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Nehemiah 3:1. Eliashib] The grandson of Jeshua, and the first high priest after the return from Babylon. No reason to doubt that the same Eliashib is referred to in Ezra 10:6. The sheep gate] In regard to the gates of ancient Jerusalem much uncertainty prevails. The sheep gate probably the προβατικὴ of John 5:2, translated in E. V. “sheep market.” Modern topographers seek it near the present St. Stephen’s gate, through which the Bedouins to this day drive sheep into the town for sale. Near the temple area. Sanctified] Consecrated it by special ceremonies. “It was the first-fruits, and therefore, in the sanctification of it, the whole lump and building was sanctified.”—Poole. The tower of Meah, the tower of Hananeel] Meah is the Hebrew word for “a hundred.” Fuerst translates it the giant tower. Whence the names of these towers were derived is unknown.
Nehemiah 3:2. And next unto him] Lit. And at his hand. The wall was divided into portions, one of which was assigned to each of the great families.
Nehemiah 3:3. The sons of Hassenaah] Rather, the sons of Senaah (see Ezra 2:35). Senaah was a city or perhaps a district.
Nehemiah 3:6. The old gate] Keil reads, “gate of the old wall,” as referring to the old wall in distinction from “the broad wall,” which was newer.
Nehemiah 3:8. The broad wall] “or double wall, formerly broken down by Joash, afterwards rebuilt by Uzziah, who made it so strong Chaldeans left it standing.”—Jamieson.
Nehemiah 3:9. The ruler of the half part] A half district; the district being divided into two that it might be managed more easily (comp. Nehemiah 3:12; Nehemiah 3:14-18).
Nehemiah 3:13. Zanoah] The name of two towns in the territory of Judah.
Nehemiah 3:14. Beth-haccerem] From Jeremiah 6:1 we find that it was used as a beacon-station, and that it was near Tekoa. Supposed to be now occupied by Bethulia on the hill called by Europeans “The Frank Mountain.”
Nehemiah 3:16. The sepulchres of David, &c.] i. e. along the precipitous cliffs of Zion.—Barclay.
Nehemiah 3:19. At the turning of the wall] i. e. the wall across the Tyropæon being a continuation of the first wall, connecting Mount Zion with the temple wall.—Barclay.
Nehemiah 3:25. The tower which lieth out from the king’s high house] Solomon’s palace doubtless occupied the south-east corner of the present Haram.
Nehemiah 3:26. The Nethinims] The Nethinim were a servile and subject caste. “Not only the priests and the Levites, but the meanest persons that belonged to the house of God contributed to the work.”—Bishop Patrick.
HOMILETIC CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 3
Nehemiah 3:1-32. The Moral Significance of Names.
Nehemiah 3:1-32. Life’s Masonry.
Nehemiah 3:1-32. A Suggestive Church Record.
Nehemiah 3:1. Priesthood.
Nehemiah 3:1. Ministerial Adaptability.
Nehemiah 3:2-3. System and Detail in Work.
Nehemiah 3:5. Rival Classes.
Nehemiah 3:6. The Old Gate.
Nehemiah 3:8. The Broad Wall.
Nehemiah 3:12. Family Zeal.
Nehemiah 3:13-19. High Men at Lowly Tasks.
Nehemiah 3:15-16. David, the National Hero.
Nehemiah 3:20-32. The Workmen’s Day-Book.
THE MORAL SIGNIFICANCE OF NAMES
A CHAPTER of names. To be passed over by the bulk of Bible readers. But the names are biblical. The chapters of names are a noticeable part of the Book of Nehemiah, as they are of the Bible.
I. The meaning of individual names. The origin of language is mysterious. But in earliest times amongst all nations—our own not excepted—names meant things. Specially true of the Jewish nation. Names were not given from caprice or because others bore them. They shadowed forth the character, or commemorated a circumstance, or prophesied a future.
Abel signified breath, vapour—a sign of the transitoriness of his life. David meant dearly-beloved. Enoch, disciplined. Elijah, God the Lord, or the strong Lord. Elisha, “to whom God is salvation.” Abraham, “the father of a multitude,” and Moses, “drawn out of the water,” were commemorative. Sometimes the name was a protest. Amittai, a veracious man living in a time of laxity.
Eliashib’s name (Nehemiah 3:1) perpetually reminded him that “God was in heaven, and governed the world he created.” Nehemiah could not have borne a name better adapted for a work so arduous as his. Nehemiah means, “whom God comforts.” Meremoth (Nehemiah 3:4), if true to his name, should be a firm man. Jehoiada (Nehemiah 3:6) needed no priest to remind him that he was known of God. Uzziel (Nehemiah 3:8) might work fearlessly, for, said his name, “God is my strength.” Malchijah (Nehemiah 3:11) would hardly be afraid of Sanballatʼs anger or Tobiah’s scorn. “Am not I Malchijah,” he would say, “and does not that tell me that God is my king?” The Nethinims (Nehemiah 3:26) were the dedicated ones.
In other languages the same law prevailed. A man bearing the name of Andrew was courageous, and an Augusta majestic. Arthur was a strong man. She who was honoured with the name Agnes was chaste. An Alice was noble, and a Louisa modest.
In more artificial times names lost their meaning. When the mother of John Baptist declared that he should be called John, her friends said, “There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.” Names were losing their meaning. Here was a man born into the world filled with the grace of God—what shall his name be? “Zacharias,” they say; “that is his father’s name.” They ask the dumb father, and he writes “John.” Now-a-days a man may have the name of John and be graceless enough. We have no proof that Charles will be noble. We give our children fancy names. Family names are reasonable; fancy names are foolish. Except that they are given thoughtlessly, their morality would be doubtful. Our true name is our Christian name.
II. The solemn significance of names. A name is a key to the nature or history of the thing which bears it. In the history of the creation we read that “God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” And so it has been well said by Carlyle that not only all common speech, but science, poetry itself, is no other than a right naming. Some languages have the same expression for WORD and THING. Jesus Christ said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34). “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). “Lie not one to another”—not because you will not be trusted, but because—“ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (Coloss. Nehemiah 3:9). Wise men say that you can tell the character of any nation by its language. “There was a time in the history of Europe when the controversy about what a name represents involved issues so grave that men were burnt for taking what was considered the heretical side of this controversy.”—R. W. Dale. “Our general terms, man, tree, insect, flower, are the names of particular or single specimens extended, on the ground of a perceived similarity, to kinds or species. They come in this manner to stand for millions of particular men, trees, insects, flowers that we do not and never can know. They are, to just this extent, WORDS OF IGNORANCE; only we are able, in the use, to hold right judgments of innumerable particulars we do not know, and have the words so far as WORDS OF WISDOM.”—Horace Bushnell. Reality is a cardinal virtue. Speech is not given us to hide our thoughts. What is truth but the correspondence of words with things, of life with speech? “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
III. The relation of the individual to the race. Names perpetuate memories. William is named to-day after a William of sixty years ago. Of this latter there is only a name. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). THE DAY OF JUDGMENT will harmonize names and things. “Then shall the King say,” &c. (Matthew 25:34-46).
Hebrew names. “The Hebrew names were nearly all significant. Sometimes commemoration was in a name. Sometimes it uttered a testimony. Sometimes a prophecy stirred in it. The very name of a man sometimes shone like a burning lamp in the darkness of an evil time. When need was, a new name was taken or given, in addition to, or in place of, the original one, and borne as men bear a banner or speak a watchword.”—Alexander Raleigh, D.D.
Names and periods in Hebrew history. “What signifies a name? In these days, when names are only epithets, it signifies nothing. ‘Jehovah. Jove, or Lord,’ as the ‘Universal Prayer’ insinuates, are all the same. Now, to assert that it matters not whether God be called Jehovah, Jove, or Lord is true, if it mean this, that a devout and earnest heart is accepted by God, let the name be what it will by which he is addressed. But if it mean that Jove and Jehovah express the same Being—that the character of him whom the pagan worshipped was the same as the character of him whom Israel adored under the name of Jehovah—that they refer to the same group of ideas—or that ALWAYS names are but names, then we must look much deeper.
“In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews.
“In the first of these periods names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. They were drawn from a few simple sources: cither from some characteristic of the individual, as Jacob, the supplanter; or Moses, drawn from the water; or from the idea of family, as Ben-jamin, the son of my right hand; or from the conception of the tribe or nation, then gradually consolidating itself; or, lastly, from the religious idea of God. But in this case not the highest notion of God; not Jah, or Jehovah, but simply the earlier and simpler idea of Deity: El—Israel, the prince of El; Peniel, the face of El. In these days names were real, but the conceptions they contained were not the loftiest.
“The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth, and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under his name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea’s name is changed into Je-hoshua.
“Observe, moreover, that in this period there was no fastidious, over-refined chariness in the use of that name. Men conscious of deep and real reverence are not fearful of the appearance of irreverence. The word became a common word, as it always may, so long as it is FELT, and awe is REAL. A mighty cedar was called a cedar of Jehovah; a lofty mountain, a mountain of Jehovah. Human beauty even was praised by such an epithet. Moses was divinely fair, beautiful to God. The eternal name became an adjunct. No beauty, no greatness, no goodness was conceivable except as emanating from him: therefore his name was freely but most devoutly used.
“Like the earlier period, in this too words meant realities; but, unlike the earlier period, they are impregnated with deeper religious thought.
“The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ: words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow, unreal state of all things. A man’s name might be Judas, and still he might be a traitor. A man might be called Pharisee, exclusively religious, and yet the name might only cover the hollowness of hypocrisy; or he might be called most noble Festus, and be the meanest tyrant that ever sat upon a pro-consular chair. This is the period in which every keen and wise observer knows that the decay of national religious feeling has begun. That decay in the meaning of words, that lowering of the standard of the ideas for which they stand, is a certain mark of this. The debasement of a language is a sure mark of the debasement of a nation. The insincerity of a language is a proof of the insincerity of a nation: for a time comes in the history of a nation when words no longer stand for things; when names are given for the sake of an euphonious sound; and when titles are but the epithets of unmeaning courtesy; a time when Majesty, Defender of the Faith, Most Noble, Worshipful, and Honourable not only mean nothing, but do not flush the check with the shame of convicted falsehood when they are worn as empty ornaments.”—F. W. Robertson.
Origin of language. “The opinions about the origin of language may be divided into three classes, as follows:—
“(a) The belief that man at his creation was endowed with a full, perfect, and copious language, and that as his faculties were called forth by observation and experience, this language supplied him at every step with names for the various objects he encountered. In this view, which has found many able advocates, speech is separated from and precedes thought; for as there must have been a variety of phenomena, both outward and in his mind, to which the first man was a stranger, until long experience gradually unfolded them, their names must have been intrusted to him long before the thoughts or images which they were destined ultimately to represent were excited in his mind.
“(b) The belief that the different families of men, impelled by necessity, invented and settled by agreement the names that should represent the ideas they possessed. In this view language is a human invention, grounded on convenience. But to say that man has invented language would be no better than to assert that he has invented law. To make laws, there must be a law obliging all to keep them; to form a compact to observe certain institutes, there must be already a government protecting this compact. To invent language presupposes language already, for how could men agree to name different objects without communicating by words their designs? In proof of this opinion, appeal is made to the great diversity of languages. Here it is supposed again that thought and language were separate, and that the former had made some progress before the latter was annexed to k.
“(c) The third view is, that as the Divine Being did not give man at his creation actual knowledge, but the power to learn and to know, so he did not confer a language, but the power to name and describe. The gift of reason, once conveyed to man, was the common root from which both thought and speech proceeded, like the pith and the rind of the tree, to be developed in inseparable union. With the first inspection of each natural object the first imposition of a name took place (Genesis 2:19). In the fullest sense language is a Divine gift; but the power, and not the results of its exercise, the germ, and not the tree, was imparted. A man can teach names to another man, but nothing less than Divine power can plant in another’s mind the far higher gift, the faculty of naming. From the first we have reason to believe that the functions of thought and language went together. A conception received a name; a name recalled a conception; and every accession to the knowledge of things expanded the treasures of expression. And we are entangled in absurdities by any theory which assumes that either element existed in a separate state antecedently to the other.”—Archbishop of York.
“We do not make words; they are given to us by One higher than ourselves. Wise men say that you can tell the character of any nation by its language, by watching the words they use, the names they give to things; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It is God, and Christ, the Word of God, who gives words to men, who puts it into the hearts of men to call certain things by certain names; and according to a nation’s godliness, and wisdom, and purity of heart will be its power of using words discreetly and reverently. That miracle of the gift of tongues, of which we read in the New Testament, would have been still most precious and full of meaning if it had had no other use than this—to teach men from whom words come. When men found themselves all of a sudden inspired to talk in foreign languages which they had never learnt, to utter words of which they themselves did not know the meaning, do you not see how it must have made them feel that all language is God’s making and God’s giving? Do you not see how it must have made them feel what awful, mysterious things words were, like those cloven tongues of fire which fell on the apostles? The tongues of fire signified the difficult foreign languages which they suddenly began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. And where did the tongues of fire come from? Not out of themselves, not out of the earth beneath, but down from the heaven above, to signify that it is not from man’s flesh or brain, or the earthly part of him, that words are bred, but that they come down from Christ, the Word of God, and are breathed into the minds of men by the Spirit of God.”—Charles Kingsley.
INTRODUCTION.—The Scriptural figures of life’s work as a building. St. Peter’s description of God as building up a fabric of “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:4-5). It is his remembrance of the Saviour’s own use of the figure in Matthew 16:18 : “Upon this rock I will build my Church.” St. Paul’s description of his own apostolic life as that of a “wise master-builder”—a spiritual Nehemiah (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
I. Every one to contribute his life-toil to the building up of the city of God.
1. True of the individual character—the fallen, ruined “city of Mansoul.” Not what we rake together of earthly things, but what we rear in the edifice of our personal character, our true work.
2. True of society. The history of the world a history of the restless reconstructions of society. The reformers and teachers of every age, scanning the desolations of their time, have said, “Let us arise and build!” and with none of Babel’s profanity have said in hope, “Go to, let us build a tower whose top shall reach to heaven!” That is what the piled-up fruit of generations of toil shall be.
II. Every man has his own appointed sphere and kind of work.
1. The manifold division of labour in the erection of a great edifice may become to us a parable of the various uses of human character and ability. To some the strong work—the foundations and buttresses—plain, practical usefulness. To others there is given work at the gates of knowledge and intercourse. To some it is the task to beautify and embellish life and its surroundings, to sculpture bright things and thoughts. To the sagacity of others is committed the towers of outlook and defence for human society.
2. Every man to find his own task. Providential circumstances and the bent of wise inclination point us to our share of the wall. The ruin lying nearest our feet, the weak place nearest our own home, is our taskwork.
3. Every man to be content with his own task. Who does not at times sigh in envy of his brother’s portion in life’s great enterprise! We think we could work with less moiling, and get the lines truer, if we were working on some other piece of ground. It’s better as it is. “To every man his work” (Mark 13:34).
III. Every man contributes but a fragment to the great whole. All each builder does is to contribute so many feet of the great girdle of masonry; but it is the multiplication of these small piles which completes the circumference.
1. Individual life. Do not judge of experiences singly and alone. Life is a complex and mingled process, and that which seems to have no uses of edification may be one of many powers which uplift the character. Our life is a great whole. WE “walk to-day and to-morrow, and the THIRD day WE are perfected.”
“If sad thy present, fancy not
The whole of life is in to-day;
To past and future look away;
Thy life is not thy present lot.”
2. Socially. Do not judge a life with regard to society in its mere isolation or as a disconnected unit; it is a length of fabric to join on with some one else’s work.
Moses bursts out of Egypt; Joshua leads through Jordan into Canaan; David prepares for a consolidated nation; Solomon ushers in the rest and magnificence of peace: each builds his own layer and length of the history.
One man toils to feed the people; another gives them garments; another settles their quarrels; another tells them the story of the day’s life; another teaches them knowledge; another pleads with them for God; another heals their sickness; another goes out to sea for their merchandise; another gives them a book of cheering song; and each contributes to the walls and gates and towers of man’s life below.
EACH is but a small length, but ALL make the mighty ring.
IV. Every man to work in harmonious aim with his fellow builders.
1. Recognizing the one reigning purpose—the edification of a city of God; to make Jerusalem a praise in the earth and a city of the great King.
2. Recognizing the, worth of his brother’s work. He has his own task, and has not to work by our piece of the plan.
3. Eccentric people who will pile their stones in other people’s way, and blind other people with their chippings and the bespatterings of their mortar. Do not hinder your “brother mason.”
V. The united work is superintended by the great Architect.
1. He only understands the whole of the great intricate plan of life. He has surveyed the whole field, and has appointed each one his place. To understand our own section and task, and to trust to the great unifying power above, is all we can do. These broken, incomplete piles rising in their fragmentariness will, under his direction, circle into the order of his great will. The full plan of life is only seen and understood in heaven, but it is understood THERE.
2. He is near us with directions. In their straits these amateur masons must have often summoned Nehemiah as he rode round among the workers. In all perplexities we can call in Divine direction. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).
3. Let the thought “THOU GOD SEEST ME” animate us at our toil. (a) It is a cheering thought. No eye can look so indulgently as his. “He knoweth our frame,” &c. (Psalms 103:14). (b) It is an admonitory thought. He WILL have true work; and all the wrong that we pile up he will push down.
“As ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye.”
CONCLUSION.—What this finished work shall be we read in the closing chapters of the Bible. The New Jerusalem is man’s work transfigured by the glory of God.
The rude foundations we have put in with weariness and toil shall show themselves “garnished with all manner of precious stones.” The gates so clumsily made will shine “every several gate of one pearl.” The building of the wall shall be “as jasper,” and the shapeless, disjointed masses shall be all joined and balanced: “the length of it, and the breadth of it, and the height of it equal.”
“And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. And there shall be no night there; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.”
Sacredness of labour. “Two men I honour, and no third. First, the toil-worn craftsman that with earth-made implement laboriously conquers the earth, and makes her man’s. Venerable to me is the hard hand—crooked, coarse; wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue, indefeasibly royal, as of the sceptre of this planet. Venerable too is the rugged face, all weather-tanned, besoiled, with its rude intelligence; for it is the face of a man living man-like. O, but the more venerable for thy rudeness, and even because we must pity as well, as love thee! Hardly entreated brother! for us was thy back so bent, for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed: thou wert our conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles wert so marred. For in thee too lay a God-created form, but it was not to be unfolded; encrusted must it stand with the thick adhesions and defacements of labour; and thy body, like thy soul, was not to know freedom. Yet toil on, toil on: THOU art in thy duty, be out of it who may; thou toilest for the altogether indispensable, for daily bread.
“A second man I honour, and still more highly: him who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable; not daily bread, but the bread of life. Is not he too in his duty; endeavouring towards inward harmony; revealing this, by act or by word, through all his outward endeavours, be they high or low? Highest of all when his outward and inward endeavours are one; when we can name him artist; not earthly craftsman only, but inspired thinker, who with heaven-made implement conquers heaven for us! If the poor and humble toil that we have food, must not the high and glorious toil for him in return, that he have light, have guidance, freedom, immortality? These two, in all their degrees, I honour: all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth.
“Unspeakably touching is it, however, when I find both dignities united, and he that must toil outwardly for the lowest of man’s wants is also toiling inwardly for the highest. Sublimer in this world know I nothing than a peasant saint, could such now anywhere be met with. Such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself; thou wilt sec the splendour of heaven spring forth from the humblest depths of earth, like a light shining in great darkness.”—Carlyle.
Work is the common duty of all. “It would be very strange if it were not so. The first thing we read of God doing for man when he made him was to assign him work. Before he gave him a right to eat of the fruit of the trees, ‘he put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). When man is translated to the heavenly Eden it is not to idleness: ‘they serve him day and night in his temple.’ The wise man when he looked abroad on the world made this deep reflection: ‘All things are full of labour.’ The calm stars are in ceaseless motion, and every leaf is a world with its busy inhabitants, and the sap coursing through its veins as the life-blood through our own. He who made all worlds has said, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ ”—John Ker, D.D.
All the workers shall be rewarded. “Each shall find that he has a share in the completed results, where the labours of all are represented. What does it matter in which stage of the great process our co-operation has been enlisted? Every man that has had a part in the building shall have a share in the glory. What does it matter whether we have been set to dig out the foundation, working amongst mud and wet, or have laid the lowermost courses, which are all covered up and forgotten, or happen to have been amongst those who bring forth the head-stone with shoutings? We are all builders all the same. The main thing is that we have some work there. Never mind whereabouts it is. Never mind whether it be visible or no. Never mind whether your name is associated with it. You may never see the issues of your toils. If you can see them they will generally not be worth looking at. We work for eternity. We may well wait for the scaffolding to be taken away. Then we shall find that preparatory work is all represented in the final issue; even as the first film of alluvium, deposited in its delta by some mighty stream, is the real foundation for the last, which, long ages after, rise above the surface and bear waving corn and the homes of men.”—Alexander Maclaren, D.D.
A SUGGESTIVE CHURCH RECORD
I. The potency of personal influence. Nehemiah created a spirit of enthusiasm which set all this train of exertion in motion.
II. The force of example. The priests took the lead in the common labour.
III. Advantages of systematic organization. Each volunteer made responsible for some limited portion of work.
IV. The gigantic results achievable by individual action. Like coral insects at work, the multitude of builders each did his part of the whole.
V. The diversity of disposition revealed by a great emergency.
1. Enthusiastic work.
2. Refusal to put the neck to the yoke.
VI. The consentaneity of purpose and effort which a great emergency demands and is calculated to bring about. All rivalries forgotten in the great aim—to again rebuild Jerusalem.
VII. The diversity of gifts which a great emergency calls into requisition.
“No life is waste in the great Worker’s hand.
The gem too poor to polish in itself
Is ground to brighten others.”—P. J. Bailey.
“Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.”—Emerson.
“The body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:4-27).
“Clouds when full pour down, and the presses overflow, and the aromatical trees sweat out their precious and sovereign oils; and every learned scribe must bring out his treasure for the Church’s behoof and benefit.”—John Trapp.
Nehemiah 3:1. Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel
INTRODUCTION.—Priest and king amongst the most terrible words in language. War, oppression, rapine have come at their call.
1. Elevation is dangerous. Separateness from sympathies and ways of common men a misfortune. Men easily enslave those whom they see to be lower than themselves.
2. Privilege and responsibility are co-extensive. Shepherd feeds and guards flock. King lives for subjects. Priest must think, speak, and act for his follows. Noblesse oblige. What is true priesthood?
I. A true priest identifies himself with men. Institution and consecration (Exodus 28:29). Interpretation (Heb.).
1. Called from amongst men (Hebrews 5:1).
2. Offers gifts and sacrifices (Nehemiah 3:1).
3. Compassionates weakness and ignorance (Nehemiah 3:2).
4. Comes between men and God. (a) To present intercessions. (b) To reveal God’s will.
A priesthood is necessary. “You tell me, my seeptical friend, that religion is the contrivance of the priest. How came the priest into being? What gave him his power?”—Channing. [See illustration below, “Christian worship.”]
Priest’s dress, robes, &c. stand for a NEEDED and SUPPOSED sanctity. If not sacred, all the worse for the priest. Must come to his work from a higher ground. Of the people, but above the people. More thoughtful, not less saintly. MANHOOD first, PRIESTHOOD afterwards.
II. A true priest identifies thought with life. The wall-building was Nehemiah’s THOUGHT. Eliashib and his brothers helped to make it REALITY.
Priest makes God’s thoughts man’s life. “Be ye holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15), God’s thought. How to become holy, priest’s life-work. A sinless and sorrowless world, God’s thought. How to approximate to this a priest’s work. Obedience to Divine laws, God’s purpose; enunciations of these and incitements to keep them, priest’s work.
1. Harmonizes ideal and actual.
2. Harmonizes thought and practice.
3. Harmonizes inclination and conscience.
III. A true priest identifies the lower with the higher, the common with the sacred, earth with heaven. Priests “sanctified the wall;” built near the temple. God’s house and city wall both SACRED. Sanctity is relative or real. The temple; the temple utensils. Churches (e. g. Corinth) with unholy members in them are sanctified or holy relatively. Only individual believers really sanctified. Broad distinctions between sacred and secular not well. Sabbath sacred; make all days. God’s house is sacred; so is your own. Bible sacred; read nothing impure.
Illustrations:—Christian worship. “There have been those who have sought to disparage worship by representing it as an arbitrary, unnatural service, a human contrivance, an invention for selfish ends. I will meet the objection by a few remarks drawn from history. There have been, indeed, periods of history in which the influence of the religious principle seems to have been overwhelmed; but in this it agrees with other great principles of our nature, which in certain stages of the race disappear. There are certain conditions of society in which the desire of knowledge seems almost extinct among men, and they abandon themselves for centuries to brutish ignorance. There are communities in which the natural desire of reaching a better lot gives not a sign of its existence, and society remains stationary for ages. There are some in which even the parental affection is so far dead that the new-born child is cast into the stream or exposed to the storm. So the religious principle is in some periods hardly to be discerned; but it is never lost. No principle is more universally manifested. In the darkest ages there are some recognitions of a superior Power. Man feels that there is a Being above himself, and he clothes that Being in what to his rude conceptions is great and venerable. In countries where architecture was unknown men chose the solemn wood or the mountain-top for worship; and when this art appeared its monuments were temples to God. Before the invention of letters hymns were composed to the Divinity, and music, we have reason to think, was the offspring of religion. Music in its infancy was the breathing of man’s fears, wants, hopes, thanks, praises to an unseen power. You tell me, my sceptical friend, that religion is the contrivance of the priest. How came the priest into being? What gave him his power? Why was it that the ancient legislator professed to receive his laws from the gods? The fact is a striking one, that the earliest guides and leaders of the human race looked to the heavens for security and strength to earthly institutions, that they were compelled to speak to men in a higher name than man’s. Religion was an earlier bond and a deeper foundation of society than government. It was the root of civilization. It bus founded the mightiest empires; and yet men question whether religion be an element, a principle of human nature!
“In the earliest ages, before the dawn of science, man recognized an immediate interference of the Divinity in whatever powerfully struck his senses.… Every unusual event was a miracle, a prodigv, a promise of good or a menace of evil from heaven.… The heavens, the earth, the plant, the human frame, now that they are explored by science, speak of God as they never did before. His handwriting is brought out where former ages saw but a blank.… The profoundest of all human wants is the want of God. Mind, spirit must tend to its source. It cannot find happiness but in the perfect Mind, the infinite Spirit. Worship has survived all revolutions. Corrupted dishonoured, opposed, it yet lives. It is immortal as its object, immortal as the soul from which it ascends.”—W. E. Channing, D.D.
The origin of the Christian clergy. “Amongst the gifts which our blessed Lord gave to mankind during his life on earth, the Christian ministry as we now possess it was not one of them. The twelve apostles whom he chose had no successors like them. The seventy disciples also, who went forth at the Lord’s command to preach the gospel, they, too, were soon buried in their graves, but no order of the same kind, or of the same number, came in their stead.
“Yet there was another sense in which the Christian ministry was the gift of their Divine Master, and it was that which St. Paul so well expresses: ‘When he ascended up on high he gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.’ Now what was it that was meant by this statement—this very pointed statement—that it was only after his ascension, after his withdrawal from earth, that he gave those gifts to men, and amongst those gifts were the various offices, of which the two last named contained the germ of all the future clergy of Christendom? What was meant was surely this, that not in his earthly life, not in his direct communication with man, not as a part of the original manifestation of Christianity, but as the result of the complex influences which were showered down to the earth after its Founder had left, as part of the vast machinery of Christian civilization, created by the spirit of Christ for filling up the void of his absence, were the various gifts and professions of Christian forms, and amongst these were the great vocation, the sacred profession of the Christian ministry. Look at the gradual growth of the Christian ministry. In no single instance did the order of clergy now resemble what it was in the first century or even the second. The deacons of every existing Church were very different from the seven deacons of the apostolic age. The presbyters of every Church were either in themselves or in their relations to their brethren very different to the presbyters of the first or second century. Take the bishops; in many important respects they differed essentially from those who bore that title seventeen hundred years ago. They all varied in each age and country, according to the varieties of the age and country; according to the civil constitutions under which they lived; according to the geographical area; according to the climates and customs of cast, west, north, and south; in regard to their election, whether by breathing, by popular election, by internal election, by ministerial election, by ordination, by sacred relics, by the elevation of hands, by the imposition of hands; spheres more or less limited, a humble country village, a vast town population, or a province as large as a kingdom. These variations were not a condemnation, but a justification rather, of their existence. They showed that the order of the Christian clergy, instead of remaining a stiff and useless relic of the past, had grown with the growth and varied with the variations of Christian society. This, therefore, was at once the Divine and the human origin of the Christian ministry; Divine, because it belonged to and formed an important link in the inevitable growth of all Christian communities, of Christian aspirations, and of Christian sympathies; human, because it arose out of and was subject to the necessities and vicissitudes of human passions and human infirmities, and in so far as it was of a permanent and Divine character, having a pledge of an immortal existence so long as Christian society exists; in so far as it was of human character, needing to accommodate itself to the want of each successive age, and needing the support, the sympathy, and the favour of all the other elements of social intercourse by which it was surrounded.”—Dean Stanley.
Nehemiah 3:1. Then Eliashib the high priest rose up, &c.
I. The priests sharing the interests and toils of common manhood. A minister’s power lies not in that in which he differs from others, but in that in which he is like them—“brotherhood.” He shares their weaknesses. He knows headache and heartache, weariness and worry, trouble and temptation; and just in proportion as he is a man will his ministry be sometimes powerful and sometimes powerless. At times he will wish himself in the most distant seat in the Church; at other times speech will be like the upliftings of angels, and the declaration of the gospel as admission into the paradise of God. A white tie, a black coat, and conventional manners do not make a minister; let him come and say, “Brethren, I am as ye are.”
II. The priests an example to the people. The high priest and his subordinates were the first to build. Then common people tied on their aprons and took trowel in hand.
There must be leaders; then there will be followers. Simon Peter said, “I go a fishing.” The rest say unto him, “We also go with thee” (John 21:0). The rank and file will ride into any valley of death if the officers say, “Comrades, come on.” When he “putteth forth his own sheep he goeth before them” (John 10:4).
III. Sacredness of work depends not on its nature, but on its purpose and spirit. “They sanctified” a common wall. They were toiling for hearth and home, for the city of their fathers and the temple of their God. Our work in the world not important; the spirit in which we do it the main consideration. A mother who represents Christ to her children, who becomes to them their idea of what God must be, is as sacredly engaged as some woman of genius whose fame fills a hemisphere. The blood and bones of the man who digs out the foundation are as necessary as the architect’s skill. In building Solomon’s temple the noise and dust of cutting and polishing the stones were confined to the quarry; in the temple all was calm.
In this world of striving and unattainment, of sin and sorrow, we do not see the plan. That is in the mind of the great Architect. Out of confusion he will educe order. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Illustration:—“Man, it is not thy works, which are all mortal, infinitely little, and the greatest no greater than the least, but only the spirit thou workest in, that can have worth or continuance.”—Carlyle.
SYSTEM AND DETAIL IN WORK
Nehemiah 3:2-3. And next unto Eliashib builded the men of Jericho. And next to them builded Zuccar the son of Imri. But the fish gate did the sons of Hassennah build, who also laid, the beams thereof, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof.
“We live not to ourselves, our work is life;
In bright and ceaseless labour as a star
Which shineth unto all worlds but itself.”
Then life is A VOCATION. “I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1). “Your calling” (Ephesians 4:4). “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20). In modern phrase, a man’s trade or profession is his calling. This gives work dignity. Labourer, carpenter, mason, sailor, surgeon, preacher, schoolmaster, newspaper editor, thou art called. A hand not thine own placed thee where thou art. Every man’s work should have a Pentecost. Manual labour is honourable. It must be redeemed from a spurious disregard. Indolence is degrading; dishonesty is ruinous; honest toil need fear no shame.
“None of us liveth to himself” (Romans 14:7). Then life is A MINISTRY. This redeems it from selfishness. “My servants” (John 18:36). “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Not Paul, Peter, and Apollos only. Judgment-day decisions turn on this—“Inasmuch as ye have done,” or, “Inasmuch as ye did not to the brethren” (Matthew 25:0). Ban or blessing each man carries in himself. Influence is conscious, direct, and intentional; then it is occasional, and often fails. Influence is unconscious, indirect, and streams on, like light from the heavens; then it is constant and all-pervasive. Life is more solemn than death. A man’s daily work is not only religious, it is his religion. There he fights and conquers, or fights and falls. Well for him if he
“be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.”
On the work of life let Nehemiah and his noble band teach us somewhat.
I. A great work can only be planned by a great mind. Many saw the desolations of the city; some wept over them. Nehemiah only had a vocation and talents to “build the old wastes and repair the desolations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:4). An equality is impossible. In any circle of twelve there will be a Peter to lead. These are Kings by Divine right. The laureate’s wreath is only green on the brows of him who utters nothing base. Nehemiahs have comprehensive minds, like some insects that put out “feelers” on all sides. Insight is a dangerous gift, hence granted only to the elect ones. Nehemiah rebuilds Jerusalem; Augustine governs a period; Wesley organizes a society; Shakespeare Shakespearizes a language:—they are “born to command.”
II. A great work can only be carried out by division of labour. Nehemiah’s organizing brain needed the hands of the men of Jericho. Farmer requires ploughman, horsekeeper, diggers, and delvers. Architect, clerk of works, mason, carpenter, stone-cutter, hod-man. Writer, an amanuensis, a printer, binder, bookseller. How long it would take one man to make a pin; by dividing the work they are counted by millions. Miner, sailor, soldier hazard their lives for the general good. One goes abroad, another stays at home; this man works with the hand, that with the brain; the husband rules without, the wife rules within; all obeying the same law, the needs be that into the world’s mill each one casts some corn.
III. A great work can only be accomplished by attention to details. “Bars and locks.” Gates and doors without bars and locks useless. “There must be detail in every great work. It is an element of effectiveness which no reach of plan, no enthusiasm of purpose, can dispense with. Thus, if a man conceives the idea of becoming eminent in learning, but cannot toil through the million of little drudgeries necessary to carry him on, his learning will be soon told. Or, if a man undertakes to become rich, but despises the small and gradual advances by which wealth is ordinarily accumulated, his expectations will, of course, be the sum of his riches. Accurate and careful detail, the minding of common occasions and small things, combined with general scope and vigour, is the secret of all the efficiency and success in the world.”—Bushnell.
1. Young man carving out his fortunes. “By little and little.” “Take care of the pence,” &c. Trifling delinquencies; white lies are the unlocked gates through which “seven spirits worse” than these enter. Regard to minor courtesies, use of spare moments, buying up opportunities, lead on to honour always, to fortune sometimes.
2. Church work. Sunday schools, mission bands, tract distributors, missionary collectors are needed. Churchwardens, sidesmen, deacons, stewards, let each fill his place and attend to the duty specially allotted him. Hast thou a contracted sphere? Thou mayest fill it better. Is thy work humble? It is not of necessity mean.
“Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know
In all I think, or speak, or do.”
IV. A great work brings out special adaptations. The men of Jericho built the wall. But the fish gate with its locks and bars did the sons of Hassenaah build.
The disciples of Christ. Prophecy-reading Philip finds prophecy-reading Nathaniel (John 1:43-51). Peter speaks and acts impetuously, and dies courageously (John 21:0). John, with a piercing insight, writes the angelic Gospel, and waits to see and war against rising error (John 21:0; Epistles of John; Revelation).
Does the hero mould the age, or the age mould the hero? Partly both.
In the Church “every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Corinthians 7:7). The eloquent Apollos expounds the Scriptures; the deft-handed Dorcas clothes the naked; the man of wealth sustains the charities; the strong minister to weakness; the wise enlighten the ignorant. “There is a different colour of beauty in different stones that are all of them precious. One man may be burnishing to the sparkle of the diamond, while another is deepening to the glow of the ruby. For this reason there are such different temperaments in Christian character and varying circumstances in Christian life, that the foundations of the wall of the city may be garnished with all manner of precious stones. Each Christian has his own place and lustre in that temple, and therefore there is no ground to disparage our neighbour, and none to despair of ourselves, if we are both in the hand of Christ.”—Ker.
V. A great work must have regard to practical utility. The fish gate as necessary as the repairing of temple wall. Began at the temple, but did not stop there. What is it for? to be asked of every man’s work. Does it begin and end in itself. True work should brighten somebody’s dark life, cast out the stones from the rugged road along which some brother’s stumbling feet must go, expel some one of the legion of demons that possess men.
VI. A great work must be inspired by a lofty purpose. Nehemiah and his fellows were rebuilding the city of David (Nehemiah 3:15). Milton chose ‘Paradise Lost,’ and aimed to justify the ways of God to men. The painters find the sufferings of Christ an inexhaustible subject. A great religious reformer desired to spread holiness throughout the land. Man, art thou moved by a lofty motive inspired by God’s good Spirit to take unto thee thy office in the world and Church?
VII. A great work must look on to the future. It must have in it the element of permanence. They were rebuilding the chosen city—the city of the future, as they fondly hoped.
CONCLUSION.—In heaven “they have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 4:8). Two worlds, but only one law. Here from grace to grace, there from glory to glory. Here “faithful in that which is least” (Luke 16:10), there “ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:23). The first word is, Be faithful; and the second, Be faithful; and the third, Be faithful.
Nehemiah 3:3. “If a man would stand on figures and allegories, this gate may well signify Christ, who made his apostles and preachers fishers of men, who by him brought and daily bring them into this spiritual Jerusalem; for he is only the door whereby all must enter into the Lord’s city. These men, like good builders, leave nothing undone that might fortify that gate; for they set on not only the doors, but also bolts and locks. So must God’s Church be made strong by laws, discipline, and authority, that ravening lions and filthy-swine rush not in and disquiet or devour God’s people; and the wholesome doctrine must be confirmed with strong arguments and reasons against false teachers.”—Pilkington.
Working for the unknown future. “An old tattered volume found among his father’s books, Bunny’s ‘Resolutions,’ aroused Richard Baxter to concern; and Sibb’s ‘Braised Reed’ led him to the Saviour. From Baxter’s pen proceeded ‘The Call to the Unconverted,’ which, in addition to its most extensive circulation elsewhere, was given by a beggar at the door where Philip Doddridge lived. It was the voice of God to the youthful reader, who became the author of ‘The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul’—a book which gave the first impression to William Wilberforce. He became the author of ‘A Practical View of Christianity,’ which was blessed to the conversion of Leigh Richmond, a successful minister, and author of ‘The Dairyman’s Daughter’ and ‘Young Cottager,’ little works that have had many seals in souls won to God. The ‘Practical View’ was also instrumental in the saving change of Dr. Chalmers, whose works are world-wide, and whose labours were so eminently owned for the revival of religion in the ministry and people of Scotland.”—Dr. Steel.
Nehemiah 3:5. And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord
The rivalry of classes in all history.
1. Use of this ricalry. The mutual suspicion and watchfulness of classes serves to put all on their best behaviour; one is as a goad to the other for exertion in industry and excellence.
2. Abuse of this rivalry. All the hatreds and bigotries and wars of mankind.
I. Rival classes.
1. A noble peasantry. “The Tekoites.”
(1) Simplicity. Lowly life is favourable to simplicity of aim and endeavour. Among the poor you find the most faithful servants; among the poor the Church finds her most diligent workers. Men who have been grinding at the tread-mill of hard labour all the week are the men who work the wheels of Christian service on a Sunday. Among the “better people” of religious communions “the labourers are few.”
(2) Devotion. Steady adherence to great principles is more often found amongst the poor. There is something in the saying about ignorance being the mother of devotion. Not in the cynical sense. But those who see only the hard realities of life are often capable of deep attachment to friends and to God and to a great cause, while the dilettante “feels no interest” in anything human or Divine. Enthusiasm is a popular quality.
2. An effeminate aristocracy.
(1) Selfishness. Not confined to one class, but in its hardest manifestations to be found among the gay and worldly, who have multiplied their natural wants by a thousand artificial needs. To expect a burst of noble-hearted, generous enthusiasm from the frozen circle of worldly society is to look for grapes on thorns and figs from the thistle-stalk. [Of course in all this contrast we are only keeping in mind the really worldly circle, and are not forgetting the fact that in Jerusalem’s rebuilding and in the reconstructions of English history the noble have nobly stood to the front.]
(2) Pride. Beautiful is the way in which modern society is returning in many respects to humility in regard to practical things. A Prince of Wales sends his boys to the routine of a sailor apprenticeship; a Duke of Argyle sends his son to a house of business; a gentleman’s son doffs his neat coat and stoops down, hammer in hand, in the engineer’s yard. In this there is a more hopeful sight than when the proud nobles of Jerusalem disdained the rough work which the God-inspired Nehemiah designed.
II. Rival views.
1. Popular desire for reform.
(1) Politically. Trace course of national history. Instance the case of the Corn Laws, with its mechanic poet Ebenezer Elliott.
(2) Ecclesiastically. Nothing is so fatal to a Church as for the people to let Church government alone and leave it to professional men. The sheep are for the sake of the shepherd in farming; but Christ’s shepherds are for the sake of the flock. In our Lord’s time “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37); but it was asked as an incredible thing, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” (John 7:48). The Reformation was a reply to the people, who groaned by reason of the afflictions wherewith the taskmasters afflicted them.
(3) Theologically. The popular sentiment is the curb of theological opinion. What men, as men, think and feel are the governor-halls of the great logic-engine of systematic theology. The mother’s heart in the theologian adjusts his harsh, cold views of God.
2. Reform cried down by the nobles. The doctrine of standing still is only preached by the few who find the place comfortable; the “noble discontent” which spurs on the needy and oppressed is the animation of all reform in State or Church.
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey.
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”
Goldsmith’s ‘Deserted Village.’
1. Beware of luxurious aspirations. Think not merely of the pleasures of greatness, but of its enervating perils.
2. Remember that the duties of individual manhood and the sources of happiness in the individual character remain the same under all changes of costume and title. A man is never more or less than a servant of the great Taskmaster, and a fellow-labourer with others in the ruined city of Mansoul.
3. Beware of indolence and pride, and do thy task for God and man.
A life of idleness. “And who art thou that braggest of thy life of idleness; complacently showest thy bright gilt equipages, sumptuous cushions, appliances for folding of the hands to mere sleep? Looking up, looking down, around, behind, or before, discernest thou, if it be not in May-fair alone, any idle hero, saint, god, or even devil? Not a vestige of one. In the heavens, in the earth, in the waters under the earth is none like unto thee. Thou art an original figure in this creation, a denizen in Mayfair alone, in this extraordinary century or half-century alone! One monster there is in the world—the idle man.”—Carlyle.
Rich and poor. “Let not the rich misread the signs of the times, or mistake their brethren; they have less and less respect for titles and riches, for vestments and ecclesiastical pretensions; but they have a real respect for superior knowledge and superior goodness; they listen like children to those whom they believe to know a subject better than themselves. Let those who know it say whether there is not something inexpressibly touching and even humbling in the large, hearty, manly English reverence and love which the working-men show towards those who love and serve them truly, and save them from themselves and from doing wrong. Alas! we have been very ready to preach submission. For three long centuries we have taught submission to the powers that be, as if that were the only text in Scripture bearing on the relations between the ruler and the ruled. Rarely have we dared to demand of the powers that be Justice; of the wealthy man and the titled duties. We have produced folios of slavish flattery upon the Divine right of power. Shame on us! we have not denounced the wrongs done to weakness, and yet for one text in the Bible which requires submission and patience from the poor, you will find a hundred which denounce the vices of the rich; in the writings of the noble old Jewish prophets, that, and almost that only; that in the Old Testament, with a deep roll of words that sound like Sinai thunders; and that in the New Testament in words less impassioned and more calmly terrible from the apostles and their Master; and woe to us, in the great day of God, if we have been the sycophants of the rich instead of the redressers of the poor man’s wrongs.”—F. W. Robertson.
What the poor have done. “Thomas Cranfield, a tailor, established a prayer-meeting among the brickmakers in Kingsland, which was held every morning at five o’clock. He established schools at Rotherhithe, Tottenham, Kent Street, Southwark, the Mint, Garden Row, St. George’s, Rosemary Lane, and Kennington. John pounds, a Portsmouth cobbler, was the founder of ragged schools. Harlan Page consecrated letter-writing to the highest end—the salvation of souls.”—Dr. Steel.
Handicraft. “It is not a mean thing to labour with the hand. There is a dignity in every duty, and especially in this. Since the Carpenter of Nazareth toiled at his bench and made tools for Galilean peasants, labour has had a dignity, and artisans an elevation, and workshops a consecration. After this, the lantern-making of King Æropus, the ship-building of the Czar Peter, or the watch making of the Emperor Charles V., could do little to exalt it.”—Dr. Steel.
“Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.”
THE OLD GATE
Nehemiah 3:6. Moreover the old gate repaired Jehoiada, &c.
Memory needs to be awakened. Forgetting may be impossible, but we cannot always recollect.
Illustration:—“I am convinced that the dread book of account which the Scriptures speak of is, in fact, the mind itself of each individual. Of this at least I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever, just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.”—De Quincey.
I. The old gate brought up memories of the PAST. The past is valuable. God does not work instantaneously. Instance the seasons. Jewish law that the land should rest (Leviticus 25:0). Our fathers made the roads, built the churches, founded schools, started commerce. Art, science, mechanical inventions are improvements. We build upon the past as on a bed of rock. “Custom passes into law from precedent to precedent.” Civilization does not grow up in a night, like Jonah’s gourd. Eight and wrong are as old as the creation.
Illustration:—“Every master has found his materials collected. What an economy of power! and what a compensation for the shortness of life! All is done to his hand. The world has brought him thus far on his way. The human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows, and bridged the rivers. Men, nations, poets, artisans, women, all have worked for him, and he enters into their labours.”—Emerson.
II. The old gate was an incentive to exertion in the PRESENT. Our fathers’ gate. Patriotism fired their blood.
III. The old gate was a dumb prophet of the FUTURE. The builders were gone, but their work abode. So would theirs. So will ours.
1. Work, for Heaven so wills.
2. Work, under the recollection that you are treading in the steps of the true nobility of the past.
3. Work, because the day is passing.
4. Work, and eternity shall reward you.
THE BROAD WALL
Nehemiah 3:8. The broad wall
Around Jerusalem in her days of splendour there was a broad wall, her defence and glory. Jerusalem is a type of the Church.
A broad wall suggests SEPARATION, SECURITY, and ENJOYMENT.
1. Every Christian should be more scrupulous than other men in his dealings.
2. By his pleasures the Christian should be distinguished.
3. In everything that affects the Christian; e. g. home business; going in and coming out; staying a night in a friend’s house.
4. Most conspicuously in the spirit of his mind.
The wall should be VERY BROAD.
1. There should be a broad distinction between you Christians and unconverted people.
2. Our Lord Christ had a broad wall between him and the ungodly.
3. A broad wall is abundantly good for yourselves.
4. You will do more good to the world thereby.
1. The Christian is surrounded by the broad wall of God’s power.
2. By the broad wall of God’s love.
3. By the broad wall of God’s law and justice.
4. By the broad wall of God’s immutability.
5. By the broad wall of God’s electing love.
6. By the broad wall of God’s redeeming love.
7. The work of the Holy Spirit is a broad wall.
8. Every doctrine of grace is a broad wall.
9. The honour of Christ is a broad wall.
III. Enjoyment. On the walls of Nineveh and Babylon men drove, walked, chatted at sunset. Broad walls at York.
3. Prospects and outlook. The godless!—Spurgeon, abridged.
Nehemiah 3:12. Shallum repaired—he and his daughters
Women building stone walls. Perhaps they were heiresses or rich widows, who undertook to defray the expense of a portion of the wall. Perhaps! perhaps not. In crises women have donned armour—why may not these have wrought at the wall? When men have shown the white feather, women have turned bold. “Women’s rights.” The story of women’s wrongs has not yet been told. Woman’s influence a practical, ever-pressing question.
I. Notable women.
1. Within the circle of Biblical story. “In redemption’s history we have Sarah’s faith, Ruth’s devotion, Abigail’s humility, Shunammite’s hospitality, Esther’s patriotism, penitence of her anointing Christ, Canaanite’s importunity, Mary of Bethany’s love, Lydia’s confidence, Dorcas’ benevolence, Phoebe’s kindness, Priscilla’s courage, Tryphena and Tryphosa’s diligence, and Persis’ affection—honoured of God.”—Van Doren.
Most books of the Bible canonize women. Genesis, Eve, Rebekah, Rachel. Exodus, Miriam. Judges, Jephthah’s daughter and the poetess Deborah. Solomon sings the praises of a good woman; and the Gospels of Jesus contain Marys, Martha, and the unnamed who ministered to him. The Epistles teach women their duties, and reveal the depth of their influence and the width of their power.
2. In history. The mother of the Gracchi; the mother of the Wesleys; the mother of St. Augustine; the mother of George Washington. Martyred women; songstresses. Elizabeth Fry, who never forgot the mother in the philanthropist. Madame Guyon, whose faith she thus expressed:
“To me remains nor place nor time,—
My country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there.”
Countess of Huntingdon; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; and time would fail us to tell of “the nameless,” whose records are on high.
II. Woman’s influence.
1. For evil. Jezebel; Solomon’s wives; devotees of fashion; women who spend their all at the gin-palace, and leave their children in dirt and destitution. A man must toil without; a woman must guard within.
2. For good.
1. Influence is not measurable by its circumference. May be no larger than a house, no wider than a workshop.
2. Every mother should be a missionary to her children. She may save her husband (1 Corinthians 7:16). She has her children before teachers and ministers can influence them. To them she should represent God’s care and Christ’s mind, not by her words only, but in her life. Nothing can supersede the religion of the hearth.
Illustrations:—“One third more females church-members than males.”—Edwards.
“The commonest and the least remembered of all great-little heroisms is the heroism of an average mother. Ah, when I think of that last broad fact I gather hope again for poor humanity, and this dark world looks bright, this diseased world looks wholesome to me once more, because, whatever it is or is not full of, it is at least full of mothers.” Charles Kingsley.
“Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;
Do lovely things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make life, death, and that vast for ever
One grand, sweet song.”
Charles Kingsley to his niece.
HIGH MEN AT LOWLY TASKS
Nehemiah 3:13-19. The valley gate repaired Hanun, &c.
The fusion of classes. Ordinarily society builds a broad wall betwixt class and class. But in the presence of a common danger, or under the inspiration of a common resolve, men break down all barriers, and stand side by side. Too often “the kings of the earth and the rulers take counsel together against the cause of the Lord” (Psalms 2:0); but the word of God standeth for ever. “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship.… Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and queens thy nursing mothers” (Isaiah 49:0).
I. The differences and unities of the race. We make too much of distinctions; e. g. rich and poor, learned and ignorant, toilers and thinkers, manufacturers and hands, up-town and down town, West-end and East-end. One God created us, one cross redeems us, one Spirit inspires us; the same book teaches us, similar demons tempt us, similar sorrows confront us, a common grave awaits us, the same heaven is open to us. Society rings itself round. The aristocracy of birth says of the aristocracy of money, “Only a merchant.” Better that emperor’s wife who often said to her husband, “Remember what you were, and what you now are, and then you will be always thankful to God.”
II. Historical illustrations. The Romans called rulers “fathers of their country.” The Greeks styled them “shepherds of their people.” Most revolutions in Church and State have ranged high and low side by side. Paul was aided by “Erastus, the city chamberlain” (Romans 16:23), “and they of Cæsar’s household (Philippians 4:22). The Reformation “was indebted to the Elector Frederick. Lord Cobham’s castle afforded shelter to Lollard preachers. England owes a debt of gratitude to “Albert the Good” for his devotion to science and art, and whatever would ameliorate the people’s conditions.
III. Practical purport.
1. With honour comes responsibility. May I not do what I will with mine own? No; thou art only a steward. Hast thou wealth? The poor shall never cease out of the land; they are lawful claimants on thy sympathy. Hast thou wisdom? Teach the ignorant, guide the perplexed. Art thou elevated? Stoop to those who are low, lift down a helping hand to those who have stumbled and fallen.
“Heaven does with us as we with torches do;
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch’d
But to fine issues; nor Nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor—
Both thanks and use.”
2. Be not deceived by appearances. Not what a man hath, but what a man is, determines his worth. It is the cause, not the suffering, makes the martyr. The motive decides the action. Pierce beneath the surface, plant thy foot on the rock of reality.
3. Gather courage and patience from the thought of the future. Look unto Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured, &c. (Hebrews 12:2). Remember Moses (Hebrews 11:26). Whose names were in the foundations of the city of vision? Not the leaders only (Peter, James, and John), but “the twelve apostles” (Revelation 21:14). “The Holy Ghost hath registered unto us the names and diligence of the builders of this earthly city Jerusalem, by the pen of his faithful servant Nehemiah, for our comfort; and to teach us that much more he hath registered the names of the builders of the spiritual Jerusalem in the book of life, where no devil can scrape them out, but shall be the dear children of the Lord God, defended by him from all ill. Let us therefore cast away this slothful sluggishness wherein we have lain so long, rise up quickly, work lustily, spit on our hands and take good hold, that we fall not back again from our Lord God. It is more honour to be a workman in this house than to live the easiest life that the world can give.”—Pilkington.
DAVID THE NATIONAL HERO
Nehemiah 3:15. The city of David. Nehemiah 3:16. The sepulchres of David
They were working on sacred ground. Hence their enthusiasm. Effort must have inspiration. This city David conquered; he beautified it; here he reigned; here he sleeps. They did not stay to shape such thoughts as these. They were instincts. Patriotism lives not by bread only, but by sentiments, by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of good king and wise teacher in the ages past. Theme, DAVID’S LIFE-WORK the basis of national hero-worship.
I. Preparing for a throne. “He that is born is listed; life is war.” “The foundation of David’s character is a firm, unshaken trust in Jehovah, a bright and most spiritual view of creation and the government of the world, a sensitive awe of the Holy One of Israel, a striving ever to be true to him, and a strong desire to return after errors and transgressions.”—Ewald. Psalms 78:70 tells how David was God’s elected king. The prophet Samuel shaped the character of the period. His work was long developing. Takes months for common seed to grow. Samuel cast seed into God’s world-field; David and Solomon put in the sickle and reaped. What of that? Sower and reaper equally indispensable (John 4:36-38). David had a creative faculty—he was the poet of song. We have “the book of the chronicles” of King David; we have, too, the books of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs he sang and wrote. Saul’s FATAL DAY not the day of the battle of Gilboa, but the day of the battle with Amalek; not the day when Saul died, but the day when Saul disobeyed, led to David’s election and anointing. The story is told in the Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:16). Eliab is rejected. The height of a man’s stature and the beauty of his countenance shall not henceforth be signs infallible that God has endowed that man with kingly qualities. God-elected shall be God-endowed. That day David anointed, but God’s hand had been upon him in the pastures of Bethlehem. There he thought out, if he did not write, Psalms 23:0. There he discerned a presence which beset him behind and before (Psalms 139:0). To him the heavens declared God. How perfect God’s law was, and what God’s fear meant, he was being taught by the order of God in nature; how guilty and feeble he was, he was being taught by the voice of God in his own conscience (Psalms 19:0). David’s God was a living, ever-present, helping God (Psalms 27:0). From the sheepfolds David came to encounter Goliath. From the sheepfolds he was summoned to be harp-player to King Saul. He was anointed, but not enthroned. He must learn to wait. God never extemporizes. “Soon ripe, soon rot.” Moses eighty years of preparation. Elijah a full-grown man before he appears in sacred history. Jesus Christ eighteen quiet, uneventful years after seeing the holy city, and afterwards forty days in wilderness. The harvest of God in human souls ripens slowly. As David thought of his great work, and felt himself a child with a giant’s task, he said, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength” (Psalms 8:0). He recollected the storms he had witnessed as he watched the sheep when he wrote Psalms 29:0. But after the longest night the morning breaks. David was called to the court as harp-player to King Saul. Saul’s servants described David to the king as “a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing” (1 Samuel 16:18). David was an artist, as we now speak. In Eastern lands shepherd-life and songs have always gone together. The elected king is harpist to the enthroned king. How slowly David ascended the steps to the throne. We, who look back, see some reasons why ascent was gradual. In the pastures he had time to think; in the court he had opportunity to observe. David’s harp quieted Saul’s excitement (1 Samuel 16:23); David’s harp helped him to compose his Psalms for the song-life of the Church universal. His chequered life fore-shadowed in Saul’s court. To-day the king’s bosom friend, to-morrow the butt for the king’s javelin. The love of David and Jonathan the one bright and beautiful thing. Purer and more constant friendship was never known. With his escape from Saul’s court began—
II. The work and warfare of David’s life.
1. As a freebooter.
2. As king.
1. As a freebooter. Cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-2). Wild wilderness life. Hunted by Saul (1 Samuel 23:25-29; 1 Samuel 24:8-22). Saul’s hope failed him in the hour of need, and he fell on Gilboa’s fatal field.
2. David was king. First over Judah, then over all Israel. David’s reign was one of creation; Solomon’s was one of consolidation. A brilliant reign of a great and good man; but, like all things human, not without fault (2 Samuel 11:0; 1 Chronicles 21:0; 1 Chronicles 21:0). The fifty-first Psalm the cry of this kingly penitent. But did “the free spirit” ever come back again as in the earlier days? However, Carlyle’s words are both wise and charitable. “Who is called ‘the man after God’s own heart’? David, the Hebrew king, had fallen into sins enough—blackest crimes—there was no want of sin; and therefore the unbelievers sneer, and ask, ‘Is this your man according to God’s heart?’ The sneer, I must say, seems to me but a shallow one. What are faults, what are the outward details of a life, if the inner secret of it, the remorse, temptations, the often-baffled, never-ended struggle of it be forgotten? David’s life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given us of a man’s moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often baffled, sore baffled, driven as into entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended, ever with tears, repentance, true, unconquerable purpose begun anew.” He died full of age and honours, and his sepulchre Nehemiah looked upon with reverence, Peter the apostle spoke of with exultation, and to it the feet of countless thousands of weary pilgrims have been directed.
A true man.—“Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Cæsar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman empire. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man: as monachism of the hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called ‘the height of Rome;’ and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”—Emerson.
Sepulchres.—“Next to the wells of Syria, the most authentic memorials of past times are the sepulchres, and partly for the same reason. The tombs of ancient Greece and Rome lined the public roads with funeral pillars or towers. Grassy graves and marble monuments fill the church-yards and churches of Christian Europe. But the sepulchres of Palestine were like the habitations of its earliest inhabitants, hewn out of the living limestone rock, and therefore indestructible as the rock itself. In this respect they resembled, though on a smaller scale, the tombs of Upper Egypt; and as there the traveller of the nineteenth century is confronted with the names and records of men who lived thousands of years ago, so also in the excavations of the valleys which surround or approach Shiloh, Shechem, Bethel, and Jerusalem he knows that he sees what were the last resting-places of the generations contemporary with Joshua, Samuel, and David. And the example of Egypt shows that the identification of these sepulchres even with their individual occupants is not so improbable as might be otherwise supposed. If the graves of Rameses and Osirei can still be ascertained, there is nothing improbable in the thought that the tombs of the patriarchs may have survived the lapse of twenty or thirty centuries. The rocky cave on Mount Hor must be at least the spot believed by Josephus to mark the grave of Aaron. The tomb of Joseph must be near one of the two monuments pointed out as such in the opening of the vale of Shechem. The sepulchre which is called the tomb of Rachel exactly agrees with the spot described as ‘a little way’ from Bethlehem. The tomb of David, which was known with certainty at the time of the Christian era, may perhaps still be found under the mosque which bears his name in the modern Zion. Above all, the cave of Machpelah is concealed, beyond all reasonable doubt, by the mosque at Hebron. But, with these exceptions, we must rest satisfied rather with the general than the particular interest of the tombs of Palestine.”—Stanley’s ‘Sinai and Palestine.’
THE WORKMEN’S DAY-BOOK
Nehemiah 3:20-32. After him Baruch the son of Zabbai, &c.
I. Every man is carefully credited with his own tasks and achievements. Rulers, priests, slaves (Nethinims), men, women (Nehemiah 3:12). Nobody is forgotten. The humblest not passed by in contemptuous silence.
II. Special honour is accorded special work. Levites and priests began at the temple, but did not stop there (Nehemiah 3:22; Nehemiah 3:28). Zabbai, who earnestly repaired a second piece, having completed his task did not fold his arms, but went with open eyes and willing hands to seek another task. The goldsmiths and the temple traders came down to the wall not to inspect, but labour (Nehemiah 3:31-32).
III. Regard is had to the men of practical wisdom. Benjamin and others built over against their house (Nehemiah 3:23; Nehemiah 3:28-29). Meshullam built over against his chamber (Nehemiah 3:30). Perhaps he was a lodger, (a) They were men of practical sense. Work was near at hand; why go abroad? “There are many Christians who can never find a place large enough to do their duty. Some Churches seem to feel that if anything is to be done some great operation must be started. They cannot even repent without concert and a general ado.”—Bushnell. (b) These men found here an inspiration for effort—the defence of home. With practical enthusiasm, Hananiah and others built “another piece.” All cannot keep the same pace, but all can build.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. “The Son of man shall come … and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 3
TOPOGRAPHY OF THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH
THE only description of the ancient city of Jerusalem which exists in the Nehemiah, and although it is hardly sufficiently distinct to enable us to settle Bible so extensive in form as to enable us to follow it as a topographical description is that found in the Book of all the moot points, it contains such valuable indications that it is well worthy of the most attentive examination. The easiest way to arrive at any correct conclusion regarding it, is to take first the description of the dedication of the walls in ch. 12 (31–40), and, drawing such a diagram as this, we easily get at the main features of the old wall at least.
The order of procession was that the princes of Judah went up upon the wall at some point as nearly as possible opposite to the temple, and one half of them turning to the right went towards the dung gate, “and at the fountain gate, which was over against them” (or, in other words, on the opposite or temple side of the city), “went up by the stairs of the city of David at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward.” The water gate, therefore, was one of the southern gates of the temple, and the stairs that led up to it are here identified with those of the city of David, and consequently with Zion.
The other party turned to the left, or northwards, and passed from beyond the tower of the furnaces even “unto the broad wall,” and passing the gate of Ephraim, the old gate, the fish gate, the towers of Hananeel and Meah, to the sheep gate, “stood still in the prison gate,” as the other party had in the water gate. “So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God.”
If from this we turn to the third chapter, which gives a description of the repairs of the wall, we have no difficulty in identifying all the places mentioned in the first sixteen verses with those enumerated in the twelfth chapter. The repairs began at the sheep gate on the north side, and in immediate proximity with the temple, and all the places named in the dedication are again named, but in the reverse order, till we come to the tower of the furnaces, which, if not identical with the tower in the citadel, so often mistaken for the Hippicus, must at least have stood very near to it. Mention is then made, but now in the direct order of the dedication, of “the valley gate,” the “dung gate,” the “fountain gate;” and lastly, the “stairs that go down from the city of David.” Between these last two places we find mention made of the pool of Siloah and the king’s garden, so that we have long passed the so-called sepulchre of David on the modern Zion, and are in the immediate proximity of the temple; most probably in the valley between the city of David and the city of Jerusalem. What follows is most important (Nehemiah 3:16): “After him repaired Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, the ruler of the half part of Bethzur, unto the place over against the sepulchres of David, and to the pool that was made, and unto the house of the mighty.” This passage, when taken with the context, seems in itself quite sufficient to set at rest the question of the position of the city of David, of the sepulchres of the kings, and consequently of Zion, all which could not be mentioned after Siloah if placed where modern tradition has located them.
If the chapter ended with the sixteenth verse there would be no difficulty in determining the sites mentioned above, but unfortunately we have, according to this view, retraced our steps very nearly to the point from which we started, and have got through only half the places enumerated. Two hypotheses may be suggested to account for this difficulty: the one, that there was then, as in the time of Josephus, a second wall, and that the remaining names refer to it; the other, that the first sixteen verses refer to the walls of Jerusalem, and the remaining sixteen to those of the city of David. An attentive consideration of the subject renders it almost certain that the latter is the true explanation of the case. In the enumeration of the places repaired, in the last part of the chapter, we have two which we know, from the description of the dedication, really belonged to the temple. The prison court (Nehemiah 3:25), which must have been connected with the prison gate, and, as shown by the order of the dedication, to have been on the north side of the temple, is here also connected with the king’s high house; all this clearly referring, as shown above, to the castle of David, which originally occupied the site of the Turris Antonia. We have on the opposite side the “water gate,” mentioned in the next verse to Ophel, and consequently as clearly identified with the southern gate of the temple. We have also the horse gate, that by which Athaliah was taken out of the temple (2 Kings 11:16; 2 Chronicles 23:15), which Josephus states led to the Kedron, and which is here mentioned as connected with the priests’ houses, and probably, therefore, a part of the temple. Mention is also made of the house of Eliashib the high priest, and of the eastern gate, probably that of the temple. In fact, no place is mentioned in these last verses which cannot be more or less directly identified with the localities on the temple hill, and not one which can be located in Jerusalem. The whole of the city of David, however, was so completely rebuilt and remodelled by Herod that there are no local indications to assist us in ascertaining whether the order of description of the places mentioned after Nehemiah 3:16 proceeds along the northern face, and round by Ophel, and up behind the temple back to the sheep gate; or whether, after crossing the causeway to the armoury and prison, it does not proceed along the western face of the temple to Ophel in the south, and then, along the eastern face, back along the northern, to the place from which the description started. The latter seems the more probable hypothesis, but the determination of the point is not of very great consequence. It is enough to know that the description in the first sixteen verses applies to Jerusalem, and in the last sixteen to Zion, or the city of David, as this is sufficient to explain almost all the difficult passages in the Old Testament which refer to the ancient topography of the city.—Fergusson in Smith’s ‘Bible Dictionary.’
The first sight of Jerusalem as seen from the south, the first moment when from the ridge of hills which divide the valley of Rephaim from the valley of Bethlehem one sees the white line crowning the horizon, and knows that it is Jerusalem, is a moment never to be forgotten. But there is nothing in the view itself to excite your feelings. Nor is there even when the Mount of Olives heaves in sight, nor when “the horses’ hoofs ring on the stones of the streets of Jerusalem.” Nor is there in the surrounding outline of hills on the distant horizon. Nebi-Samuel is indeed a high and distinguished point, and Ramah and Gibeah both stand out, but they and all the rest in some degree partake of that featureless character which belongs to all the hills of Judæa.
In one respect no one need quarrel with this first aspect of Jerusalem. So far as localities have any concern with religion, it is well to feel that Christianity, even in its first origin, was nurtured in no romantic scenery; that the discourses in the walks to and from Bethany, and in earlier times the psalms and prophecies of David and Isaiah, were not, as in Greece, the offspring of oracular cliffs and grottos, but the simple outpouring of souls which thought of nothing but God and man. It is not, however, inconsistent with this view to add, that though not romantic, though at first sight bare and prosaic in the extreme, there does at last grow up about Jerusalem a beauty as poetical as that which hangs over Athens and Rome. First, it is in the highest degree venerable. Modern houses it is true there are; the interiors of the streets are modern. The old city itself (and I felt a constant satisfaction in the thought) lies buried twenty, thirty, forty feet below these wretched shops and receptacles for Anglo-Oriental conveniences. But still, as you look at it from any commanding point, within or without the walls, you are struck by the gray ruinous masses of which it is made up; it is the ruin, in fact, of the old Jerusalem on which you look—the stones, the columns; the very soil on which you tread is the accumulation of nearly three thousand years. And as with the city, so it is with the view of the country round it. There is, as I have said, no beauty of form or outline, but there is nothing to disturb the thought of the hoary age of those ancient hills; and the interest of the past, even to the hardest mind, will in spite of themselves invest them with a glory of their own.
The view of the Moab mountains is constantly intermingled with the views of Jerusalem itself. From almost every point there was visible that long purple wall, rising out of its unfathomable depths, to us even more interesting than to the old Jebusites or Israelites. They knew the tribes who lived there; they had once dwelt there themselves. But to the inhabitants of modern Jerusalem, of whom comparatively few have ever visited the other side of the Jordan, it is the end of the world; and to them, to us, these mountains have almost the effect of a distant view of the sea; the hues constantly changing, this or that precipitous rock coming out clear in the morning or evening shade—there the form of what may possibly be Pisgah, dimly shadowed out by surrounding valleys; here the point of Kerak, the capital of Moab and fortress of the Crusaders—and then at times all wrapt in deep haze, the mountains overhanging the valley of the shadow of death, and all the more striking from their contrast with the gray or green colours of the hills, and streets, and walls through which you catch the glimpse of them. Next there are the ravines of the city. This is its great charm. The Dean of St. Paul’s once observed to me that he thought Luxembourg must be like Jerusalem in situation. And so to a certain extent it is. I do not mean that the ravines of Jerusalem are so deep and abrupt as those of Luxembourg, but there is the same contrast between the baldness of the level approach, the walls of the city appearing on the edge of the table-land, and then the two great ravines of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat opening between you and the city; and again the two lesser ravines, rival claimants to the name of Tyropœon, intersecting the city itself. In this respect I never saw a town so situated, for here it is not merely the fortress, but the city, which is thus surrounded and entangled with natural fosses; and this when seen from the walls, especially from the walls on the northern side, and when combined with the light and shade of evening, gives the whole place a variety of colour and of level fully sufficient to relieve the monotony which else it would share with other Eastern cities. And, thirdly, it must be remembered that there is one approach which is really grand, namely, from Jericho and Bethany. It is the approach by which the army of Pompey advanced,—the first European army that ever confronted it,—and it is the approach of the triumphal entry of the gospels. Probably the first impression of every one coming from the north, the west, and the south may be summed up in the simple expression used by one of the modern travellers, “I am strangely affected, but greatly disappointed.” But no human being could be disappointed who first saw Jerusalem from the east. The beauty consists in this, that you then burst at once on the two great ravines which cut the city off from the surrounding table-land, and that then only you have a complete view of the mosque of Omar. The other buildings of Jerusalem which emerge from the mass of gray ruin and white stones are few, and for the most part unattractive. The white mass of the Armenian convent on the south, and the dome of the mosque of David; the castle, with Herod’s tower on the south-west corner; the two domes, black and white, which surmount the Holy Sepulchre and the Basilica of Constantine; the green corn-field which covers the ruins of the palace of the Knights of St. John; the long yellow mass of the Latin convent at the northwest corner, and the gray tower of the mosque of the Dervishes on the traditional site of the palace of Herod Antipas, in the north-east corner; these are the only objects which break from various points the sloping or level lines of the city of the Crusaders and Saracens. But none of these is enough to elevate its character. What, however, these fail to effect is in one instant effected by a glance at the mosque of Omar. From whatever point that graceful dome with its beautiful precinct emerges to view, it at once dignifies the whole city. And when from Olivet, or from the governor’s house, or from the north-east wall, you see the platform on which it stands, it is a scene hardly to be surpassed. A dome graceful as that of St. Peter’s, though of course on a far smaller scale, rising from an elaborately-finished circular edifice; this edifice raised on a square marble platform rising on the highest ridge of a green slope, which descends from it north, south, and east to the walls surrounding the whole enclosure; platform and enclosure diversified by lesser domes and fountains, by cypresses, and olives, and planes, and palms; the whole as secluded and quiet as the interior of some college or cathedral garden, only enlivened by the white figures of veiled women stealing like ghosts up and down the green slope, or by the turbaned heads bowed low in the various niches for prayer.—this is the mosque of Omar, the Haram es-Sherîf, “the noble sanctuary;” the second most sacred spot in the Mahometan world—that is, the next after Mecca; the second most beautiful mosque—that is, the next after Cordova. I, for one, felt almost disposed to console myself for the exclusion by the additional interest which the sight derives from the knowledge that no European foot, except by stealth or favour, had ever trodden within these precincts since the Crusaders were driven out, and that their deep seclusion was as real as it appeared. It needed no sight of the daggers of the black Dervishes who stand at the gates to tell you that the mosque was undisturbed and inviolably sacred.—Dean Stanley.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19