin of their good name.
II. HIS TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH. Men in high place are little to be envied. They are often exposed to special dangers, both in principle and person. He bears testimony to the truth by fidelity to his trust in midst of imminent danger. He was fortified by a good conscience, while beset with wiles and accusations; and he possessed his soul in patience through the hour of trial. He looks on the field of danger with the eye of an eagle, and walks over it with the heart of a lion. He combines a clear perception of the plots of the enemy with a heroic courage to confront all their power. How quickly the adversary shifts his method of assault! and the good soldier must alter his manner of repulse in order to overcome. The enemies of Nehemiah here follow the same crafty course. They found they could not draw him into the country for counsel, and now they seek to drive him into the temple for safety. This was a mean as well as a wicked device of the heathen; but it is melancholy to reflect that men were found in Judah base enough to abet their machinations. It was not among the common people that the treacherous spirit appeared, but among the professed prophets and messengers of God. Noble things are always most vile when they become corrupt; and in this case these so-called ambassadors of heaven debase their high vocation by lending all its influence to the work of the enemies of religion. But these arts, employed to intimidate and seduce Nehemiah, were all in vain. He bore testimony to the truth by steadfast adherence to duty, even in face of threatened death. Much as he may value life, and wish to preserve it till the work is done which is so dear to his heart, yet he loves God and a good conscience far more. This is a noble example for our imitation. What faithful care does this man of God exercise to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good!
III. HIS TRIUMPH OVER ALL OPPOSITION. It is instructive to remark the means by which Nehemiah achieved this victory. He was first of all careful to ascertain facts, and to detect the plots of enemies through all the mazes of their falsehood. For this purpose he gave his mind to weigh evidence, to examine character, to balance circumstances, that he might arrive at the truth. But we note, as his chief means of success, effectual fervent prayer to God. His labours were now crowned with triumphant success. "So," he writes, "the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days." This was the hour of Israel's triumph, and of their enemies' humiliation. "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." They were much cast down, as persons who have staked their full strength and reputation on a bad end, and yet have utterly failed in its attainment. They suffered the humiliation of those who boast of their power, put it forth to the utmost, and, after all, feel themselves completely defeated by the people whose might they had despised. It is not given to all witnesses for God to bear testimony for Him amid great works and conflicts like these; but He appoints each of us our duty here to stand by His truth, and to contend earnestly for the faith against all assaults on it. The dominant forms of opposition to Bible truth in these days are unbelief, or error in creed, and worldliness, or error in conduct; and in face of both God calls us to be witnesses for His cause. Whenever you profess your faith in the Bible, the whole Bible, as the Word of God, your creed is pronounced antiquated, and regarded with wonder or an ill-dissembled sneer. Yet all is surrendered if the integrity, the infallibility, the inspiration of the whole Bible is given up.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;)
WEB: Now it happened, when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah, and to Geshem the Arabian, and to the rest of our enemies, that I had built the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though even to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates;)