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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Verses 1-11

Nehemiah 1

"The words of Nehemiah , the son of Hachaliah" ( Nehemiah 1:1).

The Message to Nehemiah

WHAT should we imagine was coming from such an opening of a book? We should naturally suppose that we were about to hear an ordinary narrative—to listen to the contemplations and reflections of a literary man. He is simply about to say something—he promises nothing more than words— yet out of this very simple and humble beginning we have one of the most remarkable stories of activity that can be found in any writing. Words are more than we think—everything depends on the speaker. To some persons life appears to be only an affair of words, syllables, empty utterances—that is to say, they are people who must talk: they have a good deal to say about nothing, and they say nothing about it, and their life is thus summed up as mere gabblers and gossips, speakers without a speech, words with no battles behind them. These, however, are the words of Nehemiah , the governor of Judah and Jerusalem. When such a man speaks, he means to do something—his purpose is always practical, but he thinks it needful to lay down a good strong basis of explanation, that people may understand clearly why he began to work and upon what principles he proceeded.

Nehemiah lived in a very wonderful time. If we could have called together into one great council all the great men who lived within the eighty years which were the measure of Nehemiah"s own life, we should have had one of the most wonderful councils that ever assembled under heaven. There is Nehemiah in the middle; yonder is Æschylus writing his tragedies in Athens; Democritus elaborating a philosophy whose atomism and materialism are coming up as the originalities of our own day; Aristophanes elaborating his wonderful comedies; Herodotus writing his gossipy history, and Thucydides writing a history marked by much majesty. And bring also into this symposium Plato and Socrates and other of the most notable men that ever led the civilised world—they were all living within that same span of eighty years, yet what different lives they were pursuing! The words of the comedy-writer were words only; the words of the great tragic composer were only words—with a keener accent, however; but the words of Nehemiah meant strife, contention, the assertion of right, patriotism, battle—if need be, the reclamation of a lost cause, the leading of a forlorn hope. What do our words mean? Do we purpose to carry out our words? Are they words that culminate in covenants, or mere empty syllables used for jangling in the air? If we did but know it, a word should have blood in it—a word should be part of our innermost heart; a word should be a bond; a saying should be a seal; an utterance should be a pledge made sacred with all the resources and all the responsibilities of life.

"And it came to pass [rather, Now it came to pass] in the month Chisleu [the ninth month, corresponding to the end of November and beginning of December (see Zechariah 7:1)], in the twentieth year [i.e. of Artaxerxes (comp. ch. Nehemiah 2:1)], as I was in Shushan the palace" [comp. Ezekiel 1:2, Ezekiel 1:5, etc.; Daniel 8:2. Shushan, or Susa, was the ordinary residence of the Persian kings. "The palace," or acropolis, was a distinct quarter of the city, occupying an artificial eminence] ( Nehemiah 1:1).

It was in the very grey December time that the message came. It was about our midwinter that the messenger arrived in Persia. How does it come that we set down some days as the beginning of other dates? We call them red-letter days—they are memorable points in our poor changing story. "Twas the day when your mother died; "twas the day when the poor little child had that serious accident which threatened its life; "twas that crisis in your commercial affairs when you did not know but that the morrow would find you a beggar; "twas just as you were pulling your foot out of that pit of long affliction which you thought would have swallowed you up; and you date from these occurrences, landmarks, memorable points, eras in your story. And Nehemiah never could forget that December day when Hanani came, and he asked him that all-important question we are now about to consider.

"Hanani, one of my brethren [comp. ch. Daniel 7:2. Hanani seems to have been an actual brother of Nehemiah], came [i.e. arrived at Susa from Jerusalem], he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem" ( Nehemiah 1:2).

What do we know of Hanani? History is full of nobodies. The story of human life is a story of obscurities. It is the nobodies that create the renown of the great men, and yet the great men treat the nobodies as so many mats on which to wipe their feet Hanani was a very ordinary man—historically viewed he is indeed nowhere. This is probably about the only occasion upon which his name occurs, and yet that man brought a torch and set fire to a nobler life; and that is what we may do: we can relate the difficulty of things to greater men than ourselves—we can drop a story into their ears, we can tell what we have seen and heard and felt and experienced. We know not to whom we are speaking, and no man can measure the full effect of his own words. If, therefore, we are nobodies in ourselves, yet if we confine our attention to those things we know, we are powerful in proportion as we keep within the limit of knowledge. A weak Prayer of Manasseh , an intellectually weak Prayer of Manasseh , keeping himself within the line of facts which he can personally attest, is more powerful than a far nobler intellect than his own, that is prone to overstep its own boundaries, and to trespass upon fields whose entrance is forbidden. The difficulty with some people is this—that they will not tell a plain straightforward tale of facts. They are not unwilling to go to a meeting and recite verses of somebody else"s poetry, and that they call contributing a quota to the entertainment. If you would simply tell the plain straightforward history of your own heart, you would find that assemblies would melt under your pathos. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." What do you know about the great truths that gather round the name of Christ? What have you felt of the power of the gospel? What have been your resources and defences in the day of temptation? How did you answer the devil when he fell back before you, blanched and vanquished? If you would tell these things you would be amongst the best preachers—speaking naturally, pathetically, really, tenderly, and many a Prayer of Manasseh , far greater than you are, personally, might be set aflame from your simple saying.

Let the young man take a hint from that fact. Where you can, drop a word: if it is only one word so much the better. Rest assured of this—let me fall back on no authority that may not have grown out of my own varied experience—that it is better to speak one word than to speak a hundred. Keep within your own knowledge, as the poor man did whose eyes had been recovered. There were decoy-ducks that wanted to lead him off into fields adjacent, and he said, "No, no." They said, "We do not know who this man is who has cured your eyes (we say apparently, we do not say really), we never heard of him, he does not belong to our sect, he is not a member of our club, he is not marked with our chalk—we do not know this fellow." He said, "Why, here is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he Isaiah , and yet he hath opened mine eyes! Whether he be a sinner or not, I know not; one thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see." And with that one word, he cut their backs into ridges, flogged them all, and drove them out of his presence. Stand to what you know, however simple the story. You may find in the long run that even a stone picked out of a brook may fell a giant and kill him.

Hanani was nobody: he had a hearer in Nehemiah , who was an army himself. He set fire to the right sort of Prayer of Manasseh , and what that man did will appear as we proceed in this vivid and stimulating story.

"I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped."

How indestructible is love! "I am in favour with great Artaxerxes—I am cupbearer to the king—the king likes me—the king speaks familiarly to me—my bread is buttered on both sides for life—I will not ask this envoy who has come to Persia anything about the Jews; I will forget the past, I will live in the sunnier present." Was it so that Nehemiah spoke? No, he spoke very softly; his was a wonderful voice,—there was a rare power of penetration in that whisper of his. He hardly speaks above his breath, yet his breath searches Hanani through and through. He says, "How about the Jews, my brethren, and about those that escaped—the poor remnant; and how about the dear old city; and what about Zion, loved of God? Have you heard anything; can you tell me anything?" This is the indestructibleness of love. If you had had a child in that great crisis of history whose life had been in peril, whom you had not seen for dreary months, you could not have asked more tenderly about the child"s life than Nehemiah the cupbearer of the Persian king asked about Zion and the places of the dear old footprints. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning."

Unless we have enthusiasm we can have no progress. If you belong to a church, and do not love every inch of the old walls, why, then there is no pith in you. Let us have enthusiasm and rapturous attachment to persons, places, ideas, programmes. Let every heart have a Zion for which it would die. Nehemiah had passion in his heart, enthusiasm in his blood; a man of fine, high, keen temper, and the old old days were singing in the chambers of his memory. When he saw anybody from the old place, he felt they were sacred because of the air they had last breathed, and he asked from them tidings of the things that were dearest to his heart. Would to God that the Church of Christ would recover its enthusiasm—its deep, pathetic, tender love of sacred things; we should now and then hear its voice above a whimper; now and then the loudest thunder in the air would be issuing from the Church, singing proudly its holy anthem,—rapturously its great majestic paean.

When Nehemiah heard the story, what happened?

"It came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept" ( Nehemiah 1:4).

Exactly what we might have expected from the temperament and the pith of that man. A man is not weak because he sits down to cry now and then. There are some tears that are dreadful—some tears that will harden into bars and bolts and be heard of again in sharp encounters. What are our tears? Nehemiah"s words were battles, and his tears may be said to have been the ammunition of war. Are we all words and tears? Is there no stroke behind? no activity, no force? What are we doing? Could we hear of sacred places being burned down without shedding a single tear for them? Could we hear of St. Paul"s cathedral being burned down without feeling that we had sustained an irreparable loss? and if anything happened to that grand old Abbey at Westminster we should feel as if we had lost a sacred place—a sanctuary, and as if it were every Englishman"s duty to help to put it up again. No, he never could put it up again! There are some men who never could be replaced; some structures never can be substituted. Let us have pathos of nature, enthusiasm, passion, feeling! Let us care for something; that care for something may be our salvation some day. It is out of such smoking flax that God causes the fire of high consecration to burn.

And whilst he wept he prayed. He said:

"I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant" ( Nehemiah 1:5-6).

Sometimes we are shut up in prayer. When we are, we are inclined to debate the whole subject, as we call it—the whole subject of prayer. But when the Zion of our heart is thrown down, the dearest life of our whole circle is torn out, when we are blind with tears and weak because of bereavement, then we do not debate about prayer—we pray. If you want to prove the hollowness of prayer, do your best to pray sincerely for seven years at a time, and that is the way either to confirm or to upset the whole doctrine of prayer. To have told Nehemiah at this time not to pray would have only exposed the speaker to the charge of insanity. There are times when the heart takes everything into its own care and into its own keeping, and when prayer bursts from the heart irrepressibly. And it is in these agonies, in these tragic hours, in these blood-shedding moments, that we can tell whether prayer is a conception of the fancy or a necessity of the heart. How true and beautiful is that priestly element in a man"s nature—for we contend that every man"s constitution is touched with tragic circumstances—when conditions in which he is personally most keenly interested are pressed upon his attention.

"Then I stood and prayed,"—the natural priest, not ordained of man. As Macaulay said of the Puritans, so we may say of this praying Nehemiah: "He is a priest, not of man"s ordination, but by the imposition of a mightier hand." Have you ever prayed for anybody? Has the priest that is in you, in the best sense of the term, in the sense of intercession, mediation, longing desire to serve somebody, ever risen up to plead one cause with God? If Song of Solomon , in that high attitude you realise, so far as your poor nature can reach him, the true conception of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."

What does Nehemiah do in relation to this matter? He takes the case to head-quarters at once, and in doing so he openly, minutely, fully, exhaustively, unreservedly, confesses guilt. That is the first thing to be done in any case. Did Nehemiah say, "Lord, we have been badly used: in the course of this controversy with Babylon we have suffered as the weak suffer under the hand of the strong. We have not deserved our punishment; it has been our misfortune rather than our fault to find ourselves in these circumstances; now be good enough to look upon us and help us in this hour of undeserved calamity"? Was that his prayer, was that his intercession, was that his supplication? It would have died before it reached the roof of his own chamber; that is not the prayer that throws back the doors of the kingdom of heaven. The man shed as it were great drops of blood, and his whole heart was in his desire, and he spoke in anguish, with that clear, keen, poignant voice that would find its way through the interstices of the stars, and make God hear. How have you prayed? Artistically, formally, conventionally? You never sent out the heart as a keen cry of unsupportable agony to God for anything that was consistent for him to give and good for you to receive without that cry coming back, dove-like, with a branch from some tree in heaven. Nehemiah"s was a model confession. There was no disguise, no reserve. He made a clean breast of it. Do you the same, about your theft, and your lying, and your untruthfulness in every way, and your dishonourableness. Set a window of the most beautiful transparent glass right in the very middle of your breast, that all that is going on there may be seen. Confess it, and confession itself is half restoration. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Whilst we confess he remits. But there is no peace to the wicked. If you are keeping back any part of the price, he will keep back the whole of the blessing.

Now, he said, I will go and see the king. "Grant me mercy in the sight of this Prayer of Manasseh , O Lord." I will do something. And it came to pass in the month Nisan that he went in—about the same time as our March. He got the news in December, and for three months he kept it like a fire in his bones. Well, it does seem as if in March we could speak about better things. Has the spring any effect upon us? It does seem that about March or April, when the blossoms are just beginning to peep out here and there, as if we too—nobler trees—should be putting forth our vows, and resolutions, and purposes. We do not wonder that men should at such a time be speaking things that they had in their hearts in the cold December, and seeking to realise them in some beautiful and useful way. We cannot always speak the thing that is in us. Some things want three months" musing and meditation and turning over. "I mused in my heart, and the fire burned; then spake I with my tongue," and that which was buried in our hearts in December snow awoke up in the March breezes and longer light of the opening year, and shed itself into those who were about us.

How long has the vow to serve Christ been in your heart? Where is the vow now? We fear lest you should exclaim: "The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and I am not saved!" No one could reproach you for keeping the vow awhile in your heart; rather let it rest there awhile—work in thee mightily—presently we shall see that vow coming out in open speech, in high declaration for God.

Prayer

Almighty God, be thou our strength, and we need no more defence; be thou near us, and the enemy must stand back; let thine eyes watch over our way, and our feet will never stumble. We put ourselves into thy keeping—we would not go out alone: the darkness is too dense, and the road too difficult for our poor wit, and sense, and power, and therefore we give up ourselves wholly to the direction and blessing of God. Enable us to say every morning, God is my refuge and strength, therefore will not I fear the engagements and difficulties of the day: enable us at eventide to say, God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? And in the hour and article of death, enable us by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us, who was delivered for our offences and rose again for our justification, to say, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy fear drives out all other fear. Perfect love takes full possession of the heart where thou dwellest, and behold, where perfect love Isaiah , there can be no fear. Work in us mightily the completeness and beauty of thy love, and thus deliver us from all danger, and save us and comfort us by thine infinite grace. Amen.


Verse 5

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"And said, I beseech thee."Nehemiah 1:5.

The subject is Remembered Prayers.—Nehemiah here cites, to all appearance, the very terms which he used in addressing the heavenly throne.—It is not necessary, however, to recollect the precise words in order to enjoy a refreshing memory of the intercourse which we have had with God.—The intercourse, indeed, is not in the words at all, but in the thoughts which those words endeavour to convey.—It would be proper for us to give new words to the old thoughts; and, provided we faithfully represented the thoughts, we should be entitled to say that we had quoted the prayer.—There are prayers which we can never forget—prayers in personal extremity, prayers in the sick-chamber, prayers on battlefields, prayers for those in whose lives our own were involved, and without whom it seemed impossible for us to live. The memorable prayers do not throw into insignificance the prayers which are not so precisely remembered.—In prayer, as in everything else, there must be long ranges of comparative flatness; only now and then do we ascend the high mountains and enjoy the breezes that blow there from the gates of heaven.—Unhappy is the man who has no prayers to remember—the man who can only go back in his memory to find a dim record of frivolous expressions, foolish plans, unwise attempts to be wise, and a whole store of things, not one of which is of any value.—Lay up in memory, for reading, for old age, quotations for time of difficulty; make the soul familiar with prayer, and then we shall have no difficulty in Revelation -living our lives and visiting old altars where we won great victories in the name of Christ.

Nehemiah 2:2

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"This is nothing else but sorrow of hearty."Nehemiah 2:2.

All men know the meaning of silent sorrow.—There is a language of the face, an eloquence of the eye, a persuasiveness and pathos of mien, which no orator ever rivalled in his most impassioned moods.—Some people seem to be doomed to the suppression of sorrow; they cannot afford the time to weep and mourn and make a demonstration of their sadness—"A little weeping would ease my heart."—The sorrow of Nehemiah was not a selfish grief. He himself was in circumstances marked by luxuriousness and honour, but how could he be otherwise than sad of heart as he remembered the fate of his people?—This is the beneficent altruism.—A gloom would come over every feast if the guests could remember how many thousands are starving.—The merriest heart would pause in its mirthfulness on recollecting that the whole world is under the condemnation of death.—"The air is full of farewells to the dying."—This may be a sentiment which ought to be discouraged, and men should be exhorted to take the best and brightest view of life: at the same time we impoverish our best nature by excluding from contemplation the sorrows, the burdens, the groanings of men who are our kindred, our compatriots, and our brethren in all deepest and truest sense of the word.—"Rejoice with them that do rejoice" is an exhortation associated with "Weep with them that weep."—What concerns human nature concerns every man.—Christianity came to destroy all self-living and self-idolatry: no man liveth unto himself: whether we live, we live unto the Lord; whether we die, we die unto the Lord; living or dying, we are the Lord"s.—We shall know whether our feeling is true and deep by the sacrifices we are prepared to make on its account.—The sentiment that is content to perish in evaporation is neither wise nor useful, but is on all accounts to be condemned and abhorred.—All false sentiment weakens the nature; all true sentiment elevates and enlarges manhood.

Nehemiah 2:12

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem."Nehemiah 2:12.

The fool tells all he knows, and much that he does not know. Always have the heart full of good thoughts known only to God and itself.—Men may speak away all their strength; that Isaiah , they may talk so much as to become quite weak.—First do the good.—The preacher should not tell what a good sermon he is going to preach; he should simply preach it.—In the morning be very silent: at night bring home your record. Your friends may blame you for not talking in advance. Pay no heed to their reproach.—What good am I going to do this day? God put thoughts into Nehemiah"s heart, and he must put them into mine. One thing I can do, I can open the door of my heart and give the blessed Spirit welcome.—I must not forget that there are at least many things I must not do; I must not brood over injuries, nor be hard upon the weak, nor rob the hireling, nor expect more from men than they can be or do; my own weakness must make me humble; my own faults must check my judgment of others. O thou giver of all good thoughts, fill my heart with grace, and help me to walk step by step in the way of him who went about doing good. Broken walls now are to be built up, and if I cannot lay the stones myself I may at least carry the stones to the men who have skill to build. I bless thee, Lord of my salvation, for this good desire. Now I will go forth and work.

Nehemiah 2:9

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"... gave them the kings letters."Nehemiah 2:9.

It would have been useless for Nehemiah to appear in his own person, or to attempt to operate upon his own authority.—Nehemiah was a great Prayer of Manasseh , but in the direction in which he was now moving he was as impotent as others. Only a royal sanction could open his way, and secure him full success.—Here is a beautiful picture of the attitude of the Christian evangelist.—When he goes abroad he has no introduction of himself to make, he simply delivers the King"s letters.—When one was complaining to the Duke of Wellington as to the ill-success of missionary effort, the Iron Duke replied, "What are your marching orders?" and he quoted the words of Christ—"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature:" by that military exhortation the old soldier was prepared to abide; it was not a suggestion, it was an imperative injunction.—When the preacher appears in the pulpit, all he has to do is to give the people the King"s letters; when the student bends his head over his desk in the study, it is only that he may study what is written in the letters of the King.—The moment we begin to write letters of commendation for ourselves, we become as other men: our distinctiveness as ambassadors is lost: we have to apologise where we ought to demand.—The King"s letters are full of light and love.—They are addressed to every man.—There is something in Holy Scripture for every soul that breathes.—It is instructive to notice how those letters abound in commandments, positive claims, appeals for surrender, and the like.—A king"s letters should be kingly: they should combine the imperative with the gracious, with obvious skill: they ought to be noble in their diction, and conciliatory in their tone: they ought to demand, and yet to beseech: under all the persuasion, however, there must lie a line of royal claim and inevitable behest.—Have not preachers too often forgotten the commanding side of the King"s letters?

Nehemiah 2:16

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work."Nehemiah 2:16.

This indicates the wisdom of silence when great enterprises are on hand.—Nehemiah had only with him some few men who had understanding of his purpose and sympathy with his spirit.—There is a time when we want as few people with us as possible.—There are occasions when a man may have too many friends, advisers, and confidants.—There are solemn hours in life when a man must be his own human adviser; he must hold counsel with none but with God and his own heart.—Consultation means deference.—The moment you take a man into your fellowship and ask his opinion, you seem bound to concede something to him, which may weaken your own energy.—In all great action consider the case privately.—Enter thy closet and shut thy door, and speak to thy Father in secret; and having come to understand the will of heaven, open the door, and go forth with the energy of a. man who is inspired, and to whom failure is divinely forbidden.—How many men waste themselves by speaking too much! Many lives that might have done well have evaporated in useless words and protestations.—Beware of the man who tells you all his plans before he has begun to work at them; he may seem to be friendly and confidential, but when he parts with his secret he parts with his strength.—The silent or secret worker often brings himself under misconstruction.—The most of people like to know what is going to be done, and when they are not informed of the policy that is about to be tried, they complain that they have not been treated with due courtesy and confidence.—Such people are not to be heeded in their complaints: the strong man is to go forth confident in the almightiness of God.

Nehemiah 4:6

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"So built we the wall."Nehemiah 4:6.

Here is the oneness of the object which Nehemiah had in view.—From morning to night the cry was, The wall, the wall!—It was in vain to tempt Nehemiah to speak upon any other subject.—It is said that the man of one book is always formidable, because he knows it so well, and has in a sense made it his own.—What is true of the one book is true of the one object.—The Apostle Paul said, "This one thing I do;" he enjoined the young evangelists to give themselves wholly to their work, and to see that no man took their crown.—It may appear to be little and narrow to have only one object in life; but it is better to succeed in one object that is good than to fail in a hundred that are questionable.—There is a genius of concentration as well as a statesmanship that can grasp all that is diverse and diffuse.—The most of us are called to do one thing in life.—Generally, the men who fail are men who leave their legitimate work and attempt incidental experiments; they cannot be content with the simple, straightforward line of action which ought to run through every day, so they are continually turning to the right hand and to the left, and doing innumerable things that need not be done, and at the end of the day they have nothing to show for their labour but weariness and disappointment.—Young Prayer of Manasseh , have a wall to build.—Church of Christ, have a wall to build.—Student preparing for the severe struggle of life, have a wall to build.—Always have a definite object, and always let it be known that you are to be found at your work, and not seeking holiday excitement or intoxication that dissipates the strength and beclouds the whole outlook of life.

"For the people had a mind to work"Nehemiah 4:6.

Now Nehemiah divides his honours.—This the great leader is always willing to do.—In a sense, the general wins the battle, but where would the general be if he had no army?—Great generals always take heed of those who are foremost in the fight, who show great courage, who are not to be quelled by the spirit of danger; the names of such are sent home that they may be marked with honour.—Nehemiah looked upon the people as essential to his success.—Every minister must do the same.—Every head of business must regard his employé as part and parcel of himself in the accomplishment of commercial success.—This is the true spirit of co-operation.—The master is nothing without his servant.—The author is nothing without his readers.—The king is no king if he have no subjects, and he is the great king who is the subject of his own kingdom.—Here we find the splendid energy of true voluntaryism.—The people were not driven to their work, or compelled to work, or taxed for not working; their whole mind and heart went out in the direction of labour, and their joy was to see the wall rising.—Love will do more than law.—We say that the Jew gave a tenth, but he did it under the pressure of law, whereas Christians are no longer under the law: that is true, but they are under grace, which makes larger demands upon a man than any law can do: grace goes farther into the heart, sinks more deeply into the will, inflames more completely the whole nature; to grace, therefore, we must look for triumphs impossible to compulsion.

Nehemiah 4:10

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"There is much rubbish."Nehemiah 4:10.

So the work was not allowed to proceed upon a clear space.—There is always a negative work to be done before great constructions can be proceeded with.—This is not understood generally by those who make statistics of spiritual activity; it is the wall that is measured, not the "rubbish" that is estimated.—What rubbish of ignorance, prejudice, false association, must be removed before the Christian teacher can begin his work!—Much learning has to be unlearned, because it proceeds on a false basis, or is unadapted to the capacity of the learner.—Where is there a clear space in any country in which the Christian teacher may begin at once to build his wall? It is very disheartening to be spending much time in removing rubbish; we must look, however, at what is necessary, at what indeed is absolutely essential; we must not build on rubbish, we must not be anxious for the kind of progress that is not thorough; unless the foundation is really good, the building itself will only be to our discredit, for it will soon fall.—It would seem to be easier to create rubbish than to build walls.—Any man can do mischief; any man can obstruct good work: any hearer can set up a point of opposition to the most earnest and inspiring teaching.—We are called upon to remove false trusts, religious sophisms, superstitious prejudices, selfish calculations, and an infinite mass of rubbish.—Some men are skilled in this department of service, who are not so skilled in building the wall.—All parties must work together in the uprearing of the living Church.

Nehemiah 4:23

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

None of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing"— Nehemiah 4:23.

This showed the earnestness of Nehemiah and his band of workers.—Nehemiah is careful to mention that he himself was subject to this arrangement.—"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."—This is wonderful captaincy on the part of Nehemiah.—Everything was done on a military basis.—Some people waste all their energy in putting off and on their clothes: their whole life is a question of clothes: they cannot do anything until their clothes are right.—Nehemiah showed how he distinguished between the necessary and the unnecessary.—Every man put oft his clothes for washing—for the washing of the clothes and for the washing of himself.—We must attend to health if we are to attend to successful toil.—Time is not wasted that is spent in obeying the laws of life.—Is our life a life of discipline? Have we thrown off all self-criticism and self-control, and abandoned ourselves to the enjoyment of the flesh and the cultivation of social manners?—A man cannot be punctilious about his clothes, and at the same time punctilious about duties in days of danger.—When the man knows that he himself is greater than his clothes, he will see to it that the work is first attended to, and then other things will be left to follow as they may.

Nehemiah 5:6

"Handfuls of Purpose"

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"And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words."Nehemiah 5:6.

There is a time to be angry.—If a man cannot be angry, neither can he be pleased.—Only he who can burn as an oven can be gracious and gentle and sympathetic.—Our public men should more frequently be angry, yea, very angry, and should find in their anger a species of inspiration.—Nehemiah"s was a noble anger; it was not a petty, fretful, spiteful resentment; it was the anger of a man who saw that injustice had been done.—In the presence of injustice every good man is angry.—When we cease to be angry in the presence of oppression we have ceased to hold fellowship with the Spirit of Righteousness, which is the Spirit of God.—He who works from conviction will work earnestly, steadily, self-sacrific-ingly.—Anger must be translated into action.—Nehemiah adopted a course of self-consultation, and having "consulted with myself," he says, "I rebuked the nobles and the rulers."—There is a time for rebuke.—Men must not be allowed to do evil deeds, and to escape moral criticism.—He who begins with judgment may see his way in the direction of ultimate redemption.

Nehemiah 5:13

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"And the people did according to this promise."Nehemiah 5:13.

How well Nehemiah always speaks of the people! He cannot forget their devotedness and their faithfulness.—There is a time when "promise" only is possible: the time for action has not fully come: but men can make up their minds what they will do as circumstances develop.—If people would do according to their promises what wondrous results would be seen in every department of Church life! Some men have promised gold, others have promised service, others have promised faithful attendance at the house of God and generous co-operation with all its offices and functions.—Some made promises on sick-beds; some made promises in storms at sea; some made promises in the presence of affliction that seemed to be unto death on the part of those whom they most deeply loved: where are those promises? Is heaven stored with promissory notes that have not been redeemed? Is it enough to speak a promise and to forget it?—He who forgets a promise is not to be trusted.—The word of honour should be severer than the bond of law.—Let us set down in order the promises we have made to heaven and begin to redeem them one by one: and soon the circle in which we live shall feel a glow of gratitude and a radiance of joy.

Nehemiah 6:6

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"Gashmu saith it."Nehemiah 6:6.

By accommodation these words may be used to set forth the folly of those who undertake to send abroad mischievous reports.—When we wish to make an impression we are seldom careful as to the evidence on which we rely: if the impression is to be made, it must be made at all risks and costs.—San-ballat came to Nehemiah with an open letter in his hand, wherein was written, "It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel."—Gashmu told lies.—Gashmu may stand for the anonymous element in social life.—It sounds as if it were a name associated with elevation and authority, and any name of that kind will serve the purpose when wicked men wish to overthrow the labours of honest patriots!—Who is Gashmu? What right had he to say anything about the business? Are strong men to be turned aside by anonymous reporters? Are we to be made afraid because of a man who is behind the veil, and who is whispering words of suspicion just loud enough for us to hear them?—All this section of our life, which may be called the section of superstition, must be swept away or reconstructed and purified, so that only the voice of reason and the dictate of true judgment can be heard.—How many of us are affrighted by the expression "They say"! Who are they? Descend to particulars; give us names, authorities, places, dates.—When the persons called "they" are discovered, it will be generally found that they disclaim the authenticity of the reports which are associated with their names.—Do let us be convinced in our hearts; let us have the consent of our own judgment: let us burn with earnestness; and in the presence of such moral qualification all Gashmus will turn away from us in fear and shame.

Nehemiah 6:12

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"I perceived that God had not sent him" Nehemiah 6:12.

There is a spirit in man.—Intuition has an important part to play in the education of human life.—They who live closely with God are blessed with a power which may well be described as the discernment of spirits.—"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God." We know when men are speaking truth.—There is a faculty within us which confirms or contradicts, according to the quality of the man who addresses us.—The false teacher can be detected, though he be eloquent, powerful, fascinating, and most persuasive.—Who can disguise the hollowness of falsehood?—On the other hand, we know the true shepherd: "My sheep know my voice; a stranger will they not follow:" the scribe said, "Master, thou hast said the truth:" the centurion said, "Truly this man was the Son of God:" Pilate"s wife described Jesus as "a just person."—The true teacher may have little to recommend him of an external kind: his speech may not be with enticing words of man"s wisdom: he may speak that which is folly to the worldly mind: but in the long run he will prove that he is a messenger of God, more anxious to make certain vital truths known than to study the manner in which they should be conveyed.—True men should support true men, and should never lend themselves to the petty criticism of mere method or manner.—The first point to discover is whether a man is really in earnest, whether God has sent him; and if the hearer be true to his own conscience, to his best moral instincts, he will often perceive whether a man has been sent or has not been sent of God.—Be true to yourselves; let your inmost nature speak.—In every heart there is a sanctuary, a holy of holies, and from that innermost place must come the directing and judicial voice.

Nehemiah 6:16

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"They perceived that this work was wrought of our God."Nehemiah 6:16.

If they did not perceive this at first they perceived it at last.—What we have to do is to go on with the work, for the work is self-revealing and self-commending.—It is beautiful to notice how Nehemiah directs attention to the work.—He says nothing about himself; not a word of admiration regarding his courage and energy does he insert; but he proclaims that as the work proceeded people began to see the hand of God rather than the hand of man.—This is the great crown of Christian evidence.—Christianity does not stand in any merely literary defence, although its literary defence is complete; it stands rather in its beneficent accomplishments, in its regenerated hearts, its elevated lives, its new spirit of consecration, its broad unselfishness, its generous sympathy.—"Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see:" quote the miracles, tell about the men you have seen who have leaped into newness of life, who have recovered lost or disused faculties, and who are new men, whose hearts are full of praise to God.—The world will never perceive that Christianity is of heaven simply because its preachers are eloquent, or because its professors are highly ceremonious in their religious observances.—When the world sees that neighbourhoods are cleansed, illuminated, elevated altogether in moral tone, the world will begin to perceive that the work is wrought of God.

Nehemiah 7:12

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"... a faithful Prayer of Manasseh , and feared God above many."Nehemiah 7:2.

The wall was now built, and certain appointments had been made.—There are men who can accept appointments after the wall is completed who could take but little part in the building of the wall itself.—Nehemiah had a discerning eye; he saw what men were fit for and what they could best do.—The selections of Nehemiah were not of an intellectual kind: the men whom he chose were not selected because they were brilliant in genius, cultivated in intellect, dainty in taste; they were chosen on moral grounds—"He was a faithful man. and feared God above many."—Always be sure about the moral substratum of character; that will abide when all things fail; the blossom may die, but the root abides in the earth, and out of it will come still larger and more beautiful blossoms—Distrust a man who has no conscience, no moral aspirations, no moral sensitiveness; he is a bad Prayer of Manasseh , how great soever he may be in intellect and in accidental surroundings, and he will be as a broken staff in the day of weariness. There is a preeminence of goodness,—"And feared God above many;" loved God, consulted God, lived with God. longed after God with tender solicitude.—Abraham was the friend of God; Enoch walked with God; with Saul there was a band of men whose hearts God had touched.—We are nothing if we have not God; if we have God we are mightier than all the powers that can be against us.

Nehemiah 7:5

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"I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first."Nehemiah 7:5.

There is more written than we suppose.—There are registers that are hidden away but will one day be produced.—When those registers are before us it will be found that the first may be last, and the last may be first.—God is the scribe, and nothing escapes his pen.—There are in heaven books, and a Book; there is another book, which is the Book of Life.—The universe is kept in regular order; it is founded on what we may term a systematic basis; every worker"s name is entered, the period of service is indicated, the wages agreed upon are stated; nothing is left to disorder or to be settled without distinct and all-inclusive law:—"Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Of what account is it that a man shall be found in all the records of society if he be not written in the book of heaven? There are those who boast of their descent from illustrious sires: blessed be God. there is. not one of us who cannot be adopted into the heavenly family and make an heir of glory.—Not what our forefathers were, but what we ourselves may become through the grace of Christ, is the supreme question of the future.—All other books will be burned, or they shall be held to be of no account in the day of the great assize; but they who are written in the book of life shall have a right to enter into the city, and to be enfranchised amongst the angels and the spirits of the blessed.—Poorest, weakest Prayer of Manasseh , thou mayest this very day be written in God"s register.—The register is kept at the Cross, the signatures are all inscribed in blood; no man can write his own name there, but God will write it for him, if the man will only cry from his heart—God be merciful to me a sinner!

Nehemiah 7:64

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"These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found."Nehemiah 7:64.

This is the humiliating side of life.—Men take it for granted that their names cannot have been omitted from any list of the great and noble, the princely, and the honoured; and, lo, when search comes to be made the persons who have been living in self-confidence find to their discomfiture that they are not known in the household of the elect.—There should be no neglect about this business of spiritual registration.—In God"s book registration is only made on account of individual prayer, and faith, and love.—We are not in God"s register because of what our parents have been or not been.—There is no hereditary piety.—God does not keep a House of Peers into which men are born.—Every man is born again, and is adopted into the family of God.—Each Christian is a distinct miracle of heaven.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/nehemiah-1.html. 1885-95.

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