The Builders on the Wall
journey to Jerusalem was accomplished in safety. The royal letters to the
governors of the provinces along his route secured him honorable reception
and prompt assistance. No enemy dared molest the official who was guarded
by the power of the Persian king and treated with marked consideration by
the provincial rulers. His arrival in Jerusalem, however, with a military
escort, showing that he had come on some important mission, excited the
jealousy of the heathen tribes living near the city, who had so often
indulged their enmity against the Jews by heaping upon them injury and
insult. Foremost in this evil work were certain chiefs of these tribes,
Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian. From
the first these leaders watched with critical eyes the movements of
Nehemiah and endeavored by every means in their power to thwart his plans
and hinder his work.
continued to exercise the same caution and prudence that had hitherto
marked his course. Knowing that bitter and determined enemies stood ready
to oppose him, he concealed the nature of his mission from them until a
study of the situation should enable him to form his plans. Thus he hoped
to secure the co-operation of the people and set them at work before the
opposition of his enemies should be aroused.
few men whom he knew to be worthy of confidence, Nehemiah told them of the
circumstances that had led him to come to Jerusalem, the object that he
wished to accomplish, and the plans he proposed to follow. Their interest
in his undertaking was at once enlisted and their assistance secured.
On the third
night after his arrival Nehemiah rose at midnight and with a few trusted
companions went out to view for himself the desolation of Jerusalem.
Mounted on his mule, he passed from one part of the city to another,
surveying the broken-down walls and gates of the city of his fathers.
Painful reflections filled the mind of the Jewish patriot as with
sorrow-stricken heart he gazed upon the ruined defenses of his beloved
Jerusalem. Memories of Israel's past greatness stood out in sharp contrast
with the evidences of her humiliation.
and silence Nehemiah completed his circuit of the walls. "The rulers
knew not whither I went," he declares, "or what I did; neither
had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles,
nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work." The remainder
spent in prayer; for he knew that the morning would call for earnest
effort to arouse and unite his dispirited and divided countrymen.
a royal commission requiring the inhabitants to co-operate with him in
rebuilding the walls of the city, but he did not depend upon the exercise
of authority. He sought rather to gain the confidence and sympathy of the
people, knowing that a union of hearts as well as of hands was essential
in the great work before him. When on the morrow he called the people
together he presented such arguments as were calculated to arouse their
dormant energies and unite their scattered numbers.
hearers did not know, neither did he tell them, of his midnight circuit of
the night before. But the fact that he had made this circuit contributed
greatly to his success; for he was able to speak of the condition of the
city with an accuracy and a minuteness that astonished his hearers. The
impression made upon him as he had looked upon the weakness and
degradation of Jerusalem, gave earnestness and power to his words.
presented before the people their reproach among the heathen--their
religion dishonored, their God blasphemed. He told them that in a distant
land he had heard of their affliction, that he had entreated the favor of
Heaven in their behalf, and that, as he was praying, he had determined to
ask permission from the king to come to their assistance. He had asked God
that the king might not only grant this permission, but might also invest
him with the authority and give him the help needed for the
work; and his
prayer had been answered in such a way as to show that the plan was of the
All this he
related, and then, having shown that he was sustained by the combined
authority of the God of Israel and the Persian king, Nehemiah asked the
people directly whether they would take advantage of this opportunity and
arise and build the wall.
went straight to their hearts. The thought of how Heaven's favor had been
manifested toward them put their fears to shame, and with new courage they
said with one voice, "Let us rise up and build." "So they
strengthened their hands for this good work."
whole soul was in the enterprise he had undertaken. His hope, his energy,
his enthusiasm, his determination, were contagious, inspiring others with
the same high courage and lofty purpose. Each man became a Nehemiah in his
turn and helped to make stronger the heart and hand of his neighbor.
enemies of Israel heard what the Jews were hoping to accomplish, they
laughed them to scorn, saying, "What is this thing that ye do? will
ye rebel against the king?" But Nehemiah answered, "The God of
heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and
build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in
first to catch Nehemiah's spirit of zeal and earnestness were the priests.
Because of their influential position, these men could do much to advance
or hinder the work; and their ready co-operation, at the very outset,
contributed not a little to its success. The majority of the
rulers of Israel came up nobly to their duty, and these faithful men have
honorable mention in the book of God. There were a few, the Tekoite
nobles, who "put not their necks to the work of their Lord." The
memory of these slothful servants is branded with shame and has been
handed down as a warning to all future generations.
religious movement there are some who, while they cannot deny that the
cause is God's, still hold themselves aloof, refusing to make any effort
to help. It were well for such ones to remember the record kept on
high--that book in which there are no omissions, no mistakes, and out of
which they will be judged. There every neglected opportunity to do service
for God is recorded; and there, too, every deed of faith and love is held
in everlasting remembrance.
inspiring influence of Nehemiah's presence the example of the Tekoite
nobles had little weight. The people in general were animated by
patriotism and zeal. Men of ability and influence organized the various
classes of citizens into companies, each leader making himself responsible
for the erection of a certain part of the wall. And of some it is written
that they builded "everyone over against his house."
Nehemiah's energy abate, now that the work was actually begun. With
tireless vigilance he superintended the building, directing the workmen,
noting the hindrances, and providing for emergencies. Along the whole
extent of that three miles of wall his influence was constantly felt. With
timely words he encouraged the fearful, aroused the laggard, and approved
the diligent. And ever he watched
of their enemies, who from time to time collected at a distance and
engaged in conversation, as if plotting mischief, and then, drawing nearer
the workmen, attempted to divert their attention.
In his many
activities Nehemiah did not forget the source of his strength. His heart
was constantly uplifted to God, the great Overseer of all. "The God
of heaven," he exclaimed, "He will prosper us;" and the
words, echoed and re-echoed, thrilled the hearts of all the workers on the
restoration of the defenses of Jerusalem did not go forward unhindered.
Satan was working to stir up opposition and bring discouragement.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, his principal agents in this movement, now
set themselves to hinder the work of rebuilding. They endeavored to cause
division among the workmen. They ridiculed the efforts of the builders,
declaring the enterprise an impossibility and predicting failure.
these feeble Jews?" exclaimed Sanballat mockingly; "will they
fortify themselves? . . . will they revive the stones out of the heaps of
the rubbish which are burned?"
more contemptuous, added, "Even that which they build, if a fox go
up, he shall even break down their stone wall."
were soon beset by more active opposition. They were compelled to guard
continually against the plots of their adversaries, who, professing
friendliness, sought in various ways to cause confusion and perplexity,
and to arouse distrust. They endeavored to destroy the courage of the
Jews; they formed conspiracies to draw Nehemiah into their toils; and
falsehearted Jews were found ready to aid the treacherous undertaking. The
report was spread that Nehemiah was plotting against the Persian monarch,
intending to exalt himself as a king over Israel, and that all who aided
him were traitors.
continued to look to God for guidance and support, and "the people
had a mind to work." The enterprise went forward until the gaps were
filled and the entire wall built up to half its intended height.
enemies of Israel saw how unavailing were their efforts, they were filled
with rage. Hitherto they had not dared employ violent measures, for they
knew that Nehemiah and his companions were acting under the king's
commission, and they feared that active opposition against him might bring
upon them the monarch's displeasure. But now in their anger they
themselves became guilty of the crime of which they had accused Nehemiah.
Assembling for counsel, they "conspired all of them together to come
and to fight against Jerusalem."
At the same
time that the Samaritans were plotting against Nehemiah and his work, some
of the leading men
Jews, becoming disaffected, sought to discourage him by exaggerating the
difficulties attending the enterprise. "The strength of the bearers
of burdens is decayed," they said, "and there is much rubbish;
so that we are not able to build the wall."
came from still another source. "The Jews which dwelt by," those
who were taking no part in the work, gathered up the statements and
reports of their enemies and used these to weaken courage and create
and ridicule, opposition and threats, seemed only to inspire Nehemiah with
firmer determination and to arouse him to greater watchfulness. He
recognized the dangers that must be met in this warfare with their
enemies, but his courage was undaunted. "We made our prayer unto our
God," he declares, "and set a watch against them day and
night." "Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall,
and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with
their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and
said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be
not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and
fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and
came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God
had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the
wall, everyone unto his work. And it came to pass from that time forth,
that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of
them held both the spears, the shields, and
the bows, and
the habergeons. . . . They which builded on the wall, and they that bare
burdens, with those that laded, everyone with one of his hands wrought in
the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders,
everyone had his sword girded by his side, and so builded."
Nehemiah stood a trumpeter, and on different parts of the wall were
stationed priests bearing the sacred trumpets. The people were scattered
in their labors, but on the approach of danger at any point a signal was
given for them to repair thither without delay. "So we labored in the
work," Nehemiah says, "and half of them held the spears from the
rising of the morning till the stars appeared."
Those who had
been living in towns and villages outside Jerusalem were now required to
lodge within the walls, both to guard the work and to be ready for duty in
the morning. This would prevent unnecessary delay, and would cut off the
opportunity which the enemy would otherwise improve, of attacking the
workmen as they went to and from their homes. Nehemiah and his companions
did not shrink from hardship or trying service. Neither by day nor night,
not even during the short time given to sleep, did they put off their
clothing or lay aside their armor.
opposition and discouragement that the builders in Nehemiah's day met from
open enemies and pretended friends is typical of the experience that those
today will have who work for God. Christians are tried, not only by the
anger, contempt, and cruelty of enemies, but by the indolence,
inconsistency, lukewarmness, and treachery of avowed friends and helpers.
Derision and reproach are
them. And the same enemy that leads to contempt, at a favorable
opportunity uses more cruel and violent measures.
advantage of every unconsecrated element for the accomplishment of his
purposes. Among those who profess to be the supporters of God's cause
there are those who unite with His enemies and thus lay His cause open to
the attacks of His bitterest foes. Even some who desire the work of God to
prosper will yet weaken the hands of His servants by hearing, reporting,
and half believing the slanders, boasts, and menaces of His adversaries.
Satan works with marvelous success through his agents, and all who yield
to their influence are subject to a bewitching power that destroys the
wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent. But, like
Nehemiah, God's people are neither to fear nor to despise their enemies.
Putting their trust in God, they are to go steadily forward, doing His
work with unselfishness, and committing to His providence the cause for
which they stand.
discouragement, Nehemiah made God his trust, his sure defense. And He who
was the support of His servant then has been the dependence of His people
in every age. In every crisis His people may confidently declare, "If
God be for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31. However craftily
the plots of Satan and his agents may be laid, God can detect them, and
bring to nought all their counsels. The response of faith today will be
the response made by Nehemiah, "Our God shall fight for us;" for
God is in the work, and no man can prevent its ultimate success.