v1 Sanballat heard that we were building the wall again. So he became very angry. He laughed at the *Jews. v2 His companions and the army from the country called Samaria were with him. Sanballat said in front of all these people, ‘Those weak *Jews are stupid. They will not really repair their wall and offer *sacrifices. You cannot build a great city in a day. Fire has burned the stones and they are now just piles of rubbish. You cannot make stones live. And you cannot build a city wall out of rubbish.’ v3 Tobiah, from the country called Ammon, was with Sanballat. Tobiah said, ‘They intend to build a wall. But their wall is as weak as a pile of stones. It would fall down if a fox climbed on it!’
Sanballat and Tobiah were enemies of the *Jews. They did not want the *Jews to build the walls of Jerusalem again. They probably knew that Jerusalem would become an important city for trade again. So then, they would lose some of their trade. They knew that it was a big task to build the walls of the city again. But they saw that Nehemiah and the *Jews would work hard to build the walls.
These men were not just opposing the *Jews. In fact, these men were opposing God’s work. It was God’s plan that the *Jews should live in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in the country that God promised to give to the *descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The *Jews had to leave that country because of *sin. But God promised by the *prophets that some *Jews would return. So it was God’s plan that the *Jews would rebuild Jerusalem.
But God’s plan did not only benefit the *Jews. God had decided, by means of the *Jews, to help people from every nation. He would send Jesus to be born a *Jew. God had promised this by the *prophets. And Jesus would die for the *sins of people from every nation. God will forgive all people who invite Jesus into their lives.
So we can see that Nehemiah was doing God’s work. And it was not just men who were opposing the work. In fact, the devil was using these men because the devil wanted to oppose God’s work.
Sanballat had the army from the country called Samaria with him. Perhaps the *Jews near Jerusalem could see this army close to the city. This might make them afraid. But Sanballat and Tobiah did not attack the *Jews. They could not do that because the king had allowed Nehemiah to build the walls. So Sanballat and Tobiah laughed at the *Jews and they insulted the *Jews. Sanballat and Tobiah hoped that they could upset the *Jews. Then, the *Jews might stop the construction of the wall. Sanballat and Tobiah said that the task was too great. They said that the builders were too weak. Tobiah said that the wall would fall down again easily. Clearly, Sanballat and Tobiah did not think that God would help the *Jews. But God did help them. When the *Jews finished the work, the walls were very strong. In fact, the people marched on top of the walls (Nehemiah 12:31-39).
v4 I prayed, ‘Listen to us, our God, because our enemies are insulting us. I pray that people will insult them in the same way. I pray that their enemies will take everything from them. I pray that their enemies will force them to live in *exile in a foreign country. v5 Do not forgive the evil things that they have done. Do not forget about their *sins. They have made you angry in front of the people who are building the wall.’
v6 So we continued the construction of the wall until all of it reached half of its final height. The people were eager to work.
So Nehemiah prayed. That is what we would expect him to do. Perhaps he called the people together to pray. (He says ‘us’ in his prayer.)
He knew that his enemies were not just insulting the *Jews. They were insulting God himself. So he knew that God was angry.
So the *Jews did not take notice of the insults of their enemies and they continued to build. They worked as hard as they could and the wall reached half of its final height.
Today, we do not pray that our enemies will suffer. Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And we should pray that they will trust Jesus. But Nehemiah was in a different situation. Previously, God had told the *Jews to oppose their enemies (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). At that time, God was using the *Jews for his purposes. These enemies had become so evil that they could not avoid a terrible punishment (Genesis 15:16). And God gave their land to the *Jews.
Nehemiah lived long after these events. And his enemies were not the same enemies that God was punishing in the past. So Nehemiah did not actually try to fight his enemies. Instead, he trusted God. Nehemiah was confident that he was doing God’s work. So Nehemiah asked God to defend his (God’s) own work. And so Nehemiah asked God to oppose these enemies.
v7 But Sanballat, Tobiah, the *Arabs and the people from Ammon and Ashdod heard about our work. They heard that we were continuing to repair the walls of Jerusalem. They also heard that we were mending the gaps in the walls. So they were very angry. v8 They all plotted together to come and to fight against Jerusalem. They wanted to cause confusion in the city. v9 But we prayed to our God. We also placed guards round the city every day and every night in case our enemies came.
The enemies of the *Jews heard that their insults had not succeeded. The *Jews had not stopped the work, but, instead, they had worked very hard. And the wall had reached half of its final height.
So Sanballat and his friends were very angry. They needed another plan. These enemies lived all round Jerusalem. So they plotted to fight against the city. The city’s defences were not yet complete. So, Sanballat and his friends decided to carry out a sudden attack. Such an attack would frighten the *Jews. And it would confuse them. So they would be unable to continue the task.
Nehemiah and his people did the sensible thing again. They prayed to God. And they also guarded the city.
v10 But at that time the people in *Judah began to complain. They said, ‘The people who carry materials are getting very tired. There is so much rubbish in our way. We will never finish the construction of the wall.’
v11 Meanwhile, our enemies said, ‘We will go among the *Jews. They will not know what is happening. They will not even see us. We will kill them and stop the work.’
v12 Then the *Jews who lived near our enemies came to us. They spoke to us many times. They said, ‘Wherever we go, our enemies will attack us.’
v13 So I placed some men behind the lowest parts of the wall at the open places. I placed people in the same family together. They had swords, *spears and bows. v14 I looked round. Then I stood up and I spoke to the chief men, the officials and the rest of the people. I said, ‘Do not be afraid of our enemies. Remember that the *Lord is great and powerful. Fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters. Fight for your wives and your homes.’
Now some of the *Jews were feeling tired. The work was hard and their enemies were all round them. These problems upset them. So they began to complain.
The enemies of the *Jews still tried to stop the work. They plotted to surprise the *Jews with a sudden attack. Some of the *Jews heard about their plan. The *Jews who lived outside the city were anxious about their families. So these *Jews reported this news back to the people in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah made plans to protect the men as they worked. He placed men to guard the lowest parts of the walls. These were the most likely places where an attack might happen. And Nehemiah made sure that the people had *weapons to defend themselves and their families. He made sure that the families were together. He knew that the men would fight hard in order to protect their families.
Then Nehemiah reminded the leaders of the people that God was with them. God is much more powerful than any enemies can be. God wanted them to build the wall. So he would protect them and help them. They did not need to worry.
v15 Our enemies heard that we knew about their plot. They realised that God had caused their plot to be unsuccessful. So we all returned to the wall and each of us continued our work.
The enemies of the *Jews heard that Nehemiah and the people knew about their plan. So their plan could not succeed. They failed because God was helping the *Jews. He had stopped the plans of Sanballat and his friends.
The *Jews were able to continue with the work. But they still needed to be ready. Their enemies might come to attack them at any time.
v16-17 From that time, half of my men worked. But the other half were ready to fight with *spears, *shields, and bows. And those men were wearing special clothes that would protect them during a battle. The officers stood behind all the people of *Judah who were building the wall. The people who carried materials supported their loads with one hand. And they held a *weapon in their other hand. v18 Each of the builders wore his sword by his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the *trumpet stayed with me.
v19 Then I spoke to the chief men, the officials and the rest of the people. I said, ‘There is much work to do and the work spreads over a very large area. We are working a long way from each other along the wall. v20 Wherever you hear the sound of the *trumpet, come to us there. Our God will fight for us!’
Nehemiah decided to change the arrangements for the work. He wanted to make sure that everybody was ready for an attack.
Now, even the men who worked on the wall had their own *weapons. But only half of the men worked on the wall. The other men were ready to fight. They had many *weapons. Their job was to protect the builders.
Nehemiah would walk round the city in order to check the progress of the work. But now, a man with a *trumpet walked with Nehemiah. So, if the enemies came to attack them, the man would blow his *trumpet. If the people heard the sound of the *trumpet, they would all stop work immediately. They would rush to come together. Then they would be able to protect each other.
Nehemiah reminded the people again that God was supporting them. They were doing God’s work, and God would fight for them.
v21 So we continued to work, but now half of the men carried *spears. We worked from dawn until the stars appeared at nightfall. v22 At that time I also said to the people, ‘Each man and his servant should spend the night in Jerusalem. Then they will act as guards by night, and as workmen during the day.’ v23 I did not even undress at night. My companions, my servants and my guards all behaved in the same way. And each man kept his *weapon ready, even when he went for water.
So the people continued to work. Some repaired the walls and the rest protected them. They all worked even harder from dawn until nightfall. Even the people who lived outside Jerusalem stayed in the city at night.
Nehemiah was a good model for the people. He was the ruler. But he did not think that he was too important to work. In fact, he was very busy. He organised the workmen. He made sure that the quality of the work was satisfactory. He was watching in case the enemies tried to attack. And he was ready to fight. He kept his clothes on. He kept his *weapon ready.