James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 13:18 - 13:18

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James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 13:18 - 13:18

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath.’


What can we learn for ourselves from this Old Testament lesson? We notice three prominent points.

I. The observance of a day of rest is not affected by national or political changes.—The Hebrew went into exile, and remained there for the best part of a century. He lived a new life, conformed to foreign customs, forfeited his national existence. When he came back, in the person of his descendants, it was to start everything afresh: city, temple, worship, life. He was called by another name, and probably in dress and customs bore little likeness to his fathers. But at once the Sabbath is re-affirmed. It is superior to all change. It is rooted not in the accidents of birth or state, but in the essential facts of a human life.

II. The Sabbath is necessary to man.—It was given to us that we might rest in it, as God Himself did. No work of any worldly nature, pursued for profit, ought to be encouraged. Not because I am a Jew or a Gentile, but because I am constituted as I am, is it necessary for me to ‘change off’ once in seven days. Where this is not observed the people suffer. The French Republic a hundred years ago tried one day in ten, and found that insufficient. Humboldt says, ‘The selection of the seventh day is certainly the wisest that could have been made.’ The health of the people and the average of life are highest where the day of rest is kept. Doctors argue for it simply on the ground of health. Business men and merchants know how necessary it is. It was Dr. Johnson’s last request of Sir Joshua Reynolds, sent to him from his death-bed, that he would not paint on Sunday. The Jewish laws in reference to the Sabbath were based, not on God’s arbitrary will, but on God’s benevolence and mercy. He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.

III. The observance of the day of rest is closely connected with the maintenance of religion.—Calcott says, ‘The streams of religion run deeper or shallower, as the banks of the Sabbath are kept up or neglected,’ and Montalembert packs a great deal of truth in very small compass when he writes, ‘Without a Sabbath no worship; without worship no religion; and without religion no permanent freedom.’ John Bunyan, lying on his death-bed in London, caught the sound of the bells of St. Sepulchre’s Church, and urged those about him to have a special care to sanctify the Lord’s Day. ‘As thou keepest it so shall it be with thee all the day long. Shall God allow thee six days, and wilt thou not afford Him one?’


‘A successful merchant once said, “If it had not been for the Sabbath, I have no doubt I should have been a maniac long ago.” Mr. Gladstone, though one of the busiest men in the world, having often the weight of an empire resting on his shoulders, was accustomed to reserve the Sabbath for rest. There is not much doubt that his long life was, in part at least, due to his obedience to this law of God. If, then, we had only bodies and minds, we should need the rest of one day in seven. But we have souls as well as bodies and minds, and our souls need time for spiritual refreshment and nurture. This cannot be had adequately on week-days, for the pressure of our daily tasks is too great to allow this. We need to take time for the study of the Word of God, and for worship, and for meditation on the things that pertain to the other world, towards which time is fast nearing us. So far as our experience goes, it is not possible to maintain a high spiritual life unless we obey this command of God and keep the Sabbath holy.’