NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 4
Opposition to the Rebuilding
– When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became furious. He ridiculed the Jews and he said in front of his associates and the army of Samaria, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Do they think they can restore it themselves? Will they offer sacrifices again? Will they finish this in a day? Do they think they can actually make something out of stones from a rubbish heap- and burned ones at that?”
– NET Bible points out that, “Beginning with 4:1, the verse numbers through 4:23 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Hebrew text (BHS), with 4:1 ET = 3:33 HT, 4:2 ET = 3:34 HT, 4:3 ET = 3:35 HT, 4:4 ET = 3:36 HT, 4:5 ET = 3:37 HT, 4:6 ET = 3:38 HT, 4:7 ET = 4:1 HT, etc., through 4:23 ET = 4:17 HT. Thus in the Hebrew Bible chap. 3 of the Book of Nehemiah has 38 verses, while chap. 4 has only 17 verses.”
– ESV Study Bible writes, “Sanballat was angry and greatly enraged because of the challenge to his authority…He is clearly worried about the Jews’ action, but expresses it in mockery, no doubt to encourage his brothers (or allies) to join him in resisting…”
– Most translators agree on the first and last sentences of what Sanballat said to his associates, but there is difficulty in translating the Hebrew text in between. I’ve followed NET Bible. But, NLT, which is a paraphrase offers the following understanding, “Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices?” They offer this reasoning for support, “Sanballat might have been mocking a sudden increase in sacrifices at the Temple as the Israelites dedicated their work to the Lord.”
– On the mention of the Samarian army, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The governor of Samaria had an army to aid the Persian king, but it is not certain if the troops mentioned are a garrison regiment or a local militia.”
– On the stones from a rubbish heap, NLT Illustrated Study Bible remarks, “When fire destroyed Jerusalem (586 BC), it heated the stones, causing some to crack and crumble. The people used these stones to restore the walls.”
– Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him remarked, “That wall would collapse if even a fox climbed up it!”
– Guzik adds, “Because Nehemiah and the workers did in fact have legal protection from the king (proven by the letters mentioned in Nehemiah 2:7), Sanballat and Tobiah had no authority to actually stop the work. All they could do was to discourage the Jews into stopping.”
– Hear, O our God- we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land where they are captives. Don’t cover their iniquity, and don’t let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have hurled insults in the faces of the builders.
– ESV Study Bible says, “Nehemiah interjects in his own voice a prayer similar to certain prayers of deliverance from enemies in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 74, 79). He prays that what his enemies wish for him would return on their own heads; indeed, he prays that they would suffer captivity just as the Jews had recently experienced. The motive is not mere revenge but rather the honor of God, who is the real object of the enemies’ insults and whose purposes they do not understand.”
– So we rebuilt the wall until the entire wall was joined together up to half of its height, because the people worked with enthusiasm.
– When Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Arabs, Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of Jerusalem’s walls was progressing and that the gaps were being closed, they became furious. So they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. So we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is too much rubble. We will never be able to rebuild the wall.”
– ESV Study Bible notes, “Geshem was an Arab, and Tobiah and Ammonite…It looks as though they belonged to certain groups in Judah who were strongly opposed to the project. Ashdod was formerly a Philistine city on the west (Mediterranean coast), but it became the name of the entire province, first under Assyria, then under Persia. The people groups named here suggest that the Jewish community is surrounded on three sides- east, west, and south. This plot runs counter to the clear authorization that Nehemiah received from the Persian king, so it is hard to judge how successful it could hope to be. Yet surely it was intimidating, since Susa was about 1,100 miles away, a journey of approximately 55 days…Nehemiah has prayed before in a threatening situation…Along with his prayers, he takes prudent action.”
– On the response of the people of Judah, NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The relentless psychological attack of Israel’s enemies was having a negative effect on morale.”
– Guzik points out, “They also knew that prayer didn’t mean they were to do nothing. They used sanctified common sense to do what they should have, protecting against attack, using willing servants of God to be the wall until the wall was built. It isn’t hard to imagine some super-spiritual among them saying, ‘Now Nehemiah, we don’t need to set a watch. We have prayed, and God will protect us.’ Nehemiah would likely respond, ‘Yes, God will protect us, and He will as He finds us doing our duty before Him. Set the guard.’ When we see an area of our Christian life that needs particular attention, it isn’t enough to pray. You need to set a watch as well – give special attention and accountability to that area of your life until you are walking in consistent victory. Our prayers do not replace our actions; they make our actions effective for God’s work.”
– Our enemies boasted, “They won’t know or see anything until we’re right there among them killing them, then the work will stop.”
– Then the Jews who were living near them came and warned us repeatedly about all the schemes they were plotting against us.
– Again, comparing translations, it becomes apparent that the text is difficult here. I’ve followed NET Bible. Their explanation follows, “The MT reads the anomalous…(mikkol hammqomot, ‘from every place’) but the BHS editors propose… (kol hammzimmot, ‘about every scheme’). The initial mem… found in the MT may have been added accidentally due to dittography with the final mem…on the immediately preceding word, and the MT qof…may have arisen due to orthographic confusion with the similar looking zayin … The emendation restores sense to the line in the MT, which makes little sense and features an abrupt change of referents: ‘Wherever you turn, they will be upon us!’ The threat was not against the villagers living nearby but against those repairing the wall, as the following context indicates… The MT reads…(tashuvu, ‘you turn’) which is awkward contextually. The BHS editors propose emending to… (hashvu, ‘they were plotting’) which harmonizes well with the context. This emendation involves mere orthographic confusion between similar looking… (khet) and…(tav), and the resultant dittography of middle…(vav) in MT.”
– So I stationed people behind the lowest points of the wall at the vulnerable places. I stationed the people by families, armed with their swords, spears, and bows. After I made an inspection, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awesome Lord, and fight for your sons and daughters, your wives and your homes.”
– Guzik says, “Nehemiah put their mind in the right perspective. The challenge was great but there was no reason for fear. He who was in them was greater than he who was in the world. Nehemiah reminded them what they were fighting for. We fight most effectively for the Lord when we keep in mind how much there is to lose.”
– NET Bible notes, “The Hebrew term translated ‘Lord’ here is…(ʾadonay).”
– When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot, and that God had frustrated it, every one of us returned to his own work on the wall. From that day forward, half of my men worked on construction, while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor. The officers stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were rebuilding the walls. The laborers who carried loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other. Each of the builders had his sword strapped around his waist while he was building. The trumpeter remained with me.
– ESV Study Bible writes, “From now on the immediate threat is apparently over, but the work continues with half the people’s attention given to defense…Though Nehemiah and the people prayed and trusted God for protection… they also kept their weapons close at hand…to defend themselves from attack; God often accomplishes his purposes through ordinary human means.”
– Then I said to the nobles, officials, and the rest of the people, “The work is demanding and extensive, and we are spread out on the wall, far apart from one another. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us!”
– So we continued the work, with half the men holding spears, from the break of dawn until the stars came out at night. At that time I instructed the people, “Let every man and his coworker stay inside Jerusalem at night, so that they can serve as guards by night and workers by day.” Neither I, nor my relatives, nor my workers, nor the guards who were with me ever took off our clothes. Each carried his weapon at all times, even when getting a drink of water.
– NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out, “Nehemiah and the other leaders were not elitists who relaxed while others toiled.”
– Guzik notes, “They stayed ready to sound the alarm at the slightest notice. They would not be caught off guard. They dedicated themselves to the work all the more, working hard from sunrise to past dark, even spending the night out at the job site to protect against attack. They kept their clothes on all the time because they did not want to be caught unprepared. They were always ready to respond to the blast of a trumpet. Christians need to be armed with the same attitude today. They need to be always ready, always clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, always wearing the armor of God, ready for that final trumpet blast that will gather us together with our LORD.”