Nehemiah 4:17
They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.
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(17) They which builded.—Divided into masons and their burden-bearers. The latter held in one hand a weapon; the former built with both hands, and had their weapons at their side.

Nehemiah 4:17. Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held a weapon — That is, they were well prepared either to build or fight; for the expression is figurative, it not being possible for them to work, if both hands had not been at liberty. Accordingly the next verse says, Every one had his sword girded by his side. Thus must we work out our salvation, with the weapons of our warfare in our hands. For in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies.

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."

This is not to be taken properly, for they could never have done their work with one hand; and the next verse tells us the sword was not in their hands, but by their sides: but figuratively; this being a proverbial speech, such as is frequent amongst the Latins, as when they say of a man pretending kindness with evil design, he carries bread in one hand, and a stone in another.

That laid the mortar and stones upon it, and timber where it was necessary:

and they that bore burdens; that carried the mortar, stones, and timber to the builders, and served them:

with those that laded; which prepared the above for them, and laid them on their shoulders:

everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon; which is not to be understood strictly and literally, for without both hands they could not well perform either of the above works; but proverbially, signifying that they were intent on both working and fighting, and were ready and prepared to do the latter, as well as the former, having weapons lying by them, or girt about them, as is explained in the following verse.

They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.
17. They which builded on the wall] R.V. They that builded the wall. The Hebrew preposition rendered ‘on’ in the A.V. occurs also e.g. in Nehemiah 4:6, ‘So we built the wall,’ and merely expresses the object.

(a) These words are sometimes taken in conjunction with the conclusion of the previous verse (R.V. marg.), on account of the mention of them ‘that builded the wall’ in connexion with them ‘that bare burdens;’ whereas Nehemiah 4:18 seems to speak of ‘the builders’ as a different class from them ‘that bare burdens.’

(b) Another explanation takes the first words of this verse as a nominative absolute, standing before the two Nehemiah 4:17-18 which relate respectively to the two classes into which the wall builders would be distributed, i.e. ‘As for them that builded the wall, as well they that bare burdens, laded themselves &c. (18) as the builders’.

(c) The R.V. renders the words quite simply. It makes Nehemiah 4:17 refer both to the builders and to the burden bearers, Nehemiah 4:18 to the builders only. ‘They that builded on the wall’ are then further defined in Nehemiah 4:17 as ‘they that bare burdens.’ ‘The builders’ in Nehemiah 4:18, mentioned without further definition, must be limited to those occupied in the construction of the wall.

This makes very good sense. But the language is not without ambiguity, for which it is probable that the text is really accountable.

and they that bare burdens] See previous note. These words describe one class of workmen, distinguishing those who removed rubbish and carried material, stones, &c., from those occupied in the construction. If we take into account the enormous size of the stones used in the building of the ancient walls, and bear in mind the Assyrian representations of the moving of heavy weights by rollers, pulleys, mounds, &c., we may realize that the moving of the blocks and placing them in situ required a distinct class of workmen from those who removed the earth and the rubbish to prepare foundations, or constructed the mounds up which the stones could be drawn. This latter class is here indicated.

with those that laded] R.V. laded themselves. The word in the Hebrew is the predicate. It does not denote a third class of workmen.

every one … and with the other hand held a weapon] R.V. every one … and with the other held his weapon. This clause shows that the work men here mentioned had one hand free. They were probably employed in carrying baskets of rubbish over their backs or on their heads.

a weapon] The word here employed is not common. It denotes ‘a missile,’ and in this case was probably a light javelin.

Verse 17. - And they which bare burdens, with those that laded. Rather, "both they which bare burdens, as they laded." The builders, or those engaged upon the work, are divided into two classes -

(1) actual builders, and

(2) those who carried the materials.

Of these, the latter did their work with one hand, while in their other hand they held a weapon; the former needed both hands for their employment, but even these wore swords in theft girdles. Nehemiah 4:17From that day the half of my servants wrought at the work, and the other half of them held the spears and shields, the bows and the armour, i.e., carried the arms. The servants of Nehemiah are his personal retinue, Nehemiah 4:17, Nehemiah 5:10, Nehemiah 5:16, namely, Jews placed at his disposal as Pechah for official purposes. The ו before הרמחים was probably placed before this word, instead of before the המּגנּים following, by a clerical error; for if it stood before the latter also, it might be taken in the sense of et - et. מצזיקים, instead of being construed with בּ, is in the accusative, as also in Nehemiah 4:11, and even in Jeremiah 6:23 and Isaiah 41:9, Isaiah 41:13. Unnecessary and unsuitable is the conjecture of Bertheau, that the word בּרמחים originally stood after מצזיקים, and that a fresh sentence begins with והרמחים: and the other half held the spears; and the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the armour, and the rulers, were behind the whole house of Judah, - a strange combination, which places the weapons and rulers behind the house of Judah. Besides, of the circumstance of the weapons being placed behind the builders, so that they might at any moment seize them, we not only read nothing in the text; but in Nehemiah 4:11 and Nehemiah 4:12 just the contrary, viz., that the builders wrought with one hand, and with the other held a weapon. "The rulers were behind all the house of Judah," i.e., each was behind his own people who were employed on the work, to encourage them in their labour, and, in case of attack, to lead them against the enemy. - In Nehemiah 4:11 בּחומה הבּונים is prefixed after the manner of a title. With respect to those who built the wall, both the bearers of burdens were lading with the one hand of each workman, and holding a weapon with the other, and the builders were building each with his sword girt on his side. The ו prefixed to הנּשׂאים and הבּנים means both; and בסּבל נשׂא, bearers of burdens, who cleared away the rubbish, and worked as labourers. These, at all events, could do their work with one hand, which would suffice for emptying rubbish into baskets, and for carrying material in handle baskets. ידו בּעחת, literally, with the one (namely) of his hands that was doing the work. The suffix of ידו points to the genitive following. ואחת אחת, the one and the other hand. השּׁלח, not a missile, but a weapon that was stretched out, held forth, usually a sword or some defensive weapon: see rem. on Joshua 2:8; 2 Chronicles 32:5. The builders, on the contrary, needed both hands for their work: hence they had swords girt to their sides. "And he that sounded the trumpet was beside me." Nehemiah, as superintendent of the work, stood at the head of his servants, ready to ward off any attack; hence the trumpeter was beside him, to be able to give to those employed on the wall the signal for speedy muster in case danger should threaten.
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