4 When word of our progress in rebuilding the wall reached Sanballat, he became enraged. His anger spilled over into mockery of the Jews, 2 and before his companions and the Samaritan army, he unleashed a torrent of ridicule and abuse.
It is hard to imagine the intense pressures and various points of opposition that Nehemiah has to deal with. First, he has an internal struggle with those Judeans who have married foreign wives—Babylonian, Edomite, Ammonite, Moabite, Samaritan—and have adopted their religious and cultural behaviors that are quite distinct from what is laid forth for Israel in the law of Moses. Further, Nehemiah has an external struggle with individuals like Sanballat the Moabite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab who are violently opposed to the restoration of Jerusalem and her people. These are ancient political, social, and religious enemies to the Jews, and they will stop at nothing to halt Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts.
Sanballat: What are these pathetic Jews up to? Will they appoint themselves to put the wall back together? Would offering sacrifices help them? Will this occur in a day’s time? Do they mean to resurrect this charred rubble as a wall?
3 Right beside him, Tobiah the Ammonite joined in the scorn.
Tobiah: What is it these Jews are building? Surely not a wall—a fox climbing upon it could get through their stone work.
Nehemiah: 4 Do You hear this? Are You paying attention, our True God? We are worse than nothing to these men. Turn their curses back on them. Plunder them. Pillage them until they are captives in a foreign land. 5 Do not cover over their wickedness or erase the reality of their sin before you—they have mocked You right in front of the men rebuilding the city for You.
6 We returned to building, focused and determined to work as one people. We stacked rock upon rock until one end of the wall met the other and it grew to half of its original height.
7 When the news that the few remaining gaps in the wall were rapidly closing and our city was beginning to heal reached all the lands surrounding Jerusalem, Sanballat, Tobiah, some Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites all became furious. 8 In fact, they were so upset they devised a plot to attack Jerusalem and create confusion. 9 Our response to this threat was twofold: we prayed to our True God, and we set up a watch—day and night—to look out for them. 10 Even so, everyone was afraid of another attack.
Judeans: Our builders have grown too weary to continue.
Look at all this waste and rubble strewn about the ground.
We are not able to rebuild the wall on this foundation.
11 And our enemies spread the word.
Enemies: We will sneak in among them. Before they know what is happening, they will be dead. The work will end for sure.
12 Next we were confronted by the Jews who lived near our enemies. Over and over again[a] they warned us.
Jews Outside Jerusalem: You must turn back to us.[b]
13 So I strengthened our defenses. I placed men armed with anything they had on hand—the swords, spears, and bows they used to hunt—at the vulnerable low sections along the wall that were exposed. I organized them by families. 14 I stood up and addressed those gathered: nobles, officials, anyone who was close at hand.
Nehemiah: Do not be afraid of these people! Instead, remember the Eternal, our great and awesome Lord. Fight for your people: your sisters and your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.
15 Our enemies had intended to defeat us through surprise, but they learned we were aware of their plan and ready for their attack. The True God had frustrated them, and so we went back to work on the wall at our assigned places. 16 From that day on, I divided my people into two groups. One group worked on the wall while the other stood guard fully prepared for battle in armor, shields, spears, and bows. Officers were close at hand, posted right behind the Judean builders. 17-18 The builders did their work—now with swords strapped to their sides. Even common laborers carrying building materials did so while carrying a weapon. I kept the man whose responsibility it was to warn everyone of attack by sounding the trumpet with me at all times. 19 Once again I addressed the nobles, the officials, and the gathered people.
Nehemiah: The massive scope of our important work here has caused us to be spread out across the wall. As a result, we are separated and vulnerable. 20 Therefore if you hear the sound of the trumpet, drop what you are doing and join us where the alarm sounds. Be assured our True God will fight for us.
21 From the time the sun broke over the horizon until it set again and stars filled the sky, we kept working—half of them holding spears.
Nehemiah: 22 At night, every laborer and his helper must come inside Jerusalem. Work by day; guard by night.
23 We all slept in our clothes—my kinsmen, my servants, and the guards I commanded. And we never set our weapons down, even when we went to get water.