Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters…
Nehemiah, attended by a Persian escort, came safely to Jerusalem. The king had dealt liberally with him; he provided him with a military guard to protect him from the dangers of the road, and with letters of instruction to use at his journey's end (ver. 9). But the prophet soon found - what we all find soon enough - that the work we attempt for God can only be accomplished by triumphing over difficulty. The path of holy service lies over many a scorching plain, up many a steep mountain, along many a "slippery place." . Nehemiah's great obstacle was to be found in the virulent enmity of Sanballat and Tobiah. When these men heard of his arrival, "it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (ver. 10). Looking at this statement concerning these men, we notice -
I. THEIR COMPARATIVE INNOCENCY WHEN JUDGED BY HUMAN STANDARDS. At first thought it seems almost incredible that they should have been "grieved exceedingly" because a man had come to seek the welfare of their neighbours. But when we ask if Sanballat and Tobiah were so very much worse than mankind in general, we are compelled to own that theirs was but an instance of ordinary human selfishness. In every land and through every age men have been jealous of their rivals' prosperity. These men concluded that the elevation of Jerusalem virtually meant the depression of Samaria; that, indirectly, Nehemiah had come to lower the dignity if not to lessen the prosperity of their state, and they counted him an enemy. So have men argued everywhere even until now. Wars that were avowedly waged on some small pretext were really fought because one strong nation was jealous of the growing vigour of some neighbouring power. Not only nations, but tribes, families, societies, and (it must be sorrowfully admitted) Christian Churches have allowed themselves to be jealous of the growth of other nations, other tribes, other Churches, and have been grieved when men "sought" and promoted "their welfare." So general and widespread is this selfishness, taking the form of jealousy of the prosperity of others, that it is not for us to "cast the first stone" of bitter reproach. But we must see -
II. THEIR ACTUAL GUILT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. A selfish jealousy like this of Sanballat and Tobiah, a grief at the prosperity of neighbours and competitors, whether in the civil or religious world, is in the sight of God
(a) unrighteous. Our neighbours have every whit as much right to make the most of their powers and opportunities as we have of ours; to rise above us by lawful means as we to remain above them. We, as well as they, have received our heritage from men and from God, and we have no moral right to limit their success, or to object to their power, or be offended at their superiority.
(b) Short-sighted. We ought to understand that we are enriched by one another's prosperity. "We are members one of another, and should rejoice in one another's welfare. This is so with
(1) neighbouring nations;
(2) sister Churches;
(3) capital and labour;
(4) various contemporary industries.
The more one prospers, the more another will prosper too. If a man comes to "seek the welfare" of any "Israel," we should not be "exceedingly grieved," but heartily glad.
(c) Sinful. Though we may not denounce one another, we are all, together, under the condemnation of God. How can he be otherwise than grieved with us when we envy the welfare of our own brethren? That those who are children of the same Divine Father and members of the same family should wish ill to one another must vex his loving spirit.
(d) Something of which we shall live to be utterly ashamed. How many have to remember with shame that when men "came seeking the welfare of God's people," they were antagonistic when they should have been friendly. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.