Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT IT WAS THE OUTCOME OF A TRUE PATRIOTISM (ver. 2). This sadness was not occasioned by temporal loss, by domestic bereavement, or by unfaithful friendship, but by the desolated condition of Jerusalem. The city was "waste." Many cities of our own country are laid waste by sin; the good man cannot be indifferent, he must sympathise with and help the work of moral restoration. If men are anxious about the walls, they ought to be much more so about the morals of a city; if for the tombs of the dead, much more for the welfare of the living. Sin consumes a city as by fire. The desolation wrought by sin, in commerce, in society, in the home, and especially amongst the young, cannot but awaken deep sorrow of heart.
II. THAT IT WAS EXPERIENCED IN THE COURSE OF HIS DAILY AVOCATIONS. "And I took up the wine, and gave it to the king "( ver. 1). How many men go to their daily toil with a heart sorrow which occupation and industry cannot make them forget. Nehemiah was wont to be cheerful before the king; business should be done in joyous mood; but there are times when sorrow will prevail.
III. THAT IT WAS MANIFESTED IN THE APPEARANCE OF THE PHYSICAL FRAME. "Why is thy countenance sad?" (ver. 2). How much of the world's sorrow is concealed. In a very true sense it is sorrow of heart; it is never vocal in explanation or complaint. But such sacred grief is not hidden from God. The face reflects the emotions of the soul; it revealed the sorrow of Nehemiah, the joy of Stephen. How many sorrowful faces do we meet in a day. A sad countenance should awaken tender inquiry, wise consideration, and willing aid. Let us not be heedless of the world's sorrow. Christ is only true consolation.
IV. THAT IT WAS AIDED BY SECRET COMMUNION WITH THE DIVINE. "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (ver. 4).
1. Sorrow often has great opportunities opened up to it. "For what dost thou make request?" Nehemiah's sorrow opened up the king's resources to him. Our sorrows often make heaven rich to us.
2. Sorrow needs guidance, so as to make good use of the opportunities presented to it.
3. Sorrow finds in prayer the guidance and culture it needs to use aright its opportunity.
(1) Memory is aided;
(2) difficulty is anticipated;
(3) preparation is accomplished (ver. 7);
(4) agencies are perfected (ver. 8).
V. THAT IT WAS EMPLOYED IN THE WONDROUS PROVIDENCE OF HEAVEN. "And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me" (ver. 8).
1. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the welfare of his people. It led to the rebuilding of the broken wall of Jerusalem. Our trials are often the means of promoting the welfare of others. Christ's sufferings are allied to our best delights, and to our noblest achievements. It is indeed true that others build because we have suffered.
2. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the beneficence of the king. It awakened the monarch's sympathy and help. The sorrows of men awaken loving ministries.
3. The sorrow of Nehemiah was allied to the providence of God. By its means Heaven opened the heart of the heathen king in sympathy and his hand in help. The pain of the world is made to achieve high moral ends; a wise providence employs it in the building of broken walls. - E.
I. ABSENCE OF OPPORTUNITY. More than three months intervened between Nehemiah's receiving the tidings and his appeal to Artaxerxes. Whence this delay? Undoubtedly the actual or virtual inaccessibility of the king. Either he was not called to the royal presence, or the sovereign was obviously not in the mood. How unlike this to the ever-open throne of grace to which at any time, and in any place, we may go, sure of an attentive hearing from "him who giveth liberally and upbraideth not."
II. DIPLOMACY. Nehemiah showed great skill -
1. In the introduction of his cause. How should he ask to be sent elsewhere when he was already "standing before the king"? This was regarded as the height of a man's ambition, as our Scriptures plentifully intimate. To "stand before kings," to stand in the "king's presence, before his face, was the acme of hope and satisfaction. To ask to be dismissed was discourteous and dangerous. It was, indeed, going in this direction, to seem otherwise than joyful (vers. 1, 2). But Nehemiah ventured thus far; he did not disguise or restrain his sorrow; it was evident in his countenance. This would be a forceful appeal to the king, and still more so to the queen, who was present (ver. 6).
2. In his lament. It was the "one touch of nature that makes the whole world kin," to allude to "the city of his fathers' sepulchres lying waste" (ver. 3): this would strike a chord in any human heart; it did within the king.
3. In his request. He was mentally prepared for utterance; he had even calculated the necessary time (ver. 6), and the materials, etc. he required for the work (vers. 7, 8). We must not expect to succeed in any delicate enterprise unless we enter upon it with calculation and care. There are things to be done for God which may be wrought by sheer an& simple earnestness; but there are times when, if we cannot furnish it ourselves, we must give place to the man who can bring to the task refinement, delicacy, tact. We must give way to the Nehemiah of our Church or society; he will succeed admirably where we should fail ingloriously.
III. PRAYER. "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (ver. 4). This is a beautiful and suggestive parenthesis. Between the king's question and the courtier's reply there was a momentary appeal to heaven. "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; as rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1). An excellent thing is it for a man so to walk with God, to live so near to him, that at any moment, and at any time of special need, he can ejaculate a prayer; so that it will be natural for him to withdraw for a brief interval from this world and from man, and lift up the heart to heaven. This is one way in which we may be "praying always" (Ephesians 6:18), "without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
IV. GRATITUDE FOR SUCCESS. "The king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me" (ver. 8). Nehemiah, like all praying men, was grateful. He ascribed success not to his own ingenuity, but to the "good hand of God." Men that are undevout are necessarily unthankful and self-complacent; they congratulate themselves instead of blessing God. Far more beautiful and appropriate is it to realise that the hand of the Supreme is controlling all issues, and thus conferring all good. With some prosperity leads to pride and spiritual injury, while in others it inspires gratitude and devotion. - C.
Nehemiah 2:1-8Nehemiah 2:1-8. These verses describe the circumstances in which Nehemiah obtained his commission as restorer of Jerusalem. They show that he was prospered, and that his prosperity was due to the blessing of God. We may notice -
I. The REWARD OF FAITH IN THE ANSWER TO PRAYER.
1. The faith was tried by waiting. Opportunity must not be made by hasty, presumptuous attempts to command events, but by watching Providence. Nehemiah still prayed, and then on a certain day he could say, It came to pass.
2. The Divine interposition was manifested in the control of the monarch's thoughts and disposition. It might easily have been otherwise. A suspicious Eastern despot might have been jealous and angry. When it is the purpose of God to help, even the secrets of the inner man are swayed by it. We must leave it to him to answer the prayer when and as he pleases.
3. There was a special bestowal of grace upon Nehemiah himself. He needed self-command, prudence, boldness, adroitness. And when challenged to disclose what was in his heart, making his countenance sad, he must depend upon inspiration to be able to say exactly the right thing, and to say it so as to obtain his desire. His patriotism, his purity of motive, his confidence in his own vocation to fulfil so great a commission, all required at that moment to be sustained. He "prayed to the God of heaven." The answer was immediately sent, in the courage, the wisdom, the self-devotion, the simplicity of the cupbearer in the presence of an Eastern despot, asking to be intrusted with power that he might use it for God and his people.
4. There was a Providential conjunction of circumstances, both in the past and present. Nehemiah was already in the palace to aid the important work of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. How little we can follow the working of the Divine hand! The answer to our prayer may be already provided, even before we present the petition. What seems hard to obtain is not hard for God to give.
II. The DEVELOPMENT OF CAPACITY ON THE BASIS OF RELIGION.
1. The beginning of all, devoutness, intercourse with God, spirituality of aim and motive, largo desires for the welfare of God's people, and so of the world.
2. On this is built the purity, and strength, and unselfishness which so wins confidence in others. Nehemiah found favour with Artaxerxes because there was that in his very countenance which the monarch delighted to look upon. We should recommend religion by transparent honesty, cheerfulness, and unselfishness.
3. Intellectual power rests upon moral, and both upon spiritual. The cupbearer could not have undertaken to be a ruler and leader of men m most difficult circumstances unless there had been the making of a ruler in him. Some of our greatest statesmen have owed much of their superiority to their religion. "The entrance of thy word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple."
4. One who places himself in a position of great responsibility requires a far-seeing eye and a strong will. These are wonderfully helped by the cultivation of a deeper nature. Nehemiah knew what to ask for, materials and men; foresaw the demands of the work and its dangers; with steadfast confidence in himself, and fearless trust in his influence over the king, he made great requests, and they were "granted, according to the good hand of his God upon him." The root of all his strength was his entire dependence upon God.
5. In the character of Nehemiah there is an illustration of the effect of religion in cherishing the higher elements of the nature, and keeping them in beautiful and powerful harmony. He loved "the place of his fathers' sepulchres," he loved his nation; but above all, he loved the Church of God. Personal feeling, patriotic enthusiasm, and religious faith, when they all unite together as active principles in one man, produce a loftiness and heroism which prepare him for the greatest efforts and successes. - R.
I. THEIR COMPARATIVE INNOCENCY WHEN JUDGED BY HUMAN STANDARDS. At first thought it seems almost incredible that they should have been "grieved exceedingly" because a man had come to seek the welfare of their neighbours. But when we ask if Sanballat and Tobiah were so very much worse than mankind in general, we are compelled to own that theirs was but an instance of ordinary human selfishness. In every land and through every age men have been jealous of their rivals' prosperity. These men concluded that the elevation of Jerusalem virtually meant the depression of Samaria; that, indirectly, Nehemiah had come to lower the dignity if not to lessen the prosperity of their state, and they counted him an enemy. So have men argued everywhere even until now. Wars that were avowedly waged on some small pretext were really fought because one strong nation was jealous of the growing vigour of some neighbouring power. Not only nations, but tribes, families, societies, and (it must be sorrowfully admitted) Christian Churches have allowed themselves to be jealous of the growth of other nations, other tribes, other Churches, and have been grieved when men "sought" and promoted "their welfare." So general and widespread is this selfishness, taking the form of jealousy of the prosperity of others, that it is not for us to "cast the first stone" of bitter reproach. But we must see -
II. THEIR ACTUAL GUILT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. A selfish jealousy like this of Sanballat and Tobiah, a grief at the prosperity of neighbours and competitors, whether in the civil or religious world, is in the sight of God
(a) unrighteous. Our neighbours have every whit as much right to make the most of their powers and opportunities as we have of ours; to rise above us by lawful means as we to remain above them. We, as well as they, have received our heritage from men and from God, and we have no moral right to limit their success, or to object to their power, or be offended at their superiority.
(b) Short-sighted. We ought to understand that we are enriched by one another's prosperity. "We are members one of another, and should rejoice in one another's welfare. This is so with
(1) neighbouring nations;
(2) sister Churches;
(3) capital and labour;
(4) various contemporary industries.
The more one prospers, the more another will prosper too. If a man comes to "seek the welfare" of any "Israel," we should not be "exceedingly grieved," but heartily glad.
(c) Sinful. Though we may not denounce one another, we are all, together, under the condemnation of God. How can he be otherwise than grieved with us when we envy the welfare of our own brethren? That those who are children of the same Divine Father and members of the same family should wish ill to one another must vex his loving spirit.
(d) Something of which we shall live to be utterly ashamed. How many have to remember with shame that when men "came seeking the welfare of God's people," they were antagonistic when they should have been friendly. - C.
I. All truly religious work should be accomplished in the spirit of UNCOMPROMISING FAITHFULNESS.
1. Complete independence of those who have no heart to "seek the welfare of the children of Israel."
2. Fearlessness of opposition whether open or treacherous.
3. Wise discretion in the use of methods. The less confident must be held up by the men of stronger faith. It is well sometimes to commit the energies of good men to a worthy enterprise before they calculate too much, lest their hearts should misgive them.
4. The true leader must not wait for others. Promptitude is the soul of activity and the seal of success. Nehemiah begins with his night expedition of survey: "I and some few men with me."
II. REALITY AND TRUTH is the basis of all faith and zeal for God. Look at the facts. "Ye see the distress." Jerusalem lying waste; its gates burned with fire; actual reproach on the people of God. Whatever we attempt to build up, whether the edifice of our own religious life, or the prosperity of the Church, or the structure of Christian evidence, let us be sure that we understand the real state of the case; what is in ruins, what remains unshaken, what will be expected of us, what is the reproach which has to be wiped away; we must neither extenuate nor exaggerate.
III. FELLOWSHIP and CO-OPERATION the hope of a revived Church. "Come and let us build. However needful that good men should, in some respects and for a time, work alone (Nehemiah told nothing at first to the Jews - priests, nobles rulers and the rest"), when the great effort has to be made, it should be made in the spirit of union and brotherly love. "I told them." "And they said, Let us rise up and build." The true co-operation will not be a mere association of individuals, but a spiritual brotherhood, a covenant with God and with one another, recognising the "hand of God," and the "good work," and the Divinely-appointed ministry, and the special guidance and grace, both already bestowed and promised.
IV. ALL SUCCESS, as against the world and its enmity, in face of scorn, contumely, falsehood, and evil devices, MUST COME OUT OF THE HARMONY BETWEEN GOD'S PURPOSES AND OUR WILL. He will prosper. We will arise and build. We must look to it that our portion, our right, our memorial are in Jerusalem. There are the three great supports to every earnest worker's confidence and hope. He has cast in his lot with God's people; he has entered into covenant relation with God, and has therefore a right in Jerusalem; it is the seat and fountain of his most blessed memories. "There his best friends, his kindred dwell; there God his Saviour reigns." All happy, successful work in the Church of Christ will be work done by spiritual men, actuated by spiritual motives, and depending on spiritual strength. The greatest hindrance to the progress of true religion has been the meddling with its operations by those who "have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem." - R.
I. THE PRESENCE OF A GREAT WORK AWAITING US. "So I came to Jerusalem" (ver. 11). There are to-day many Churches, societies, interests, more or less dear to God, which are "in distress" (ver. 17), urgently needing restoration and defence, that they be not open to attack, and that they may" be no more a reproach" (ver. 17) to the people of God. Our work, like that of Nehemiah before Jerusalem, may be great, inasmuch as
(1) it will be costly, demanding time and treasure;
(2) it will be delicate and difficult, requiring the co-operation of men of many minds and various interests;
(3) it will have large issues, the end being either a sad and humiliating collapse or a noble and useful triumph. The steps which Nehemiah took to carry out his great project suggest points in a -
II. WISE PROCEDURE IN OUR WORK. The first and very essential point is -
1. Full consideration, in private before making proposals in public. Nehemiah "was there three days (ver. 11) before taking action. Instead of illustrating the maxim, "More haste, worse speed," he acted on another and better one, "Quickly enough if well enough;" indeed, on another and better still, "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16). After waiting three days at Jerusalem, he made a very careful inspection of the city, going all round and examining it thoroughly (vers. 12-15). He "went out by night" (ver. 13), in order that he might be the more unobserved, and he took care that "the rulers knew not whither he went, or what he did" (ver. 16); nor did he tell any one, priest, ruler, noble, or workman (ver. 16), what he was about. First he took, as we should, "counsel with himself;" he examined searchingly, considered fully, went into and went round the matter in his own mind. A little time spent in earnest, devout meditation beforehand will often save an "age of care," and a "world of trouble" afterwards. Then Nehemiah spake.
2. Free consultation before other action. "Then said I unto them," etc. (ver. 17). Evidently he made a full statement to them "in public meeting assembled." He called them together, no doubt using the king's commission. He took counsel with the leaders (those specified in ver. 16). Consultation is wise, just, with a view to co-operation. It
(a) conciliates those whose goodwill we need. Men do not like to be treated as if their judgment were worthless and their consent unnecessary.
(b) Brings out valuable suggestions. The wisest man overlooks some things, and they who devote all their powers to particular industries, obtain a knowledge and can furnish help in council in matters relating to their own department which others cannot contribute.
3. Forcible presentation of motives. Nehemiah laid the whole case before them, and appealed to ?
(a) The urgency of their need: the distress they were in; Jerusalem waste; the gates burnt (ver. 17).
(b) The sign of God's favour resting upon them. "The hand of my God which was good upon me" (ver. 18).
(c) The encouragement they had from man as well as God. "The king's words" (ver. 18).
(d) The need there was to regain the honour they had lost among the nations. "That we be no more a reproach."
(2) God's manifest presence,
(3) available human help,
(4) our reputation (and therein the repute of God's work), will often be leading motives with us.
We should omit none that can be brought, for all are helpful, and one will avail with one man, and another with another.
4. Energetic resolution. "They said, Let us arise and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work" (ver. 18). Zest at the commencement is not everything, but it is much. It is vastly better than contention or cold-heartedness. Let us gird ourselves to the fight with energy of soul, and the battle is half won already.
5. Disregard of ridicule (vers. 19, 20). Zeal is deaf to sarcasm; it brushes aside the spears of scorn; it turns the idlers out of the field. - C.
I. The way to VIEW ruined fortunes. "And viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down" (ver. 13). There are broken fortunes in the Church, in business, and in the home; let us see how we are to regard them.
1. Thoughtfully. Nehemiah made a careful inspection of the ruined city.
2. Religiously. "What God hath put in my heart to do at Jerusalem" (ver. 12).
3. Conscientiously. "Which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire" (ver. 13). Nehemiah did not try to persuade himself that the city was in a better state than it really was; he saw things in their right aspect.
4. Independently. "And the rulers knew not whither I went" (ver. 16). Nehemiah was animated by a strong purpose.
5. Cautiously. "And I arose in the night" (ver. 12).
6. Reproachfully. We must look on our broken fortunes as a reproach to us.
II. The way to REPAIR ruined fortunes.
1. Energy must be awakened. "Come and let us build up the wall."
2. Providence must be recognised. "The hand of my God which was good upon me."
3. Circumstances must be utilised. "As also the king's words that he had spoken unto me."
4. Mutual co-operation must be effected. "So they strengthened their hands for this good work."
5. Scorn must be withstood (vers. 9-20). - E.
I. That religion is often made the subject of RIDICULE. "They laughed us to scorn."
1. Its doctrines are ridiculed. Men laugh at the supernatural.
2. Its enterprise is ridiculed. Men scorn the idea of a world-wide moral conquest.
3. Its agencies are ridiculed. "Is not this the carpenter's son?"
4. Its experiences are ridiculed. "Much learning doth make thee mad." This ridicule is
(5) libellous. Will ye rebel against the king? Christ was despised and rejected of men.
II. The REPLY which religion should make to ridicule.
1. That it is often wise to reply to ridicule. "Then answered I them."
2. That religion must meet ridicule by expressing confidence in God. "The God of heaven, he will prosper us."
3. That religion must meet ridicule by determination which cannot be moved by it. "Therefore we his servants will arise and build."
4. That religion must meet ridicule by denying its right or ability to interfere. "But ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem."
5. That religion must meet ridicule by declaring it alien to the high privileges of the truth. It has no portion in Jerusalem. This is the ideal reply to derision. - E.