Nehemiah 4:17

We are reminded here of -

I. THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (ver. 8). From sneers the enemies of Israel passed on to plots; from taunts to a mischievous conspiracy. They "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." This advance of theirs was brought about by their hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were "made up." The steadfast labour of the good led, incidentally, to the development of evil in the unholy. The relations of David with Saul, and of the Apostle Paul with his unbelieving countrymen, and, indeed, those of our Master himself with the religious leaders of his day, show that speaking the truth or doing the work of God may prove the occasion of the growth and outbreak of sin - the occasion, but not the responsible cause. We must not be deterred from speaking or doing the will and work of God by fear about incidental consequences on the part of the great enemy.

II. THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (vers. 10, 11, 12). The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes: -

1. The craft and violence of its foes. The enemy said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease" (ver. 11). Here was force combined with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.

2. The faint-heartedness of its friends. Judah, from whom better things might have been expected, said, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed," etc. (ver. 10); and the neighbouring Jews who had come in to help kept saying ("ten times," ver. 12) that they must return, fearing the wrath of the Samaritans. In every work of God there are sure to be some if not "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). This we must expect whenever we "put our hand to the plough" in the field of Christian labour. And happy shall we be if we have not to contend with the feebleness and pusillanimity of our friends, fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at the first alarm, and talking about "giving up."

III. THE WISDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which Nehemiah did.

1. Mindfulness of God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (ver. 9). "Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible" (ver. 14). An appeal to him for help, and the recollection of the fact that "greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us." "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee," etc. (Psalm 50:15).

2. Realisation of the great issues which are at stake (ver. 14). "Fight for your brethren, your sons," etc. When we are working or fighting for the cause of God we are engaged on behalf of the truest, highest, and most enduring interests of those who are dearest to us, and of our own also. The cause of Christ is the cause of ourselves, of our families, of our country, as well as of our race.

3. Defence (vers. 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work. Nehemiah's servants wrought with their weapon of defence in one hand and their instrument of labour in the other (ver. 17). Or, while one was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once into the labourer's hand. Usually our work is rather to build than to strike, but there are times when we must be ready to fight our foes or aid those who are engaged in conflict. In the wide field of the Church's work there is always some work for the Christian soldier as well as for the Christian labourer. Let the one be the cheerful and appreciative co-operator with the other. The spear and the trowel are both wanted. The apologist and the preacher, the theologian and the evangelist, are both accepted servants of Christ.

4. Vigilance (ver. 9). We "set a watch against them day and night." The Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, "Watch and pray."

5. Industry. Patient (ver. 21): "We laboured in the work... from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared." United (ver. 15): "All of us,... every one to his work." Self-forgetting (ver. 23): "None of us put off our clothes," etc.

6. Order (vers. 13, 19, 20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men were placed where most required (ver. 13); those whose homes were outside came in (ver. 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in case of attack (vers. 19, 20). All must work cordially under the human as well as under the Divine leader. - C.

Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon,
Life is work, and life is warfare; and these are ever commingled. Our text is but an epitome and sample of that larger and longer work which fills the broad area of all human history.

I. THIS LIFE IS TO MEN A SCENE OF TOIL. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" is the universal and unchanging law of human life. Inaction is no blessing. The spirit of man stagnates and sickens under it, and it issues in a weariness which is worse than the fatigues of labour. Activity is needful to the true enjoyment of life. Adam was not inactive in paradise (Genesis 2:15). Heaven is a rest, but not a rest of indolence. There "His servants do serve Him." The true labour of life involves self-denial, apprehension, patience, fatigue, disappointment. Every man has a work that is specific and peculiar to him. The great Taskmaster never set two of His creatures the same task. Amid much general sameness, there is the strictest individuality. Life's work is twofold.

1. The secular department. How great is the number of human avocations! And in each of these avocations what a number of workers! And each one has a task given him to do which is as distinct as himself, which no one can do but he, and which is defined by his circumstances, his relations and his endowments.

2. The spiritual department. The work of the soul and of eternity; the end of which is — "to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever."


1. Against ourselves. As internal wars are ever fiercest and most painful, so the battle-ground of a Christian's own heart is that on which he is called to wage the severest fight and win the hardest victory. We have to overcome our sluggishness, our unbelief, our sensuality, our concupiscence, the heavy clog of sense, and the fierce impulse of corruption.

2. Against men. This enemy is called the world. And by it we mean that vast mass of maxims, opinions, beliefs, pursuits, ways, habits, opposed to the mind and service of God, which characterise human society.

3. Against spirits. The devil and his angels, numerous, powerful, malignant (Ephesians 6:12).

(R. A. Hallam, D. D.)

We have here illustrated two principles —

I. CONSTRUCTION. Each of us is put into the world to be a builder, and himself is the building. Each separate disciple is a "habitation of God, through the Spirit." If your faith, your work, your prayers, your watchfulness shall ever succeed in edifying you into anything like a completed Christian, your character will be an edifice where God's glory will be more distinctly manifest than it is over any altar, where His praise will resound more acceptably than from the grandest organ, and where His truth is more effectually preached than from the most eloquent pulpit of any cathedral in the world.

1. Because character is a building it is not therefore to be understood that there is no need in the Christian life for an instant change, or conversion. That comes before the building can be begun to any purpose, or on any right plan. All must be sound at the base. If any man should try to build on a false foundation his work would come to nought. No outside clamps would hold it up. Except ye be converted, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

2. We must not take the impression that the formation of Christian character consists in putting pieces of moral propriety together — a patchwork of merits without any all-controlling Divine principle. In all buildings there must be one "design," an organising principle held clearly in the builder's mind. In the structure of character this organising principle is the in working life of Christ. It is the will of God. The spiritual laws are just as necessary, in order to success in a righteous life, as the mechanical laws in order to architectural success. The first of those laws is that God is the centre and object of all religious affections; the second, that Jesus is the way to the Father. Hence — self-renunciation — yielding the heart — submission to the Heavenly Will is the inmost necessity of a Christian character. To the question how we shall build character fair and strong, the answer is — "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Into every particle of life must run this secret power of the Holy Christ — like the builder's invisible design spreading through all the beams and braces and apartments of the house, or else it will be no "habitation of the Spirit." Christian character means a righteous will, a purpose consecrated to God, and acting in all well-doing for man. You may grow in character by doing, thinking, and feeling more vigorously for God and your brother-man. Construction, then, is the multiplying of that inward spiritual energy out of which right outward deeds will be sure to come. It is replenishing the stock of life in the heart. It is making conscience quick, watchful, unbending. It is cultivating loyalty to the voice of God in the soul. It is the increase of humility, sincerity, temperance, integrity, patience, sweetness of temper, submission, benevolence. Additions to these, by whatever means, by Bible and prayer, and sacrament and labour, by the study of them in the lives of heroic saints, are the positive building of character.

II. CONTENTION. In the positive process of achieving good, hindrances are met. It has been said, "There is nothing real or useful that is not a seat of war." Take construction without resistance.If I ignore the fact of sin and forget temptations and simply go on cultivating good, as if there were no opposite, presently I shall find these sins are making assaults on me from behind: my work will be undermined, my pious pains spoilt; I shall be no true builder. On the other hand, take resistance without construction. This will produce a hard, censorious, belligerent type of piety. The sword will crowd out the gentle arts of peace. It makes soldiers against Satan, but not tillers of the soil of God. We become clever disputants, but not good, trusting, patient, loving, holy men and women. Looking out so sharply for the Ammonites and Ashdodites the walls do not go up. We want the watchful eye of the old anchorite, without his austerity. We want the practical activity of the modern reformer without his blindness to the personal foes in his own heart. We want one hand for service, one for battle; when this is understood Christ's Church will be filled with consistent believers and fearless soldiers.

(Bp. Huntington.)

The stirring incident suggests lessons to the workers in God's cause to-day.

I. THE CHURCH OF GOD HAS STILL A GREAT WORK TO DO FOR THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD. The walls of many a Jerusalem are down and need building up. Injustice, oppression, and wrong are found in many places.

II. HOW IS THE CHURCH TO ACCOMPLISH ALL THIS WORK? Consider the people named in the text.

1. They had a wise and skilful leader. It is said that Alexander the Great was strolling among the tents of his soldiers on the eve of some great battle. Hearing some of his men engaged in conversation in one of the tents, he stopped to listen. The men were losing courage and heart, and said so. As they deplored their insufficiency for the task of the morrow, he slipped up to the door of the tent, and swinging back the canvas, said, "Remember that Alexander is with you." Nehemiah told the people of a greater than Alexander. In all aggressive movements there must be aggressive leaders.

2. All the people were willing to help. The danger in these days is to leave the work to a few, to recognised leaders and officers. This is always foolish; in the Church of God it is fatal.

3. Each one had a work and did it. God has a piece of work for each one of us to do. Some have to stand in the front; others have to stand in the rear. Some work in the blaze of day, and others work out of sight. I sometimes admire the bridges which cross the Thames. As I have sailed under them, I have thought about the divers who had to work below the surface of the water to lay the foundation of some of the strong work which carries the weight of the whole. The work these divers did out of sight was all-important. If they had done it badly the whole would have suffered in consequence. It may be so with our work.

4. They did the work in dependence upon God. They did their secular work in a religious spirit.

(C. Leach, D. D.)

This is well set forth by the occupations of a builder and a soldier.

1. There are heaps of rubbish to be removed. There must be a true repentance, a confessing and forsaking of sin.

2. Foundations deep and strong must be laid. Christ the one Foundation.

3. The wall must be carried up, little by little, etc. There must be a growing up into Christ, an advance in grace day by day.

4. This must be done according to the settled plan, by rule and square. Our rule is the written Word.

5. The Christian has to carry on his work in troublous times. He must stand bravely at his post, like a sentinel on watch. He must stand where his Captain has placed him. Obedience to Christ is the glory of the Christian soldier. We must believe where we cannot see, and trust where we cannot trace. The end will justify all His dealings with us and by us. In the Peninsular War, the captain of a division was placed by Wellington at a point remote from the field where s battle was about to be fought. He was expressly ordered to remain there, and on no account to quit his post. When the battle was raging fiercely the captain could no longer endure the inaction of his position, and so left it and joined in the fight. The enemy were driven from the field, and fled in the very direction that Wellington had anticipated, and where the captain with his men had been posted. The general felt confident that their flight would be cut off; but great was his anger when he found that his orders had been disobeyed, and the post vacated. It is said that he never again employed the captain in any important affair, and that the latter died of a broken heart through the loss of his reputation as a soldier.

(J. M. Randall.)

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