But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites…
We are reminded here of -
I. THE PROGRESS OF SIN IN ITS COURSE (ver. 8). From sneers the enemies of Israel passed on to plots; from taunts to a mischievous conspiracy. They "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." This advance of theirs was brought about by their hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were "made up." The steadfast labour of the good led, incidentally, to the development of evil in the unholy. The relations of David with Saul, and of the Apostle Paul with his unbelieving countrymen, and, indeed, those of our Master himself with the religious leaders of his day, show that speaking the truth or doing the work of God may prove the occasion of the growth and outbreak of sin - the occasion, but not the responsible cause. We must not be deterred from speaking or doing the will and work of God by fear about incidental consequences on the part of the great enemy.
II. THE PERIL TO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH (vers. 10, 11, 12). The good work of Nehemiah was in serious danger from two causes: -
1. The craft and violence of its foes. The enemy said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease" (ver. 11). Here was force combined with subtlety; the enemy would surprise and slay them.
2. The faint-heartedness of its friends. Judah, from whom better things might have been expected, said, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed," etc. (ver. 10); and the neighbouring Jews who had come in to help kept saying ("ten times," ver. 12) that they must return, fearing the wrath of the Samaritans. In every work of God there are sure to be some if not "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). This we must expect whenever we "put our hand to the plough" in the field of Christian labour. And happy shall we be if we have not to contend with the feebleness and pusillanimity of our friends, fainting long before reaping-time (Galatians 6:9), or even shrinking at the first alarm, and talking about "giving up."
III. THE WISDOM OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. The first thing to do when the work of the Lord is threatened is that which Nehemiah did.
1. Mindfulness of God. "We made our prayer unto our God" (ver. 9). "Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible" (ver. 14). An appeal to him for help, and the recollection of the fact that "greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us." "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee," etc. (Psalm 50:15).
2. Realisation of the great issues which are at stake (ver. 14). "Fight for your brethren, your sons," etc. When we are working or fighting for the cause of God we are engaged on behalf of the truest, highest, and most enduring interests of those who are dearest to us, and of our own also. The cause of Christ is the cause of ourselves, of our families, of our country, as well as of our race.
3. Defence (vers. 16-18). We must fight as well as pray and work. Nehemiah's servants wrought with their weapon of defence in one hand and their instrument of labour in the other (ver. 17). Or, while one was building, his fellow stood ready behind with a spear to put at once into the labourer's hand. Usually our work is rather to build than to strike, but there are times when we must be ready to fight our foes or aid those who are engaged in conflict. In the wide field of the Church's work there is always some work for the Christian soldier as well as for the Christian labourer. Let the one be the cheerful and appreciative co-operator with the other. The spear and the trowel are both wanted. The apologist and the preacher, the theologian and the evangelist, are both accepted servants of Christ.
4. Vigilance (ver. 9). We "set a watch against them day and night." The Christian motto must ever be the memorable words, "Watch and pray."
5. Industry. Patient (ver. 21): "We laboured in the work... from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared." United (ver. 15): "All of us,... every one to his work." Self-forgetting (ver. 23): "None of us put off our clothes," etc.
6. Order (vers. 13, 19, 20). Everything was done in perfect order. Men were placed where most required (ver. 13); those whose homes were outside came in (ver. 22); arrangements were made to concentrate in case of attack (vers. 19, 20). All must work cordially under the human as well as under the Divine leader. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,
WEB: But it happened that when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabians, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem went forward, [and] that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very angry;