Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HOW VALUABLE ONE WORKMAN MAY PROVE (vers. 1, 2). Sin sometimes pays an unconscious tribute to integrity and worth. It acts on the assumption that righteousness is more than equal to its energy, and that, to gain its evil end, it must have recourse to "poisoned weapons." Thus, e.g., Philip of Spain, striving vainly to extinguish Protestantism in Holland, concluded that it could only be done by "finishing Orange," and set plots on foot to murder that noble patriot. Sanballat concluded that he could not accomplish his evil designs until Nehemiah was subdued; hence his murderous plans. What a tribute to one man's influence! Men "full of faith" are also "full of power" (Acts 6:8). One single soul, animated by faith, love, and zeal, may defeat all the agencies of evil.
II. WHAT NEED HE HAS OF WARINESS (vers. 2, 4). "They sought to do me mischief" (ver. 2); "they sent unto me four times after this sort" (ver. 4). The enemies of God endeavoured, with a persistency worthy of a better cause, to entrap Nehemiah and despatch him. But he, fearless as he afterwards proved, was not to be taken by their craft. Heroism is unsuspicious; but it is not, therefore, credulous. It can distinguish between the overtures of a friend and the machinations of an enemy. We read of "the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13); and both in the guarding of our own personal integrity, and in the defence of the Church of Christ, we must be on the alert against the enemy, who after the failure of open assault will probably resort to stealth.
III. WHAT NEED HE HAS OF COURAGE (vers. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Sanballat, failing to impose on the charity of Nehemiah, adopts another course: he intimates in an open letter which every one may read, that, if the interview be not given him, he will send an evil report to the king of Persia, putting the worst construction on the proceedings at Jerusalem (vers. 5, 6, 7). Nehemiah, feeling that ceremony would be out of place, charges Sanballat with direct falsehood (ver. 8). "Thou feignest them out of thine own heart." There are times when softness of speech is not courtesy, but weakness; when hard words are not rudeness, but faithfulness. But this ruse of the enemy threatened to succeed, notwithstanding the governor's un- varnished retort. "For they all made us afraid" (ver. 9). Fear seems to have possessed the minds of many, and Nehemiah was driven to prayer. "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands." When other hearts are trembling, and timidity is within us, we must seek, and we shall gain, renewed courage at the throne of grace. "In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul" (Psalm 138:3). "For this cause I bow my knees to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Ephesians 3:16).
IV. How EXCELLENT IS DEVOTEDNESS TO WORK (ver. 3). An admirable message was that of the patriot: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down," etc. His place was amongst his friends, encouraging and helping them to build, not outside, parleying with the enemy. To have left his post of active duty, of useful work, for such discussion would have been to "come down" indeed. To forsake the good and great work of building for Christ in order to debate with those who are hostile to it is to "come down," is a descent from devotion to danger. We axe safer and better employed in the high places of prayer and activity. - C.
I. THE FACT OF OPPOSITION.
1. It is a constant fact. The form may change, but the substance is the same. Sleepless vigilance is necessary. When violent assault is out of the question, we must fear treachery. "Come, and let us meet together" is the most dangerous shape of the world's mischievous attempt. Special watchfulness required in times like these, lest we forsake our work and put ourselves into the hands of the enemies of Christ and his people.
2. We must expect that times of special success and rapid advancement will be the times when we have most to encounter from the world. When the work of God is making no way his enemies will leave it to itself. When they see that it approaches completion ("the wall built, and no breach therein"), then they will make desperate efforts to circumvent us, and to overthrow our work; and the more open our success, the more crafty will be their schemes.
3. In appreciating the dangers of our position, we should not be content with looking outside the Church; look within it too. There will be traitors among the Lord's people. There will be lying prophets, timid friends, worldly-minded fellow labourers. The true heart must be strong in God.
II. THE VICTORY OF FAITH IN THE TIME OF SPECIAL TEMPTATION.
1. It was a victory obtained by the Spirit of God is the spirit of man. What Nehemiah needed was penetration, wisdom, self-control, fortitude, fearlessness, devotion to his work. All these qualities are given by the Spirit of God and maintained by his grace. So long as they were uppermost in the individual man, the enemies had no chance.
2. It was a victory which was bestowed as a reward of faith, and in answer to prayer. The whole attitude of Nehemiah was that of dependence upon God. "My God, strengthen thou my hands."
3. It was a very decided and definite faith which gained the victory. "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down." The best defence against temptation is to be pledged to a positive public life of active service. The spirit of work should be set against the spirit of compromise. To leave duty unfulfilled is always to come down, and to come down is to be in the hands of enemies.
4. The victory was renewed many times. Each occasion added strength to the true heart. If God helps us to say No once, we shall find it easier each time afterwards. Courage grows by action. The conscious resistance of evil is both the best preparation to detect its presence, and the best uplifting of the heart above actual fears for life and safety. - R.
I. THE WAY IN WHICH THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE ARE MADE KNOWN TO WICKED MEN. "Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein" (ver. 1). Christian life and service will make themselves known -
1. Naturally. The finished walls must be seen.
2. Influentially. The rising walls affect other peoples; Christian life reveals itself in the moral influence it wields.
3. Rumour. The enemies of the good soon hear of the wall that has been built.
4. Vigilance. The wicked watch the activities of the good. The service of the good man must be thorough; there must be no "breach" left in it, though oftentime it is incomplete; its "doors" are not set upon the gates (ver. 1). Piety, truth, earnest toil cannot be hid.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE ARE SURE TO BE TEMPTED BY WICKED MEN. The temptations to which Nehemiah was exposed were -
1. Subtle. "Come, let us meet together" (ver. 2).
2. Persistent. "Yet they sent unto me four times" (ver. 4).
3. Intimidating. "The fifth time with an open letter in his hand" (ver. 5).
4. Calumniatory. "That thou and the Jews think to rebel;" "That thou mayest be their king" (ver. 6).
5. Allied. A faithless prophet lends himself to the cause of the enemy (vers. 10-13).
III. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE MUST MEET TEMPTATION.
1. With discernment. "But they thought to do me mischief" (ver. 2).
2. With industry. "I am doing a great work" (ver. 3).
3. With determination. "And I answered them after the same manner" (ver. 4).
4. With exposure. "But thou feignest them out of thine own heart."
5. With prayer. "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands" (ver. 9).
6. With courage. "Should such a man as I flee?" (ver. 11).
IV. THE WAY IN WHICH EARNEST MORAL LIFE AND SERVICE COMPLETE THEIR TASK NOTWITHSTANDING SEVERE TRIAL. "So the wall was finished" (ver. 15).
1. The end of the task. "So the wall was finished."
2. The time of the task. "In fifty and two days."
3. The effect of the task. "Were very much cast down in their own eyes."
4. The praise of the task.
That it was completed under such difficult circumstances. - E.
I. THE TRIAL OF FAITH IN THE WORK OF GOD.
1. Their former plots failing, another yet more subtle is tried. Sanballat and Tobiah induce a prophet, Shemaiah (ver. 10), and a prophetess, Noadiah (ver. 14), to urge Nehemiah to take refuge from assassination in the temple; to hide himself unlawfully, lest he should be smitten at his post of duty; in fact, "to be afraid, and sin," and thus give occasion for "an evil report, that they might reproach" him (ver. 13). The insidiousness of the temptation may be gathered from the words of indignation in which Nehemiah invokes the Divine reprobation on the guilty tempters (ver. 14). But,
2. Nehemiah is yet further tried. His own people are keeping up a correspondence with the enemy. Nobles of Judah are writing to and hearing from Tobiah (ver. 17). A dangerous alliance led to intimacy, to perversion, to conspiracy (ver. 18). These men who should have been the first and the strongest to help are those who come to hinder; praising the man who was doing his utmost to overturn and ruin everything (ver. 19), and carrying back to the enemy the words of the governor (ver. 19). When we are doing our best to serve our Master and our fellows, and are naturally looking to those who are bound in the same holy bonds with ourselves, more especially to those who are as "prophets" or "prophetesses" in our ranks, or to those who are as "nobles" amongst us, to stand by our side and aid us in our toil, and when, instead of succour, we find them undermining our influence, we are tempted to despair, so keen is the trial of our faith. Yet we may win -
II. THE VICTORY OF THE BRAVE AND TRUE (vers. 11, 15, 16). Here we have -
1. The fact of success. The wall was built: it was "finished in fifty and two days" (ver. 15). Neither open threats nor secret plots weakened the strength or lessened the labour of the busy workmen, and the good work was accomplished.
2. A powerful incentive leading to victory. Nehemiah made an excellent appeal to himself. He considered who he was, and what was worthy and unworthy of the post he held. "Should such a man as I flee?" (ver. 11).
3. The fruits of victory (ver. 16). The enemy and all the heathen "were much cast down in their own eyes," and they "perceived that this work was wrought of our God." Their humiliation was an excellent thing for them, and the name of God being glorified was a source of joy and gratulation to the good. There is victory to be won under the fiercest temptation if we only be true to all we know. Let us, in the dark hour of the trial of faith -
1. Consider what is worthy of the position we hold. Should such as we are - missionaries, ministers, evangelists, teachers, leaders, members of the Church of Christ - flee from the post of duty or danger?
"Put on the gospel armour, and, watching unto prayer, 2. Consider what will redound to the glory of Christ. If only we hold on, "faint yet pursuing," fighting till the day is won, the enemy will be humiliated, and his holy name be honoured. Our once crucified Saviour shall be "exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isaiah lit. 13). - C.
2. Consider what will redound to the glory of Christ. If only we hold on, "faint yet pursuing," fighting till the day is won, the enemy will be humiliated, and his holy name be honoured. Our once crucified Saviour shall be "exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isaiah lit. 13). - C.
I. A great MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE POWER is a great casting down of God's enemies.
1. There is real weakness in all sin. "In their own eyes" defeat meant shame and confusion; but the true heart never doubts that its cause is right, even when success is delayed.
2. The world will perceive God's hand. When the finished work is before them they will not dare to deny who has accomplished it. Therefore we should hasten it on, and be more eager to bring it to completion.
3. The great facts of Divine grace spread their message not only among the enemies of the Church, but among the heathen, who have been sitting in darkness. A revived zeal and energy in God's people will have a mighty effect in casting down the imaginations which exalt themselves against the name of Christ.
II. The best preparation of the true Church against discouragements, both from without and from within, is to know that ITS WALLS ARE BUILT UP, AND ITS GATES IS THEIR PLACES.
1. That will put a stop to the corrupting intercourse between the Church and the world.
2. It will help the people of God to know their true leaders. The nobles were traitors; but henceforth men after the example of Nehemiah will be the defenders of Judah.
3. In the sight of the finished work the hearts of God's people are strong. In the best sense success makes success. "Tobiah's letters" will do no harm, for there are the walls speaking in the name of God, "epistles written by the Spirit of God, known and read of all men." Let the world trust as it may in its devices, we rejoice in "the walls of Jerusalem," which are "salvation," and "her gates" "praise." - R.