Verses 1–6

Here is, I. The spiteful scornful reflection which Sanballat and Tobiah cast upon the Jews for their attempt to build the wall about Jerusalem. The country rang of it presently; intelligence was brought of it to Samaria, that nest of enemies to the Jews and their prosperity; and here we are told how they received the tidings. 1. In heart. They were very angry at the undertaking, and had great indignation, Neh. 4:1. It vexed them that Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel (Neh. 2:10); but, when they heard of this great undertaking for their good, they were out of all patience. They had hitherto pleased themselves with the thought that while Jerusalem was unwalled they could swallow it up and make themselves masters of it when they pleased; but, if it be walled, it will not only be fenced against them, but by degrees become formidable to them. The strength and safety of the church are the grief and vexation of its enemies. 2. In word. They despised it, and made it the subject of their ridicule. In this they sufficiently displayed their malice; but good was brought out of it; for, looking upon it as a foolish undertaking that would sink under its own weight, they did not go about to obstruct it till it was too late. Let us see with what pride and malice they set themselves publicly to banter it. (1.) Sanballat speaks with scorn of the workmen: “These feeble Jews” (Neh. 4:2), “what will they do for materials? Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish? And what mean they by being so hasty? Do they think to make the walling of a city but one day’s work, and to keep the feast of dedication with sacrifice the next day? Poor silly people! See how ridiculous they make themselves!” (2.) Tobiah speaks with no less scorn of the work itself. He has his jest too, and must show his wit, Neh. 4:3. Profane scoffers sharpen one another. “Sorry work,” says he, “they are likely to make of it; they themselves will be ashamed of it: If a fox go up, not with his subtlety, but with his weight, he will break down their stone wall.” Many a good work has been thus looked upon with contempt by the proud and haughty scorners.

II. Nehemiah’s humble and devout address to God when he heard of these reflections. He had notice brought him of what they said. It is probable that they themselves sent him a message to this purport, to discourage him, hoping to jeer him out of his attempt; but he did not answer these fools according to their folly; he did not upbraid them with their weakness, but looked up to God by prayer.

1. He begs of God to take notice of the indignities that were done them (Neh. 4:4), and in this we are to imitate him: Hear, O our God! for we are despised. Note, (1.) God’s people have often been a despised people, and loaded with contempt. (2.) God does, and will, hear all the slights that are put upon his people, and it is their comfort that he does so and a good reason why they should be as though they were deaf, Ps. 38:13, 15. “Thou art our God to whom we appeal; our cause needs no more than a fair hearing.”

2. He begs of God to avenge their cause and turn the reproach upon the enemies themselves (Neh. 4:4, 5); and this was spoken rather by a spirit of prophecy than by a spirit of prayer, and is not to be imitated by us who are taught of Christ to pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us. Christ himself prayed for those that reproached him: Father, forgive them. Nehemiah here prays, Cover not their iniquity. Note, (1.) Those that cast contempt on God’s people do but prepare everlasting shame for themselves. (2.) It is a sin from which sinners are seldom recovered. Doubtless Nehemiah had reason to think the hearts of those sinners were desperately hardened, so that they would never repent of it, else he would not have prayed that it might never be blotted out. The reason he gives is not, They have abused us, but, They have provoked thee, and that before the builders, to whom, it is likely, they sent a spiteful message. Note, We should be angry at the malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God will appear against it, Ps. 74:18, 22.

III. The vigour of the builders, notwithstanding these reflections, Neh. 4:6. They made such good speed that in a little time they had run up the wall to half its height, for the people had a mind to work; their hearts were upon it, and they would have it forwarded. Note, 1. Good work goes on well when people have a mind to it. 2. The reproaches of enemies should rather quicken us to our duty than drive us from it.