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; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)
Verse 1. - When Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian heard. Literally, "When it was heard by Sanballat and Tobiah, and by Geshem the Arabian." The preposition ל is repeated with Geshem, but not with Tobiah, probably because Tobiah was Sanballat's subordinate, but Geshem an independent chief. Hence, too, it was not proposed that Tobiah should be at the conference. At that time I had not set up the doors. This may appear to contradict Nehemiah 3:1, 3, 6, 13, etc. But the account of the building in ch. 3. is carried on to the completion of the whole work, the object there being to state by whom the different parts were done, and not at what time. Chronologically, chs. 4, 5, and 6. are parallel to ch. 3, relating events that happened while the wall was being built. The hanging of the doors in the gateways was, naturally, the last thing done. Upon the gates. Rather, "in the gateways."
That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.
Verse 2. - In some one of the villages. The Hebrew has "in the villages," which seems too vague. Bertheau therefore suggests, "in Hakkiphirim," taking the word as the name of a particular village, which is probably right. Ono was near Lydda, in the plain country bordering on Philistia. They thought to do me mischief. A euphemism for "they thought to murder me."
And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.
Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;
Verse 5. - An open letter. Letters in the East are usually placed in silken bags, which are then tied up and carefully sealed. An "open letter" invited perusal; and the object of sending this one "open' must have been to create alarm among the Jews, and to excite them against Nehemiah. Compare the conduct of Sennacherib's ambassadors (2 Kings 18:27-33).
Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.
Verse 6. - Gashmu saith it. "Gashmu" is probably the native Arabic form of the name which in a Hebrew mouth commonly became "Geshem." Thou and the Jews think to rebel. Compare Nehemiah 2:19, and Ezra 4:13, with the Comment. According to these words. i.e. "Agreeably to what is reported."
And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.
Verse 7. - Thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah. Expressions of the religious teachers of the time, parallel to that of Zechariah, - "Behold, thy king cometh" (Zechariah 9:9), - may have been reported to Sanballat, and misunderstood or purposely misinterpreted.
Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.
For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
Verse 9. - They all made us afraid. Rather, "sought to affright us." Their attempts did not succeed. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. "O God" is not in the original; whence some critics do not see in the words used a prayer, but only a statement - "But I now strengthened my hands" (so the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions). This meaning, however, cannot be obtained from the present text.
Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
Verse 10. - A Shemaiah appears in the list of priests who afterwards signed the covenant (Nehemiah 10:8); but the names in that list do not appear to be personal. There is a Shemaiah also among the priests who took part in the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:42); he is not said, however, to be "the son of Delaiah." Shut up. Prevented, i.e., by some legal impurity from taking part in the temple service, or even entering the temple. In the house of God, within the temple. Rather, "within the sanctuary." The heykal was the same as the holy place, and meant that part of the temple building which intervened between the porch and the holy of holies. It corresponded, as Gesenius observes, to the body or nave of modern cathedrals. Let us shut the doors. Folding doors of fir wood separated the holy place from the porch in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:34); and these had no doubt their counterpart in the restored temple. Shemaiah suggested the shutting of these doors for greater security
And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.
Verse 11. - Should such a man as I flee? i.e. Should a man in my position, the head of the state, bound to set an example to others, fly from danger and hide myself? Surely not. And who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? Rather, "could go into the temple and live?" Dean Stanley compares Becket's noble words, - "I will not turn the cathedral into a castle," - but the parallel is not close. Nehemiah feels, not that he would profane the temple by making it into a place of refuge, but that he would break the law by simply entering it. Ewald shows that he has caught the point of the objection when he says, "Nehemiah thought that, as a layman, he must not break the Divine command by entering the sanctuary itself" ('History of Israel,' vol. 5. p. 157).
And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
Verse 12. - And, lo, I perceived, etc. Rather, "And I considered; and lo! God had not sent him." I reflected on the whole matter, and came to the conclusion that, though he might be a prophet, he had not on this occasion exercised his prophetical office - he had not declared to me God's will (compare the case of the "old prophet," 1 Kings 13:11-18). And I was right, "for (in fact) he had pronounced this prophecy against me, because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him." "Tobiah and Sanballat" here - not "Sanballat and Tobiah," as elsewhere (Nehemiah 2:10, 19; Nehemiah 4:7; Nehemiah 6:1), because Tobiah was no doubt the immediate briber, Sanballat merely furnishing the funds.
Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.
Verse 13. - Therefore was he hired, etc. Their motive for bribing him was, that I might be induced by-fear to do as Shemaiah suggested, and so to commit sin; whereby they would have a just ground for spreading an evil report concerning me, and making my misconduct a constant reproach to me. Nehemiah's influence depended greatly on the weight of his moral character. One false step, and he would have been lost; his influence would have been gone; and the work on which his heart was set would have come to nought.
My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
Verse 14. - Tobiah and Sanballat. See ver. 12, with the comment. The prophetess Noadiah is not elsewhere mentioned. She has been supposed to have succumbed to a bribe, like Shemaiah (Ewald); but this is wholly uncertain. We only know that, together with certain soi-disant prophets, she endeavoured to "put Nehemiah in fear." It is clear that she was unsuccessful.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.
Verse 15. - So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. According to Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:5, § 8), the work of restoration occupied two years and four months, or 840 days, instead of fifty-two. And this period has been thought so much more probable than the smaller one, that moderns generally have accepted it, while some have even proposed to alter our present text of Nehemiah by the insertion of u-shnathayim, "and two years," at the end of this verse (Ewald). But the authority of Josephus on matters of remote history is so small, and the whole account of Nehemiah is so harmonious and consistent with itself, that alteration seems quite unnecessary. Nehemiah leaves Susa in Nisan, probably towards the middle or close of the month, for his preparations must have taken him some time. He would be likely to be nearly three months on his journey, and would thus reach Jerusalem about the middle of July - say July 15. He then rested three days, surveyed the wall, laid his plan before the nobles, arranged the working parties, and set to work. It was his object to hasten matters as much as possible; and he may well have commenced the rebuilding within ten days of his arrival. Fifty-two days from July 25 would bring him to Sept. 15, which corresponds, as nearly as may be, to the 25th of Elul. There is no difficulty in supposing that the wall could have been repaired in this space. The materials were ready at hand; the working parties were numerous; the workmen full of zeal. If we estimate the circumference of the wall at four miles, which is probably beyond the truth, and the working parties at forty-two (Ewald), it will follow that each party had, on the average, to repair 168 yards, or at the rate of between three and four yards a day. There was probably no work done on the sabbaths, and there may have been one or two days of interruption, when attack seemed imminent (Nehemiah 4:13-15); but otherwise the work was carried on without pause from early dawn to dark (ibid. ver. 21). The wall attained to half its height in a very short time (ibid. ver. 6), - there was then a brief interruption, - after which came the main work of completing the entire circuit to its full height. It is possible that the fifty-two days are counted from the "return to work (ibid. ver. 15).
And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
Verse 16. - Our enemies. The Samaritans, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, and the Arabians under Oeshem are the special "enemies" here spoken cf. The Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, etc. are the other "heathen round about" the Jews. Even these last were unfriendly, and disliked any increase of Jewish power and prosperity. They perceived that this work was wrought of our God. They could not but recognise a special Providence as befriending and protecting the Jews, who, after having been utterly crushed and rooted out by Nebuchadnezzar, were now re-established in a commanding position in Palestine, and allowed to make their city once more an almost impregnable fortress.
Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them.
Verse 17. - Moreover in those days. Ewald supposes that the circumstances here related (vers. 17-19) were subsequent to the completion of the wall ('History of Israel,' vol. 5. p. 157); but the expression "in those days" seems rather to throw back the events into the time during which the wall was in building. The passage is a sort of explanatory note, showing us how Tobiah came to be able to raise those intrigues inside Jerusalem which have been mentioned in vers. 12-14. And the letters of Tobiah came unto them. Rather, "and many were the letters of Tobiah which came to them."
For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.
Verse 18. - He was the son-in-law of Shechaniah. Rather, "related by marriage to Shechaniah"- perhaps, but not certainly, by having married his daughter. Son of Arah. Member, i.e., of the family, called the Beni-Arah, which had returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:5; Nehemiah 7:10). Meshullam the son of Berechiah is mentioned in ch. 3. as repairing two portions of the wall (vers. 4, 30).
Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.
Verse 19. - Also they reported his good deeds, etc. Rather, "they even reported" - they went so far as to speak to me of his good actions, perhaps representing the bribes which he dispensed (ver. 12) as given from charitable motives. And they uttered my words, or "communicated my affairs, to him. They made him acquainted with all my proceedings.