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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Nehemiah 4

 

 

Verses 1-23

WHEN THE WORK of building was really started, the anger and opposition of the adversaries was much increased, as chapter 4 records. All this was expressed in a threefold way. First there was mockery. The Jews were indeed feeble and their work of reviving 'the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned', did seem a fantastic enterprise, and the adversaries made the most of it by way of ridicule. But further there was misrepresentation, regarding the objects before them in their work; and then the opposition took an active form in preparation to intervene by force, and fight against them.

We may trace similar opposition by the great adversary in this our Gospel age. We see it in the service of the Apostle Paul. Delivering his message in cultured Athens, he was derided as a 'babbler', (Acts 17:18). Again before Festus he was considered 'mad' (Acts 26:24). Here was ridicule. In Thessalonica there was misrepresentation, for he was imagined to be turning 'the world upside down', and doing things, 'contrary to the decrees of Caesar' (Acts 17:6, Acts 17:7). Neither assertion was true. The Gospel leaves the world-system untouched, but calls individuals out of the world, turning them right side up, according to God. Then the violent opposition of the adversary was seen in the sufferings he had to endure, a list of which he was inspired to place on record in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. If we in our day were more energetic and more faithful in our service for the Lord Jesus, we should doubtless know more of all three things.

In the latter part of the chapter we learn the measures that were taken in the presence of all this. First of all there was prayer made to God, as verse Nehemiah 4:9 records. A very right move! Nehemiah began with prayer, as we saw at the start of the story, and in a prayerful spirit they continued. Have we not often made the mistake in some emergency of taking certain steps that to us seemed reasonable and prudent, and then praying afterwards that God would bless what we have done. In His mercy He may so bless. but we should have done better if we had prayed first.

Then they faced the difficulties of the work. There was much rubbish that hindered and caused the strength of workers to fail, and the adversaries prepared to attack them. We venture to draw an analogy here. Their work was one of revival-reviving the wall that separated the temple of God from the outside world. In the mercy of God various revivals have been granted in the history of the professing church, and every time there has been more or less 'rubbish', that needed to be removed. What a terrible accumulation of worldly and moral rubbish, for instance, had been heaped up by Papal Rome, during the thousand years or more, that preceded the revival, that we speak of as the Reformation. And not all by any means, was actually removed then; the strength of the workers failed before it was accomplished. We Christians have always to watch against the accumulation of this kind of rubbish.

Then the opponents threatened actual attack of a violent sort, and against this the Jews armed themselves. In their case of course such arms as the world then used -spears, swords, etc.-were taken both by the would-be attackers and the defenders. In our age the more dangerous form of attack is of a spiritual sort. Servants of God, even in our day, have been slain, but 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church', which has been proved again and again. The sword to be used, in meeting the spiritual attack, is 'the word of God', as plainly declared in Ephesians 6:17, where the spiritual conflict is stressed.

In English-speaking lands, where religious liberty is freely granted, the conflict side of Christian life is apt to be overlooked, and the idea entertained that our pilgrimage to a joyous heaven is to be happy and serene. But such is not the prospect held out in Scripture. We are not only pilgrims but also disciples, who are called to take up our cross in following our rejected Lord, and as identified with Him, conflict is inevitable. As 'a good soldier of Jesus Christ' we are to 'endure hardness' (2 Timothy 2:3), consequently the protective armour of Ephesians 6:1-24 is needed, as well as the 'sword of the Spirit', for offensive action.

The courage that marked Nehemiah and his helpers is seen very clearly in verse Nehemiah 4:14; a courage which sprang from the call to 'remember the Lord, which is great and terrible', who was on their side. The result was that the building of the wall did not cease, though perhaps it proceeded more slowly, since defence was necessary. The workers, whether bearers of burdens or builders, had to carry weapons, and so each had only one hand for the work, the other holding a sword. Thus it is stated in verse 17.

Thus too it has been during the church's history, even to our own times. True servants of God have always had to spend a substantial portion of their time and energy in defence of the truth. From the beginning the apostles had not only to evangelize and teach the truth; they had to spend much time in defending it from the attacks of the adversary, as the epistles bear witness. There was, if we remember aright, not so long ago a magazine entitled 'Sword and Trowel', produced by the well known C. H. Spurgeon, who with all his preaching gift had to contend earnestly for the faith in his closing days. The title of the magazine was doubtless taken from the chapter we are considering. The truth is worth contending for. If we lose it we lose practically everything. So let us each see to it that in a spiritual sense we have a sword in one hand, while in the other we have a trowel, wherewith to do the work of the Lord.

At the end of our chapter we notice another thing. Beside the sword and the trowel there was the trumpet, which was to be blown when an alarm was necessary. The work was great and large, so that the workers were widely separated, one from the other, yet they were one in the work, and not a number of disconnected individuals. Hence what endangered one endangered all, and their unity in the work was to be preserved. Here again we see an important lesson, that we very much need to bear in mind, in order to act on it.

This oneness of action in the service of God is specially important for us, and that for two reasons. First, because the oneness of saints today, brought into the church of God, is much more fully stressed than it was with the twelve tribes of Israel. This is seen in the Ephesian epistle-read Ephesians 2:14-18, where the word 'one' occurs four times; and Ephesians 4:3-6, where it occurs seven times. Second, because the present service of God is so varied, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. There is great diversity in the unity, so that the human body is used to illustrate it, and no one member can dispense with the service of another without damage and loss. The trumpet on the walls of Jerusalem reminds us that if the enemy set himself to attack one of the small groups of workers, he was really attacking all.

In the closing verse of our chapter we get a glimpse of the great zeal and devotion that characterized Nehemiah and his helpers. All of them were to lodge inside Jerusalem, thus obtaining such protection as the partly built walls could offer, and none of them put off their clothes, so as to sleep with comfort by night, though they removed them for personal cleanliness. They were therefore always ready to labour in the work and to meet the foe. A very impressive picture!

Vigilance and purity are two things very necessary for us. We see them impressed on Timothy by Paul. If we read 2 Timothy 2:21, we find he was to be vigilant as to error of a fundamental sort, and 'purge' himself out from it. Then, reading the next verse, we find he was to 'flee also youthful lusts', so that his personal cleanliness might be maintained, in a spiritual way.

And the instructions given to Timothy in the first century are in this twentieth century equally important for us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/nehemiah-4.html. 1947.

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