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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. Sanballat See on Nehemiah 2:10.

That we builded the wall That is, that we were building it. This chapter describes events that transpired while their work of rebuilding was going on.

Took great indignation He was irritated and provoked, for he hated the thought of having the Jews prosper.

Mocked He tried to scoff at what he secretly feared.

Verse 2

2. His brethren His associates in office.

The army of Samaria Of which he seems to have been the chief commander.

Will they fortify themselves Literally, Will they leave to them? The meaning is not clear, but seems most naturally brought out if we allow the verb a passive sense: Shall they be left to themselves? This is the thought conveyed both by the Septuagint and Vulgate, although those versions present no literal translation of the Hebrew. The Septuagint has the following: “Is this the power of Samaria, that these Jews build their city?” Vulgate: “Shall the nations let them go?” that is, shall the surrounding nations let them go on with their building their city walls?

Will they sacrifice Will they presume to renew and perpetuate their ancient cultus?

Make an end in a day Do they imagine they can so speedily rebuild their city that no one will find it out before it is complete?

Revive the stones He speaks of the great stones of Jerusalem as having been destroyed by fire, broken, and ruined, so that the attempt of a feeble band of exiles to restore them (Hebrews, make them live) from their heaps of… rubbish was to his mind the height of folly.

Verse 3

3. Tobiah See on Nehemiah 2:10.

If a fox go up Thus Tobiah adds derision and contempt to Sanballat’s pitying scorn.

Verse 4

4. Hear, O our God The bitter scorn and derision of the enemy causes Nehemiah to break out with an imprecatory prayer.

Turn their reproach Let them fall under the reproach and scorn that now afflict us.

A prey in the land of captivity Bring them to suffer violence and abuse in captivity. The land of captivity is to be understood of any land in which the persons referred to might dwell as captives.

Verse 5

5. Cover not That is, forgive not; do not pardon.

Let not their sin be blotted out All these imprecations of Nehemiah are to be understood and explained, like the imprecatory psalms, as the voice of down-trodden humanity and injured innocence uttering by a divine inspiration the judgments of righteousness upon the wicked oppressor. Such psalms as the one hundred and twenty-third and the one hundred and twenty-fourth were probably written on this occasion.

Verse 6

6. Unto the half thereof That is, until it was half completed. Some understand this of half way around the city, others of half the height of the wall. The latter seems to be the true meaning, inasmuch as the work was going on at all points in the city at the same time, so that the workmen were greatly scattered. Nehemiah 4:19. So, also, the previous chapter shows that the different families or classes of the people had each a distinct portion of the work, so that the rebuilding of the wall would be prosecuted on all sides at the same time.

Verse 7

7. The Arabians Headed probably by Geshem. See on chapter Nehemiah 2:19.

Ashdodites Inhabitants of Ashdod, one of the great cities of the Philistine plain. It was besieged and captured by the Assyrians in the time of Sargon, (Isaiah 20:1,) but had so far recovered its strength as now to enter into confederacy with the Samaritans against the Jews.

That the walls… were made up Literally, That there arose healing to the walls. The broken walls are spoken of as wounded, and the rebuilding was a healing, or restoring them to health. The thought is amplified by the additional clause, the breaches began to be stopped Places where the wall had been violently broken through were closed up.

Verse 8

8. To come… to fight… to hinder None of these purposes, however, seem to have been carried out by the conspiring parties. The Hebrew here for hinder, is, literally to do to it a disturbance.

Verse 9

9. Made our prayer… and set a watch Here watching and prayer were strikingly exemplified. “The strongest confidence in the protection and favour of God does not preclude the use of all or any of the means of self-preservation and defence which his providence has put in our power.”


Verse 10

10. Judah said By his representatives, heads of the tribe of Judah.

The strength… is decayed They are worn-out and exhausted by excessive toil.

Much rubbish This had been accumulating for more than a hundred years, and in some places presented to the builders insuperable difficulties.

Verse 11

11. They shall not know They plotted a secret assault, aiming to surprise the Jews in the midst of their work.

Verse 12

12. Jews which dwelt by them That is, Jews who dwelt among the Samaritans and other enemies, and by that means found out their evil designs.

Said unto us ten times Thereby showing their intense anxiety. The expression is equivalent to a great many times, or again and again.

From all places whence ye shall return unto us Something seems to have fallen out of the text here. The words supplied by our translators, they will be upon you, do not fully clear up the obscurity, nor suit the previous words, whence ye shall return. Bertheau literally translates the Hebrew thus: From all places that ye return to us; and explains it as the request of the kinsmen and friends of those builders whose homes were in places some distance from Jerusalem, (like the men of Jericho, Tekoa, and Gibeon, Nehemiah 3:2; Nehemiah 3:5; Nehemiah 3:7,) to tarry no longer in danger at Jerusalem, but return to them. This, too, is the natural meaning of the marginal reading, that from all places ye must return to us. We take this to be the true meaning. The Jews who dwelt at a distance from Jerusalem were anxious to have their friends and kinsmen there return to their homes and families. Interpreters have too generally assumed that these words contained the information which the Jews from a distance brought to the rulers at Jerusalem; whereas, they are rather a request of those Jews for their relatives to leave the imperilled city, and thus escape the threatening danger. Exactly how the rulers at Jerusalem were informed of their enemies’ designs is not said, but, doubtless, it came through those Jews who dwelt among the enemy.

Verse 13

13. Set I Or, then I stationed, to wit, people, as is seen further on.

In the lower places Better, as the margin, from, or at, the lower parts of the place. That is, he stationed men at the lower parts of the city, where there was special danger and greater exposure.

Behind the wall To defend it, and prevent the enemy from entering the city at those points. The wall thus served as a fortification.

And on the higher places The and should be omitted, and the rest rendered in the exposed parts. This phrase is not, as the English version makes it, the opposite of the lower places, but relates to behind the wall. He stationed men behind the wall in the exposed places.

I even set This is a repetition of the first words of the verse, and followed immediately by the object of the verb.

The people All the inhabitants of the city. They were distributed into the various parts of the city, especially in the lower and more exposed parts, so that all the place was under guard.

After their families Rather, according to families. The people were distributed by family groups, so that the men that guarded any particular part of the wall had their families and kinsmen nearest them.

Swords… spears… bows These were not the only kinds of weapons with which they were provided. See Nehemiah 4:16.

Verse 14

14. I looked To see if all my orders had been carried out.

Rose up To pass around and address the nobles and others with words of encouragement and cheer.

Verse 15

15. God had brought their counsel to nought Observe the doctrine of Providence here. The betrayal of the enemies’ designs, and the preparations for defence, though all wrought out by human instrumentalities, are attributed to God.

We returned all of us to the wall That is, as is immediately explained, every one unto his work. For a time they merely watched, and stood in readiness to resist the enemy that proposed to assail them unawares, (Nehemiah 4:11;) but now they return to their work again, not, however, without some change in their manner of procedure, as the next verse tells.

Verse 16

16. The half of my servants Nehemiah may, as governor of the people and superintendent of the work, speak here of all the people who laboured on the wall as his servants; but Nehemiah 4:23 shows that he had also his own proper servants engaged in the work. As the king of Persia had provided him with captains and horsemen, (Nehemiah 2:9,) so also had he, probably, furnished him with servants. From that time forth one half stood guard while the other half wrought in the work.

The other half of them held… the spears There is, at first sight, some confusion here. According to Nehemiah 4:17, every labourer held a missile weapon in one hand and worked with the other; and according to Nehemiah 4:18, every one had also his sword girded by his side; but according to this verse one half of the people held the weapons while the other half worked on the wall. We think that Nehemiah 4:17 is to be explained (in view of the more controlling statements of this verse and Nehemiah 4:21) as a figurative or proverbial representation of the anxious watchfulness and care of all the people to prevent surprise by the enemy.

Habergeons Corselets, or coats of mail. See note on 1 Samuel 17:5.

The rulers were behind That is, in the rear of the people, who were stationed at different places along the wall. They would naturally take this position the better to oversee and direct both the watch and the work. All the house of Judah is here used for the whole body of the people, who were composed principally of members of the tribe of Judah.

Verse 17

17. With one of his hands wrought… with the other hand held a weapon This seems to be a figurative expression to denote the constant readiness of the builders to rush at once to battle in case of sudden attack. Every one had his weapons at hand, ready for use at a moment’s warning. The word for weapon שׁלח means properly a missile some-thing that can be hurled or thrown.

Verse 18

18. Every one had his sword girded by his side This was probably literally the case. Swords are not mentioned in Nehemiah 4:16 as among the arms held in readiness by the half of the people that watched while the others worked. Swords could be worn so as not greatly to hinder the workmen in their work.

Verse 19

19. We are separated Being grouped by families at the more exposed places along the city wall. See on Nehemiah 4:13. Hence the necessity of having a concerted signal to call them together in case of attack.

Verse 21

21. Half of them held the spears This confirms our view of Nehemiah 4:16, that half stood on guard, with arms ready for the use of all, while the other half worked. They, doubtless, relieved each other by turns.

Verse 22

22. Every one Every leading man, or head of a family.

With his servant Rather, and his servant. As Nehemiah, being head of the entire community, might have called all the people his servants, (Nehemiah 4:16,) so every leading man had also those under him whom he commanded. But each leading man of the Jews may also have had his own private servants. Some of the more wealthy had brought their own brethren of the Jews virtually into bondage to them. Nehemiah 5:5; Nehemiah 5:8.

Lodge within Jerusalem And not in the neighbouring villages, as some of them had been accustomed to do.

They may be a guard Namely, the men and the servants just named. They were to stay and do their share in guarding the city, as well as in labouring on its walls. But as the next verse shows, they were not the only ones that thus watched and laboured. It was necessary to the safety of Jerusalem that a large and strong watch be maintained night and day, and it was too much for Nehemiah and the rest, whose homes were in the city, to do all this. Hence the justice of requiring those whose homes were in neighbouring towns to abide for the present in the city, and do a proper share of guarding the great common interests of all.

To us Nehemiah and all who dwelt in the city.

Verse 23

23. Nor my brethren Men of his own tribe and near kinsmen.

Nor my servants See note on Nehemiah 4:16.

Nor the men of the guard which followed me This may refer to the persons mentioned in the preceding verse, who were retained in Jerusalem as a guard; or to a special bodyguard of Nehemiah, composed of the captains and horsemen who came up with him from Persia, (Nehemiah 2:9,) and still followed him, or were behind him, to do his bidding.

None of us put off our clothes Such was their constant wakefulness and watchfulness.

Saving that every one put them off for washing Such is the meaning which the Vulgate and a number of expositors put upon the Hebrew, אישׁ שׁלחו המים . But these words contain in themselves no such meaning, and there is reason to suspect a corruption in the text. Literally, they read, a man, his weapons, the waters, and there is no connective to decide the meaning. The following are the principal conjectures: 1. That waters here are to be taken as a euphemism for a call of nature, and the sense is, that every man kept his weapons by him even when attending to a call of nature. 2. The marginal reading, that every one who went for water to the springs or wells carried his weapon along. 3. Instead of המים , the waters, we should read בידו , in his hand. Then it would smoothly read, every one (having) his weapon in his hand. 4. Instead of המים , read המינו , his right, when the sense would be, every one with his weapon on his right; that is, ready for immediate action in case of attack. This variety of conjectures sufficiently indicates that some connectives must have fallen out of the text.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nehemiah-4.html. 1874-1909.
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