Nehemiah 4:16
And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants worked in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) My servants.—The building was resumed with special precautions, very minutely described. “Nehemiah’s own servants” are distinguished from “all the house of Judah.” The former were divided into two parties, one of which wrought on the work still unfinished and the other held their weapons.

Habergeons are coats of mail or corselets, thin plates of metal sewn upon leather.

The rulers were behind—Ready to lead the defence, if necessary.

Nehemiah 4:16. It came to pass from that time forth — Lest our enemies should repeat their enterprise; that the half of my servants wrought in the work — Of my domestic servants, and of my guards, who should have attended upon my own person. And the other half held the spears, the shields, &c. — That is, all their weapons: they stood in their arms, prepared for battle. And the rulers were behind all — Partly to encourage them in their work, sometimes assisting them with their own hands; and partly to direct and command them in case of an assault.4:16-23 We must watch always against spiritual enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be over till our work is ended. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, which we ought to have always at hand, and never to have to seek for it, either in our labours, or in our conflicts, as Christians. Every true Christian is both a labourer and a soldier, working with one hand, and fighting with the other. Good work is likely to go on with success, when those who labour in it, make a business of it. And Satan fears to assault the watchful Christian; or, if attacked, the Lord fights for him. Thus must we wait to the close of life, never putting off our armour till our work and warfare are ended; then we shall be welcomed to the rest and joy of our Lord.Habergeons - Or, "coats of mail." Coats of mail were common in Assyria from the ninth century B.C., and in Egypt even earlier. They were made of thin laminae of bronze or iron, sewn upon leather or linen, and overlapping one another. Ne 4:7-23. He Sets a Watch.

7-21. But … when Sanballat … heard that the walls … were made up, and … the breaches … stopped—The rapid progress of the fortifications, despite all their predictions to the contrary, goaded the Samaritans to frenzy. So they, dreading danger from the growing greatness of the Jews, formed a conspiracy to surprise them, demolish their works, and disperse or intimidate the builders. The plot being discovered, Nehemiah adopted the most energetic measures for ensuring the common safety, as well as the uninterrupted building of the walls. Hitherto the governor, for the sake of despatch, had set all his attendants and guards on the work—now half of them were withdrawn to be constantly in arms. The workmen labored with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other; and as, in so large a circuit, they were far removed from each other, Nehemiah (who was night and day on the spot, and, by his pious exhortations and example, animated the minds of his people) kept a trumpeter by his side, so that, on any intelligence of a surprise being brought to him, an alarm might be immediately sounded, and assistance rendered to the most distant detachment of their brethren. By these vigilant precautions, the counsels of the enemy were defeated, and the work was carried on apace. God, when He has important public work to do, never fails to raise up instruments for accomplishing it, and in the person of Nehemiah, who, to great natural acuteness and energy added fervent piety and heroic devotion, He provided a leader, whose high qualities fitted him for the demands of the crisis. Nehemiah's vigilance anticipated every difficulty, his prudent measures defeated every obstruction, and with astonishing rapidity this Jerusalem was made again "a city fortified."

From that time forth, lest our enemies should repeat their enterprise.

The half of my servants; of my domestic servants, and of my guards, who should have attended upon my own person.

The spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons, i.e. all their weapons; they stood in their arms prepared for battle.

The rulers were behind all; partly to encourage them in their work, and sometimes to assist with their own hands; and partly to direct and command them in case of an assault.

The house of Judah, i.e. the Jews who were upon the wall. And it came to pass from that time forth,.... That they were thus alarmed of danger from their enemies:

that the half of my servants wrought in the work; of building the wall; his domestic servants, his guards, or mighty men, as Jarchi, men of war, the soldiers:

and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows; some offensive, others defensive weapons; some to fight with at a distance, others near at hand:

and the habergeons; coats of mail, which they took and clothed themselves with:

and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah; the Jews that were working at the wall, to animate and encourage them, protect and defend them.

And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were {i} behind all the house of Judah.

(i) To overcome them and encourage them in their work.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16. the half of my servants wrought in the work] R.V. half of, &c. Literally ‘half of my young men.’ The LXX. by a strange error τῶν ἐκτετιναγμένων. These were probably the bodyguard attached to the person of Nehemiah as the governor. They are mentioned again in Nehemiah 4:23; Nehemiah 5:10; Nehemiah 5:16. We gather that only in the case of these his personal attendants did Nehemiah still insist upon arms being held in readiness, while the work of building went on. The rest of the Jews were exempted. Nehemiah’s servants were kept prepared for any emergency. One half of them worked on the wall: the other half were stationed under arms at various points holding the weapons of their comrades.

and the other half of them held both the spears, &c.] R.V. and half of them held the spears. In the original the copula ‘and’ stands before ‘the spears.’ It has been suggested that this implies the falling out of a word, e.g. ‘the swords’ after which the copula would be natural, i.e. ‘the swords and the spears, &c.’ The interpretation which, accepting the introduction of the word ‘swords,’ begins a new sentence with ‘and the spears, &c.’ is harsh and improbable. But it is best to suppose that the copula has been accidentally inserted from the neighbouring words. The wearing of a sword was not incompatible with the manual work. The weapons held by the non-working detachment are just those which would have rendered work on the wall impossible. Cf. Nehemiah 4:18.

the spears] The ‘spear’ (romakh) mentioned here and in Nehemiah 4:13; Nehemiah 4:21 seems to have been the principal thrusting weapon. We do not find it anywhere spoken of as a ‘javelin’ to be hurled. It must have been more of the Greek phalanx spear than the ‘pilum’ of the Roman soldier. It is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 11:12; 2 Chronicles 14:8; 2 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 26:14, in connexion with the armies of the Southern kingdom, in Jeremiah 46:4, with the forces of Pharaoh-Necho, in Ezekiel 39:9, with the armies of Gog. The same word is used of the weapons with which the prophets of Baal mutilated themselves as they offered sacrifice on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:28).

the shields, and the bows] There were two kinds of shields in the armies of the East, the one small and round (‘the buckler’), the other large and oblong. They are mentioned together in 2 Chronicles 23:9; cf. 1 Kings 10:16-17. Representations of the two kinds may be seen in the Assyrian sculptures. Here the shields are of the smaller kind (magen), and would be used by those who carried spears.

and the bows] In the Assyrian bas-reliefs we constantly find ‘bowmen’ attacking a city protected by shield-bearers, and discharging their arrows behind large oblong shields. Here however shooting from behind a rampart, the large shields would not be required.

and the habergeons] R.V. and the coats of mail. Cp. also 2 Chronicles 26:14, where the R.V. makes the same alteration. It is unlikely that the common soldiers mentioned in these two passages would have worn heavy and elaborate ‘coats of mail’ such as Saul is described as offering to David (1 Samuel 17:38) or Ahab seems to have worn at Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:34; 2 Chronicles 18:33). The wearing of ‘scale’ or ‘link’ armour was probably confined to the officers of an army; and it may be doubted whether the soldiers of a provincial governor would have been so fully and expensively equipped.

We should probably understand the defensive armour here mentioned to consist of suits of tough leather doublets, ‘jerkins,’ protecting the body down to the knees and leaving the arms bare. The hard specially prepared hides, of which they were made, were almost impenetrable to the arrow. In some cases no doubt thin ‘scales’ of metal were sewn into the leather, and Nehemiah’s bodyguard would be better armed than the ordinary Jewish citizens. For ‘habergeon’ = a little coat-of-mail covering the head and shoulders, compare (see Bible Word-Book) Latimer, Serm., p. 29, ‘And be ye apparalled or clothed,’ saith Paul, ‘with the habergeon or coat armour of justice.’ The word is used by the A.V. in Exodus 28:32; Exodus 39:23; 2 Chronicles 26:14; Job 41:26 It is derived from the French ‘haubergeon’ = neck covering.

and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah] so R.V. text; R.V marg., ‘all the house of Judah that builded the wall. And they that &c.’

The meaning of this clause seems to be that ‘the rulers’ or princes took up their position to the rear of those engaged in working at the wall, so that at any moment, when the alarm should sound, they could issue their commands and take the necessary measures to repel the attack.Verse 16. - The half of my servants wrought in the work. Nehemiah divided his "servants" or slaves into two bodies, one of which laboured at the wall, while the other kept guard, fully armed, and held the spears, bows and arrows, shields, and corselets of their fellows. The rulers were behind. The "rulers" or "princes" did not labour, but stood behind the labourers, directing them, and ready to lead them on if the enemy ventured to come to blows. (Nehemiah 4:4)

The placing of the watch day and night, and the continuous labour, must have pressed heavily upon the people; therefore Judah said: "The strength of the bearers of burdens fails, and there is much rubbish; we are not able to build the wall." That is to say, the labour is beyond our power, we cannot continue it.

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