In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading donkeys; as also wine, grapes…
Among other deplorable departures from the Law of the word, Nehemiah found on his return to Jerusalem that his countrymen had fallen into flagrant disregard of the sabbath. It was a most serious defection, demanding a most vigorous reform. We look at what he found-and what he wrought.
I. A SERIOUS DELINQUENCY. The law of the sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:13-17; Numbers 15:32-36) was openly defied. Husbandmen were treading their wine-presses and were bringing corn into the city, and were lading asses on that day of sacred rest (ver. 15); all kinds of fruit were also carried in and sold (ver. 15). Tyrian traders were allowed to bring in and sell their fish and "all manner of ware" (ver. 16). The sacred character of the day was set at naught, and was fast disappearing. Persian rulers, Samaritan neighbours, Phoenician traders, had prevailed over Jewish principles, and the sabbath was most seriously threatened. There needed -
II. A VIGOROUS REFORM. Nehemiah set himself to change the whole aspect of affairs. He
(1) remonstrated energetically - he "contended with the nobles of Judah" (ver. 17), charging them with bringing this about - "What evil thing is this that ye do?"- by their guilty connivance, and prophetically threatening them with the wrath of God for their sin (ver. 18);
(2) caused the gates to be shut some time before, and to remain shut till some time after, the commencement and conclusion of the sacred day (ver. 19): he set his own servants (some of his own retinue), on whom he could most reckon, to see that this order was impartially carried out;
(3) not only obliged those who came to sell to remain outside all the day, but threatened to apprehend them if they did this again (vers. 20, 21); and
(4) enlisted the sympathy and aid of the Levites, that, when he was recalled and his own servants were withdrawn, they might maintain what he now instituted. These energetic measures succeeded; they had an immediate effect (ver. 21), and they appear to have had a permanent influence, as, from this time, we have reason to think that the Jews became scrupulous, even to a fault, on this question of sabbath observance. Nehemiah's reform was admirable and effective because -
(a) It was bold and impartial. He confronted and reproached the nobles as well as the traders and salesmen.
(b) It was energetic and full of action. He used magisterial rights; not exceeding his authority, but using it, and acting in harmony with the powers of his commission and the law of God.
(c) It was anticipative of future wants. He prepared for a time when he would not be there, and when other men like-minded would be prepared to continue his work (ver. 22). Concerning the observance of the sabbath or the Lord's day by ourselves, we may remark that it is -
I. OBVIOUSLY THE WILL OF GOD THAT WE SHOULD KEEP IT. We know that -
1. It was sanctified from the very beginning of our race (Genesis 2:2, 3).
2. It was included in the religious and moral statutes given by God to Moses, as if it belonged to that which is permanent and perpetual (Exodus 20.).
3. It was insisted upon by the prophetic voice, and declared to be decisive of national prosperity or decline (Jeremiah 17:19-27; Isaiah 58:13, 14) - the prophets being the upholders of the moral in preference to the formal and ceremonial.
4. It was declared by the Lord Jesus Christ to be "made for man" (Mark 2:27).
5. It was continued in the shape of the Lord's day after the resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10); these incidental notices pointing to a general apostolical observance.
II. MANIFESTLY REQUISITE FOR BODILY AND SPIRITUAL WELFARE.
1. Bodily; for man and beast live longer and work better with than without it.
2. Spiritual; for without the spiritual refreshment and revival of sabbath services, more especially in these days of absorbing work and care, the light of life would burn even more dim and faint, until it went out into darkness. All those who hate (spiritual) death may well love and guard and use it well. Our duty in regard to it is -
(1) To avail ourselves of the bodily rest it brings, and to see that others have the same advantage - our children resting from their lessons, servants (domestic and public) resting from their toil.
(2) To make it a day of special spiritual privilege, including
(a) worship-drawing nigh to God;
(b) instruction - enlightenment, edification, the "beholding the beauty of the Lord and inquiring in his temple;" and
(c) inspiration - fresh determination, invigorated resolution that as for us and our household we will serve the Lord Christ. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.
WEB: In those days saw I in Judah some men treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys [therewith]; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified [against them] in the day in which they sold food.