Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. The true centre of the life of the community is THE RELIGIOUS CENTRE. Jerusalem as the sacred city. The secular and religious are not opposed. The man of God is the true man. There is no true strength and prosperity where there is an inversion of the Divine order. Put the centre where it ought to be. There have been men who have sanctified the earthly life in its highest forms by their recognition of the supreme claim of religion.
II. WILLINGNESS is the only sure foundation on which the Church's glory can rest. We may appeal to Divine direction in the selection of our spiritual leaders; but it is those who willingly offer themselves who should be called to occupy the foremost places at Jerusalem.
III. While there is a boundless variety in human capability, there is a possibility of DISTRIBUTION which shall find room for all. The highest wealth and faculty should be gathered to the centre. The Church of God should present to the world the most conspicuous examples of sanctified genius and faithfully-used opportunity. - R.
Nehemiah 7:4 that "the city was large and great, but the people were few therein." Less than 50,000 inhabitants were scattered over Judaea; but these would not have been too many to have occupied Jerusalem itself. It was a matter of the first importance that the metropolis should be well supplied with those who would worship in her courts, and with those who would guard her walls. It was therefore the aim of Nehemiah and other patriotic men to promote a migration from the outlying towns and villages to Jerusalem. "The rulers dwelt there," and they were anxious that many more should come in to swell the population. This ingathering supplies us with three lessons.
I. THAT THE PLACE OF PRIVILEGE IS THE POST OF DUTY AND OF DANGER. Jerusalem was "the holy city" (ver. 1). It was "the city which God had chosen;" the place of his special manifestation; the spot where, as nowhere else, he could be approached and worshipped. Thither all who feared his name and sought his favour came with their offerings; there they presented the best they could bring on his altar, and bowed before his face. But this "holy city," where the holy people might be well pleased and be rightly proud to dwell, was
(1) the place where special duty awaited the inhabitants. "The houses were not builded" (Nehemiah 7:4); the ground was waste; ruins were everywhere about; there was hard work to be done from centre to circumference. Moreover, the walls had to be guarded; probably night and day there was vigilant watching to be observed, that there might be no possible surprise. It was also
(2) the post of special danger. Other places would be too insignificant to be attacked. If the enemy struck at all, Jerusalem would be his mark. So is it ever. The great city has many special privileges, but it has many peculiar perils, and some duties which are all its own. They who minister unto the Lord find even m their holy office obligations which impose the most serious responsibilities, and subtle spiritual dangers which call for unusual vigilance and prayer. It is well, indeed, to belong to those to whom God is near, with whom he dwells; but it is necessary to remember that side by side with special privilege there is always found
(a) some special obligations, and
(b) some peculiar perils.
II. THAT DUTY MAY BE DONE WITH VARIOUS DEGREES OF WORTHINESS AND ACCEPTABLENESS. There were two ways by which Jerusalem was replenished. They "cast lots to bring one of ten to dwell" there (ver. 1); others "willingly offered themselves" (ver. 2) - they volunteered without being drawn. Looking at this procedure as a matter of morals, we should certainly estimate the action of the latter more highly than that of the former. These did well, but those did better. It was a right and an acceptable thing for men with their wives and families to leave their homes where they were doing well, and where they preferred to stay, in order to act up to their agreement with their fellows; it was a worthier and a more acceptable thing for others not to wait for this moral compulsion, but to offer themselves, and go of their own accord from the village where they were prosperous, comfortable, and out of the reach of attack, to live in the city where hardship and danger might look them in the face. With us, as with them, duty is done with different degrees of Divine approval. Secular duty, that of the business or the home, may be done faithfully but unreligiously, or it may be done conscientiously because religiously, all being done not as unto man only or chiefly, but "unto the Lord" (Ephesians 6:7). Sacred duty may be done as a matter of obligation only, or it may be discharged with willingness, even with an eager delight, because the purest and highest aims are kept well in view of the soul. The same acts, outwardly measured, are of very different weight in worthiness, tried in the balances of God. And sometimes of men, for it is true -
III. THAT DISINTERESTED DEEDS WILL OFTEN DRAW DOWN THE BENEDICTION OF OUR KIND. "And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves, etc. (ver. 2). The inhabitants of Jerusalem evidently discriminated between those who were actuated by the more, and those governed by the less, generous inducements; and to the former they accorded hearty thanks - they "blessed them." Concerning popular appreciation, it is well to learn from the experience of the past, or we shall suffer injury and loss. We must
(1) neither reckon upon it as certain, nor
(2) despise it as worthless.
(a) pitch our life so high that, if needful, we can do without it, "seeking the honour that cometh from God only," and satisfied with that.
"Men heed thee not, men praise thee not; (b) so live that we may fairly hope to earn the benediction of our kind. While some skilful, selfish men have reaped the honours due only to disinterestedness, more often selfishness shows its cloven foot, and is contemned. And while some generous souls have lived and died unappreciated, more often kind-heartedness and self-forgetting love win an answering affection, and draw down the blessing of those who are enriched. For good as well as evil, "with what measure ye mete," etc. (Matthew 7:1). "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure," etc. (Luke 6:38). Live a life like that of Job, and you will be able to say as he said, "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me" (Job 29:11). - C.
(b) so live that we may fairly hope to earn the benediction of our kind. While some skilful, selfish men have reaped the honours due only to disinterestedness, more often selfishness shows its cloven foot, and is contemned. And while some generous souls have lived and died unappreciated, more often kind-heartedness and self-forgetting love win an answering affection, and draw down the blessing of those who are enriched. For good as well as evil, "with what measure ye mete," etc. (Matthew 7:1). "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure," etc. (Luke 6:38). Live a life like that of Job, and you will be able to say as he said, "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me" (Job 29:11). - C.
1. It was a separated city; separated and fenced from surrounding idolatries and immoralities.
2. It was a distinguished city; distinguished by
(1) the manifested presence of God, and by
(2) the knowledge of his holy will.
3. It was a commissioned city; charged to hold and preserve a certain deposit of sacred truth against all the world. The Church of Christ is a body
(1) separated from surrounding irreligion, error, and folly;
(2) distinguished by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God, and the graces he communicates;
(3) commissioned to carry the gospel of the grace of God to the utmost ends of the earth. There are to be in the Church what there were in the city, three things, viz. -
I. THE ELEMENT OF ORDER. There were dwelling in Jerusalem "the rulers of the people" (ver. 1). Concerning these rulers, we are told who was "overseer" of the "sons of Benjamin" (ver. 9); who was "overseer" of the priests (ver. 14); who also of the Levites (ver. 22); we are told who was precentor, "the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer" (ver. 17); who had "the oversight of the outward business of the house of God;' (ver. 16), and who of the internal business (ver. 22). Everything was obviously ordered most carefully, and every one had his post at which to rule or serve. The "order" of the Church of Christ is something which has given rise to most serious differences and disputes - alas! to much bitterness and bloodshed. There are advocates of
(1) one universal visible Church,
(2) national Churches,
(3) large closely-confederated Christian communities,
(4) separate societies united only by occasional non-legislative councils or unions.
But whatever the form which the Christian Church may take, whatever its method of organisation, order should always be conspicuously present. "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Everything is to be done "in order': (1 Corinthians 14:40). There are two complementary duties a Christian man may set before him: one, - the bringing about, in an orderly way, that form of Church organisation which, after diligent study and patient observance, he considers to be after the will of Christ; the other, - the taking his place in that particular Church of which he is a member, and filling it faithfully and peacefully. He who, in the name of order, brings about contention brings down on himself the condemnation of his Master (1 Corinthians 11:16).
II. THE ELEMENT OF VARIETY. Beside the governor were "rulers of the people" (ver. 1) generally; and, particularly, priests (ver. 10), and Levites (ver. 15), and porters (ver. 19), and singers (ver. 22); and, still more particularly,
(1) those who were engaged in the "outward business of the house of God" (ver. 16), and
(2) those who were occupied with the internal arrangements (ver. 22). All these various classes had their work to do; not one was redundant. Some were much higher than others, and did a work of a more valuable and a higher kind, but every one was needed in his place, and the security of Jerusalem, as well as the worship of God, would have been incomplete if all had not done their work at the appointed time and place. In the Christian Church are many services to be rendered, and many orders of servants. Some are higher, others lower. But from the man inspired of God to teach and kindle thousands of human souls, to "the doorkeeper of the house," every one has his work to do for Christ and for man. One workman needs the other, and the world needs them all; and the eye cannot say to the foot, "I have no need of thee," etc. If we "magnify our own office" that we may be found faithful therein, let us not disparage that of others, lest we be counted self- important by our brethren, and injurious by our Lord.
III. THE ELEMENT OF UNSUSPECTED STRENGTH. To the eye of flesh Jerusalem seemed weak enough at this time. If we include "the residue of Israel" that were in the cites of Judah (ver. 20), and those in the villages with their fields (ver. 25), all in the outlying provinces of Judah and Benjamin, they make but a very feeble band compared with other places then or with other communities now. How easily might they have been crushed and extirpated by the Persian power, so far as human calculations go. Yet they were the Church of God on earth, the custodians of his holy oracles, the chosen company from which should come forth the Divine Redeemer, and from which should go forth the Divine mission that is to transform the world. The Church of Christ may still seem small as compared with the "un-possessed land" of heathendom; individual Churches may seem weak in the midst of an all-surrounding and overtowering iniquity; but "God is in the midst of her;" his" right hand" is On her side. There is an unsuspected strength in the truth she holds, in the weapons she wields, in the cause of which she is the champion. In ways and by means quite unsuspected by her enemies, and equally unexpected by herself, God will make his Church his agent for the redemption of the world. - C.