So we rebuilt the wall until all of it was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
I. DEVOTION ASSAILED BY DERISION (vers. 1-3). Sanballat and Tobiah were contemptuously angry when they heard that the Jews had actually begun to build: they "took great indignation, and mocked the Jews" (ver. 1). "What do these feeble Jews?" said Sanballat (ver. 2). "If a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall," said Tobiah (ver. 3), using the strongest language of derision. Here was
(1) misplaced contempt. A very ridiculous thing it must have seemed to Noah's contemporaries for him to be building a great ship so far from the sea; but the hour came when, as the waters rose, the scorners who had laughed at him knew that he was the one wise man, and they the fools. A pitiably ruinous thing the ministers of Pharaoh's court must have thought it in Moses to sacrifice his princely position in Egypt, and choose to "suffer affliction with the people of God" (Hebrews 11:25). We know now how wise he was. Many others beside Festus thought Paul mad to relinquish everything dear to man that he might be a leader of the despised sect, "everywhere spoken against." We understand what he did for the world, and what a "crown of righteousness" he was winning for himself. To the shallow judgment of the Samaritans, Nehemiah and his workmen seemed to be engaged in a work that would come to nought - they would "have their labour for their pains;" but their contempt was wholly misplaced. These men were earnest and devout workmen, guided by a resolute, high-minded leader, who had a plan in his head as well as a hope in his heart; they were to be congratulated, and not despised. So now
(a) fleshly strength, a thing of muscle and nerve, may despise the mind with which it competes; or
(b) material force (money, muskets, arms) the spiritual strength against which it is arrayed; or
(c) mere numbers, without truth and without God, the feeble band which is in a small minority, but which has truth, righteousness, God on its side. Very misplaced contempt, as time will soon show. Sanballat and Tobiah, in their superciliousness, used
(2) an easily-forged weapon - ridicule. Nothing is easier than to turn good things, even the very best things, into ridicule. It is the favourite weapon of wrong in its weakness. When men can do nothing else, they can laugh at goodness and virtue. Any simpleton may make filial piety seem ridiculous by a sneering allusion to a "mother's apron-string." The weakest-minded man can raise a laugh by speaking of death or of devotion in terms of flippancy. There was but the very smallest speck of cleverness in Sanballat's idea of turning ashes into stones (ver. 2), or in Tobiah's reference to the fox breaking down the wall (ver. 3), but it probably excited the derisive laughter of "the brethren and the army of Samaria" (ver. 2). Let those who adopt the role of the mocker remember that it is the weapon of the fool which they are wielding. But though easily forged, this weapon of ridicule is
(3) a blade that cuts deeply. Nehemiah felt it keenly. "Hear, O our God; for we are despised" (ver. 4). And the imprecation (ver. 6) that follows shows very deep and intense feeling. Derision may be easily produced, but it is very hard to bear. It is but a shallow philosophy that says "hard words break no bones:" they do not break bones, but they bruise tender hearts. They crush sensitive spirits, which is more, and worse. "A wounded spirit who can bear?" (Proverbs 18:14). The full force of a human soul's contempt directed against a sensitive spirit, the brutal trampling of heartless malignity on the most sacred and cherished convictions of the soul, this is one of the worst sufferings we can be called to endure. But we have -
II. DEVOTION BETAKING ITSELF TO ITS REFUGE (vers. 4, 5). Nehemiah, as his habit was, betook himself to God. He could not make light of the reproaches, but, smarting under them, he appealed to the Divine Comforter. "Hear, O our God," etc. (ver. 4). In all time of our distress from persecution we should
(1) carry our burden to our God; especially remembering "him who endured such contradiction of sinners" (Hebrews 12:3), and appealing to him who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15), having been himself tried on this point even as we are.
(2) Ask his interposition with our enemies; only, as we have learned of Christ, asking not for retaliation (ver. 5), but for the victory of love, for their conversion to a better mind.
III. DEVOTION DRIVEN TO DO ITS BEST (ver. 6). Under the inspiration of an attack from without, Nehemiah and his brethren went on with their work
(1) with redoubled speed. "So built we the wall unto the half thereof." It grew rapidly under their busy hands, nerved and stimulated as they were to do their best.
(2) With perfect co-operation. "All the wall was joined together." There was no part left undone by any idlers or malcontents: each man did the work appointed him. The reproaches of them that are without knits together as one man those that are within.
(3) With heartiness. "The people had a mind to work." No instru- ments, however cunningly devised and well-made, will do much without the "mind to work;" but with our mind in the work we can do almost anything with such weapons as we have at hand. Pray for, cherish "the willing mind" (2 Corinthians 8:12) in the work of the Lord, and then the busy hand will quickly "build the wall." - C.
So we built the wall.1. They built it notwithstanding sneers. "What do these feeble Jews?" Sanballat said. All the Sanballats are not dead yet. Often, when you would attempt some new or difficult work for Christ, there are a good many modern Sanballats ready to stand about and say, "You can't do anything; you are not strong enough; you are not experienced enough; you haven't money enough; the idea of your attempting such a thing!
2. they built the wall, notwithstanding active opposition. they kept right on steadily building. Said the great William Carey — who wrought such wonders, and against such opposition, in modern missions — to his son Eustace, "Eustace, if they say I am a genius, it is not true; but if they say I can plod, that is true. Yes, I can plod, I can plod." And a plodding persistence, in the face of almost any opposition, is sure at last to triumph.
3. They built the wall, notwithstanding despairing friends. I have been reading how General Washington, only a little time before the battle of Yorktown, was in the very darkest time of the long, hard struggle. Friends on every side were despairingly saying, "You can't do it; you might just as well give up." But the great Washington would not let himself despair. Whoever else might, he would not. He would keep at it; and, keeping at it, notwithstanding the despair of friends, a nation's independence was achieved at Yorktown.
4. They built the wall by prayer. I asked Mr. Spurgeon once how he prayed. He answered, "I go to the Bible and find a promise applicable to my need, then I reverently plead that promise before the Lord, asking Him to keep it for Jesus' sake; and I believe God will, and He does." That is the prayer of faith — the prayer of great grip on the Divine promise.
5. They built the wall by working together. Did you notice that "we"? "So 'we' built the wail," our Scripture says. Even one is worth something, but two are worth more, and many striving together are worth immeasurably more. Associate others with yourself, or yourself with others. It was because the Rough Riders rushed up the heights of San Juan together, and because the coloured regiments rushed up together, and together with them they were enabled to plant Old Glory on the summit. Fellow ship is better than individualism in all noble service.
6. They built the wall by willingness on the part of each to do whatever he could. Sometimes they bore burdens; sometimes they grasped swords and spears; sometimes they stood sentinel. There was no selfish picking and choosing. There was no mean declaring "I will do this, but I won't do that." Each one was ready to do any. thing; the thing which seemed just then the thing best to be done. It is no wonder that the wall went steadily and triumphantly up.
7. They built the wall by courageous trust in God. Said Nehemiah, "Be not afraid of them; remember the Lord."
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
For the people had a mind to work —
1. Earnestness. Earnestness is an important factor in all Christian work and consists —(1) In a thorough persuasion of the truth of the message we make known — the efficacy of the remedy we convey to men.(2) A deep sense of the value of those we seek to save.(3) An intense conviction that it is God's work and not our own we are seeking to do.
5. Prayerfulness.Summing up these characteristics, we may say to the Christian worker, "Add to your work earnestness, and to earnestness persistency, and to persistency union, and to union wisdom, and to wisdom courage, and to courage prayer"; "for if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8).
(W. P. Lockhart.)
The Church.This implies —
I. A RECOGNITION OF THE DUTY OF WORK.
II. A RECOGNITION OF THE PRIVILEGE OF WORK.
III. AN EARNEST SYMPATHY WITH, AND LONGING FOR, THE RESULTS OF WORK.
1. Bear the insignia of your religion before the world. Let all men know that you are the followers of Christ.
2. Maintain His public worship.
3. Christianise the world.
II. THE MIND. This implies —
4. Thoroughness amid discouragement and opposition.
(T. Davies, M. A.)
Essex Remembrancer.I. THE WORK THE JEWS HAD TO PERFORM. The work they had undertaken was one in which it was natural to suppose they felt the deepest possible interest. It will be admitted that the work they had undertaken was a great work. Then as to the magnitude of the work, it is indescribable — it is, in a word, to seek the present and eternal salvation of a guilty, ruined, and perishing world. Nor must good men lose sight of the fact, that this glorious work is to be accomplished, not by miracle, nor by a Divine power or agency in the abstract, but by the feeble, and of itself powerless, instrumentality of Christian men, as accompanied with the sanctifying and saving influences of the Holy Spirit of God.
II. THE OBSTACLES WHICH, IN THE PROSECUTION OF THEIR WORK, THE JEWS HAD TO ENCOUNTER. The Church, then, must never forget that her adversaries are both numerous and powerful. But have not the Church's greatest difficulties often proved her greatest blessings? It has led the Lord's people both to see and to feel more of their dependence upon Him.
III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THE JEWS CARRIED ON THEIR WORK. They had their minds, that is to say, their souls, in it, and they were determined to accomplish it. They loved their Master, their work, and each other.
IV. THE SUCCESS OF WHICH THEIR LABOUR WAS PRODUCTIVE.
1. Are there any of us who are engaged in the Lord's service, but whose hearts are not in it?
2. Are there any who have no disposition to labour for the Lord Jesus Christ?
I. CO-OPERATION. "The people had a mind to work." Nehemiah was, of course, the ruling spirit. He was only one man, but he was one of those men who count for thousands. He was one of those men who not only embody but create the spirit of an age and lead it on to victory. He was only one man, but in this world men have not to be counted but weighed; and it is when men are weighed — weighed as to their intellect, their convictions, their courage, their principles, their self-denial — that it is seen that one man is not as good as another. All the great epochs of the world have gathered around one man, just as the restoration gathered around Nehemiah, and so filled his soul that the electric power of his patriotic purpose enkindled the hearts of the people with a flame that never expired till the work was done. Then as ever, it was seen that the world's work must be done by a combination of men who toil with the brain and who toil with the hands. Nehemiah was architect, clerk of the works, diplomatist, general, all in one. But he could have done nothing unless he had been able to secure the co-operation of the people. There is here a lesson on the value and the necessity of co-operation in work for Christ. Success in war is due to two principles — the one is divide your enemy, and the other is unite yourselves. On these two conditions success is certain. Real and vital co-operation in Church work will be equally successful. There may be a Church and no co-operation. It may be a mass, but not a body. Many individual men do far more than a society, because the individual men work, and the society does not, but thinks that it has fulfilled all its duty when it has appointed a committee, with its usual complement of officers. You would think that an army had strangely misconceived its mission if because it saw its staff-officers it lay down and left the fortunes of battle to be settled by them. But this is just what is done by societies which devolve on committees the whole work.
II. CHEERFUL RESOLUTION. There is a great deal of work done in our world, and has always been, in which there has been no mind at all, either in the shape of intelligence or goodwill. I suppose that some of the greatest structures of the world were so built — the Pyramids, the great aqueducts of Rome and the Coliseum. The slaves had not a mind to work, but had an eye to the rod of the taskmaster. You will search this book in vain for the trace of a taskmaster. They had a mind to work, and not to criticise or cavil. This is a suggestive warning to all such characters in our day. Many have a mind only to think, and not to work. You ask them to come and set their shoulder to the wheel, but they prefer to spend their time in solving, so far as they can, sundry theological or religious fiddles. H by their thinking they accomplished anything, then they might think on, but they are like a corn-mill, the stones of which are perpetually revolving, but there is no corn between them, and so they only grind themselves. More doubts are removed and more difficulties are solved by working than by thinking. "If any man will do the will of God," etc. Some people have a mind to speak, but not to work. Speech is good enough in its place. The end of all talk should be action. As a rule most work is done where there is least noise. When a machine goes noiselessly, it means that the friction is reduced to the smallest possible quantity, and that the force is not wasted on the process, but comes out in the accomplished work. At the building of Babel there was far more noise than at the building of the temple, but the temple was the successful work. Their heart was in their work, and by their heart we mean chiefly their purpose and their cheerfulness. He that works without a will is nothing better than a machine, and may be worse. When people have a mind to work there will be no unseemly ambitions, no quarrels for posts of honour. The man who can lighten labour with a song is likely to be a good worker. He will be like a soldier, who marches best to the rhythmic throb of the drum, and to the sounds of inspiring music. As to Christian work, none can be entitled to such a name unless it be cheerful. God loveth, we are told, not a giver, but a "cheerful" giver. If we show mercy we are to show it cheerfully. We are to serve the Lord with gladness. We are to come into His presence with songs. Saints are to be joyful in the Lord.
III. WORK CROWNED WITH SUCCESS.
(Enoch Mellor, D. D.)I. THAT WE HAVE A GREAT AND AN IMPORTANT WORK DEVOLVING UPON US: to aid in raising the world from the ruins of the fall, and restoring it to something of its former order and beauty, that the Lord may dwell among us. This work has been committed to the Church. It is her high corn, mission. This work must commence with our own hearts.
II. THAT THIS WORK MUST RE ENGAGED IN WITH CONSECRATED ZEAL AND ACTIVITY.
III. THE DILIGENT USE OF ALL APPOINTED MEANS. Nehemiah having set his heart upon his work, judiciously employed every means calculated to promote it.
1. Let us stimulate each other to engage vigorously and unitedly in this work. Generally speaking, there is only a small fraction of every Church that engages actively in the great purposes of religion.
2. Having brought all the truly pious up to a proper point, we should then address ourselves, every one to his proper sphere of labour.
IV. THAT IN THE USE OF MEANS THE WORK MUST BE FOLLOWED UP WITH FORTITUDE AND PERSEVERANCE. Such was the perseverance of the Jews in rebuilding the walls, that they never pulled off their clothes, except for the means of cleanliness, during the whole of the work; but continued night and day working. There was no time for delay or indulgence.
V. THAT TO INSURE THE SUCCESSFUL ISSUE OF THE WORK, THERE MUST BE AN ENTIRE DEPENDENCE ON THE BLESSING OF GOD. Here was the grand secret of Nehemiah's success. He first sought Divine direction, then employed the means, and then implored the Divine blessing. In no other way can we account for the rapid progress of the work, and its successful issue in so short a time.
I. THE PERSONS BY WHOM THE WORK WAS MAINLY PERFORMED.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. In a great multitude of instances the work of conversion or reform is begun too near the surface. You ask the hand to work, and what is wanting is the mind to work. What we want is, not a new power but a new disposition, to have the mind newly cast in the image and character of God. It is in vain to change the hand of the watch if the mainspring is defective; it is in vain to heal the muscle or the sinew if there is no life's blood in the heart; it is in vain to mould the mere image of a man if the spirit of life is not communicated. All these typify the man without the mind, without the will.
(J. W. Cunningham, A. M.)
(D. L. Moody.)
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