COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 4:22 Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labor on the day. 23 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 for washing.” (Neh 4:22-23)
Although work on the wall has become complicated because of threats from their enemies, Nehemiah’s builders work, and those holding spears watched, from the rising of the sun until the stars appeared. Although working zealously and with precision, they are also a state of alertness, listening for the sound of the trumpet that would call them together to defend their work. The spirit of the people has been so elevated that they are able to watch and work simultaneously, remaining strong and encouraged. Also, the knowledge that God would fight for them brought the confidence required to work heartily, listen with a keen ear, and be watchful. What appeared to be an advantage for their enemies, has now turned to the advantage of the builders. Their work has not distracted them from watching for their enemies, nor has it allowed a door of opportunity for them to enter their ranks undetected. This is a most remarkable circumstance from which all manner of edification can be derived. Always thinking about the project God has put in his heart, Nehemiah is given to see yet another aspect of their state of readiness. While they are working, he will deliver another stirring admonition that will assist them to complete their work to the glory of God. The aim is for the work to be brought to completion.
LODGING IN JERUSALEM
“ 4:22a Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem . . . ” The more people are involved in the work of the Lord, the more perceptive they become. In the Kingdom of God, vision increases as involvement increases. It is within the framework of participation that our understanding becomes more fruitful and our capacities are enhanced. This is precisely why we have been “called into the fellowship” of God’s “Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). Many a person has failed to grow in the Lord simply because they chose to live apart from constant communion with Christ. Although it is not generally known, God will not allow a person to advance in spiritual growth, or “go on to perfection,” if they choose to ignore His Son. This principle is being lived out in our text. The more the people are involved in the work of the Lord, the more they are able to see what is required for it to be completed.
AT THE SAME TIME. The “same time” was when the builders and those holding the spears were continuing their activity from the rising of the sun until the stars appeared. Nehemiah admonished the people while they were diligently working. Again, the versatility of faith is seen – how it awakens every human capacity, and brings new ones from the Lord. They labored with their hands, with swords strapped to their sides, ears listening for the sound of the rallying trumpet, and taking in the words of Nehemiah as well. Those holding the spears had to keep their weapons in a state of readiness, also listen for the trumpet, be watchful for any encroachment of the enemy, and listen to Nehemiah as well. Without lingering long on this point, this reveals one of the key advantages to living within the framework of the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2).
LODGE WITHIN JERUSALEM. Other versions read, “At the same time I also said to the people, Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem,” NKJV “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night.” NIV and “I also told everyone living outside the walls to move into Jerusalem.” NLT Before this, the nighttime became a period of vulnerability. The people, with their servants, returned to their homes, thus becoming scattered and subject to attack during the night hours. Too, the work would be left unattended, except for the people who lived near the wall itself, like Jedaiah (3:10), Eliashib (3:20), Benjamin and Hashub (3:23), Azariah (3:24), and the priests (3:28). Those few who lived within the walls were not sufficient to protect the work. Thus, the workers and their servants were to move within the perimeter of the work, so that they were never far away from the work of the Lord.
An Application. This is a most vivid picture of the nature of spiritual life. One of the many unique aspects of the New Covenant is that the people live within the confines of their faith. Under the Law, the normalities of life were not associated directly with the Lord. Rather than the manner of life being determined by one’s fellowship with God, they were regulated by Divinely imposed laws or rules. Unless the individually was most unusual – like David, or the Prophets – little association could be made between the various laws for human conduct and the God who gave them. Thus people tended to honor God with their lips, while their heart was far from Him (Matt 15:8). This circumstance is one of the primary reasons why the Sabbath day was strictly enforced. On that day the people ceased from all competing activities, and gave honor to the Lord Himself. The people were told, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8). Their condition was much like that of Nehemiah’s builders before this exhortation. There came a time when they departed from the Lord’s work and from their awareness of Him. They did not LIVE in their religion, but only visited it for toilsome work.
In Christ, we are given to move into the city, so to speak. We do not leave our religion to engage in the normal pursuits of earthly life. Instead, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). To put it another way, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col 3:17). That is like moving into Jerusalem. It is living in a constant awareness of the Lord, associating Him with everything we say and do.
There is something else of interest in this text. When the Jews returned during the time of Zerubbabel , there was one servant to every six Israelites. There were 42,360 Jews and 7,337 servants (Ezra 2:64-65). Now, Nehemiah speaks of “every one with his servant.” In this we can see yet another principle. The closer the Israelites came to Jerusalem, and the longer they remained in that vicinity, the more they prospered. That is also a picture of spiritual life. Out advancement is contingent upon living close to and in the Lord.
WATCHING IN THE NIGHT, WORKING IN THE DAY
“ 22b . . . that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labor on the day.” Other versions read, “so that they can serve as guards by night, and workman by night,” NIV and “so that they might serve as a guard by night and a working force by day.” NAB
WATCHING IN THE NIGHT. It is not that everyone stayed awake throughout the night. Nehemiah had already “set a watch” against the enemy “day and night” (4:9). Also, arrangements had been made for a trumpet to be sounded at the very moment and place of attack (4:20). Now Nehemiah instructs everyone to stay within the confines of the city, so they could rally to the sound of the trumpet instantly, not coming from a great distance. Like a mother with a sick child, they were to sleep lightly, with their ear tuned to the trumpet sound. Their minds, so to speak, were in the day, even though their bodies were in the night. The very fact that they would be spending the night in Jerusalem would contribute to this alertness.
You may recall that Jesus came to the disciples during the fourth watch of the night, walking on the sea. During that time – the fourth watch of the night – they were “toiling in rowing” (Mark 6:48). They were alert, and consequently obtained deliverance. Paul was alert during the night, and was instructed on what do during a vision at that time (Acts 16:9). The same thing occurred in Corinth, when he was instructed what to do during the night (1 Cor 18:9). Again, during a storm at sea, Paul was instructed during the night (Acts 23:11). Similarly, the saints are instructed concerning readiness at night: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). All of this is pictured in this account.
WORKING IN THE DAY. During the day, the work continued – when vision was the best. When the sun is up, it is time to work. To put it another way, when we see things more plainly, it is time to put our hand on the plow, labor in the vineyard, and build on the temple. Jesus once said of the day, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). In Christ, we become “children of the day,” and consequently “are not of the night” (1 Thess 5:5). Like Nehemiah’s builders, our primary activity is working, and we watch so that we can finish our work.
ADJUSTING TAKES TIME. One of the advantages of moving into Jerusalem was the elimination of great time adjustments. It took time to get to Jerusalem from their homes, as well as time to go from the city to their homes. It also consumed energy needed for the work and an instant response to the sound of the trumpet. Adjusting takes time! Many a soul, insensitive of this reality, is constantly trying to make the adjustment from the flesh to the Spirit. They are always attempting to jump from one of these zones to another. When they come into the fellowship of the saints, they have to make a big adjustment. When they go to their place of employment or other activity, they have to make another big adjustment. Attempting to live in such a manner tends to wear out the saints, causing them to be unproductive, unalert, and spiritually starved.
Far better to “live by faith” (Heb 10:38) and “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). This is like moving into Jerusalem. Salvation makes full provision for us to live in this manner. In Christ, no facet of life, regardless of how minuscule it may appear, needs to be lived apart from faith, separate from the Spirit, or without offering it up to the Lord. When we live in this manner, we can watch during the night, and work during the day. We will not be caught off guard by the attacks of the enemy, or miss an opportunity to join in the work of the Lord. We will not be set back by enemy assaults, nor will the work of the Lord suffer because of us. For us, moving into Jerusalem is walking in the light (1 John 1:7), enjoying the communion of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14), and having fellowship with both the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). It is refusing to disconnect any part of our life from God.
It is true that this is an obligation – but it is infinitely more than that. This is the framework in which spiritual growth takes place. That is, living every part of our lives with the Lord in mind is like the soil in which plants grow. This is the wall within which prayer is answered and supplies for the soul are obtained. Moving into Jerusalem parallels with “the knowledge of God” within the New Covenant, and “the knowledge of God” is like Jerusalem. Grace and peace are ministered to us within the framework of the knowledge of God (2 Pet 1:2). That is the environment in which we are made safe, escaping the world’s pollution (2 Pet 2:20). Everything that pertains to life and godliness is ministered to us “through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Pet 1:3). Have you considered moving into Jerusalem, and staying there – where the glory of God resides?
“ 22 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 for washing.” Here there is a significant difference in some of the translations – particularly regarding the last part of the verse. “. . . none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water,” NASB “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water,” NIV and “. . . ever took off our clothes; each kept his weapon in his right hand.” NRSV There is no need for confusion on this text. The emphasis is that everyone kept their clothes on during the night, even sleeping in them. Because their swords were strapped to their sides (4:18), they kept them on as well. The only time their clothes were removed was for washing – and even then they kept hold of their sword. That is the sense of the text, and I will proceed with that in mind.
NEITHER I. Here we see that Nehemiah was thoroughly identified with the project. He did not stand on a hill far away, living by a different set of principles. He, together with his brothers (1:2), his servants (4:16; 5:10,16; 13:19), and his personal guards lived by the same rule. In the matter of the work, and their commitment to it, they were united. Like the warriors of Zebulun, they were all “men which could keep rank,” and “were not of double heart” (1 Chron 12:33). They were of the same heart and spirit as the builders.
NONE OF US PUT OFF OUR CLOTHES. They slept in their clothes, prepared to engage in battle at a moments notice. This was not a time for convenience, but required the utmost vigilance. They were not like the woman of Solomon’s Song. When her beloved bid her to open the door to him, she was not ready. She arose to perfume herself and make herself prepare for him. However, when she finally opened the door, she confessed, “I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone . . . ” (Song 5:6). Like the five foolish virgins, she was not ready (Matt 25:8-12).
But Nehemiah and his men will not allow such a condition to arise in them. They slept in a state of readiness, with their clothes on. In this regard, they were like the Israelites getting ready to leave Egypt. At the midnight hour, they were found “with [their] loins girded, [their] shoes on [their] feet, and [their] staff in [their] hand” (Ex 12:11).
FOR WASHING. The only time these men put off their clothes was when they washed – for purposes of cleansing. The washing can refer to the clothes, or to their bodies. I prefer to think it includes both themselves and their garments. Under the law, washing the clothes was often emphasized. Prior to the receiving of the Law, the Lord told the people to “wash their clothes” (Ex 19:10). There were also all manner of ceremonial washing of clothing (Lev 11,13,14,15,16). Some ceremonial uncleanness could have required washing the clothes, as in Leviticus 15:5-10). Whether it was the cleansing of the body or the clothing, or both, the point is that clothing was only removed for cleansing. Otherwise, their garments were kept on, whether awake or asleep.
APPLICATION. There is a beautiful picture of salvation in this account, and it is surely not by coincidence. There is clothing for the soul appropriately called “garments of salvation” (Isa 61:10) and “beautiful garments” (Isa 52:1). The saints are said to be granted, or given, to be “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.” That clothing is declared to be “the righteousness of saints”(Rev 19:8). His is not soul-clothing to be worn only at certain times. Like Nehemiah’s workers, it is to be worn at all times – during the working time of day, and the resting time of night. We are never to be found without it. This is not clothing for certain time, but clothing for life. There is not a single facet of life in which it is not essential, or in which we can be without it. It is like “the whole armor of God,” which is to be “put on,” not put off (Eph 6:10).
For the child of God, there is also the matter of cleansing, or washing. There is a sense in which this cleansing is continual. As it is written, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Thus, as we live in fellowship with the Son, or walking in the light, a continual washing is experienced. Old manners and inclinations are washed from us in the blazing light of the glory of God. But there is also the more deliberate washing, when we “confess our sins,” experiencing the just forgiveness and cleansing of the Lord (1 John 1:9). These are times when we are not engaged in the battle itself, but have to do with the Lord alone. They are necessary to our state of readiness, and must not be neglected. Thus, the child of God must be able to master a number of things at the same time, including working, watching, listening, and cleansing.