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COMMENCEMENT OF THE WORK, AND ARRANGEMENT OF THE WORKING PARTIES, WITH THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO SUPERINTENDED THE BUILDING (Nehemiah 3:1-32. ). The especial object of this chapter seems to be the rendering of honour where honour was due—the putting on record of the names of the men who boldly came to the front on this occasion, sacrificed their ease to their duty, and exposed themselves to a threatened hostile attack (Nehemiah 4:8-20). Though Nehemiah's eloquence had carried over to him the bulk of the nation (Nehemiah 2:18), it had not carried the whole. There were those who refused to take any part in the work—even though it was "the work of their Lord" (Nehemiah 3:5)—and these laggards were of the "noble" class. The more credit was therefore due to the head men who chose the better part, supported Nehemiah with zeal, and, sword in hand (Nehemiah 4:17), either worked themselves or superintended the workers. Nehemiah records the names of thirty-eight such persons, and in thirty cases adds to the name of the individual that of his father. Where this designation is wanting, he for the most part supplies its place by some other, so as definitely to mark out the person intended. With this general purpose of doing honour to the deserving is combined the wish graphically to place the whole scene before the reader. This is done by means of a profusion of topographical details. Nehemiah takes us along the entire circuit of the wall—shows us "the tower of Meah," "the tower of Hananeel," "the fish gate," "the old gate," "the throne of the governor," "the broad wall," "the tower of the furnaces," "the valley gate," "the dung gate," "the gate of the fountain, .... the pool of Siloam," "the king's garden," "the stairs, .... the sepulchres of David," "the pool that was made," "the armoury," "the tower that lay out," "Ophel," "the horse gate," "the gate Miphkad," "the sheep gate," and "the ascent of the corner"—exhibits to us the party at work in each place, repairing a portion of the wall, or rebuilding a gateway—notes the zeal of those who, completing the piece first assigned to them rapidly, then undertook a second piece (verses 11, 19, 21, 24, etc.), and altogether gives us a description which is full of life and activity. The passage is invaluable to the topographer, and though not resolving all the difficulties with which he meets in his attempts to reproduce the plan of the ancient city, furnishes more effectual help than all other existing notices on the subject put together.
Then Eliashib the high priest rose up. It is satisfactory to find Eliashib the high priest taking the part which befitted him on this occasion. Subsequently we find him "allied by marriage to Tobiah (Nehemiah 13:4), and guilty of a profanation of the temple (ibid. Nehemiah 3:5). By the line of high priests given in Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11, it appears that Eliashib was the son of Joiakim, and the grandson of the Jeshua who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2). With his brethren. The priests generally. Compare Nehemiah 12:28, which shows that the priests undertook a portion of the eastern wall, besides the work here mentioned. Builded the sheep gate. The "sheep gate" appears to have been a gate in the eastern wall, the προβατική of St. John (John 5:2), which was close to the pool of Bethesda. By this gate were brought in the sheep needed for sacrifice, which were then washed in the adjoining pool, and conveyed from it into the temple area, whereon the pool abuts. The priests dwelt principally in this portion of the city. They sanctified it. This appears to have been a dedication quite distinct from that which is described in Nehemiah 12:27-43. The priests, having completed the rebuilding of the sheep gate, and of the wall extending from it northwards as far as the tower of Hananeel, anticipated the general dedication by a special one, which "sanctified," or consecrated, their own portion of the wall Thus a sacred character was impressed on the work at the earliest possible moment, and it was placed under the protection of the Almighty. The tower of Meah (or rather Hammeah, i.e. "the Hundred") and the tower of Hananeel appear to have been situated almost at the same point of the wall. Perhaps they were opposite each other, like the towers in the walls of Babylon (Herod; 1:179).
Next to Eliashib builded the men of Jericho, who were assigned the northeastern corner of the wall, as the part nearest to their own town. The inclusion of Jericho in the restored Judea had appeared from Ezra 2:34.
It is strange that the sons of Hassenaah, who built the fourth piece of wall, are not mentioned by name. There is no other similar omission. The fish gate, which they built, was in the northern wall, towards its eastern extremity, and not far from the modern "Damascus gate." It is thought to be so called from being the gate through which fish were brought in from the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. The locks thereof should rather be "the bars thereof"; and the bars, "the sockets," or "catches," which held the bars. The gates of towns in ancient times were almost always secured in this way.
The son of Koz. Rather "the son of Hakkoz." Meshullam the son of Berechiah is mentioned again in Nehemiah 6:18.
The Tekoites are the people of Tekoah, whence came the "wise woman" whom Joab sent to incline David to fetch home Absalom (2 Kings 14:2, 2 Kings 14:3). It was a small place, and does not appear, either in the catalogue of those who returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:20-35; Nehemiah 7:25-38), or in the census list of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11:25-35). Their nobles put not their necks to the work. This imputation of blame has been thought out of harmony with the general narrative contained in the chapter, and various emendations have been proposed to remove the so-called difficulty. But it has really first to be shown that a difficulty exists. Surely it would have been more strange if there had been no opposition to Nehemiah's wishes—no withdrawal from the work, than if there were the amount of opposition that is recorded. And supposing opposition to be made, why should Nehemiah not notice it? In music, the force and value of harmonious notes is brought out by an occasional discord. A desire to do honour to those who deserved it would be quite compatible with a determination to brand with disgrace the undeserving. And the contrast would enhance the value of the praise. Thus, there is no reason for disturbing the existing text, nor for questioning its plain meaning. The upper classes at Tekoah, the adirim or "exalted, withdrew from the work, like oxen withdrawing their necks from the yoke, and stood aloof, leaving it to the common people to engage in it, or not, as they pleased. The common people were perhaps moved to the greater zeal by the defection of their natural leaders. They were among those who accomplished a double task, repairing a second portion of the wall (verse 27) after having finished their first.
The old gate must either have corresponded to the modern "Damascus gate" or have been in its near neighbourhood. It is not mentioned elsewhere.
Gibeon and Mispah lay due north of Jerusalem, at the distance respectively of about 5.5 and 4.5 miles The inhabitants were set to repair the middle part of the north wall. Unto the throne of the governor on this side the river. So the Septuagint; and, among moderns, Michaelis, Pool, and A. Clarke. Others translate—"the men of Gibeon and Mizpah, who belonged to the jurisdiction of the governor across the river." But this can scarcely have been the fact, since Gibeon is mentioned among the re-occupied cities in Nehemiah 7:25, and if Bethel was Jewish, as we know that it was from Nehemiah 11:31, Gibeon and Mizpah, which were nearer Jerusalem, cannot have remained Syrian. Altogether, there is no reason to dispute the commonly received rendering, since Nehemiah again uses לfor עד in verse 32, and the governor of Syria may well have had a "throne," or tribunal, at Jerusalem, which was usually under his jurisdiction, though exempted from his authority under the existing regime.
Hananiah the son of one of the apothecaries. Or "the son of Harak-kashim." They fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall. The Septuagint has κατέλιπον, "they left," and the Vulgate dimiserunt in the same sense, which is given also as an alternative rendering by our translators, in the margin. And no doubt the verb עזב has this for one of its meanings. But the clause has thus no satisfactory sense. That עזב is used for "to fortify" by Nehemiah is plain from Nehemiah 4:2, and we may therefore well understand it in this sense here. Why he uses עזב here and חזק in every other place is difficult to explain, unless we suppose, with Pool, that the wall did not need regular repairs in this part, but only a little strengthening.
The ruler of the half part of Jerusalem. Compare Nehemiah 3:11. The city itself does not seem to be intended, but rather the territory outside which was considered to belong to the city. This was divided into two portions, under two "princes" or "rulers," Rephaiah and Shallum.
Malchijah and Hashub, who are here said to have repaired, not the other piece, but "a second piece"of the wall, have not been previously mentioned in our present text; whence it has been concluded with reason (Bertheau) that the text is defective, some whole verses having fallen out (comp. Nehemiah 3:20). The tower of the furnaces is mentioned again in Nehemiah 12:38. Its exact position cannot be fixed.
He and his daughters. It seems to be almost impossible that women were pressed into the service, especially when it was one of so much danger (Nehemiah 4:13-21). By "daughters" we must therefore understand the villages contained in Shallum's district, which is agreeable to the use of the term in Nehemiah 11:25, Nehemiah 11:27, Nehemiah 11:28.
The valley gate. A gate in the western wall (See the comment on Nehemiah 2:13.) Zanoah was situated to the west of Jerusalem at the distance of some nine or ten miles. It is mentioned in Joshua 15:34 as a city of Judah, but was not a place of much importance. We can scarcely suppose that the inhabitants had as much as a thousand cubits of the wall assigned to them, since that is more than a quarter of a mile, and the entire circuit was under four miles. Bertheau suggests that Nehemiah merely means to note that the distance between the two gates, the Valley and the Dung gate, was a thousand cubits, and that he says nothing of the repairs because no repairs were needed.
The dung gate. See the comment on Nehemiah 2:13. The ruler of part of Beth-haccerem. Rather "ruler of the district of Beth-haccerem," or head man of the region within which Beth-haccerem, was situated. This was a district in the neighbourhood of Tekoah (Jeremiah 6:1).
The gate of the fountain. See the comment on Nehemiah 2:14. The ruler of part of Mizpah. Rather, "ruler of the district of Mizpah," which is distinguished from the town of Mizpah (Nehemiah 2:7, Nehemiah 2:19), and shown to have furnished a distinct working party. The wall of the pool of Siloah was probably an outwork designed to protect those who at a time of siege frequented this fountain. The pool must always have been outside of the main wall of the city. It furnished water to the royal garden, which was at the junction of the Kidron and Hinnora valleys (Joseph. 'Ant. Jud.,' 7.11; 2 Kings 25:4). The stairs that go down from the city of David may well be the flight of stone steps cut in the rock which is still to be seen on the western flank of Ophel, leading from the valley of the Tyropeeon in the direction of the temple.
Nehemiah the son of Azbuk. Not the writer, who was "the son of Hachaliah" (Nehemiah 1:1), but another person of the same name. It was the frequent bearing of the same name by two or more contemporaries which made it necessary to designate men generally by their own names and the names of their fathers. Bethzur ("House of the Rock") is now Beit-Sur, and lies on the ordinary route from Jerusalem to Hebron, about fifteen miles south of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in Joshua 15:58 among the cities of Judah, and appears to have become a place of considerable importance under the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 4:29; 6:31-50; 14:7; etc.). The sepulchres of David and the kings, his descendants, to the time of Hezekiah, were excavated in the rock upon which the temple stood (Ezekiel 43:7-9), apparently on its western side. They have not hitherto been discovered. Here too was the pool that was made by Hezekiah when he was about to be besieged by Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 32:30; Isaiah 22:9-11). The house of the mighty—the Gibborim, or "mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23:8; 1 Chronicles 11:10)—is not elsewhere mentioned. It was no doubt the barrack where, according to tradition, David had quartered his best troops.
The ruler of the half part of Keilah. Rather, "ruler of one-half of the region of K." The district within which Keilah stood was divided into two parts, one of which was under Hashabiah and the other under Bavai (Nehemiah 3:18). Both took part in the work of restoration, and the two working-parties were assigned adjacent portions of the wall In his part; Rather, "for his part"—pro tractu suo, as Rambach renders.
Keilah is probably the modern Kila, which is situated about twelve miles S.S.W. of Jerusalem, in the Shephelah, or low plain of the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-3). It was assigned to Judah by Joshua (Joshua 15:44), threatened with capture, but "saved" by David (1 Samuel 23:5), and apparently reoccupied on the return from the captivity.
Another piece. Ezer has not been previously mentioned as repairing any portion of the wall; but "the men of Mizpah" have been mentioned as so doing (Nehemiah 3:7). Ezer had apparently succeeded to "Jadon the Meronothita, as the superintendant of the Mizpah working-party. The going up to the armoury at the turning of the wall. Literally, "the ascent to the armoury of the corner." There were probably several armouries in Jerusalem (see Isaiah 22:8). This one was called "the armoury of the corner," being situated at the north-western angle of the special wall of the city of David. There was an "ascent" to it, either by steps, or by a steep pathway, from the Tyropoeon valley.
Earnestly repaired. So Gesenius, Pool, and Bertheau. The construction is not free from difficulty, and the reading is somewhat doubtful (the Vulgate "in monte" showing a different one); but on the whole the translation of the A. V. may stand. Baruch has the high honour of being singled out for special praise, as having shown a burning zeal which deserved this recompense. He rapidly accomplished the task first set him, the mention of which must have accidentally fallen out (see the comment on verse 11), and now undertook a "second piece," which extended from the north-western angle of the inner wall to the door of the high priest's house. It would seem that this door was in the wall, upon which the house must have abutted (see the next verse).
Meremoth's first piece is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:4. The second piece cannot have been very long, since it only extended along a portion of the high priest's house.
The priests who had lands in the Jordan valley seem to be intended by the men of the plain, hak-kikkar, "the plain," without further addition, having always that meaning in Scripture. We have already heard that the men of Jericho were engaged in the work (Nehemiah 3:2).
After him repaired Binnui the men of Henadad another piece. The name, Binnui, has not occurred previously, but probably ought to be substituted for Bavai (בנוי for בוי) in Nehemiah 3:18. He was a Levite (Nehemiah 10:9), of the important Levitical family of Henadad, mentioned in Ezra 3:9. Unto the turning of the wall, even unto the corner. As far as the northeast angle of the special wall of the city of David, which here adjoined the main wall of Jerusalem. A tower here stood out (verse 25), and the wall turned at a right angle, both northward and southward.
The tower which lieth out from the king's high house. In the original it is uncertain whether the word translated "high" belongs to "tower" or "house." Most commentators attach it to "tower." The "king's house" of this place can be nothing but the old palace of David, which was in this quarter, while Solomon's was on the opposite, or western, hill This palace, like Solomon s (Jeremiah 32:2), would naturally have its prison, which would stand in its own court. From this prison, the "prison gate" of Nehemiah 12:39 took its name.
The Nethinims dwelt in Ophel. Ophel was "the long, narrowish, rounded spur or promontory which intervenes between the central valley of Jerusalem (the Tyropoeon) and the Kidron, or Valley of Jehoshaphat" (Grove). The Nethinims, who had their dwellings on this spur, were set to fortify a portion of the eastern circuit, but apparently restored not so much their own wall as that which lay north of it, at the edge of the present Haram area. Here must have been the water gate, which carried off the superfluous water from the temple reservoirs; and here was the great tower that lieth out, whose foundations have been recently discovered. It stood at the southeastern angle of the great platform on which the temple was built.
The Tekoites repaired another piece. Compare Nehemiah 3:5. Their "second piece" appears to have extended from the "great tower" to the wall built by Shallum on the western side of the spur which reached as far as the pool of Siloam (Nehemiah 3:15). This is here called "the wall of Ophel."
From above the horse gate. This was a gate in the eastern wall (Jeremiah 31:40) through which horses could enter the city. It probably adjoined the old palace, being at or near the "turning of the wall" mentioned in Nehemiah 3:24, Nehemiah 3:25. Nehemiah seems here to return to the point quitted in verse 26, and to proceed thence northwards in order to complete the entire circuit.
Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah is very possibly the descendant of David mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:22. He must have been an old man, as his son, Hattush, had returned to Jerusalem with Ezra (Ezra 8:2, Ezra 8:3); but still he may have taken part in the work. That he was keeper of the east gate does not militate against this hypothesis, for that post was an honourable one, and it is not to be supposed that all the descendants of David were in flourishing circumstances. By "the east gate"we are perhaps to understand "the water gate towards the east" of verse 26.
After him. The traditional text gives "after me;" and it has been supposed that Nehemiah assigned himself a certain portion of the wall and repaired it, but suppressed his own name through modesty. But, as general superintendent of the whole (Nehemiah 4:13-23), he could scarcely take any special work; and the argument that might have been founded upon a single occurrence of the expression "after me" is deprived of all force by its double occurrence, here and in verse 31. Another piece. A Hanun has been mentioned (verse 13) among the leaders of the working parties, and also a Hananiah (verse 8); but they were not coupled together; and it may well be questioned whether either is identical with his namesake of this verse. Probably we have here another instance of the incompleteness of our present text of this chapter (see the comment on verse 11).
Malchiah the goldsmith's son. Or "the son of Hazzorephi." But the mention of goldsmiths (zorephim) in Nehemiah 3:32 lends support to the rendering of the A. V; which is accepted by most critics. Unto the place of the Nethinims. Rather, "the house." The exact position cannot be fixed; but the gate Miphkad must have been situated in the east wall, a little to the south of the sheep gate. The going up of the corner may have been an "ascent," like Solomon's (2 Chronicles 9:4), which was probably a flight of steps; or the word translated "going up" may mean "an upper chamber" (ὑπερῷον)—a chamber situated over the gate.
Unto the sheep gate. Compare Nehemiah 3:1. The circuit is completed, and the point reached from which the commencement was made. The goldsmiths and the merchants were required to repair the piece of wall immediately to the south of the sheep gate, for which no individual had volunteered. Probably they had houses in the neighbourhood. They consented; and thus the entire wall was taken in hand, and the great work, which Nehemiah had conceived in his heart while still in Susa, was inaugurated.
An honourable record.
In the preceding chapter the good resolutions of the people are recorded; here, what is more satisfactory, their performances. It is a record of those who united to restore the wall of Jerusalem, and the part which each principal person, or group of persons, took in the work. The account may appear of little interest for us; but it would be of much to the Jews, especially the descendants of those whose names are so honourably recorded, as long as they preserved their genealogies. To us also it need not be barren of interest or profit.
I. THE WORKERS AND THEIR WORK. A very great undertaking carried through rapidly (Nehemiah 6:15) and successfully; because—
1. A voluntary work. All animated with zeal, and labouring heartily, not of compulsion. What is especially reported of one (Nehemiah 3:20) was doubtless true, in good measure, of all: they "earnestly repaired."
2. By a united people. With a few exceptions (Nehemiah 3:5), all appear to have done their part. Priests, nobles, merchants, tradesmen, working-men; dwellers in the city and dwellers in the country (for the welfare of the metropolis, with its temple, etc; was felt to be of common concern), all combined their energies.
3. By a people acting in orderly co-operation. Without this, their number and zeal would have availed little. The work was distributed into many parts, and each individual and group took the part assigned them by those at the head of affairs. Each band of men repaired that part of the wall which fell to its lot; and of each band the various classes did what they were best fitted for; some finding means, some superintending, some clearing away rubbish and picking out serviceable stones, others doing the masonry. Hence confusion was avoided, and the time and labour of none wasted. Many a good undertaking is rendered abortive, or much hindered, for the want of such willing order and subordination, which cannot be secured because of the pride, self-will, jealousy, etc. of those who should co-operate.
4. With religious services (Nehemiah 3:1) The high priest and his fellow-priests led the way and "sanctified" (dedicated) their work to God; most likely having regard, in this solemn act of piety, to the whole work. The account is instructive, as showing how much may be done by even a feeble people when united, zealous, and willing each to do the part allotted to him, and offering all to God in dependence on his aid and blessing.
II. THE RECORD. May be of use as—
1. An example. The names and works of those who have done good service to the nation, the city, or the Church should be commemorated—
(1) For the glory of God, whose product and gift good and useful men are.
(2) For the honour of the workers.
(3) As an illustration of great principles. Their nature, operation, worth (comp. Hebrews 11:1-40.).
(4) As a stimulus and encouragement to others. The young should be familiarised with the names and deeds of the noblest men and women, and the principles which formed their character, that they may imbibe their spirit and imitate their nobleness. Hence the value of history and biography, whether sacred or ordinary.
2. A reminder. There is a record of good men and good deeds in another book—the memory of God (Hebrews 6:10), a record which is—
(1) Exact. Excluding many who receive honour from men, but including all who have served God and their brethren with sincere piety and love. Only the few can be mentioned by name in human records; but all are "in the book of life" (Philippians 4:3). Many who are of little account here stand high there. And small services as well as great find a place in that record (Matthew 10:42).
(2) Indelible. No names or deeds registered there drop out, or are erased, or fade away.
(3) To be published. At the great day, when many who are now obscure and thinking little of themselves will become famous.
(4) To be the guide in conferring rewards.
Every man according to his works (comp. Luke 19:15-19; 2 Corinthians 9:6). The thought of this record should—
(1) Incite us to active and devoted service, leading us to do our part, and do it well, aspiring to "honourable mention" in the Divine record and at the last day.
(2) Encourage us under undeserved neglect, misrepresentation, or censure. So Nehemiah again and again beseeches God to remember his good deeds, as if despairing of due estimation or recompense from men.
(3) Nourish joyful expectation. Another record is kept, of evil-doers and their works, and all hypocritical pretenders to Christian zeal and faithfulness. This also will be published. Hence "some will rise to shame and everlasting contempt".
Indifference in high places.
"But their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord. Nehemiah, or other human ruler, is supposed by some to be meant by "their Lord." Better, as our translators evidently understood it, "God." The word translated "work" means the work of a servant == "service."
I. THE WORK OF THE CHURCH IS THE LORD'S SERVICE. All work is to be so regarded, and cannot be done rightly otherwise. But the work of the Church is emphatically the service of God; whether the directly spiritual (evangelisation, instruction of Christians and their children), or the provision and maintenance of whatever is needful for it (ministers, teachers, buildings, etc.), or charitable aid to the poor.
1. God has redeemed and constituted his Church for these very ends. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price," etc. (1 Corinthians 6:20).
2. He has committed the work to his people.
3. He has given them directions for its fulfilment.
4. Hence loyalty to him requires them to do it. And only those who have faith and love towards him can do it truly and acceptably. We may judge of any work by this test: Can it be described as "the service of the Lord"? Much which goes by that name is misnamed, either because it is not of his appointment, or is not done in the spirit of love and obedience to him.
II. This service CALLS FOR STRENUOUS EXERTION. Like that of draught-oxen "putting their necks" to their work. The Christian's work is worthy of earnest effort, and cannot be well done without it. His "Lord" has a right to expect it.
III. SOME WHO PROFESS TO BE SERVANTS OF GOD DECLINE THIS PART OF HIS SERVICE. Even amid general enthusiasm they remain unmoved.
1. The causes of their refusal. May be a total want of the piety they profess; or the dominance of indifference, selfishness, indolence, or pride (towards God, or those who would be their fellow-labourers).
2. Its guilt. To refuse to take part in a common work is
(1) injustice to others, who have thus an undue burden east upon them; and
(2) rebellion against God.
3. Its consequences. Loss of great honour and blessing, now and hereafter. Punishment for unfaithfulness (Matthew 25:26-30).
IV. SUCH NEGLECT IS OFTEN FOUND AMONGST THOSE WHO SHOULD BE LEADERS OF OTHERS. "The nobles." The higher and richer classes have special gifts for the service of the Lord; but also special temptations to neglect it, from their position, education, habits of luxury and self-indulgence, sense of superiority, etc.; and too often they succumb to such temptations. They are reminded here that, however exalted they may be above their fellow-men, God is "their Lord," their Owner and Master, and has a right to their service equally with that of their social inferiors. The example of these should stimulate them. And great as their earthly dignity may be, it is not comparable to the honour of being humble and devoted servants of God.
V. PIOUS ZEAL AND LABOUR ON THE PART OF THE COMMON PEOPLE IS THE MORE COMMENDABLE WHEN THEY ARE DEPRIVED OF THE CO-OPERATION OF THEIR NATURAL LEADERS. "The Tekoites," instead of imitating their nobles, repaired two lengths of the wall (see verse 27). The middle and lower classes not unfrequently outstrip in godly and benevolent works the great of the earth, and make up in a measure for their indifference. It is not well, however, to waste time in reflecting upon others. Let each consider whether he is taking his own part in works of piety and charity, according to the measure of his ability and opportunities. "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
Family zeal in good work.
"He and his daughters." Some take "daughters" here in the sense which it bears in Nehemiah 11:25, Nehemiah 11:27, viz; "villages (regarded as the daughters of the town or district to which they belong), and would read, "it" (i.e. the half-part, or district, of Jerusalem) "and its villages." If, however, we take the word "daughters" in the sense of women, they present us an instance of a father and his daughters uniting in a good work. Probably the daughters had independent means. They remind us of the numerous instances in which piety and public spirit animate families—parents and their sons and daughters uniting in works of Christian usefulness. Such families are the strength of congregations. Union of a family in Christian work—
I. INDICATES GOOD AND EFFECTUAL EDUCATION. It shows that the parents have trained their children in piety and zeal, taught them to take an interest in the work of the Lord: and set them the example; and that the children have yielded to the influence thus exerted, imbibing the spirit of their parents, and imitating their deeds. Parents should early associate their children with them in good works, teaching and enabling them to give to the cause of Christ and to the poor, etc. Young people, who have if only a small income of their own, should devote part of it to the good of others, and should employ part of their time in doing good.
II. FORMS A SACRED FAMILY BOND. Sanctifies the natural ties; binds parents and children in a holy fellowship.
III. ELEVATES FAMILY LIFE. Supplying objects of common interest, topics for conversation, subjects for prayer, employments, occasions of mutual encourage-merit and help, all tending to uplift the thought% affections, motives, and aims above the region of self-interest, worldliness, and vanity: and thus form noble characters.
IV. INCREASES AND EXALTS FAMILY HAPPINESS. NO other pursuits in common, however innocent or laudable, can supply pleasures equal to those which spring from common consecration to the service of God and man.
V. PREPARES YOUNG PEOPLE FOR HIGHER AND LARGER SERVICE. Thus supplying the Church with a succession of well-qualified workers. Such families are the best nurseries, not only for the Church, but for the ministry and the missionary work.
VI. AIDS IN INSURING AND PREPARING FOR FAMILY REUNION IN THE HEAVENLY HOME. Let parents then resolve with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Let sons and daughters heartily co-operate with fathers and mothers in executing this resolution.
"Baruch the son of Zabbal earnestly repaired another piece." It is singular that this word "earnestly" should be used of Baruch and of none else. Perhaps it is a mis-reading. Or quite as likely it alludes to circumstances unknown to us. The word signifies "burning," and is commonly used of anger; here, however, of zeal, or perhaps emulation. Baruch is set before us as "an earnest worker." Such should all Christians be. It is one of the marks of the "peculiar people" of Christ whom he has redeemed by giving himself for them, that they are "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). The subject then is—earnestness in Christian work.
I. WHAT IT IS. Not zeal without knowledge, nor zeal fed by worldly motives, nor the ardour of a bigoted sectarianism, nor yet the warmth of transitory emotion, excited by speech or sermon or passing incident; but a steady flame of pious zeal, springing from Christian knowledge, faith, and love, and sustaining resolute purpose and endeavour. It is the life of God in the soul, in a state of vigour and animation, directed to practical service.
II. ITS CAUSES.
1. Ardent gratitude for blessings received. It does not spring from a desire or expectation of earning or deserving salvation by diligent works, but from the experience and hope of salvation freely bestowed, and realisation of the manifold benefits included in it. Its language is, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?"
2. Love to God and Christ and men. It is—love in action; love to God and the Saviour, inciting to obedience and making service a delight; love to men, impelling to the effort to do them good.
3. Contemplation of the condition and prospects of mankind.
4. Faith in the Divine remedies for human sin and misery.
5. The example of others. Of such men as St. Paul. Preeminently of the Lord Jesus Christ, "who went about doing good," and could say, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." The example of known living Christians eminent for zeal has a mighty influence in producing like characters. Earnestness of men in other pursuits.
6. The very indifference and neglect of which some are guilty. Stirring the heart to excusable, if not holy indignation; fear lest the work should suffer in consequence, and determination that it shall not.
7. Anticipation of the final account.
8. Fervent prayer. For pure Christian earnestness, by whatever means excited, is a gift of the Holy Ghost.
III. ITS SIGNS AND EFFECTS.
1. Generosity of gift and labour. Not meting these out according to a careful calculation of our share, or of what is "necessary" in order to retain a hope of eternal life, but delighting to do all that is possible.
2. Ready self-denial.
3. Courage in facing difficulty and opposition. Earnestness is slow to believe in impossibility.
4. Thoroughness of work. Doing our best as alone in any sense worthy of the Lord and his work.
5. Constancy and perseverance. Superiority to the influence of bad examples, and all other temptations to remissness in, or abandonment of, the service.
IV. ITS BLESSEDNESS.
1. As clear and abiding evidence of true faith and love. Giving "assurance of hope," which without practical and benevolent earnestness is unfounded, if it exist. No strictness of orthodoxy, or raptures of religious emotion, are sufficient without it.
2. As making the Christian's work happy.
3. As securing the Divine approval and blessing.
4. As insuring success.
5. As anticipating abundant recompense.
Doing good near home.
"Every one over against his house." The priests and others (Nehemiah 3:10, Nehemiah 3:23, Nehemiah 3:29, Nehemiah 3:30), whose houses were near the wall, repaired that part of the wall which was opposite each of their dwellings. This suggests an important rule for Christian workers.
I. THE ORDER TO BE OBSERVED IN SEEKING THE GOOD OF OTHERS. Let every one do the work which lies nearest to him. Let him begin with his own family. No amount of good work elsewhere will compensate for neglect there. Christian parents can do most good to the community by training well their children. Then, as ability and opportunity permit, let each seek the good of his dependents, friends, neighbours, the congregation with which he worships, the city or town, the country, the Church at large, the world.
II. REASONS FOR ADOPTING THIS ORDER.
1. That which is nearest is usually best known. Its needs can be best perceived, and how to meet them.
2. It appeals most powerfully to our hearts. Partly because best known. The eye affects the heart (Lamentations 3:51). Partly because of the natural affections which belong to the closer relationships. Now the emotions of the heart are both a call to duty and a qualification for its efficient performance. Words spoken, gifts bestowed, with feeling, are most powerful for good.
3. It has the first claim upon us. God has placed men in close relationships and proximity in order that they may be mutually helpful as occasion arises. We violate the Divine order when we care for the distant to the neglect of the near.
4. We can most easily reach it.
5. We may hope for more success in dealing with it. Because our work will be with more knowledge and more heart, and less waste of resources; and will carry with it the weight of known character, of personal sympathy, and the thousand influences which spring from family life, friendship, neighbourhood, etc. A man can nowhere work with so much effect as "over against his house."
6. In caring for it we may be most effectually protecting our houses. As those priests and others who built up the piece of wall nearest them. There are perils to us and our families which may be averted by doing our duty to those nearest to us; perils from the sullen enmity which indifference and neglect may generate in them; perils from their ignorance, grossness, or vice; perils from their diseases, etc.
7. When each does the work nearest to him, the whole work will be most surely and rapidly done. Christians have yet thoroughly to follow this order. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there is much to be done which cannot thus be reached. There were many parts of the wall at Jerusalem which were opposite the house of no one, or of none able to repair them; and there were many able and willing to assist in the work whose dwellings were not in Jerusalem, or, if in the city, not near the wall. And so they had to labour at a distance from their houses. In like manner, there is much Christian work to be done where no Christians exist, or none capable of doing it; and so there is ample room for those organisations which enable the benevolent to do good at a distance, and even in far-off lands.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The Church engaged in a work of moral repair.
I. THAT THE CHURCH IS ENGAGED IN REPAIRING MORAL RUIN. "And next unto them repaired Meremoth" (Nehemiah 3:4). Jerusalem was once a strong and beautiful city; now it is in ruins. Society has not always been a ruin. Man has not always been a wreck.
1. The desolation was extensive. The entire city was waste; not a wall or gate remained intact. And man's entire intellectual and moral nature is laid waste by sin; he has no unfallen faculty.
2. The desolation was varied. The sheep gate, the doors, the beams, the locks had all been destroyed; and so all the manifold capabilities of man have been injured by sin.
3. The desolation was pitiable. It was sad to see Jerusalem in ruins; but much more so to see the ruin of the human soul.
4. The desolation was visible. Travellers saw the ruined city; the fallen condition of man is evident to all.
II. THE METHOD WHICH THE CHURCH SHOULD PURSUE IN ITS WORK OF MORAL REPARATION.
1. There must be good official leadership. "Then Eliashib the high priest rose up" (Nehemiah 3:1).
2. There must be a wise use of individual talent. "Goldsmiths," "apothecaries" (Nehemiah 3:8).
3. There must be pursued a common purpose through a variety of tasks.
4. There must be a recognition of the power of the domestic affections (Nehemiah 3:29).
5. There must be a strict attention to the minute detail of the work. "And set up the doors thereof, and the locks thereof, and the bars thereof" (Nehemiah 3:6).
6. There are always those in the Church who refuse to aid in its enterprise.—E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Doing God's work.
Under Nehemiah's direction, and inspired with his own earnestness, the children of Israel gave themselves to the good work of encircling the city of God with walls. The account of their building in this chapter reminds us—
I. THAT ALL WORK WE DO FOR GOD IS CONSIDERED IMPORTANT AND IS RECORDED BY HIM. We should hardly have expected, judging antecedently, that all these names would have appeared in the sacred Scriptures with the posts assigned them. We should have thought that the space thus taken would have been better occupied with more of the miracles or parables of our Lord, or of the acts of the apostles. The fact that these names are inserted in this book, which is to go over all the world and down all the ages, is evidence that God counts of importance all work done for him, and that he records it. Other books of remembrance he has (Malachi 3:16. Cf. Psalms 40:7; Psalms 56:8; Psalms 139:16; Revelation 20:12) in which the endurances and the actions of his people are written. All is recorded there—the work in building the city wall, the offering the cup of cold water, the kind word of encouragement or sympathy. Our record is on high. The notable and famous deeds of wickedness will be forgotten when humblest actions of devout usefulness are immortalised in one or other of the books of God.
II. THAT IF DONE RAPIDLY, GOD'S WORK SHOULD BE DONE REGULARLY AND DISCERNINGLY. They proceeded with all speed, losing no time, but everything was done in order. There was no hurry. Every man had his proper post, and took it without interrupting his neighbour. The priests "builded the sheep gate" (verse 1). "Next came the men of Jericho" (verse 2);... "but the fish gate did the sons of Hassenaah build" (verse 3), etc. Certain priests and other individual workmen had assigned to them the wall "over against their house" (verses 10, 23, 28-30), where they would least interfere with others, and in which they would naturally take the greatest interest. So also the Levites had for their share the part nearest the temple (verse 17), where they would work with the greatest zeal.
III. THAT IT SHOULD BE DONE RELIGIOUSLY. It is only too possible and too common to do religious work in an unreligious, if not positively irreligious, spirit—mechanically and thoughtlessly, if not sullenly and selfishly. Three things in this record point to religious earnestness.
(a) The ministers of God took the lead. "The high priest rose up with his brethren the priests" (verse 1). When the leaders of religion take the front posts of danger, difficulty, and toil, there is a guarantee of some spiritual zest in the work.
(b) They stopped to dedicate the work they had done. "They sanctified it" (verse 1).
(c) Of one of them we read, that "Baruch earnestly repaired," etc. He was conspicuous for the zest with which he laboured, outstripping and inciting the others. Workmen in the vineyard of Christ should often remind themselves why it is they labour, what it is they aim to do, for whom they are employed.
IV. THAT THE CO-OPERATION OF ALL WHO WILL HEARTILY HELP SHOULD BE CHEERFULLY ACCEPTED. Here we have in united labour—
(1) priests (verses 1, 22),
(2) Levites (verse 17),
(3) Nethinims (verse 26),
(4) outsiders (verses 2, 5, 7),
(5) rulers (verses 16, 17, 19),
(6) tradesmen (verses 31, 32),
(7) women—"he and his daughters" (verse 12).
All can lend service; what one cannot do another may. No sincere helper is to be despised. In crises, especially such as this, when great things depend on the success of a few days' labour, all distinctions should be laid aside. By those who have the kingdom of Christ at heart they will be laid aside, and all will join hands, not only consentingly, but enthusiastically.
V. THAT NEGLIGENCE IS NOTED AND RECORDED BY THE DIVINE MASTER. "Their nobles (of Tekoah) put not their necks to the work of their Lord." Whether it was from indolence or pride, whether they were unwilling to task themselves with unusual labour, or whether they shrank from associating with their social inferiors, we cannot tell. We know, however, that both indolence and pride do keep many from the work of the Lord, and we know that such refusal of help is both unwise and guilty. It is to withhold the hand from that which is worthiest and most enduring; it is to stand outside the blessing of those whom God most honours. It is to invite the curse of Meroz (Judges 5:23), the condemnation of the Son of man at the day of judgment (Matthew 5:45).—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
Notice several points in this record of the labours and the distribution of their work.
I. Devotion and effort in the cause of God are worthy of DISTINCTION AND REMEMBRANCE. Names have great power, both among contemporaries and successors. We are stimulated by individual examples.
1. The priests are mentioned first; and God's ministers should be first and foremost in every good work, especially that which is most closely connected with his house.
2. Not only individuals are honoured in thin record, but families. Our household life should be intimately bound up with our Church life. The best family title is that which is won in the field of holy enterprise.
3. While all were invited, some refused. The "nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord." But over against that disgraceful idleness we can place the superabundant zeal of others, who not only did their own work, but the work of others as well.
II. Even THE WOMEN WERE READY TO DO THEIR PART, and, understanding "daughters" in the sense of women, the daughters of Shallum, "ruler of the half part of Jerusalem," not too high or too weak to unite in such a cause. In the building of the spiritual Jerusalem the "daughters" contribute no mean portion.
III. SOME UNDERTOOK THE WORK "OVER AGAINST THEIR OWN HOUSE." We may find the opportunity close at hand. No greater honour can we attach to our own house than to connect it with the praise and glory of Jerusalem.
IV. The EFFECT of this general and contemporaneous effort of all the Lord's people to repair the ruins of their city in uniting them, effacing wrong distinctions, developing great qualities, lifting up their faith to a higher platform. Reformation both effect and cause of revival.—R.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19