Charles Simeon Commentary - Nehemiah 4:6 - 4:6

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Nehemiah 4:6 - 4:6

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Neh_4:6. The people had a mind to work.

GREAT and useful undertakings are often declined, from an idea that we are not able to carry them into effect, when, in fact, nothing is wanting to ensure success in them, but zeal and diligence. The history before us strongly exemplifies this remark. The walls of Jerusalem still continued in their desolate condition, notwithstanding the Jews had returned thither about ninety years: but, at the instigation of one single man, the people combined; and engaging heartily in the work, they effected in a short space of time what had appeared utterly impracticable: Nehemiah says, “So built we the wall; for the people had a mind to work.”

Let us consider,

I.       The reason assigned for their success—

The work which the people had to perform was attended with many difficulties—

[The removal of the rubbish [Note: ver. 2.] was of itself no inconsiderable labour, considering how few hands there were to engage in it. But beside this, the enemies of the Jews exerted themselves by ridicule, by menaces, and by various other devices [Note: Neh_2:10; Neh_2:19 and Neh_4:1; Neh_4:3; Neh_4:7-8 and Neh_6:8-9.], to discourage the undertaking, and to prevent the execution of it. The treachery and supineness of some among the Jews themselves [Note: ver. 10, 12 and Neh_6:18-19.] formed also a very formidable obstacle in the way of those who desired to accomplish the work.]

But by zeal and diligence they were enabled to accomplish it with incredible despatch—

[Arduous as the work was, it was all finished in two and fifty days [Note: Neh_6:15.]. But how was it effected so soon? We are told, in the text; “The people had a mind to the work:” every one engaged in it with his whole heart: they regarded neither fatigue nor danger: they would not so much as take off their clothes during the whole time, except for the sake of cleanliness [Note: ver. 23.]; and they wore their swords by their side while they wrought with their hands [Note: ver. 16–18.], that they might be ready to resist their enemies in case of an attack. By this union of courageous zeal and unremitting diligence they effected their purpose, to the astonishment and confusion of all their enemies [Note: Neh_6:16.].]

To shew that this subject is capable of very useful improvement, we shall notice,

II.      The instruction we may gather from it—

There are two truths that may justly be deduced from this history;

1.       In every thing we have to do for God, zeal and diligence are necessary—

[The Jews at that time were actuated by a religious zeal, and exerted themselves for God [Note: Neh_2:17-18.]. And the work which we have to do for God is by no means dissimilar, if only we consider what a typical aspect there was in the whole of their captivity and restoration [Note: See Isa_40:2; Isa_52:9-10; Isa_65:18.]. We may at least be permitted to accommodate this subject to the reparation of the soul for God, after the desolations it has suffered through the incursions of sin. We see that year after year the souls of men lie in ruins; that the generality have no heart to seek their restoration to their primitive grandeur; and that the greater part of those who begin to labour in this work, make little progress. But to what is this owing? The truth is, “they have no mind to the work:” they do not love their work: repentance is a burthen: prayer is a task: self-denial is a drudgery: they would rather be excused from every part of their duty: they would not think of communion with God, or of conformity to his image, if they were not driven to it by an imperious necessity, a fear of everlasting torments. Hence their exertions are weak and intermitted; and their enemies are suffered to pull down their work, as fast as they build it up: so that, after an interval of months and years, little, if any, progress is made in their work. Ah! think of this, ye who are complaining of the low state of your souls! It would have been thus with respect to the walls of Jerusalem, if the people had been as lukewarm as you: but “they had a mind to work;” and so must you, if you would do any thing with effect: “Whatever your hand findeth to do, you must do it with your might [Note: Ecc_9:10.].”]

2.       In every thing we have to do for God, zeal and diligence will ensure success—

[In the work of our souls we have to encounter difficulties not unlike to those which the Jews had to cope with; we have much rubbish to be removed, many reproaches and menaces to withstand, and many discouragements from weak or false brethren to surmount. But we need not fear: if we engage heartily in our work, we shall assuredly succeed. Nothing shall be able to obstruct our progress: yea, the opposition we meet with shall but inflame our ardour, and increase our energy; and we shall proceed triumphantly, in spite of the assaults either of men or devils. We do not mean to say, that our own arm can effect these things: we know full well that it cannot; and that, of ourselves, we cannot do any thing that is good: but if we go forth with zeal and diligence in a humble dependence upon God, he will enable us to fulfil his will; yea, “through His strength we shall be able to do all things [Note: Php_4:13.].” He is pledged to assit those who trust in him [Note: Psa_125:1.]; and the weakest that relies on him shall be “more than conqueror:” yea, the weaker we are in ourselves, the more shall “his strength be perfected in our weakness [Note: 2Co_12:9.].” Let us but trust in him, and “the wall shall be built, though in troublous times [Note: Dan_9:25.];” and “what has been begun in grace shall soon be perfected in glory [Note: Php_1:6.].”]


1.       Those who make excuses for not engaging in the work of their souls—

[The generality are saying, “The time for the Lord’s work is not yet come [Note: Hag_1:2.].” But whatever excuses men urge for their delay, the true and only reason of it is, “They have no mind to the work.” Be assured, my Brethren, that when God shall call you into judgment, the veil with which you cover your hypocrisy will be found thinner than the spider’s web. Rest not then any longer in such dangerous delusions; but arise, and set yourselves to the work without delay.]

2.       To those who have entered on the Lord’s work—

[To exert yourselves with effect, there is need not only of individual zeal, but also of general and cordial co-operation. The builders all had their proper work assigned them: and of some it is said, “They built before their own houses [Note: Neh_3:28-30.]:” and though the work seemed but ill adapted for females, some wrought in “concert with their daughters [Note: Neh_3:12.].” How prosperous would our exertions be, if we would imitate them in these respects! See, Beloved, what work you have to do near your own houses. If all who profess to be engaged in this good work would attend diligently to their children, their servants, their dependents; if they would visit their sick neighbours, and labour to instruct those to whom they can gain easy and familiar access; methinks the wall would soon be built, to the admiration of men, and the confusion of devils. Let there then be a general zeal amongst you, and a determination to co-operate in every labour of love. It is mentioned to the disgrace of the nobles, that “they put not their necks to the work of the Lord [Note: Neh_3:5.].” O let there not be any such amongst you! Rather, let the example of Nehemiah and his followers animate us all: then shall the work proceed rapidly around us, and our “Jerusalem shall soon become a praise in the earth [Note: Isa_62:7.].”]