COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 6:14 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. 15 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. 16 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.” (Neh 6:14-16)
In Nehemiah the promises of God are lived out before us. Some of them include, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). “For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth” (Rom 9:28). “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). The relationship of the book of Nehemiah to these promises is the reason for its inclusion in Scripture. (1) It confirms that what God starts He finishes. (2) It reveals that those who engage in God-ordained activity will be supported by God Himself. (3) It shows us that the enemies of God cannot overthrow the work of God, or thwart those who live by faith. (4) It manifests how God keeps the work going even though it is vigorously and cunningly opposed. The text before us affirms the completion of a seemingly impossible work within a time frame thought inconceivable by the flesh. The work was done well, and it had an calculated effect upon those who opposed it. God received glory both from the workers and their enemies. Surely there is much food for the soul in this text.
A PRAYER FOR GOD TO THINK UPON THEIR ENEMIES
“ 6:14 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.” The man of God has just dealt with Shemaiah, a hired false prophet. He has refused to meet with him talk with him, or accept his suggestions. He will not “walk in the counsel of the ungodly” or “stand in the way of sinners” (Psa 1:1). He will not allow his course of action to be dictated by those who are against the work and opposed to the Lord. Now, as was his consistent manner, he lifts the matter up to God in prayer.
MY GOD. This phrase is found eleven times in Nehemiah (2:8,12,18; 5:19; 6:14; 7:5; 13:14,22,29,31). This is not an admission of God’s Sovereignty, but an acknowledgment of personal submission to Him. In one sense, God is “over all” (2 Chron 20:6), and the Lord Jesus is as well (Rom 9:5) – whether those over whom They preside know it or not. But that is not the sense of this text. This is something into which Nehemiah has personally entered. He himself has believed the Lord, depended upon Him, and given himself to the work for Him. Now he pours out his soul to the One in whom he has lived, and moved, and had his being. God finds great delight in such prayers.
THINK UPON THEM. Other versions read “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat . . . ” Here is the proper response of the people of God to threats, oppositions, and intimidations. First, they must not yield to them. Second, they ought to respond in faith. Third, they must cast their care upon the Lord, depending upon Him to righteously adjudicate their cause.
Some additional information is included in this prayer. Nehemiah asks the Lord to think upon “the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets” who intended to put him in fear. We know nothing more of Noadiah the prophetess. There was also a man bearing this name, the son of Binnui, who is mentioned in the book of Ezra (Ezra 8:33). As for the other false prophets, we only know of Shemaiah. It is apparent, therefore, that Nehemiah did not record all of the oppositions they endured – only a sampling of them. He is a noble example of not accenting the foe, but the Lord – of not focusing on the opposition but He who is “for us.”
Notwithstanding, in Nehemiah we also see that those who oppose the work of the Lord are not simply ignored. Their presence is an effort of the wicked one to stop the work of God, and thus they are to be taken seriously. He also prayed against his opponents in the fourth chapter. “turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity” (4:4).
Holy men of God were unwilling to simply forget oppositions, treating them as though they did not exist. David prayed, “Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me” (Psa 36:11). Jeremiah prayed, “let me see Thy vengeance on them: for unto Thee have I revealed my cause” (Jer 11:20). Paul said, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Tim 4:14). None of these men took matters into their own hands. Yet, they did not go about their activities casually as though there were no opponents – no enemies lurking in the shadows.
When the work of the Lord is threatened by wicked people (and those are the only kind who threaten it) the saints must take their cause to the Lord. If His work is being done, the foe must be cast down. Nehemiah knows if the Lord but thinks upon Tobiah, Sanballat, Noadiah, and the rest of the opposing prophets, they will be judged, for God cannot abide the wicked. We must learn to reckon upon Divine reactions and not depend upon our own. “The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord” (Prov 15:9).
THEY WOULD HAVE PUT ME IN FEAR. The aim of these opponents was to strike fear into the heart of Nehemiah and the builders. That is, they sought to cause the workers to be more afraid of them than of failing to fulfill the commission of the Lord. This is another view of pleasing men, for seeking to please men is actually motivated by a fear of them. We must ever remember, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov 29:25). Under the Law the Lord said, “ye shall not be afraid of the face of man” (Deut 1:17). Speaking through Isaiah, the Lord challenged Israel: “who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, or the son of man which shall be made as grass?” (Isa 51:12). When Ezekiel was commissioned to bring a strong word of rebuke to the people, God told him, “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words . . . be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks” (Ezek 2:6). How nobly Nehemiah reacted to his enemies. We do well to do so also, not allowing them to intimidate us or bring the work of God to a grinding halt.
THE WALL WAS FINISHED IN FIFTY-TWO DAYS
“ 15 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.” What a glad announcement this is! What God had put into Nehemiah’s heart to do had been done! It had not been done under favorable circumstances, but it was still done! There were oppositions and discouragements, but it was still done!
THE MAGNITUDE OF THE WORK. It is probable that the circumference of this wall was four miles at the least, and four and six tenths miles at the most. There were forty-two working parties, or groups, engaged in the rebuilding. On the average, each group was responsible for around 170 yards of the wall – although some were more, and some were less. That means that on the average, each group had to complete about four yards of the wall each day. Take into account that they probably did not work on the Sabbath days, which would have been at least seven. There was a brief interruption of one or two days when the enemies threatened to attack them (4:13-15). Add to that the continual harassment of the enemy, and you see what a remarkable work this was.
HINDERING INFLUENCES. It may be well to briefly rehearse some of the hindering influences that threatened the completion of the work. This will confirm to our hearts that the work of the Lord is not always accomplished under pleasant circumstances.
1. At the very beginning, Sanballot and Tobiah were “grieved exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10).
2. The discouraging view of the walls and gates during Nehemiah’s assessment (2:11-16).
3. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem laugh them to scorn, despising them and suggesting they are planning to rebel against the king (2:19).
4. Sanballat heard the building had begun, was angry, took great indignation, and mocked them (4:1).
5. Sanballat spoke to his brethren and the army of Samaria saying “What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” (4:2).
6. Tobiah scoffs at the work saying, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (4:3).
7. Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabians, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites conspire to come together and fight against Jerusalem (4:7-8).
8. The men of Judah declared, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (4:10)
9. The adversaries said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (4:11).
10. The Jews who lived close to the enemy said ten times, “From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you” (4:12).
11. There came a time when half of the servants had to stand with weapons while the other half worked on the wall (4:16).
12. The builders and those who carried burdens had to work with one hand and hold a weapon with the other (4:17).
13. While they worked, they had to listen for the trumpet of warning, at which time they had to rally together to fight (4:20).
14. The workers labored every day from the rising of the sun until the stars appeared (4:21).
15. The people had to move within the city of Jerusalem, leaving their homes (4:22).
16. No one put off their clothes, except to wash them (4:23).
17. A great cry arose among the people because their own rulers were causing them to mortgage their lands, and even sell their children to obtain food (5:1-5).
18. Nehemiah consults with himself, rebukes the nobles, and corrects the problem (5:6-13).
19. Nehemiah personally redeemed brethren who were sold, cared daily for 150 Jews, and entertained strangers who came to the city (5:8,17-18).
20. Sanballat and Geshem attempt to get Nehemiah to meet them in Ono (6:1-2).
21. Sanballat and Geshem continue this attempt four more times (6:3).
22. Sanballat sends an open letter saying he will report Nehemiah is trying to be the king, and is planning a rebellion against the king (6:5-7).
23. Shemaiah, hired by Sanballat and Tobiah, tries to lure Nehemiah from the work into the temple for safety (6:10-13)
YET, IN SPITE OF ALL OF THIS OPPOSITION, THE WALL WAS COMPLETED IN FIFTY-TWO DAYS. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD.
A REPORT, ITS EFFECT, AND THEIR PERCEPTION
“ 16 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.” When the work of God is actually done, it has a calculated effect upon those who oppose it. Much of the congeniality toward the professed church of our day is because of its failure to do the work of the Lord. The enemies of the Lord are not intimidated by much of what is being done in the name of Christian, and therefore has no difficulty tolerating it.
Such was not the case with John the Baptist (Matt 17:12-13), the Lord Jesus Christ (John 7:1), the twelve Apostles (Acts 5:18), or Paul (2 Cor 11:23-27). Their work was so distinct that its conflict with the course of this world was apparent. This kind of distinction is exceedingly rare in our day. It is difficult to differentiate between the church and the world, its manners and those of the world, its music and that of the world, its emphasis and that of the world, and its leaders and those of the world.
But this was NOT the case with Nehemiah! Until he came to Judah, people had been content to leave the walls in a deteriorated state. The Jewish leaders thought nothing of imposing hardship on their brethren. The heathen around them saw nothing threatening in the Jews. But after Nehemiah came, the whole situation suddenly changed. The people became united and eager to work. They were ready to fight for their brethrem, wives, and little ones. Injustices among the people were corrected. No one could lure the people from their work, or cause them to hide in fear. All of this had a undeniable impact upon the enemies of the Jews, and opponents of their good work.
ALL OUR ENEMIES AND ALL THE HEATHEN. The “enemies” of the Jews had different names, and came from different nations. They had different occupations, and some of them even lived close to the Jews. But there was really no difference between them. They were simply constituted “all our enemies.” They were as united against the work as the Jews were combined in it. As for the nations about them, whether they were Arabians, Ammonites, Ashdodites, or Samaritans, they were appropriately called “all the heathen.” In addition, there were also Phoenicians, Syrians, and Moabites around them. These were all those who knew not God, had no heart for His work, and no love for His people. The people of God must know how to appropriately classify people. Everyone is not the same. There are enemies who think nothing of openly opposing us, and heathen who simply are unacquainted with the God we serve. We must not be blind to these distinctions.
THEY WERE MUCH CAST DOWN. The very work that exhilarated the Jews, cast down their enemies and the heathen. They were grieved when Nehemiah came, and “much cast down” when the work was finished. They had scoffed, jeered, threatened, and sought to fight against the work – and all to no avail. They had sought to frustrate the Jews, but they had been frustrated instead. It is no wonder they were “much cast down.” Not only was their countenance “cast down,” their purposes had been hurled to the ground. Though they were united, their cause had not prospered.
In them the following was fulfilled. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered” (Prov 11:21). “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished” (Prov 16:5). The thwarting of their objectives was but a prelude to their future and sure punishment. When God causes the purposes of the wicked to fail, it must be perceived as a portent of a greater judgment that awaits them in the last day.
FOR THEY PERCEIVED GOD WROUGHT THE WORK. It was evident to their enemies, that the Jews had been supported and held up by the God of heaven. The work was too large, and the people were too feeble for this work to have been accomplished independently of the Lord.
One of the tests of whether or not a cause is from the Lord is if it is completed. Even Gamaliel knew this. When the Jewish leaders opposed the Apostles, he raised a voice of dissent. “Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
The thing that caused the enemies and heathen to be cast down was not merely that the wall was finished. Rather, it was because it became apparent to them that God was in the matter. By necessary inference, that meant He was against them, their words, and their ways. Before Nehemiah, they had only contended with the Jews. Now God was against them!