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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ nehemiah-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren.
The builders at work
Unity in diversity seems to be the principle on which God works both in the natural and spiritual world--a truth which is capable of almost endless illustration.
I. We see it, for instance, in an individual church. What a variety of mental constitution and habits of thought; what difference in training, in education, and, consequently, in apprehension of spiritual things, and also in time, opportunity and social influence, among individual members. Yet where there is the quickening breath of the Spirit of God, there will be unity in the work while there is diversity in the operations. Thus one man is called to preach, another to take charge of the finances; while each takes his own part and seeks by God’s help to discharge his individual responsibility, there must be a chord of sympathy between all the workers, for they “are members one of another.”
II. The same is true of the different sections into which the Church of Christ is still unhappily divided.
III. We may go farther and apply this truth to the many efforts that are now being put forth all over the world. Among the nations of Europe there are zealous workers, and we must bear them up before God in believing prayer. They are working on the same wall, though on different parts of it. And there are indirect workers, too, whom we must not fail to recognise. The philanthropist, the temperance reformer, those engaged in educational, charitable, and other movements which tend to benefit the masses of the people--they also are engaged in building the wall. We must enlarge our sympathies and rejoice in every man who seeks to do honest work for God. We must not forget, however, that while there was oneness in the work, there was individuality in its different parts. The work being great, it was subdivided, and each man had a special portion allotted to him, generally that which lay nearest to his own dwelling. There is work there if he will only look for it under the guidance of God’s Spirit. About twenty years ago a youth in whose heart lay the fervent desire to preach to the heathen, stood in a crowded assembly listening to a popular preacher. “You think,” said the speaker, “of a group of blacks gathered under the wide-spreading banian tree, and you imagine how you could discourse to them of the wondrous love of Christ. Ah I my brother, begin at home; try it in the streets of London first.” It was a word in season; the young man began to build over against his house; God blessed him to the conversion of hundreds of souls, and He is blessing him still. In Christian work, too, we may see that the selfish instinct is recognised--not the selfishness which robs God and glorifies self, but that which leads a worker to be interested in his own department of work as he can be in no other. In this sense there is a selfishness which is not sinful, and which we may almost say is not selfish. If kept in due subordination to thoughts of the oneness of the work, it is commendable and ought to be cultivated. How often in conversation with a brother worker have we failed to gain his close attention while we spoke to him of our work or the work of other brethren! But when we asked about his congregation, his mission-room, or his Sunday or ragged school, what a change! His tongue was loosed, and his whole face glowed with animation as he told us how the Lord was helping and blessing him. It is both natural and right that it should be so. He is building before his own door, and while not ignoring others, he thinks of the work over against his house as he can of no other part of the wall. His heart is specially there. From the portions of work allotted to the individual citizens, we may learn also the importance of concentration in Christian effort. Had a man put a brick here, and a daub of mortar there, and laid a beam yonder, the wall would have made but slow progress; but as one man built before his own door, and another before his, and so on all round the city, the attention and energy of each were concentrated upon his special portion, and the wall rapidly approached completion. Now, concentration is an important principle in Christian work as well as in the building of a Wall, and if we look back on the history of the Church, we shall find that the greatest results have been achieved by men who have continuously bent their energies towards a given point. It is the fashion in our day rather to decry “men of one idea.” This fashion is much promoted by men of no idea, who are jealous of brethren more fortunate than themselves. This principle is important in reference not only to the object of life, but to the sphere of labour. It is of greater consequence to do one thing well than many things indifferently. Diffusion seems to be the aim of many workers in this restless age, and breadth rather than depth is characteristic of their efforts. (W. P. Lockhart.)
The repairer of the breach
I. The builders. The patriots have expressed their purpose to build the wall, and they proceed immediately to carry this good resolution into effect. We know nothing in all history like the scene here portrayed. We have read, indeed, of ancient Rome, when burned by fire, being rebuilt by her citizens; but these were still rich and powerful. We have heard, too, of ancient Carthage, when almost razed to the ground by foreign invaders, being repaired and fortified by the patriots of the nation; but these were yet numerous and wealthy. We know nothing, however, like this in the annals of the world, where the small remnant of the captives of Judah, with simple trust in God, set themselves to rebuild their fallen capital, while they were few in numbers, poor in resources, and surrounded with hosts of enemies frowning on their enterprise.
1. They were all Israelites in the land of Judah. In the book of Ezra we learn that aliens from the commonwealth of Israel were not permitted to join in rebuilding the temple, even though for sinister ends they proffered their services. They could not enter with spirit into the undertaking, and the labour of the hand was not accepted when unaccompanied with the love of the heart. And it is the spiritual Israel still who can labour in promoting Christ’s cause and truth in the earth. They alone can effectually advance religion who love and exemplify it. They alone can truly know the truth so as to speak it and spread it. It is a profound observation of Pascal, “that natural things must be known to be loved, but Divine things must be loved in order to be known.” Saving truth is not discerned by the mere power of natural reason, or through the acquirements of human learning; it can be perceived only through the illumination of the Holy Ghost. Believers of the word of salvation can alone declare that word with living power. It is a feeble, as well as a heartless thing, for a man to speak truth for the faith of others, that he does not believe in his own soul. It is in vain to expect earnest effort for the conversion of souls from those who have no mercy on themselves, and who have never repented of their own sins.
2. They were of diversified stations and gifts. It deserves remark, that those mentioned here not only gave contributions in money, that the work might advance, but they laboured by personal effort in the building of the wall. This is worthy of high praise, as showing a heart for the good cause, and wisdom in advancing it. Money can, no doubt, do much to procure or sustain effort in promoting the work of God; but there is a power in living activity, in the warm sympathy, in the personal influence, of the present believer helping forward a religious enterprise, that donations of gold can never secure. It is, hence, to the honour of those saints of Judah that they not merely gave their money, but they gave themselves, in life, in love, to labour with their hands in this work of God for building their city walls. In the narrative of these diversified personal efforts we observe--
(1) The priests and Levites joined in the work. “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate” (verse 1). And “after him repaired the Levites” (verse 17). But the lowliest act done for the cause of God receives glory from its connection with Him; and the ministers of the sanctuary should be foremost in effort to build up the cause of truth in the earth.
(2) The governor and nobles laboured at the wall. There is, indeed, one notable exception to this patrician work. Respecting the nobles of the Takoites it is said, “But their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (verse 5).
(3) The daughters of Judah shared this honourable toil. “Shallum, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters” (verse 12).
(4) The young united in this sacred employment. “And Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another piece” (verse 30). Youth are often tempted to think religion a gloomy thing, and that to embrace it in their early years would be to lose all the pleasures of life.
3. The builders here belonged to different parts of the Holy Land. They were there from Jericho, and Gibeon, and Keilah, and Mizpah, and Tekoa. These were not men of Jerusalem, but they loved the public interests of religion connected with the city of God, and, as true Israelites, they laboured for its restoration. The extension, the purity, the revival of the Church in every part of the world, is the common cause of all who name the name of Christ. Christians, then, should never be so absorbed with their own party interests as to forget the great cause of His glory, and the good of man. If they really love the Lord Jesus their regard for His honour must be tested by their active effort to overthrow the reign of sin, and advance the empire of righteousness.
II. The prgress of the work. In the call of Divine judgment for the overthrow of the city God commanded, “Begin at My sanctuary”; and so we remark, this work of restoration commences beside the temple, proceeds north, and westward, till it completes the circuit of the wall. “The priests built the sheep gate, and they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it.” Through it the sacrifices were brought into the holy place, and the patriots first repaired it, that they might defend the house of God from all assaults or danger. They were the ministers of religion that performed this part of the work, and they thus teach their brethren that everything connected with Divine worship is to be guarded with religious care. From them, too, we learn that our first concern in all reform, as well as in the activities of life, should be for the safety and prosperity of the Church of God. But if the Church of Christ is dear to the hearts of her members, and is prosperous through their works of faith, the cause of humanity and of truth is secure in the earth. The work here was carried on by the labourers where each of them was most deeply interested. It is recorded of several of the householders of Jerusalem that “he repaired over against his house” (verse 23), and respecting one who seems to have been only a lodger, it is said, “he repaired over against his chamber” (verse 30). Labour near their respective dwellings was most convenient for the persons engaged, and it was necessary for their own safety that the wall there should not be broken down. Religion ever appeals to the instinct of self-love, and the strength of domestic affection in the human heart, to animate zeal for its advancement. Christian parent! your own children are dear to you, and you are appointed to labour and pray for their salvation. Christian philanthropist I your own country is the object of your love, and you are required to give your foremost endeavours for the religious welfare of your brethren, your kinsmen according to the flesh. This work, moreover, was prosecuted with varied zeal. The enterprise required co-operation of effort; and we find sometimes two persons united in setting up one gate. There was need, too, for diversity of zeal, for while one part had only to be repaired, another had to be entirely rebuilt; but the diversity of grace demanded was perseveringly displayed. To the honour of one we read, “Baruch earnestly repaired” (verse 20), as if his diligence was such as to be manifest to all beholders. To the praise of others, we are given to understand that when they had raised up one part they proceeded to restore another. “Meremoth,” and the “Tekoites” (verses 21, 27), after finishing the work first allotted to them, undertook a second portion of labour, as if they felt there should be no remission from toil so long as any part of Jerusalem remained broken down.
III. The opposition of enemies. It is not good that the spiritual life should flow on without trial, or that a great work should progress without admonition of its constant dependence on God. Long seasons of repose or prosperity are apt to produce self-complacency in the heart; God therefore subjects His servants to humbling reverses, and pours them from vessel to vessel, lest they should be settled on their lees. In the performance of s good work the encounter of difficulties is salutary, and it is permitted in profound wisdom. He that sits in the seat of the scornful seldom needs to sit long there alone. Here we observe the leading mocker is soon joined by a humble imitator, in the same strain of ridicule at the works of earnest piety. “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.” And so it has been in all ages. The most solemn scenes and venerable characters, the greatest actions and the grandest enterprises, have encountered the derision of bad men, sitting in the seat of the scorner. The leading infidel of the Continent in the close of last century vented his malicious jests at the sublime verities of the Christian faith, and sneered at the redemption of the world by the blood of God’s Son. Thus, too, the profane wits of the time laughed to scorn the commencement of the great enterprise of modern missions to the heathen, and derided the proposal to convert the world to the Christian faith, while only a few pounds were as yet in the treasury, and some illiterate artizans were consecrated the apostles of the gospel to India. All such mockers overlook this one thing, that the cause of truth has God for its author, and therefore faith in effort for its advancement rests on Omnipotence for success. It requires but little talent to raise a laugh against the affections and works of piety.
IV. The devotion of Judah under Nehemiah. In narrating the zeal of the builders, Nehemiah makes no mention of his own great service in the common cause. He was the soul of the whole undertaking--planning, animating, and sustaining it, at every, point; yet he never once refers to himself among those whose names are recorded with honour. In the outset of the enterprise, while it still prospers, this truly great man narrates the progress of the work in the third person, as if he had had no share in the honourable toil. But so soon as difficulties occur, the style of the history is changed, and he takes his place under the term “we,” among the sufferers for the cause of truth. It is a beautiful example of modesty and humility to all the servants of God. Nehemiah in this hour of trial displays great forbearance under wrong. The proud scorn he encountered might have provoked his resentment to inflict punishment on its despicable authors. He was high in favour with the king, and it would probably have been easy for him to obtain power to chastise these adversaries of his country; but he is as distinguished for patience as for courage. There is not a Christian that suffers reproach in serving Christ, but the Lord feels it as done to Himself; and unless mercy is asked to pardon the affront, it will be visited with the wrath of the Lamb for evermore.
V. The zeal of the people for the completion of the work. Derision and discouragement drive multitudes from the support of a good cause. Many have begun to run well in their religious course. How many, too, are frightened away from a good work by the sneers and opposition directed against those who are zealous in its promotion. They believe the enterprise to be right in itself, they are persuaded it is fraught with blessings to men; but they cannot bear the jests or banter which open adherence to it entails. (W. Ritchie.)
It was natural that the Pasha should thus make “honourable mention” of those who came to the front, and threw their energies into this patriotic work. Nehemiah was doubtless anxious to hand down to posterity the names of all who were leaders in the movement; he did not wish to take to himself the whole credit of the work; we may be sure that he wrote down this register of names with both pleasure and pride. We find that priests, rulers, merchants, and tradesmen all took a share in this enterprise; and, where the work of the Lord is concerned, it is only becoming that there should be this unity of spirit and division of labour. Often, in our modern Christian Churches, too much is left to the ministers of religion; and sometimes one man is expected to do a work which ought to be shared by a whole congregation. The merchant and tradesman will sometimes plead the engrossing claims of business or the pressure of “bad times” as a reason for holding aloof from the varied efforts of Christian benevolence; and it is to be feared also that some of our modern aristocrats are prevented by the haughty and foolish pride of rank from throwing their energies and influence into the activities of the Christian Church. (T. C. Finlayson.)
A godly ancestry
To us Nehemiah’s catalogue of the builders may now seem to be little more than a dry register of names. But it is not difficult to imagine how interesting it may have been for generations after it was written. As Jerusalem began to grow again in power and splendour, men would scan with eager interest the list of those who had engaged in such a brave and self-denying work. We can imagine how, centuries later, the eye of some young boy might kindle with pride and enthusiasm when he read here, in one of the sacred books, the name of some ancestor of his own, who had nobly borne his part in building up the walls of Jerusalem. It is a grand thing to come of a patriotic or godly lineage. (T. C. Finlayson.)
Words have given place to deeds.
I. In looking over this list of workers we are struck with the fact that they are drawn from all classes of society.
1. The priests took a prominent part in this work. “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep-gate.” We fear that, as respects the high priest, what he did in this way was not a work of love. Some years afterwards, much to Nehemiah’s regret, this same Eliashib acted a very unworthy and unpatriotic part: and we suspect it was more for the sake of appearances than from any real wish to promote the success of the enterprise that he was found among the builders mentioned in this chapter. Again, it was quite right the priest should be active on this occasion, for it was owing in a great measure to their unfaithfulness--to the unfaithfulness, that is, of the priesthood prior to the time of the Babylonian captivity, that the city was laid in ruins. In Jeremiah we read, “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.”
2. The rulers, too, or princes of the house of Israel, took a leading part in repairing the wall, and, as in the case of the priests, it was proper they should; for their misconduct, their evil practices, had contributed greatly to bring about the downfall of the city (Micah 3:9; Micah 3:12). The advantages of co-operation were thus secured. By means of this combination the work was done quickly, simultaneously, and economically. Here, certainly, was a remarkable spectacle: all classes of the community concentrating their energies on a common object. Difference of opinion and rivalries might exist among them, but for the nonce these were sunk in the achievement of a purpose dear to every patriotic heart.
II. That the work referred to was under-taken by parties from various localities, and not by the citizens of the capital alone. Thus we read, “And next unto him builded the men of Jericho.” The Tekoites are also named, and the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, and the inhabitants of Zanoah, and the rulers of Bethhaccerem--these and others from places round about are represented as co-operating with the residents of the city in repairing the wall. It was a work of national importance, and as such it was regarded by those just named.
III. On further examining this register we find incidental references in it that should not be overlooked.
1. The first of these I will name relates to the aristocracy of Tekoah, and is evidently not intended to be complimentary to them. The Tekoites, as a people, were not backward, “but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” They dishonoured themselves by standing aloof as they did at this crisis. Their conduct, it is true, might have been worse. If they were not active in it, we cannot say of them that they were active in their opposition to it. You have known persons not content with a passive attitude towards what is good. What restless--yea, raging opponents Christianity in its early days had to encounter!
2. In striking contrast to the supineness of the nobles of Tekoah was the conduct of Baruch the son of Zabbai. Nehemiah says of him that he “earnestly repaired” his section of the wall. He specially commends the zeal of Baruch. Luther, Wesley, Whitfield, these also are names with which, among other high qualities, will ever be associated an unflagging zeal, as attested by their more abundant labours. Did the keen glance of Nehemiah note the zeal of Baruch? and shall the eye of God pass over unnoticed one earnest worker for Him anywhere, or at any time?
3. The third and last incidental reference to which I shall call your attention informs us that there were those engaged in this wall-building whom we should hardly have expected to find thus employed. At verse 12 we read, “And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.” All honour to them. We think of others of their sex who have toiled right worthily, and in some instances heroically, in the service of Christ. The case of Sister Dora of the Walsall Cottage Hospital occurs to us. We think too of some who are thus labouring to-day; ladies by birth and education who have consecrated their property and their lives to the Lord, for whose dear sake they shrink not from menial tasks, and repulsive ministries, and risks and dangers, to face which requires a loftier courage than nerves the soldier for the battlefield. (T. Rowson.)
The workman is always the world’s true nobleman. To pay others to do some portion of our work for us does not absolve us from the duty of personal labour. Every merchant knows that for him to pay a manager and a staff of clerks to conduct his business, while he himself goes away into the country to live and enjoy himself, means, in nine cases out of ten, the decline of his receipts, the breaking up of his trade connection, and presently, the ruin of his business. Every lady knows that to engage servants is not sufficient to secure the order and wholesomeness of her rooms, the regularity of meals in the house, nor the comfort of her husband, herself, and her children. The master, the mistress, must themselves think, and plan, and labour. In Church-work the same law is in force to its utmost jot and tittle. (A. G. Griffith.)
More than one figure in Scripture represents the work of life as a building (1 Peter 2:4-5; Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
I. Every one to contribute his life-toil to the building up of the city of God.
II. Every man has his own appointed sphere and kind of work.
1. Every one must find his own task.
2. Every one must be content with his own task.
III. Every man contributes but a fragment to the great whole.
IV. Every man to work in harmonious aim with his fellow-builders.
V. The united work is superintended by the great architect.
1. He only understands the whole of the great intricate plan of life.
2. He is near us with directions.
3. Let the thought, “Thou God seest me,” animate us at our toil. (Homiletic Commentary.)
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 organisation. Each volunteer made responsible for some limited portion of work.
IV. The gigantic result 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 the 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. VII. The diversity of gifts which a great emergency calls into requisition. (Homiletic Commentary.)
A single bee, with all its industry, energy, and innumerable journeys it has to perform, will not collect more than a teaspoonful of honey in a single season, and yet the total weight of honey taken from a single hive is often from sixty to one hundred pounds. A very profitable lesson to mankind of what may arise from associated labour. (Scientific Illustrations, etc.)
The building of the wall
I. That while God grants success to earnest effort, that very success will often arouse opposition.
II. Opposition to earnest work generally comes from “the mixed multitude” who hover round the true people of God.
III. What one man dare not do alone, he is emboldened to do by association with others; and often men of diverse opinions and tastes are banded together to oppose God’s work, their only bond of union being a desire to have it stopped.
IV. Timid and fearful ones there are in every community whose hearts readily fail them, and who often think that the good cause is about to be worsted.
V. In almost every christian church the ardour of the few is more or less damped by the apathy of the many.
VI. We must watch as well as pray. A Russian proverb says, “When in a storm, pray to God and row to the shore.”
VII. The oneness of the workers, and that they should encourage each other when beset by friend or foe.
VIII. Steady and persistent work tells best in the long run.
IX. That even in the midst of arduous labour for the Lord, the decencies and proprieties of life are in no wise overlooked. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Ministers should be leaders
The ministers of Christ must not only give good exhortation to their flocks, but also put their own shoulder to the work. Example is mightier than precept. The roads in the Ban de la Roche were soon levelled and put in order when the good pastor Oberlin set the example of manual toil to his parishioners. (J. M. Randall.)
In our own country, the names of Henry Thornton, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Sir Francis Crossley, and Samuel Budget, will occur to many. Our merchants and tradesmen have indeed glorious opportunities for extending the Redeemer’s name, if they had but a mind to the work. (J. M. Randall.)
And next unto him builded the men of Jericho.
System and detail in work
A great work--
I. Can only be planned by a great mind.
II. Can only be carried out by a division of labour.
III. Can only be accomplished by attention to details. “Bars and locks.”
IV. Brings out special adaptations.
V. Must have regard to practical utility. The fish-gate as necessary as the repairing of temple wall.
VI. Must be inspired by a lofty purpose.
VII. Must look on to the future. It must have in it the element of permanence. (Homiletic Commentary.)
And they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall
The broad wall
The separation of the people of God from the world is like that broad wall surrounding Jerusalem. An actual separation is made by grace, is carried on in the work of sanctification, and will be completed in that day when the saints shall be caught up together with the Lord in the air.
1. Christians should maintain a broad wall of separation between themselves and the world. The distinction ought not to be one of dress or of speech, the separation ought to be moral and spiritual.
(1) A Christian ought to be more scrupulous than other men in his dealings. He must never swerve from the path of integrity. He should be one whose word is his bond, and who having once pledged his word, sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.
(2) The Christian should be distinguished by his pleasures. We are not quite ourselves, perhaps, in our daily toil, where our pursuits are rather dictated by necessity than by choice, but our pleasures and pastimes give evidence of what our heart is and where it is.
(3) Such separation should be carried into everything which affects the Christian. When a stranger comes into our house it should be so ordered that he can clearly perceive that we have a respect unto Him that is invisible, and that we desire to live and move in the light of God’s countenance.
(4) This broad wall should be most conspicuous in the spirit of our mind. There should be about a Christian always the air of one who has his shoes on his feet, his loins girded, and his staff in his hand--away, away to a better land.
2. Reasons why this wall should be very broad.
(1) If you are sincere in your profession, there is a very broad distinction between you and unconverted people.
(2) Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ had a broad wall between Him and the ungodly.
(3) A broad wall of separation is abundantly good for yourselves. When a Christian gives way to the world’s custom he never feels profited thereby. Ask a fish to spend an hour on dry land, and I think did he comply the fish would find that it was not much to its benefit, for it would be out of its element. And it is so with Christians in communion with sinners.
(4) To keep up the broad wall of separation is to do most good to the world. A Christian loses his strength the moment he departs from his integrity. Although the world may openly denounce the rigid Puritan, it secretly admires him. You young man in the shop--you young woman in the workroom--if you keep yourselves to yourselves in Christ’s name, chaste and pure for Jesus, not laughing at jests which should make you blush; not mixing up with pastimes that are suspicious; but being tenderly jealous of your conscience at all times, then your company in the midst of others shall be as though an angel shook his wings, and they will say, “Refrain from this or that just now, for So-and-so is there.” They will fear you in a certain sense; they will admire you in secret; and who can tell but they, at last, may come to imitate you?
II. The broad wall round jerusalem indicated safety. The Christian is surrounded by the broad wall--
1. Of God’s power.
2. Of God’s love.
3. Of God’s law and justice.
4. Of God’s immutability.
5. Of the work of the Holy Spirit.
6. Almost every doctrine of grace affords us a broad wall, a mighty bulwark, a grand munition of defence.
III. This broad wall suggests enjoyment. These walls were used as promenades, and were utilised--
1. For rest from toil.
2. For communion.
3. For prospects and outlooks. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Even over against his house.
Repairing the house
We are all temples, buildings of the living God, and some of us are sadly out of repair; some among us have fallen into absolute ruin. Our bodies, instead of being the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, are inhabited by evil lusts, cruel tempers, foul passions. Others, although not in such a sad case, are yet grievously out of repair. There is much in their lives which needs altering, mending. Our own carelessness and neglect have allowed our lives to fall into decay, and the rubbish to accumulate. A restored congregation is ever more important than the restored fabric of the church. Let Nehemiah teach us how these repairs can best be carried out.
1. In the first place, before he undertook the work at all, Nehemiah prayed unto the God of heaven--“Lord, undertake for me.” “Unless the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it.” We must ask God to restore in us all that the fraud and malice of the devil have decayed in us.
2. The next thing which Nehemiah did, after praying to God, was to set to work, and to set others to work, at repairs. Work and prayer must go together; pray most earnestly, work with a will.
3. Nehemiah made each worker wear a sword by his side, because of the enemies around them who would try to hinder them. That teaches us that whatever our work may be, we must have our religion with us. We must have the sword of the Spirit beside us. Our enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil--are sure to attack us, and woe unto us if we are unarmed! There was a drummer-boy in the great American war who lost his Bible, a book which he valued above all things. So he set to work to repair his loss as far as possible. He remembered many texts which he had learnt at Sunday-school, and these he wrote on the parchment of his drum. Thus, on the march, in the field of battle, or wherever he did his work, God’s Word was before his eyes. Like Nehemiah’s builders, he had the sword by his side. Before the work of repairs actually began, Nehemiah made a careful examination of the state of the ruins, that he might know exactly what was wanted. Let us survey the ruins, the breaches in the walls, the rubbish that has accumulated, the weak points in the building.
And where shall we begin?
1. For the most part, he set each of his workers to repair “over against his own house.” In trying to repair the mistakes and faults and failures of our lives, let us begin over against our own house. Let us survey the ruins there, not those of our neighbour. Mending our own ways is the surest and best plan to fit us to help others to repair theirs. Let us look boldly into the neglected corners of our life, and see what repairs are needed.
2. Let us examine the ruins again; is there no need of repairs in our business life? Is our way of doing our work, whatever it is, quite satisfactory, quite true, and honest, and straightforward?
3. Then is there no need of repairs in the home circle, remembering that we must begin over against our own house? The children are often unruly, selfish, troublesome. The servants are frequently a source of discomfort. One husband sees much need of repairs in his wife. The wife says the same of the husband. Well, let us begin over against our own house. Are we doing our best to set a good example in the family?
4. Is there no need of repairs in our praying? I think many of us feel that our prayers are sometimes neglected, often hurried, formal, cold, unreal. Then there is Bible-reading. Some of us neglect this altogether, others read without interest or under-standing. Is there not something to be mended here? (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Building over against one’s own house
I. The care of one’s own soul. Is it saved? Is it prospering?
II. A deep interest in the spiritual welfare of those who live under the same roof.
III. Labour for the salvation of all who in the providence of God are brought into close or frequent relations with us. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Work at each door
The principle on which a great part of the work was done is indicated in several places in this chapter. Charles Reade says: “This may seem a small thing to busy readers, but it was a master stroke of genius. Not only was it a grand division of labour, but it animated the work with a noble emulation and a personal pride.” Nehemiah made use of a method which is generally regarded as an outgrowth of our modern civilisation, and anticipated the managers of our great industries in the use of the principle of division of labour, which in our day is carried to so great a length. Every man over against his own house is the principle that should be applied in all work for the moral and spiritual elevation of the community in which we live.
I. There is work to be done at our very doors. There is still plenty of work to be done in our own hearts. The best wall we can build for the protection of our own homes is the structure of a Christlike life. It is as real a defence to our homes to have them surrounded by pure-hearted men and women as was to Jerusalem the wall that Nehemiah raised. The reason that so many missionaries send their children is not always for the sake of the superior education to be had in our schools, but oftener, perhaps, because it would not be safe to allow their children to grow up in the midst of the moral miasma of a heathen land. In the ruined characters and worse than wasted lives of many of the men and women among whom we live, we see the broken wall, and the work of repair consists in the efforts we make to Christianise them. Here there is, work at every one’s door.
II. Each man is responsible for the bit of work that lies nearest to his own house. A minister is placed over a congregation, not to do the people’s work for them, but to induce each of them to do the work that God has laid at the door for each to do. I know a successful minister who attributes much of his success to the fact that he will not do anything himself that he can get one of his people to do. (A. Soutar, M. A.)
He and his daughters.
We know not how these ladles wrought; probably it was not in a way of manual labour, but rather by words of kindness and acts of consideration towards the builders. We need not tarry to show how worthily the women of England fulfil their mission in the sweet offices of charity. Some of them make the noblest sacrifices from love to their Redeemer. A poor woman sought admission to one of our great missionary meetings in Exeter Hall. The young man who acted as porter demanded her ticket. “I have none,” was the reply; “I cannot afford to subscribe.” “You cannot enter without a ticket,” was the curt rejoinder. “I think, sir,” said the widow, “that I have given more than ever you have to the society; I have given an only son, and he is now labouring for your society in India.” The widow was cheerfully admitted on this statement. (J. M. Randall.)
I. Notable women.
1. Within the circle of Biblical story.
2. In history.
II. Woman’s influence.
1. For evil. Jezebel; Solomon’s wives; devotees of fashion, etc.
2. For good. (Homiletic Commentary.)
By the king’s garden.
The king’s garden
There are six of these “king’s gardens” to which I shall conduct you, but we shall not have time to tarry in more than one of them. I The garden of paradise, which was situate in the midst of Eden.
II. The garden of Gethsemane..
III. The garden of the burial and the resurrection.
IV. The garden of the human heart. The heart is meant to be a garden for God. By nature it scarcely deserves the name; it is rather a tangled wilderness of all manner of noisome things. What must be done to this neglected garden? The rough plough of conviction must be dragged through it. The spade of trouble must break up the surface, and smash in pieces the clods, and kill the weeds. Into this prepared soil the Holy Spirit must put in the seeds of faith, and love and hope, and patience and perseverance, and zeal. Then there must be drained out of us much superfluity of naughtiness and excess of carnal confidence, or our heart will be a cold swamp, a worthless plant-killing bog. And in addition to all this, there must be constant hoeing and raking and digging. After a garden is made, the flower-beds are never left long alone; if they were left to themselves they would soon breed weeds again, and return to the old confusion. So with the garden of the heart, cleansing and pruning must be done every day, and God must do it through ourselves, and we must do it through constant examination and repentance.
V. The garden of The Christian Church. Follow me in each word of the text.
1. What is it? A garden. So it is called in the book of Solomon’s Song. Many thoughts are gathered in that one metaphor like bees in a hive.
(1) It implies separation. I earnestly desire to see the wall of separation between the Church and the world made broader and stronger. Christians should always wear their regimentals as Christ’s soldiers. They are to go forth without the camp bearing His reproach. “Be not conformed to this world.”
(2) It is a place of order. You do not, when you go into a garden, find the plants arranged anyhow, but the wise gardener arranges them according to their tints and hues, so that in the midst of summer the garden shall look like a rainbow that has been broken to pieces and let down upon the earth. Let us all try to maintain order in all things as the servants of Christ. We seek not the order which consists in all sleeping in their places, like corpses in the catacombs, but we desire the order which finds all working in their places for the common cause of the Lord Jesus.
(3) A garden is a place of beauty. Such should the Christian Church be. If there be no holiness, no love, no zeal, no prayerfulness outside in the world, yet you should see these things in the Church.
(4) It is a place of growth.
(5) It is a place of retirement. When a man is in his garden, he does not expect to see all his customers walking down between the beds to do business with him. So the Lord Jesus would have us reserve the Church to be a place in which He can manifest Himself to us as He doth not to the world.
2. Whose is it? It is the King’s garden. He chose it for Himself. He bought it. What a nobility this gives to Christ’s Church?
3. What does it need?
(1) It requires labour. In every Church there should be--
(a) Planters. I had a letter last week from a young woman. She says she has been here for two years, that she has been very anxious about her soul, and she has often wished that somebody would speak to her, but nobody has done so. Somebody has been negligent, very negligent. We want planters who can get the young slips and put them where they will grow.
(b) Some to watch over those who are planted.
(c) Some to collect the straggling.
(d) Some to burn up the rubbish and sweep up the leaves. In the best Church there will always be some falling leaves. Whenever a brother sees any mischief he ought to sweep it up and say nothing about it. Whenever you find that such and such a brother is going a little amiss, talk to him quietly; do not spread it all over the Church and make jealousies and suspicions. Pick up the leaf and destroy it. When a brother member has offended you, so that you feel vexed, forgive him. If every one would seek to make peace, there never could be much accumulation of discord in the King’s garden to annoy Him.
(2) It wants new plants.
(3) It wants rain and sunshine; the dew of the Holy Spirit and the sunshine of the Divine favour.
4. What does it produce? “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.”
VI. The garden of the paradise above (Revelation 22:1-5). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The garden of the heart
Very often when I am going through a garden I come to some little bit marked off from the rest by a stick or a row of stones, and some lad or some little maiden comes running up; “This is my garden,” they say, “my very own, to do whatever I like with.” Now each of us has a garden, our very own, and yet it ought to be, and must be, the King’s garden. It is the garden of the heart.
I. I should like you to remember that gardens are made out of waste places. We want our heart to be nice and kind, and like a king’s garden ought to be; and we look at the brambles and the waste places, and fear sometimes that it never can be made into a garden. “I never shall be good,” you say; “I never shall be like so-and-so.” When I was a little boy I learnt drawing, and one day when I had tried again and again, and couldn’t do it right, I flung down the pencil and said angrily, “I never shall be able to draw.” The master was a very and a very wise man. He laughed pleasantly, and said, “Come--never is a long time. I couldn’t draw any better than you can when I was your age.” That put new life into me. He who could draw anything with his pencil, and could make it exactly right with just a touch--to think that once he could not draw any better than I could! I went at it again then, and never felt inclined to give up afterwards. And so with all good people that ever lived--their hearts were wild and waste before they became the King’s garden.
II. Before the king can make a garden he must own the land. Jesus says to us, “My son, give Me thine heart.” He wants the heart, not because it is a garden, but that He may make a King’s garden of it.
III. It must be cleared and planted. “Ah,” you say, “this is hard work.” The weeds will grow so fast when you’ve pulled them up. But suppose you could get some one to come and change the ground, so that instead of bringing forth weeds it should bring forth flowers and fruits. That is just what we can do. Jesus has come on purpose to create clean hearts.
IV. We have to keep this garden for the king.
1. We must plant it well. “The seed is the Word of God.”
2. We must water it twice a day, and prayer is the watering.
3. We must watch against enemies.
When I was a boy we used to set little heaps of “grains” to attract the slugs and snails, and then creep out at night with a lantern and take these mischievous creatures, that otherwise would have spoiled all the fruit and many of the flowers. Take care of these, of habits that spoil all the fruit; of little neglects and forgetfulnesses that ruin the King’s garden. The peach-trees and plum-trees have a matting or net hung in front of them--in winter to keep off the frosts, or in summer to keep off the busy birds. We must be watchful against all things that hurt the King’s garden. We must be on our guard against bad companions, bad books, and bad influences of all kinds, and also of hasty words, thoughtless ways, and little harmful thoughts and feelings.
V. If it be the king’s garden the king himself will come to it. Cyrus used to say, “I take so much interest in my garden because I have planted every plant, and have sown every seed in it.” So it is that Jesus loves His garden. He turned it from a waste into a garden, and has sown the good seed and planted the trees. I have heard of a poor man who lived in a very poor cottage far away from everybody else. One day somebody called to see him and said, “My friend, you must be very lonely here.” “Lonely!” he replied, “ah, so I might be, but Jesus is such blessed company!” He had been walking in the King’s garden with the King, and this made him so happy. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
From above the horse gate repaired the priests, every one over against his house.
How to sweeten the life of great cities
I take these words mainly as suggesting some thoughts applicable to the duties of Christian people in view of the spiritual wants of our great cities. Consider--
I. The ruins that need repair. If I dwell rather upon the dark side than on the bright side of city life, I shall not be understood as forgetting that the very causes which intensify the evil of a great city quicken the good--the friction of multitudes, and the impetus given thereby to all kinds of mental activity. Most of us have got so familiarised with the evils that stare us in the face every time we go out upon the pavement, that we have come to think of them as inseparable from our modern life, like the noise of a carriage wheel from its rotation. And is it so, then? Must it be that the shining structure of our modern society, like an old Mexican temple, must be built upon a layer of living men flung in for a foundation? If it be so, then I venture to say that to a very large extent progress is a delusion, and that the simple life of agricultural communities is better than this unwholesome aggregation of men. The beginning of Nehemiah’s work of repair was that sad midnight ride round the ruined walls. So there is a solemn obligation laid upon Christian people to acquaint themselves with the awful facts, and then to meditate upon them, till Christlike compassion, pressing against the flood-gates of the heart, flings them open, and lets out a stream of helpful pity and saving deeds (Proverbs 24:11-12).
II. The ruin is to be repaired mainly by the old gospel of Jesus Christ. Far be it from me to put remedies against each other. The causes are complicated, and the cure must be as complicated as the causes. Intemperance has to be fought by the distinct preaching of abstinence, and by the invoking of legislative restrictions upon the traffic. Wretched homes have to be dealt with by sanitary reform. Art and music, pictures and window gardening, etc., will lend their aid to soften and refine. I say, God speed to all these, but I believe that I shall best serve my generation by trying to get men to love and fear Jesus Christ the Saviour. This will produce new tastes and new inclinations, which will reform, sweeten, and purify faster than anything else does.
III. This remedy is to be applied by the individual action of Christian men and women on the people nearest them. If you want to do people good you must pay the price for it. That price is personal sacrifice and effort. A loving heart and a sympathetic word, the exhibition of Christian life and conduct, the fact of going down into the midst of evil, are the old-fashioned and only magnets by which men are drawn to purer and higher life. That is God’s way of saving the world--by the action of single souls on single souls. “The priests repaired every one over against his own house.” Possession involves responsibility. We get the grace for ourselves that we may pass it on. “God hath shined into our hearts, that we may give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” There is nothing so mighty as the confession of personal experience. If, like Andrew, you have found the Messias, you can say so. All can preach who can say, “We have found the Christ.” The existence of a Church in which the workers are as numerous as the Christians ought to be something more than an Utopian dream. There are people in your houses, people that sit by you in your countinghouse, on your college benches, who work by your side in mill or factory or warehouse, who cross your path in a hundred ways, and God has given them to you that you may bring them to Him. Oh! if you lived nearer Christ, you would catch the sacred fire from Him, and like a bit of cold iron lying beside a magnet, touching Him, you would yourselves become magnetic, and draw men out of their evil and up to God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Personal revival sought
Once upon a time many Christians gathered to pray for a revival in the great city in which they lived. For a week they prayed, “O Lord, revive the city!” but the heavens were as brass. For some weeks they continued to pray almost as broadly and indefinitely, until one friend, who felt the need of individual quickening, exclaimed, “O Lord, revive Thy work in my heart! O Lord, revive me!” There was a general breaking at the conclusion of this prayer. Personal revival was sought and vouchsafed, and the work soon became widespread and deep. A Baptist Church in New York once sought for the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, but there was no consciousness of response or blessing till a coloured brother, devout and earnest, respected and beloved by all, got down upon his knees, and, with choked utterance, prayed in the language of the 51st Psalm.