THE EXPEDITION WITH WHICH THE WALL OF JERUSALEM WAS BUILT
Neh_6:15. So the wall was finished
in fifty and two days.
A MERE historic record of the time occupied in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem appears at first sight to be an uninteresting subject for a popular discourse: but it will be found replete with interest, when the circumstances connected with it are taken into the account. The extremely dilapidated and ruined state of the fortifications at that time, the weakness and poverty of those who undertook to rebuild them, and the opposition which they met with from numerous and potent enemies, combine to render the record in our text almost incredible. For the completion of such a work, two and fifty weeks would have been a very short time; but two and fifty days seem utterly insufficient for it: such expedition appears perfectly beyond the physical powers of the persons engaged in it: yet in that time the wall was finished: and it will be very profitable to inquire,
How it was completed in so short a time—
To enter fully into the subject, the six first chapters of this book should be carefully read. In them we shall find that the means whereby this great work was accomplished, were,
The wisdom and energy of the governor—
[In every step which Nehemiah took, we are struck with his consummate wisdom. When first he made known to the Persian monarch his desire to undertake the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he kept out of sight every consideration which might tend to create jealousy in the monarch’s mind, and mentioned only such as were likely to produce in him a favourable impression. With this view he speaks of Jerusalem, not as the city of the great God, which had been so great and powerful in former times, and was yet ordained of God to become the capital of an independent nation, but simply, as “the city of his fathers’ sepulchres [Note: Neh_2:5.].”
Having obtained permission to execute his purpose, and come to Jerusalem for that end, he again shewed his wisdom in concealing from the people the reason of his journey, till he had personally himself inspected the walls, and was thereby qualified to obviate all objections which indifference or despondency might suggest [Note: Neh_2:12-18.].
The way in which he counteracted all the plots of his enemies, still further marked the depth and solidity of his judgment. He forbore to use any irritating expressions, notwithstanding the multiplied provocations which he met with: and whilst his enemies wasted their time in plotting how to arrest his progress, he occupied himself in the prosecution of his work, augmenting his exertions in proportion as they increased their efforts to impede him [Note: Neh_2:19-20; Neh_4:8-9; Neh_4:13-14.]. Yet it is worthy of particular observation, that he neither trusted to his own exertions, nor yet neglected them under an idea that he should be protected by his God: but he combined a dependence on God with a diligent use of all proper means of self-defence [Note: Neh_4:9.]; thereby setting us an example which we shall do well to follow in every difficulty which we may be called to encounter.
Nor was the energy of Nehemiah less admirable than his wisdom: we see throughout the whole of his conduct as much promptitude as consisted with sound discretion, and an invincible firmness in executing whatever his deliberate judgment had dictated. So intent was he on the prosecution of his purpose, that neither he, nor those under his immediate influence, ever put off their clothes for several weeks together, except for the purpose of their being washed [Note: Neh_4:23.]. And when a proposal was made to him to hold a conference with some adversaries in an adjacent village, his reply was, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you [Note: Neh_6:2-3.]?” Yea, when the same message was sent four times, he repeated the same answer: and when at the fifth time it was accompanied with a letter containing many accusations against him, he contented himself with exposing the falsehood of them, and more determinately than ever besought the Lord to strengthen his hands for the work in which he was engaged [Note: Neh_6:5-9.].
On the failure of that device, his enemies sought to intimidate him by reports of a conspiracy against his life, and advised him to take refuge in the temple: but he, with a fortitude worthy of his high character, answered, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in [Note: Neh_6:10-11.].” It is in connexion with this anecdote that our text informs us, “So the wall was built in fifty and two days:” and certainly to this extraordinary combination of wisdom and energy in him we must ascribe it, that the wall was erected in so short a time.]
The union and perseverance of the people—
[An individual, however good and great, can do little, unless he is seconded by those who are under his direction: but in this case Nehemiah found instruments well fitted to his hands. No sooner did he make known to the rulers of Jerusalem the commission which he had received from the king of Persia, and call for their assistance in the execution of it, than they said, “Let us rise up and build:” and “immediately they strengthened their hands for this good work [Note: Neh_2:17-19.].”
It is true, there were some exceptions, some who were too proud and fond of ease to work [Note: Neh_3:5.]; and others, who yielded to despondency [Note: Neh_4:10.]; and others who actually carried on a treasonable correspondence with Nehemiah’s most inveterate enemies [Note: Neh_6:17-19.]: but, on the other hand, there was such a zeal amongst the great mass of the people, that some performed double the work allotted them [Note: Neh_3:5; Neh_3:27.], and even ladies of the highest rank combined their utmost efforts to assist in building the wall, not accounting any service either derogatory to their honour, or unsuited to their sex, if they might but encourage their brethren, and advance the glory of their God [Note: Neh_3:12.]. And to this union is the success expressly ascribed: “So built we the wall; for the people had a mind to work [Note: Neh_4:6.].”
There was also among them astonishing perseverance: for when they were menaced with a sudden assault, and were told ten times over, that an armed host would come suddenly upon them to destroy them, they persisted resolutely in their work, arming themselves for their defence, setting alternate watches for their preservation, and working with a trowel, as it were, in the one hand, and a sword in the other, determining rather to sacrifice their lives, than be deterred from the service in which they had embarked [Note: Neh_4:11-13; Neh_4:16-18; Neh_4:21.]. Had they yielded to indolence or fear, the work could never have been carried forward: but by this zealous co-operation of all ranks and orders among them, all difficulties were overcome, and the wall was built with an expedition almost incredible.]
The peculiar blessing of their God—
[To this above all must the success be ultimately ascribed; for to this were owing the desire of Nehemiah to rebuild the wall [Note: Neh_2:12.], the consent of Artaxerxes to the plan proposed [Note: Neh_1:11. with 2:4, 8.], the wisdom and energy with which Nehemiah was inspired [Note: Neh_2:18.], the cordial co-operation of so many people, and the defeating of all the plots which were devised to retard the work [Note: Neh_4:15.]. Even the very enemies themselves were so convinced that the work exceeded all the power of man, that they were constrained to acknowledge God himself as the author of it [Note: Neh_4:1-3. with 6:16.], since none but God could have carried them through such labours, or delivered them from such perils, or given a successful issue to such hopeless exertions.
It is of infinite importance that we notice this; for otherwise we shall be ready to give to the creature the honour that is due to God only. Throughout the whole work, application was made to God for his direction and blessing: it was not undertaken without prayer [Note: Neh_1:4-11.], nor carried on without prayer [Note: Neh_2:4; Neh_4:4-5; Neh_4:9; Neh_6:9; Neh_6:11.]: but a reliance was placed on God as an all-sufficient Helper [Note: Neh_2:20.]; and he shewed himself worthy of the confidence reposed on him: he shewed that “none who trust in Him shall ever be confounded.”]
Having thus traced Nehemiah’s success to its true cause, we proceed to set before you,
The important lesson which we are to learn from it—
We might with great propriety direct your attention to those wonderful events which occupy the attention of the public at the present hour [Note: June 23, 1814, a day or two after peace had been proclaimed.]: for certainly, whether we consider the union which has been produced amongst all the allied powers, or the wisdom and energy with which their efforts have been combined, or the rapid and complete success with which their labours have been crowned, there never was an occurrence which more strongly marked the hand of God, or more strictly corresponded with that which we have been considering, than that which we now commemorate, the reestablishment of peace amongst all the powers of Europe. We may almost literally say, in reference to it, “The wall has been built in fifty and two days.”
But we will direct your attention rather to that which will be of importance, not to the present age only, but to all people to the end of time.
Behold, then, in what way we should all engage in the Lord’s work—
[To every man in the universe is a work assigned, namely, To erect an house that shall be an everlasting habitation for our God. The walls of Jerusalem reduced to heaps of rubbish do but faintly represent the desperate state of the world around us; whilst the number and malice of those who obstructed the rebuilding of that wall give us a very inadequate idea of the enemies with whom we have to contend whilst executing the work which God has given us to do. Every one indeed must begin at home, and work before his own door [Note: Neh_3:10; Neh_3:23; Neh_3:28; Neh_3:30.]; for it is by getting the work of God advanced in our own souls that we shall best contribute to the good of the Church around us. But in the whole of our work we must cultivate wisdom. It is lamentable to reflect how often men defeat their own purposes by not attending to the counsels of wisdom. Many give great advantage to their adversaries by not considering what is the peculiar line of conduct which the particular time and circumstances call for, and how they may best overcome the difficulties with which they are surrounded. We are told to “walk in wisdom towards them that are without,” and to unite “the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove:” and it is of absolute and indispensable necessity that we attend to these directions, if we would walk honourably before God ourselves, or be instrumental to the advancing of his work in the souls of others — — —
But to wisdom we must add energy. There is no time to be lost: “Whatever our hand findeth to do, we must do it with all our might.” We must be “fervent in spirit whilst serving the Lord:” and, if any one would divert us from our purpose, or tempt us to relax our diligence, we must make this our uniform and steady answer, “I am doing a great work, and cannot come down” — — —
In this kind of conduct there should be an union amongst us all; ministers and people should all work together: yea, and women also should engage in the good work; for they, in their place and station, may be as helpful as any. Even the Apostles owed much to the labours of women [Note: Rom_16:1-4; Rom_16:12.]; and the most eminent ministers have been helped forward by their pious and well-regulated zeal [Note: Act_18:26.]. Let all of us then be of one heart and one mind in relation to this great matter; for it is surprising how much more rapidly the work of God advances in the souls of men, where many are engaged in strengthening each other’s hands, and in encouraging one another’s hearts. There are a thousand works which may be carried on in concert, which an insulated individual can never accomplish: and whoever engages in such works for the good of others, will find that he himself is the most profited by his own exertions: “Whilst watering others, his own soul will be watered” also — — —
Nor must we draw back through fear or weariness. We must be men of fortitude and self-denial. We should scarcely find time, as it were, for relaxation, any further than absolute necessity requires: and if menaced with assaults, we should put on the panoply of God, and stand ready for the contest: and if by a temporary desertion of our post we may even preserve our lives, we should be willing rather to lay down our lives than dishonour our God by cowardice in his service — — — “Should such a man as I flee?” must be our answer to every suggestion of our great adversary, and to every unbelieving fear that may arise in our own hearts — — —
But above all, we must go forward in dependence on God. He must teach us, and guide us, and prosper us, in all our way. “Without him we can do nothing:” but, on the other hand, “through Christ strengthening us we can do all things.” We need not despond on account of the greatness of the work, nor be discouraged through the number and malignity of our enemies: “if God be for us, none can effectually be against us:” “He will perfect that which concerneth us,” and “carry on to the end the work he has begun.” If only we “be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, he has pledged himself to us, that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord” — — —]