We have here,
I. The conspiracy which the Jews’ enemies formed against them, to stay the building by slaying the builders. The conspirators were not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but other neighbouring people whom they had drawn into the plot. They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work would soon stand still of itself; but, when they heard that it went on a prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the work forward and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it (Neh. 4:7): They were very wroth. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. Nothing would serve but they would fight against Jerusalem, Neh. 4:8. Why, what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had they done them any wrong? Or did they design them any? No, they lived peaceably by them; but it was merely out of envy and malice; they hated the Jews’ piety, and were therefore vexed at their prosperity and sought their ruin. Observe, 1. How unanimous they were: They conspired all of them together, though of different interests among themselves, yet one in their opposition to the work of God. 2. How close they were; they said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we have them at our mercy.” Thus they took crafty counsel, and digged deep to hide it from the Lord, and promised themselves security and success from the secresy of their management. 3. How cruel they were: We will come and slay them. If nothing less than the murder of the workmen will put a stop to the work, they will not stick at that; nay, it is their blood they thirst for, and they are glad of any pretence to glut themselves with it. 4. What the design was and how confident they were of success: it was to cause the work to cease (Neh. 4:11), and this they were confident that they should effect. The hindering of good work is that which bad men aim at and promise themselves; but good work is God’s work, and it shall prosper.
II. The discouragements which the builders themselves laboured under. At the very time when the adversaries said, Let us cause the work to cease, Judah said, “Let us even let it fall, for we are not able to go forward with it,” Neh. 4:10. They represent the labourers as tired, and the remaining difficulties, even of that first part of their work, the removing of the rubbish, as insuperable, and therefore they think it advisable to desist for the present. Can Judah, that warlike valiant tribe, sneak thus? Active leading men have many times as much ado to grapple with the fears of their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.
III. The information that was brought to Nehemiah of the enemies’ designs, Neh. 4:12. There were Jews that dwelt by them, in the country, who, though they had not zeal enough to bring them to Jerusalem to help their brethren in building the wall, yet, having by their situation opportunity to discover the enemies’ motions, had so much honesty and affection to the cause as to give intelligence of them; nay, that their intelligence might be the more credited, they came themselves to give it, and they said it ten times, repeating it as men in earnest, and under a concern, and the report was confirmed by many witnesses. The intelligence they gave is expressed abruptly, and finds work for the critics to make out the sense of it, which perhaps is designed to intimate that they gave this intelligence as men out of breath and in confusion, whose very looks would make up the deficiencies of their words. I think it may be read, without supplying any thing: “Whatever place you turn to, they are against us, so that you have need to be upon your guard on all sides,” Note, God has many ways of bringing to light, and so bringing to nought, the devices and designs of his and his church’s enemies. Even the cold and feeble Jews that contentedly dwell by them shall be made to serve as spies upon them; nay, rather than fail, a bird of the air shall carry their voice.
IV. The pious and prudent methods which Nehemiah, hereupon, took to baffle the design, and to secure his work and workmen.
1. It is said (Neh. 4:14) he looked. (1.) He looked up, engaged God for him, and put himself and his cause under the divine protection (Neh. 4:9): We made our prayer unto our God. That was the way of this good man, and should be our way; all his cares, all his griefs, all his fears, he spread before God, and thereby made himself easy. This was the first thing he did; before he used any means, he made his prayer to God, for with him we must always begin. (2.) He looked about him. Having prayed, he set a watch against them. The instructions Christ has given us in our spiritual warfare agree with this example, Matt. 26:41. Watch and pray. If we think to secure ourselves by prayer only, without watchfulness, we are slothful and tempt God; if by watchfulness, without prayer, we are proud and slight God; and, either way, we forfeit his protection.
2. Observe, (1.) How he posted the guards, Neh. 4:13. In the lower places he set them behind the wall, that they might annoy the enemy over it, as a breast-work; but in the higher places, where the wall was raised to its full height, he set them upon it, that from the top of it they might throw down stones or darts upon the heads of the assailants: he set them after their families, that mutual relation might engage them to mutual assistance. (2.) How he animated and encouraged the people, Neh. 4:14. He observed even the nobles and rulers themselves, as well as the rest of the people, to be in a great consternation upon the intelligence that was brought them, and ready to conclude that they were all undone, by which their hands were weakened both for work and war, and therefore, he endeavours to silence their fears. “Come,” says he, “be not afraid of them, but behave yourselves valiantly, considering, [1.] Whom you fight under. You cannot have a better captain: Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible; you think your enemies great and terrible, but what are they in comparison with God, especially in opposition to him? He is great above them to control them, and will be terrible to them when he comes to reckon with them.” Those that with an eye of faith see the church’s God to be great and terrible will see the church’s enemies to be mean and despicable. The reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man. He that is afraid of a man that shall die forgets the Lord his Maker, Isa. 51:12, 13. [2.] “Whom you fight for. You cannot have a better cause; you fight for your brethren (Ps. 122:8), your sons, and your daughters. All that is dear to you in their world lies at stake; therefore behave yourselves valiantly.”
V. The happy disappointment which this gave to the enemies, Neh. 4:15. When they found that their design was discovered, and that the Jews were upon their guard, they concluded that it was to no purpose to attempt any thing, but that God had brought their counsel to nought. They knew they could not gain their point but by surprise, and, if their plot was known, it was quashed. The Jews hereupon returned every one to his work, with so much the more cheerfulness because they saw plainly that God owned it and owned them in the doing of it. Note, God’s care of our safety should engage and encourage us to go on with vigour in our duty. As soon as ever a danger is over let us return to our work, and trust God another time.