This chapter is based on Nehemiah 2; 3; and 4.
My journey to Jerusalem was accomplished in safety. The royal letters to the governors of the provinces along his route secured me honourable reception and prompt assistance. No enemy dared molest the official who was guarded by the power of the Persian king and treated with marked consideration by the provincial rulers.
I arrival in Jerusalem, however, with a military escort, showing that I had come on some important mission, excited the jealousy of the heathen tribes living near the city, who had so often indulged their enmity against the Jews by heaping upon them injury and insult.
Foremost in this evil work were certain chiefs of these tribes, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian. From the first these leaders watched with critical eyes my movements and tried by every means in their power to thwart my plans and hinder my work.
I continued to exercise the same caution and prudence that had hitherto marked my course. Knowing that bitter and determined enemies stood ready to oppose me, I concealed the nature of my mission from them until a study of the situation should enable me to form my plans. Thus I hoped to secure the co-operation of the people and set them at work before the opposition of his enemies should be aroused.
Choosing a few men whom I knew to be worthy of confidence, I told them of the circumstances that had led me to come to Jerusalem, the object that I wished to accomplish, and the plans I proposed to follow. Their interest in my undertaking was at once enlisted and their assistance secured.
On the third night after my arrival, I rose at midnight and with a few trusted companions went out to view for myself the desolation of Jerusalem. Mounted on my mule, I passed from one part of the city to another, surveying the broken-down walls and gates of the city of my fathers. Painful reflections filled my mind with sorrow-stricken pain as I gazed upon the ruined defenses of my beloved Jerusalem. Memories of Israel’s past greatness stood out in sharp contrast with the evidence of her humiliation.
In secrecy and silence, I completed my circuit of the walls. “The rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; 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.” The remainder of the night I spent in prayer; for I knew that the morning would call for earnest effort to arouse and unite my dispirited and divided countrymen.
I bore a royal commission requiring the inhabitants to co-operate with me in rebuilding the walls of the city, but I did not depend upon the exercise of my authority. I sought rather to gain the confidence and sympathy of the people, knowing that a union of hearts as well as of hands was essential in the great work before me.
When on the morrow I called the people together I presented such arguments as were calculated to arouse their dormant energies and unite their scattered numbers.
My hearers did not know, neither did I tell them, of my midnight circuit of the night before. But the fact that I had made this circuit contributed greatly to my success for I was able to speak of the condition of the city with an accuracy and a minuteness that astonished my hearers. The impression made upon me as I had looked upon the weakness and degradation of Jerusalem, gave earnestness and power to my words.
I presented their reproach among the heathen before the people—their religion dishonoured, their God blasphemed. I told them that in a distant land he had heard of their affliction, that he had entreated the favour of Heaven in their behalf, and that, as I was praying, Ihad determined to ask permission from the king to come to their assistance.
I had asked God that the king might not only grant this permission, but might also invest me with the authority and give me the help needed for the work. My prayer had been answered in such a way as to show that the plan was of the Lord.
All this I related, and then, having shown that I was sustained by the combined authority of the God of Israel and the Persian king, I asked the people directly whether they would take advantage of this opportunity and arise and build the wall.
The appeal went straight to their hearts. The thought of how Heaven’s favour had been manifested toward them put their fears to shame, and with new courage they said with one voice, “Let us rise up and build.” “So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”
My whole being was in the enterprise I had undertaken. My hope, energy, enthusiasm, determination, were contagious, inspiring others with the same high courage and lofty purpose. Each man became a Nehemiah in his turn and helped to make stronger the heart and hand of his neighbour.
When the enemies of Israel heard what the Jews were hoping to accomplish, they laughed them to scorn, saying, “What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?” But I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
Among the first to catch my spirit of zeal and earnestness were the priests. Because of their influential position, these men could do much to advance or hinder the work; and their ready co-operation, at the very outset, contributed not a little to its success. T
he majority of the princes and rulers of Israel came up nobly to their duty, and these faithful men have honourable mention in the book of God. There were a few, the Tekoite nobles, who “put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” The memory of these slothful servants is branded with shame and has been handed down as a warning to all future generations.
In every religious movement there are some who, while they cannot deny that the cause is God’s, still hold themselves aloof, refusing to make any effort to help. It were well for such ones to remember the record kept on high—that book in which there are no omissions, no mistakes, and out of which they will be judged. There every neglected opportunity to do service for God is recorded; and there, too, every deed of faith and love is held in everlasting remembrance.
Against the inspiring influence of Nehemiah’s presence, the example of the Tekoite nobles had little weight. The people in general were animated by patriotism and zeal. Men of ability and influence organized the various classes of citizens into companies, each leader making himself responsible for the erection of a certain part of the wall. And of some it is written that they build “everyone over against his house.”
Nor did my energy disappeared, now that the work was actually begun. With tireless vigilance I superintended the building, directing the workmen, noting the hindrances, and providing for emergencies. Along the whole extent of that five kilometres miles of wall my influence was constantly felt.
With timely words I encouraged the fearful, aroused the laggard, and approved the diligent. And ever I watched the movements of their enemies, who from time to time collected at a distance and engaged in conversation, as if plotting mischief, and then, drawing nearer the workmen, attempted to divert their attention.
In my many activities I did not forget the source of my strength. My heart was constantly uplifted to God, the great Overseer of all. “The God of heaven,” I exclaimed, “He will prosper us;” and the words, echoed and re-echoed, thrilled the hearts of all the workers on the wall.
But the restoration of the defenses of Jerusalem did not go forward unhindered. Satan was working to stir up opposition and bring discouragement. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, his principal agents in this movement, now set themselves to hinder the work of rebuilding. They endeavoured to cause division among the workmen. They ridiculed the efforts of the builders, declaring the enterprise an impossibility and predicting failure.
“What do these feeble Jews?” exclaimed Sanballat mockingly; “will they fortify themselves? … will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” Tobiah, still more contemptuous, added, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.”
The builders were soon beset by more active opposition. They were compelled to guard continually against the plots of their adversaries, who, professing friendliness, sought in various ways to cause confusion and perplexity, and to arouse distrust. They endeavoured to destroy the courage of the Jews. They formed conspiracies to draw Nehemiah into their toils; and falsehearted Jews were found ready to aid the treacherous undertaking. The report was spread that I, Nehemiah was plotting against the Persian monarch, intending to exalt meself as a king over Israel, and that all who aided me were traitors.
But I continued to look to God for guidance and support, and “the people had a mind to work.” The enterprise went forward until the gaps were filled and the entire wall built up to half its intended height.
As the enemies of Israel saw how unavailing their efforts were, they were filled with rage. Hitherto they had not dared employ violent measures, for they knew that I and my companions were acting under the king’s commission, and they feared that active opposition against him might bring upon them the monarch’s displeasure.
But now in their anger, they themselves became guilty of the crime of which they had accused Nehemiah. Assembling for counsel, they “conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem.”
At the same time that the Samaritans were plotting against me and my work, some of the leading men among the Jews, becoming disaffected, sought to discourage me by exaggerating the difficulties attending the enterprise. “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed,” they said, “and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.”
Discouragement came from still another source. “The Jews which dwelt by,” those who were taking no part in the work, gathered up the statements and reports of their enemies and used these to weaken courage and create disaffection.
But taunts and ridicule, opposition, and threats seemed only to inspire me with firmer determination and to arouse me to greater watchfulness. I recognized the dangers that must be met in this warfare with their enemies, but my courage was undaunted. “We made our prayer unto our God,” I declares, “and set a watch against them day and night.” “Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.
Neh 4:15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
Neh 4:16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah
Neh 4:17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other,
Beside me stood a trumpeter, and on different parts of the wall were stationed priests bearing the sacred trumpets. The people were scattered in their labours, but on the approach of danger at any point a signal was given for them to repair thither without delay. “So we laboured in the work,” I said, “and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.”
Those who had been living in towns and villages outside Jerusalem were now required to lodge within the walls, both to guard the work and to be ready for duty in the morning. This would prevent unnecessary delay, and would cut off the opportunity which the enemy would otherwise improve, of attacking the workmen as they went to and from their homes. I and my companions did not shrink from hardship or trying service. Neither by day nor night, not even during the short time given to sleep, did they put off their clothing or lay aside their armour.
The opposition and discouragement that the builders in Nehemiah’s day met from open enemies and pretended friends is typical of the experience that those today will have who work for God. Christians are tried, not only by the anger, contempt, and cruelty of enemies, but by the indolence, inconsistency, lukewarmness, and treachery of avowed friends and helpers. Derision and reproach are hurled at them. And the same enemy that leads to contempt, at a favourable opportunity uses more cruel and violent measures.
Satan takes advantage of every unconsecrated element for the accomplishment of his purposes. Among those who profess to be the supporters of God’s cause there are those who unite with His enemies and thus lay His cause open to the attacks of His bitterest foes.
Even some who desire the work of God to prosper will yet weaken the hands of His servants by hearing, reporting, and half believing the slanders, boasts, and menaces of His adversaries. Satan works with marvelous success through his agents, and all who yield to their influence are subject to a bewitching power that destroys the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent.
But, like Nehemiah, God’s people are neither to fear nor to despise their enemies. Putting their trust in God, they are to go steadily forward, doing His work with unselfishness, and committing to His providence the cause for which they stand.
Amidst great discouragement, Nehemiah made God his trust, his sure defense. And He who was the support of His servant then has been the dependence of His people in every age. In every crisis His people may confidently declare, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31. However craftily the plots of Satan and his agents may be laid, God can detect them, and bring to nought all their counsels. The response of faith today will be the response made by Nehemiah, “Our God shall fight for us;” for God is in the work, and no man can prevent its ultimate success.