Nehemiah 4

CHAPTER IV

Sanballat and Tobiah mock the Jews, and endeavour to prevent

the completing of the wall, 1-3.

Nehemiah prays against them, and the people complete one half of

the wall, 4-6.

The Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites, conspire together, and

come to fight against the Jews, 7, 8.

The Jews commend themselves to God, and determine to fight for

their lives and liberties; on hearing of which their enemies are

disheartened, 9-16.

The Jews divide themselves into two bands; one half working, and

the other standing ready armed to meet their enemies. Even the

workmen are obliged to arm themselves, while employed in

building, for fear of their enemies, 17, 18.

Nehemiah uses all precautions to prevent a surprise; and all

labour with great fervour in the work, 19-22.

NOTES ON CHAP. IV

Verse 2. The army of Samaria] As he was governor, he had the

command of the army, and he wished to excite the soldiers to

second his views against Nehemiah and his men.

What do these feeble Jews?] We may remark here, in general,

that the enemies of God's work endeavour by all means to discredit

and destroy it, and those who are employed in it. 1. They despise

the workmen: What do these feeble Jews? 2. They endeavour to turn

all into ridicule: Will they fortify themselves? 3. They have

recourse to lying: If a fox go up, he shall even break down their

stone wall. 4. They sometimes use fair but deceitful speeches;

see Ne 6:2, &c.

Verse 4. Turn their reproach upon their own head] A prayer of

this kind, understood literally, is not lawful for any Christian.

Jesus, our great master, has said, "Love your enemies; do good to

them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use you."

Such sayings as the above are excusable in the mouth of a Jew,

under severe irritation. See the next verse.

Verse 5. Let not their sin be blotted out] These are the most

terrible imprecations; but probably we should understand them as

declaratory, for the same form of the verb, in the Hebrew, is used

as precative and imperative. Turn their reproach-Their reproach

shall be turned. Give them for a prey-They shall be given for a

prey. Cover not their iniquity-Their iniquity shall not be

covered. Let not their sin be blotted out-Their sin shall not be

blotted out. All who know the genius of the Hebrew language,

know that the future tense is used to express all these senses.

Besides, we may rest assured that Nehemiah's curses, or

declaration of God's judgments, had respect only to their bodies,

and to their life: not to their souls and the world to come. And

then they amount to no more than this: What a man soweth that he

shall reap.

Verse 6. For the people had a mind to work.] The original is

very emphatic: vayehi leb leam laasoth, "For

the people had a heart to work." Their hearts were engaged in it;

and where the heart is engaged, the work of God goes on well.

The whole of this 6th verse is omitted by the

Septuagint.

Verse 7. The walls of Jerusalem were made up] That is, they

were made up to the half height of the wall; for the preceding

verse seems to intimate that the whole wall was thus far built;

not half of the wall completed, but the whole wall built to half

its height.

Verse 9. We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch] The

strongest confidence in the protection and favour of God does not

preclude the use of all or any of the means of self-preservation

and defence which his providence has put in our power. While God

works in us to will and to do, we should proceed to willing,

through the power he has given us to will; and we should proceed

to action, through the power he has given us to act. We cannot

will, but through God's power; we cannot act, but through God's

strength. The power, and the use of it, are two distinct things.

We may have the power to will, and not will; and we may have the

power to do, and not act: therefore, says the apostle, seeing God

has wrought in you these powers, see that YOU WORK OUT YOUR OWN

salvation, with fear and trembling.

Verse 10. The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed]

They worked both day and night, scarcely ever putting off their

clothes, except for the purpose of being washed, Ne 4:21, 23.

Much rubbish] The ruins they were obliged to clear away, before

they could dig the foundation for a new wall: and in this labour

they were nearly exhausted; see Ne 5:15.

Verse 12. From all places whence ye shall return unto us] This

verse is extremely difficult. Our translators have supplied the

words, they will be upon you, which have nothing correspondent in

the Hebrew. The Septuagint have given a good sense, αναβαινουσιν

εκπαντωντωντοπωνεφημας, They come up from all places against

us. The sense appears to be this: the Jews which dwelt among the

Samaritans, &c., came often to Nehemiah from all quarters, where

they sojourned, and told him the designs of his enemies against

him: therefore, he set people with their swords, spears, and bows,

to defend the walls. It is probable that instead of

tashubu, "ye shall return," we should read chashebu,

"they designed or meditated." This word is very similar to the

other, and makes the sense very clear. "The Jews who dwelt among

them told us frequently, from all places, what they designed

against us." For this reading Houbigant, Michaelis and Dath�

contend. But this various reading is not found in any MS., and is

not countenanced by any of the versions. See Ne 4:15.

Verse 14. Be not ye afraid of them] Are they more terrible or

stronger than God?

Fight for your brethren] Your own countrymen, who worship the

same God, and are come from the same stock; your sons, whom they

wish to slay or lead into captivity; your daughters and wives,

whom they wish to deflower and defile; and your houses, which they

wish to seize and occupy as their own. They had every thing at

stake; and therefore they must fight pro aris et focis, for their

religion, their lives, and their property. A people thus

interested, who once take up the sword, can never be conquered.

There is an address made to the Greeks by their leader in

AEschylus, Pers. ver. 402, similar to this, to excite them against

the Persians:-

ωπαιδεςελληνωνιτε

ελευθερουτεπατριδελευθερουτεδε

παιδαςγυνιακαςθεωνρεπατρωωνεδη

θηκαςτεπρογονων. νυνυπερπαντωναγων

"-----------Sons of the Greeks, go on!

Free now your country, and your children free;

Your wives, the temples of your fathers' gods,

And dear abodes of farthest ancestors:--

Now strike the blow for all!" J. B. B. C.

Verse 15. Their counsel to naught] The word counsel used here

countenances the emendation in the 12th verse.

Verse 16. Half-wrought in the work] This is no unusual thing,

even in the present day, in Palestine: people sowing their seed

are often attended by an armed man, to prevent the Arabs from

robbing them of their seed, which they will not fail to do if not

protected.

Habergeons] In the Franco-Gallic, hautbergon signifies a coat

of mall; but as in Teutonic [Teutonic] signifies the neck, and

[Teutonic], to cover or defend; it may be considered rather as

signifying a breastplate, or armour for the breast.

Verse 17. With one of his hands wrought in the work, and with

the other hand held a weapon.] That is, he had his arms at hand,

and was as fully prepared to fight as to work. So OVID, Epist.

xi., Canace Macario, ver. 1:-

Si qua tamen caecis errabunt scripta lituris,

Oblitus a dominae caede libellus erit:

Dextra tenet calamum; strictum tenet altera ferrum:

Et jacet in gremio charta soluta meo.

If streaming blood my fatal letter stain,

Imagine, ere you read, the writer slain.

One hand the sword, and one the pen employs,

And in my lap the ready paper lies. DRYDEN.

By this mode of speech Canace does not intimate to her brother

Macarius, that she actually held the sword in one hand while she

held the pen in the other, but that she had it ready to slay

herself as soon as she had written the epistle.

Verse 20. Ye hear the sound of the trumpet] As the walls were

very extensive, and the workmen consequently much scattered, their

enemies might easily attack and destroy them successively, he

therefore ordered them all to work as near to each other as they

could; and himself, who was everywhere surveying the work, kept a

trumpeter always with him, who was to sound when the enemy

approached; and all were instantly to run to the place where they

heard the sound.

Verse 22. Let every one with his servant lodge within

Jerusalem] The country people were accustomed, after their day's

labour, to return to their families; now being so formidably

threatened, he obliged them all to sleep in Jerusalem, that they

might be ready, in case of attack, to help their brethren. All

this man's arrangements were wise and judicious.

Verse 23. None of us put off our clothes, saving that every one

put them off for washing.] The Hebrew for all this is only

ein anachnu poshetim begadeynu

ish shilcho hammayim; which Montanus translates, Non nos exuentes

vestes nostras, vir missile suum aquas; "We, not putting off our

garments, a man his dart to the waters." Of this latter clause

what sense can be made? Let us hear what the ancient versions say.

The Vulgate, Unusquisque tantum nudabatur ad baptismum, "Every

one stripped himself for the bath."

The Septuagint omit the latter part of this clause, And there

was none of us who put off his garments.

The Syriac, "None of us put off his clothes for a month each in

his turn.

The Arabic, "Nor did we put off our clothes, but with our arms,

at the end of a month."

There is a remarkable reading in one of De Rossi's MSS.

, We did not lay aside our

garments, but in order to send them to the washing. This is most

likely the sense of the place.

It is curious to see how our old versions translate the place.

Coverdale: We put never of our clothes, so much as to wash

ourselves.-1535.

Becke: We put never of our clothes, so muche as to washe

ourselves.-1549.

Cardmarden: We put never of oure clothes no more than the other

dyd theyr harnesse, save onely bycause of the water.-1566.

This shows how all interpreters have been puzzled with this

vexatious clause.

THE reading from De Rossi's MS., given above, is the most likely

to be the true one, because it gives a good sense, which cannot be

found in the Hebrew text as it now stands. The general meaning is

sufficiently evident; they worked nearly day and night, only had

their hours by turns for repose; this did not permit them time

sufficient to undress themselves in order to take regular sleep,

therefore they only put off their clothes when they were obliged

to get them washed.

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