When Sanballat and Tobiah, together with the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites, heard that the repair to the walls of Jerusalem was progressing and that the gaps were being closed, they were furious,
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.
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobtah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls...conspired all of them together.
I. THINK OF THOSE FOES OF THE FAITH Nehemiah had to withstand.
1. There was Noadiah the prophetess. She would have put Nehemiah "in fear." She used a sacred position and the name of God to cheek the efforts of a good man. Noadiah could threaten, instil doubts, and arouse dread. The Church to-day lacks courage. Too many Noadiahs are prophesying evil things, and leading others to believe that Christian missions, Christian social efforts, Christian gospel preaching, and Christian hopes of the final triumph of truth are only doomed to disappointment, but the Noadiahs are often wrong. Pessimists, philosophical or ecclesiastical, are all the prey of paralysis.
2. Then there was Shemaiah (Nehemiah 6:10), who was "shut in the temple." He pretended that great danger approached. He sought to allure the Reformer into a state of inactivity. He said: "Let us shut the doors of the temple, for they will come and slay thee; yea, in the night, they will come and. slay thee." However, Shemiah had his price. He had been hired. Money dictated his actions as it does that of many mercenary hinderers of the truth, especially the men who say, "We exist for the benefit of the people."
3. Then there was Sanballat the Horonite. He was a most dangerous enemy. He had a position at Samaria, the nearest strong city. He had special influence also with the garrison. Of him it is said, "Sanballat was very wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews and spake before his brethren (relations), and the army of Samaria." He said, "What do those feeble Jews? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish that are burned?" He raged. His anger was like Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, heated seven times hotter than usual. It was like the fires of the Inquisition that did put out evangelical truth throughout Spain, and nearly through France. Sanballat was most irritating to Nehemiah, for he taunted him bitterly. He sought in every way to check the work by abuse of the courageous leader. Sanballat, indeed, was a bitter east wind.
4. Tobiah, who lived at Ammon, was another enemy. He had power over a province. He had probably reached his post by flattering when a slave in the imperial court. Nehemiah calls him the slave (Nehemiah 2:19) (where servant should be rendered slave). He was a sprung-up, conceited opponent of the truth. He assumed that wisdom would die with him. This Tobiah was acquainted with the internal state of Jerusalem, and had shown contempt for the efforts of Nehemiah. He said, "Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall" (Nehemiah 4:3). He ridiculed their aims, and kept up a constant intrigue with those within who were disaffected (Nehemiah 6:17). This man, even after the temple was finished and the walls built, managed to establish himself in the sacred place itself, because he had relationship with the chief priest (Nehemiah 13:8). This man may represent those who are traitorous betrayers, and who now cast ridicule upon the truth, or on efforts after the truth — those who, pretending to help Protestant truth, are its betrayers.
5. Another enemy was Geshem or Gashmu an Arabian (Nehemiah 6:6). Geshem and Gashmu seem to have been identical. He was an Ishmaelite. He was a wild, characterless man —"an idle chatterer." He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by opposition. He brought false charges against Nehemiah as one who only wished to set up a sovereignty, and to be independent of the central power at Susa (Nehemiah 6:6). Most dangerous of all enemies was this Geshem, or Gashmu, for he could insinuate that mean motives were the spring of holy efforts. He was a whisperer. Oh, how very many Gashmus there are even now! They are of no importance, save that they can spread reports, and do much damage. Gashmus will say that they pretend to be anxious about the cause of God, when they are only anxious to gratify their own ambition. Or Gashmu will say that Christians only desire advance in material prosperity. The Gashmus are too indifferent to understand the enthusiasm of Christians.
6. Noadiah, Shemaiah, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gashmu were united. They were cunning and cruel. They had allies within Jerusalem. Some were half-hearted. Individually we have traitorous tendencies to indifference and ease in our souls. We have many enemies whom we find represented by the Ammonites and Arabians. They are such as these — doubts as to whether we are converted, or unbelief as to Christ's acceptance of us, or superstitious and self-righteous leanings, seductions of the world, of pleasure, of wealth, of fame, desire to have the good opinion of the world, desire to be known rather as "good fellows" than good Christians. To be without temptation would be to be without that element that goes to form character. "Better have the devil's war than have the devil's peace."
II. Nehemiah teaches us HOW TO RESIST THE ENEMIES OF THE TRUTH.
1. He resisted by establishing sentinels, setting the watch to give warning; he resisted by placing weapons into the hands of all. Our weapons of defence are God's commands, God's promises, God's love. Nehemiah resisted by teaching the people to keep behind their defences. We, when assaults on our faith or temptations come, should get behind the walls, should keep within conscience — keep within the Word.
2. Nehemiah resisted his foes by pressing all into service. "None were despised."
3. Nehemiah resisted his foes by inspiring his people with confidence in God. God is mightier than our foes.
4. Nehemiah resisted also by insisting that there should be no parleying with the enemy. "Answer him not again." He resisted by leading the people to be as unrestful in toil as unceasing in outlook. "They laboured, and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared" (Nehemiah 4:21). He inspired his followers with courage, saying, "Be not afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses." And again, "Our God shall fight for us" (Nehemiah 4:14, 20). Words these worthy to be the battle-cry of the Church. Moreover, Nehemiah resisted best by setting an example of courage. "Should such a man as I flee?" All Christian life should be courageous. Shall we, in view of the value of our souls, yield to evil? The more we work for Christ and watch against evil, the stronger we shall become. Soldiers are not kept idle while in garrison; work of some kind is always found for them. If unemployed they would soon become flabby, weak, and without muscle. There is ever something in Christian life to develop the watchful and the heroic. Persistency prevailed. We are told that "when his enemies heard of the fact that the wall was finished they were much cast down in their own eyes" (Nehemiah 6:16). Walls had risen which they could not batter. Crestfallen, the enemies had to depart. Chroniclers might have said of them, as it was written of Charles VIII. of France, and his expedition against Naples, "They came into the field like thunder, and went out like a soft shower." So went away, in the time of Nehemiah, the enemies of God's struggling Church. "God brought their counsel to nought."
And to hinder it.
Monday Club Sermons.I. THE WORK NEHEMIAH WAS COMMISSIONED TO DO.
II. HOW NEHEMIAH'S WORK WAS HINDERED.
1. By ridicule.
2. By weariness (ver. 10).
3. By fearfulness (ver. 12).Many now feel that there is danger in building the walls of Zion.
(1) (2) (3) 4. By bribery. No other cause so weakens the Church as defection in her own membership. III. THE MEASURES BY WHICH NEHEMIAH ACCOMPLISHED HIS WORK. 1. Prayer. 2. Sagacious efforts. 3. Single-ness of aim. Nothing could divert him. 4. Enthusiasm. Zeal in one heart sets other hearts burning. There is a suggestive legend of the venerable which tells us that when he was old, with eyesight almost gone, one of his scholars led him to a heap of stones, and told him they were people; this was enough. The aged servant was true to his commission. With fiery tongue he preached the gospel. He ended as usual with the doxology, "To whom be glory through all the ages." Then from that heap of stones a voice rose, "Amen venerabilis Bede!" True zeal springs not from impulse, but from conviction. 5. His securing the co-operation of the people. "Every one to his work." When Wesley was asked the secret of his success, he replied, "To my voice in the pulpit on the Sabbath the people add a thousand echoes during the week." (Monday Club Sermons.)
(2) (3) 4. By bribery. No other cause so weakens the Church as defection in her own membership. III. THE MEASURES BY WHICH NEHEMIAH ACCOMPLISHED HIS WORK. 1. Prayer. 2. Sagacious efforts. 3. Single-ness of aim. Nothing could divert him. 4. Enthusiasm. Zeal in one heart sets other hearts burning. There is a suggestive legend of the venerable which tells us that when he was old, with eyesight almost gone, one of his scholars led him to a heap of stones, and told him they were people; this was enough. The aged servant was true to his commission. With fiery tongue he preached the gospel. He ended as usual with the doxology, "To whom be glory through all the ages." Then from that heap of stones a voice rose, "Amen venerabilis Bede!" True zeal springs not from impulse, but from conviction. 5. His securing the co-operation of the people. "Every one to his work." When Wesley was asked the secret of his success, he replied, "To my voice in the pulpit on the Sabbath the people add a thousand echoes during the week." (Monday Club Sermons.)
(3) 4. By bribery. No other cause so weakens the Church as defection in her own membership. III. THE MEASURES BY WHICH NEHEMIAH ACCOMPLISHED HIS WORK. 1. Prayer. 2. Sagacious efforts. 3. Single-ness of aim. Nothing could divert him. 4. Enthusiasm. Zeal in one heart sets other hearts burning. There is a suggestive legend of the venerable which tells us that when he was old, with eyesight almost gone, one of his scholars led him to a heap of stones, and told him they were people; this was enough. The aged servant was true to his commission. With fiery tongue he preached the gospel. He ended as usual with the doxology, "To whom be glory through all the ages." Then from that heap of stones a voice rose, "Amen venerabilis Bede!" True zeal springs not from impulse, but from conviction. 5. His securing the co-operation of the people. "Every one to his work." When Wesley was asked the secret of his success, he replied, "To my voice in the pulpit on the Sabbath the people add a thousand echoes during the week." (Monday Club Sermons.)
4. By bribery. No other cause so weakens the Church as defection in her own membership.
III. THE MEASURES BY WHICH NEHEMIAH ACCOMPLISHED HIS WORK.
2. Sagacious efforts.
3. Single-ness of aim. Nothing could divert him.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
I. Those who said, "YE SHALT NOT DO IT." Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, etc. These are the least to be dreaded.
II. Those who said, "YOU OUGHT NOT TO DO IT." Those were the Jews who dwelt by these Samaritans. They were near neighbours to them; so near as to be influenced by their threats and their derision. This was a danger far more serious than that which came directly to the good governor from the wicked Sanballat. The solicitation of friends was far more likely to weaken his forces than the intimidation of foes. This would tend to consolidate the people for defence, while that would draw them off little by little, a few to this village and a few to that, until a considerable part of them would be found to have melted away. The pleas of friendship are stronger than the threats of enmity. This kindly interest shown in their welfare, this fear in their behalf, and the possible need of them at home — these were strong inducements to them to desert and go back to their various villages. This is a plea, too, which can be repeated many times. So while the threats are recorded as repeated twice, this call to return to those who loved them was made in one form or another as many as ten times. Let the Church of Christ and let the Christian man beware of these friendly voices which urge them to withdraw from the service on which they have entered, or from some special part of it, because it may involve some danger or some sacrifice. It is those who live near the enemy who reinforce his threats with their friendly entreaties; who add to their" You shall not do it," their own "Please do not do it." Especially if we are-in any way building the walls of Jerusalem, helping the cause of God and His kingdom, we will be wise to beware of the call of those we have just left to enter on this service when they say, "Ye must return to us,"
III. Those who said, "WE CANNOT DO IT." This was the most pressing peril that could befall Nehemiah and his mission. A deserter is more demoralising than a dozen foes. One taken from the helpers and added to the hinderers makes a difference of at least two. Their complaint is twofold.
1. They find that their strength has given out.
2. That there is much "rubbish," in the midst of which they had to build. Out of the past city came the obstacles to the building of the future city. Some of the worst hindrances to the accomplishment of our work as Christians and as Christian Churches are those whose origin is in our own past selves, lives, habits — the rubbish which has fallen from the neglected walls of our own living. For the future, daily penitence and prayer will prevent the accumulation of so much rubbish that we cannot build.
(George M. Boynton.)
I. THEY TRIED LAUGHTER. God's people at work on the walls of Zion are continually told that it is no use, they shall have their labour for their pains. A hundred years ago William Carey was dubbed "the consecrated cobbler" for proposing the evangelisation of India, but to-day all Christendom delights to do him honour. God crowns the heroism that can face an epithet. All efforts at political and social betterment are met in the same manner. The same is true of the rebuilding of personal character. It is hard work to rebuild the walls of manhood out of the rubbish-heaps of mislived years while old comrades stand by pointing their fingers and cracking jokes, but by God's grace it can be done.
II. THEIR OPPOSITION ASSUMED THE FORM. OF THREATENING (Nehemiah 2:19). A good work is always in the realm of danger, because it is in the nature of lese majeste — rebellion against the prince of this world. A reformer never goes scot-free. Loss of business or social standing, ostracism, political decapitation, are some of the penalties which a true man is ever called upon to confront in the discharge of duty.
III. THEY PROPOSED A COMPROMISE (Nehemiah 6:2). Duty knows no compromise. The only way to serve God is unreservedly. The only way to avoid evil is not to tamper with it. The apparently innocent diversions of Vanity Fair gave the Pilgrim more trouble than all the giants and lions along his way. Diluted theology and limp morals will sap the vitality of the most vigorous man or Church. Right is right; to dilute it makes it wrong. Truth is truth; to adulterate it makes it error. Duty is duty; to alloy it with disobedience makes it sin. Conclusion: Observe how these efforts were met.
1. By prayer. John Knox is said to have bedewed the walls of his closet with hie tears of supplication. George Washington was glad to profess his dependence upon God. Abraham Lincoln, when asked if he was accustomed to pray, answered, "The man who would assume to perform the duties of the Presidency without seeking Divine guidance must be a blockhead." No man can ever afford to spend a prayerless day.
2. A watch was set. The countersign was given; it was the same that long afterwards rang from the lips of the Roundheads in their struggle for English freedom, "God with us" (ver. 20). The authorship of the famous maxim, "Trust in God and keep your powder dry," may be traced to Nehemiah. No enterprise fails that is backed by faith and works.
3. Nehemiah and his men kept on working. Prayer, vigilance, and patient continuance in well-doing can work wonders.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)I.
II. III. IV. (J. M. Randall.) (J. M. Randall.)
III. IV. (J. M. Randall.) (J. M. Randall.)
IV. (J. M. Randall.) (J. M. Randall.)
(J. M. Randall.)
(J. M. Randall.)