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construes it for a disrespect to that sovereignty, whose beams should be of power to disperse all our inward mists. Even good manners forbid a man to press into the presence of a prince, except he can either lay by these unpleasing passions, or hide them: so had Nehemiah hitherto done. Now, he purposely suffers bis sorrow to look through his eyes, that it may work both inquiry and compassion from his master ; neither doth he fail of bis hopes in either : “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick?" How sensible do we think the Father of mercies is of all our pensive thoughts, when an heathen master is so tender of a servant's grief! How ready should our tongues be to lay open our cares to the God of all comfort, when we see Nehemiah so quick in the expressions of his sorrow to an uncertain ear! "Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my father's sepulchres, lieth
father's sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof burnt with fire?" Not without an humble preface doth Nehemiah lay forth his grievance : complaints have ever an unpleasing harshness in them, which must be taken off by some discreet insinuation : although it could not but sound well in the generous ear of Artaxerxes, that his servant was so careful for the honour of his country. As nature hath made us all members of a community, and hath given us common interests, so it is most pleasing to us, to see these public cares divide us from our own.
The king easily descries a secret supplication wrapped up in this moanful answer, which the modest suitor was afraid to disclose; and therefore he helps that bashful motion into the light : “ For what dost thou make request?" It is the praise of bounty to draw on the just petitions of fearful supplicants.
Nehemiah dares not open his mouth to the king, till bis heart hath opened itself by a sudden ejaculation to his God : no business can be so hasty, but our prayer may prevent it; the wings whereof are so nimble, that it can fly up to heaven, and solicit God, and bring down an answer, before ever our words need to come forth of our lips. In vain shall we hope that any design of ours can prosper, if we have not first sent this messenger on our errand.
After this silent and insensible preparation, Nehemiah moves his suit to the king, not yet at once, but by meet degrees ; first he craves leave for his journey, and for building, then he craves
aid for both; both are granted. Nehemiah departs furnished with letters to the governors for a convoy, with letters to the keeper of the king's forest with timber, not more full of desire than hope.
Whoever put his hand to any great work for the behoof of God's church, without opposition? As the walls of the temple found busy enemies, so shall the walls of the city; and these so much more, as they promise more security and strength to Jerusalem. Sanballat, the deputy-lieutenant of the Moabites, and Tobiah, the like officer to the Ammorites, and Geshem to the Arabians, are galled with envy at the arrival of a man authorised to seek the welfare of the children of Israel. There cannot be a greater vexation to wicked hearts, than to see the spiritual Jerusalem in any likelihood of prosperity. Evil spirits and men need no other torment than their own despite.
This wise courtier hath learned, that secrecy is the surest way of any important dispatch. His errand could not but be known to the governors; their furtherance was enjoined for the provision of materials, else the walls of Jerusalem had overlooked the first notice of their heathen neighbours. Without any noise doth Nehemiah arise in the dead of night, and taking some few into his company, none into his council
, he secretly rounds the decayed walls of Jerusalem, and views the breaches, and observes the gates, and returns home in silence, joying in himself to foresee those preparations, which none of the inhabitants did once dream of.
At last, when he had fully digested this great work in his own breast, he calls the rulers and citizens together; and having condoled with them the common distress and reproach, he tells them of the hand of his God, which was good upon him, he shews them the gracious commission of the king, his master, for that good work. They answer him with a zealous encouragement of each other,"“ Let us rise up and build.” Such an hearty invitation, countenanced by authority, hath easily strengthened the hands of the inultitude; with what observance and dearness do they now look upon their unexpected patron! how do they honour him as a man sent from heaven, for the welfare of Jerusalem! Every inan flies to his hod and trowel, and rejoices to second so 'noble a leader, in laying a stone in that wall of their common defence.
Those emulous neighbours of theirs, Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, the chief commanders of Moab, Ammon, Arabia,
have soon espied the first mortar that is laid upon that old foundation. Envy is usually more quick-sighted than love: and now they scornfully apply themselves to these despised Jews, and think to scoff them out of their work. The favourablest persecution of any good cause is the lash of lewd tongues, whether by bitter taunts or by scurrilous invectives; which it is as impossible to avoid, as necessary to contemn. The barking of these dogs doth not hinder Nehemiah from walking on his way, professing his confidence in the God of heaven, whose work that was; he shakes off their impotent malice, and goes on cheerfully to build: every Israelite knows his station. Eliashib the high priest, and the rest of that sacred tribe, put the first hand to this work; they build the sheep-gate, and sanctify it, and in it all the rest. As the first fruits of the field, so the first stones of the wall are hallowed to God, by the consecration of those devout agents. That business is like to prosper which begins with God.
No man was idle, no part was intermitted : all Jerusalem was at once encompassed with busy labourers. It cannot be, but the joint endeavours of faithful hearts must raise the walls of the church.
Now Sanballat, and his brethren, find some matter to spend their scoffs upon ; “ What do these feeble Jews ? will they fortify themselves ? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burnt ?"
How basely do carnal minds think of the projects and actions of God's children! therefore vilifying them because they measure them by no other line than outward probability. O foolish Moabites! this work is God's, and therefore, in despite of all your tongues and hands, it shall prosper. He hears you whom ye have blasphemed, and shall turn your reproach upon your own heads.
And thou, proud Ammonite, that couldst say, “If a fox go upon their stone-wall, he shall break it down,” shalt well find, that all the wolvish troops of your confederates shall not be able to remove one stone of this sure fortification ; while Moab and Ammon repine and bluster in vain, this wall shall rise; and, when Moab and Ammon shall lie in the dust, this wall shall stand. The mortar that hath been tempered with so many prayers, cannot but outlast all the flints and marbles of human confidence.
Now the growth of this wall hath turned the mirth of the adversaries into rage: these Moabites, Ammonites, Arabians, Ashdodites, conspire all together to fight against Jerusalem, and, while the mortar is yet green, to demolish those envied heaps.
What hath this city offended, in desiring to be defenced ? what wrong could it be to wish a freedom from wrongs ? were this people so mighty, that there could be danger in overpowering their neighbours, or in resisting a common sovereign, there might have appeared some colour for this hostile opposition : but alas ! what could a despised handful do to the prejudice of either? It is quarrel enough to Jerusalem, that it would not be miserable.
Neither is it otherwise with the head of these hellish complices; there needs no other cause of his utmost fury, than to see a poor soul struggling to get out of the reach of bis tyranny. So do savage beasts bristle up themselves, and make the most fierce assaults, when they are in danger of losing the prey, which they had once seized on.
In the meanwhile, what doth Nehemiah with his Jews for their common safety ? they pray and watch; they pray unto God, they watch against the enemy.
Thus, thus shall we happily prevail against those spiritual wickednesses which war against our souls. No evil can surprise us, if we watch ; no evil can hurt us, if we pray. “This is the victory that overcoines the world, even our faith."
There was need of a continued vigilancy; the enemy was not more malicious, than subtile, and had said, “ They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst amongst them, and slay them.” Open force is not so dangerous as close dissimulation; they meant to seem Jews, while they were Moabites and Ammonites, and in the clothes of brethren purposed to hide murderers. Never is Satan so prevalent, as when he comes transformed into an angel of light.
It was a merciful providence of God, that made these men's tongues the blabs of their own counselMany a fearful design had prospered, if wickedness could have been silent. Warning is a lawful guard to a wise adversary: now doth Nehemiah arm his people, and, for the time, changes their trowels into swords, and spears, and bows, raising up their courage with a vehement exhortation, to remember the
Lord, which is: “ great and terrible, and to fight for their brethren, their sons, their daughters, their wives, and their houses.” Nothing can so hearten us to the encountering of an evil, as the remembrance of that infinite Power and Wisdom, which can either avert, or mitigate, or sanctify it. We could not faint, if we did not forget God.
Necessity urges a man to fight for himself; love enables his hand to fight for those which challenge a part in him. Where love meets with necessity, there can want no endeavour of victory. Necessity can make even cowards valiant; love makes the valiant unresistible. Nehemiah doth not therefore persuade these Jews to fight for themselves, but for theirs. The judgment of the interest, and danger, cannot but quicken the dullest spirits.
Discovered counsels are already prevented. These serpents die by being first seen; “ When the enemies heard that it was known unto us,” they let fall their plot. Could we descry the enterprises of Satan, that tempter would returu ashamed.
It is a safe point of wisdom to carry a jealous eye over those whom we have once found hollow, and hostile. From that time forth Nehemiah divided the task betwixt the trowel and the sword, so disposing of every Israelite, that while one hand was a mason, the other was a soldier: one is for work, the other for defence. O lively image of the church militant ! wherein every one labours weaponed; wherein there is neither an idle soldier, nor a secure workman : every one so builds, as that he is ready to ward temptations; every one so wields the sword of the spirit for defence, that withal he builds up himself in his most holy faith : here is neither a fruitless valour, nor an unsafe diligence.
But, what can our weapons avail us, if there be not means to warn us of an enemy? without a trumpet, we are armed in vain. “ The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another.” Yea, so far as the utmost bounds of the earth, are we separated one from another, upon the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem; only the sacred trumpets of God call us, who are distant in place, to a combination in profession; and who are those trumpets, but the public messengers of God, of whom God hath said; “If the watchmen see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the