Nehemiah 4:23
So neither I, nor my brothers, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.
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(23) Saving that every one put them off for washing.—This rendering is very improbable, as the words are simply: “every man his weapon water.” Some interpret that “each man’s weapon was his water”: evidently too subtle a turn of thought. It is best, on the whole, to supply the ellipsis: “every man went with his weapon to the water.”

Nehemiah 4:23. None of us put off our clothes — Neither by day nor by night, as the manner is when people go to rest, but they constantly kept themselves in readiness to fight, if any assault were made on the city. Saving that every one put them off for washing — When they were to wash and cleanse themselves from some impurity, which might befall them or their garments. 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.Saving ... - The text here is probably unsound. It yields no satisfactory sense. See the margin. 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the governor, for the sake of despatch, had set all his attendants and guards on the work—now half of them were withdrawn to be constantly in arms.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."

None of us put off our clothes; neither by day, nor by night, as the manner is when we go to bed; they constantly kept themselves in a readiness for fighting.

Saving that every one put them off for washing; when they were to wash and cleanse themselves from some natural or moral impurity, which might befall them or their garments. So neither I, nor my brethren,.... The nobles and rulers:

nor my servants; his domestic servants that waited upon him:

nor the men of the guard which followed me; his bodyguard, which attended him as a commissioner of the king of Persia for state and grandeur:

none of us put off our clothes; at night when they laid themselves down to sleep, but laid in, them, that they might be ready upon an alarm made:

saving that everyone put them off for washing; not for common washing, because dirty, but for washing on account of ceremonial uncleanness, which required washing both of bodies and garments, see Leviticus 15:5, &c. and the Vulgate Latin version expresses it by baptism, as the apostle calls such ceremonial ablutions in Hebrews 6:2. It is in the margin of our Bibles, "everyone went with his weapon for water"; when he went to Siloam, or any other place, for water, he took a weapon with him to defend himself upon occasion; which is no bad sense of the words. Noldius (g) renders the words, "everyone with his weapon (and) water"; both were at his bolster, ready, if wanted, see 1 Samuel 26:11.

(g) Ebr. Concord. Partic. p. 322.

So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off {l} for washing.

(l) That is, when they purified themselves or else when they washed their clothes.

23. my brethren … servants … men of the guard which followed me] Nehemiah mentions in detail those in whom he had complete confidence and upon whose faithfulness the success of his project depended. These shared their leader’s vigilance and imitated his endurance. Not one of them put off his clothes the whole time that the building went on. They were prepared for an attack at any moment.

‘brethren.’ These would be the relatives of Nehemiah, cf. Nehemiah 1:2. The whole house or clan to which he belonged staunchly supported him throughout the crisis.

‘servants’ … ‘men of the guard which followed me.’ Under these two heads Nehemiah seems to describe those whom he has mentioned in Nehemiah 4:17 as ‘my servants.’ He distinguishes here between his personal attendants consisting of Jewish retainers, and the bodyguard consisting chiefly of foreigners allotted him as governor by the Persian king.

saving that every one put them off for washing] R.V. every one went with his weapon to the water. R.V. marg. ‘The text is probably faulty.’ The clause has occasioned great difficulty. Literally rendered the words run, ‘each one his weapon the water.’ The LXX. omit the words, probably from inability to discover their meaning. The error in the text is therefore of very early date. The Syriac seems to have conjectured ‘days’ for ‘water.’

(a) The A.V. follows the conjecture of the Vulg. ‘unusquisque tantum nudabatur ad baptismum,’ according to which the Hebrew word for ‘his weapon’ becomes by a change of vocalization a verb = ‘they sent (i.e. cast off) each one his clothes for the water,’ i.e. in order to wash. The Hebrew however could not possibly bear this very strained interpretation.

(b) Another old rendering is ‘each one his weapon was (in the place of, or equivalent to) water,’ i.e. ‘instead of washing they had each to stand fast to their arms,’ is equally improbable.

(c) Another rendering ‘each one had (by his side) his weapon (and) his (draught of) water’ gives intelligible sense, but not such as can be justified by the original.

(d) Ewald’s rendering, ‘the taking off of each man’s clothes was for water,’ i.e. ‘to satisfy his necessities, not to lie down to rest,’ seems very uncalled for. It is greatly to be questioned whether Nehemiah even ‘in his rough and open style’ would have introduced such an allusion or in such words. (Ewald, Hist. of Isr. vol. v. p. 156, note 1, Eng. Transl.).

(e) Some moderns rendering ‘his weapon’ (shil’kho) as if it were the verb (shâl’khû) translate ‘they sent each one for water.’ They could not leave their post, and had to have the necessaries of life brought to them where they stood. This use of ‘send’ as equivalent to ‘send for,’ is scarcely supported by 2 Samuel 15:12, since here a thing and not a person is the object of the verb. Others, reading ‘shâl’khû, render, ‘Every one gave up the use of water,’ a quite inadmissible translation.

(f) The R.V. rendering which introduces the words ‘went with … to’ makes good sense of the clause, but follows very unnaturally upon ‘none of us put off our clothes,’ neither stating an exception nor introducing a cognate idea.

(g) A good conjectural emendation of the text gives the sense ‘each one remained with his weapon in his hand’ (or ‘in his right hand’).

(h) But it is probable that the error of the text is due to the accidental omission of certain words. We expect some statement of the length of time during which Nehemiah and his followers continued without retiring to rest. Perhaps the clause may have run ‘each one with his weapon in his hand for a full month of days.’ The Syriac version ‘we will not put off our clothes during a month of days’ agrees with this suggestion, and the Arabic gives a similar rendering, ‘till the end of a month and days.’Verse 23. - My brethren. Actual brothers probably. That Nehemiah had brothers appears from Nehemiah 1:2; that one of them, Hanani, had accompanied him to Jerusalem is evident from Nehemiah 7:2. My servants. See above, ver. 16. The men of the guard that followed me. As governor, Nehemiah would maintain a body-guard, in addition to his band of slaves. Saving that every one put them off for washing. So the Vulgate: "Unnsquisque tantum nudabatur ad baptismum;" but it is at least doubtful whether the Hebrew words can possibly have this meaning. The most natural and literal sense of them is that given by Maurer and Rambach - "Each man's weapon was his water;" the supposed connection of the clause with the preceding being, "No one took off his clothes," not even for the bath - no one bathed; "a man's only bath was his weapon." Some critics, however, defend the rendering of the A. V.; others take the words in the same way, but explain the term "water" differently, of a natural want (Ewald, Stanley); while many regard the text as unsound, and propose emendations. None, however, that has as yet been proposed is satisfactory.

From 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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