Part 2 out of 3
Thus Nehemiah had a right to speak, for he practised what he preached.
But in spite of this, his private appeal to the nobles appears to have
been in vain. They seem to have given no answer, to have taken no
notice of his appeal, and to have given him no reason to think that
they intended to change their conduct.
So he set a great assembly against them. He called a monster meeting of
all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, rich and poor, for he felt that if
their conduct was publicly exposed and condemned, they might possibly be
ashamed to continue it.
Nehemiah's speech at the meeting was very much to the point. He first
tried to shame the nobles by reminding them that whilst he, ever since
his return, had been spending his money in buying back those Jews who
had been sold into slavery to the heathen round, they on the other hand
had actually been doing the very opposite, bringing their fellow
citizens into slavery to themselves. Was this right, or fair, or just?
The argument told, no one could answer it, there was dead silence, ver.
Now, says Nehemiah, consider: 'Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our
God?' Ought ye not to be careful in your conduct, kind, and just, and
generous in your dealing? And why?
'Because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies.'
Because you Jews are God's people, and all these heathen round will
judge your God by what you are. You make a profession of religion, you
claim to have high motives; but if they see you grasping, greedy, hard,
like themselves, what will they think of your religion? Surely they will
say, 'These Jews are no better than ourselves, their religion cannot be
Now, says Nehemiah, remembering all this, bearing in mind the disgrace
you are bringing upon the name of Jew, I call upon you at once to give
up this practice of mortgaging and pledge-taking. Not only so, but I
bid you restore at once the vineyards and the oliveyards, the fields and
the houses, you have taken from these poor people. I bid you also return
the interest they have paid you (the eighth part of the money), and I
call upon you, in every way you can, to undo the evil you have done
already, and for the future to do unto others as you would they should
do to you, vers. 10, 11.
Nehemiah's earnest words prevailed,
'Then said they, We will restore them.'
This promise was followed by a very curious act on the part of Nehemiah.
'I shook my lap.'
The lap is what the Latins called the _sinus_, a fold in the bosom of
the tunic, which was used as a pocket. Eastern-like, Nehemiah used a
sign to show what will happen to any man who shall break the promise he
had just made. God will cast him forth as a homeless wanderer, emptied
of all his possessions, all his ill-gotten wealth. He shall be void or
empty, just as Nehemiah's pocket was void or empty, ver. 13.
'And all the congregation said, Amen.'
Then, instead of the great cry of distress, was heard the great shout of
They 'praised the Lord.'
And the promise was not one of those promises made to be broken, for
'The people did according to this promise.'
It has been well said that Christians are the only Bible that men of the
world read. In other words, those who will not read the Bible
themselves, judge the religion of Christ simply by the Christians they
happen to come across. This is not a fair way of judging; it surely
cannot be right to condemn Christianity itself, because some of those
who profess it are not what they ought to be.
Let us picture to ourselves an island in the Pacific Ocean, where no
European has ever been seen. A large ship is wrecked not far from this
island, and three men are able to make their escape in a boat, and to
land upon its shore. The men belong to three different nations--one is a
Frenchman, another is a German, and the third is an Englishman. The
people of the island receive them most kindly, warm them, and feed them,
and shelter them, and do all they can for them till a ship shall come to
take them away.
What return do the three men make for their kindness? The Frenchman is
grateful, and willing to make himself useful in any way he can: he
amuses the children and helps in the work of the house, and does all he
can to make return for the hospitality he is receiving. The German is
very clever with his fingers, and spends his time in teaching the
natives to make many things which they had not been able to do before;
he becomes indeed so helpful to them that they dread the day coming when
he will have to leave them. But the Englishman is a man of low tastes
and bad morals. He spends his time in drinking the spirit he finds on
the island, in quarrelling with the inhabitants, and in ill-treating
their children; there is not a soul on the island who does not rejoice
when the ship bears him away, never to return.
Soon after this, news is brought that a small colony from Europe is
anxious to settle on that island, and to trade with the inhabitants.
The commercial advantages of this step are laid before the natives, and
leave is asked for the party of traders to land. One question, and one
question only, is asked by the inhabitants. Of what nation are these
colonists? The answer is brought back, They are English. At once the
whole island is up in arms. They shall not land, they cry, we will not
hear of it; we know what English people are, we have had plenty of the
English. Had they been French or Germans we would have given them a
hearty welcome, but we never wish to see an Englishman again.
But surely that was not fair, it was not right to judge a whole nation
by one bad specimen. Nor is it right to judge the followers of Christ
in that way. I know a man, says one, who is hard and grasping and
self-seeking, and that man makes a religious profession, therefore I
will have nothing to do with religion. I know a Christian who is
bad-tempered; I know a Christian who is not particular about truth; I
know a Christian out of whose mouth come bitter, unkind words; I know a
Christian who is unpleasant in his manner; I know a Christian with whom
I should be sorry to do business; I know a Christian who is always
mournful and miserable. These are your Christians, are they? Then do not
ask me to be one; I have no opinion of any of them.
Yet, after all, the man who speaks thus draws an unfair conclusion.
Because I find in my bag of gold one bad half-sovereign, or even two or
three bad ones, am I therefore to throw all the rest away? And because
one Christian, or several Christians, disgrace their Master, and act
inconsistently, am I therefore to condemn Christianity itself? Am I
therefore to cut off my own soul from all hope of safety?
But, remembering this, bearing in mind that many eyes are on us, that
our conduct is being read, our ways watched, our actions weighed, our
motives sifted, Christian friends, let us walk carefully. Do not let us
bring disgrace on our Master, do not let us hinder others and be a
stumbling-block in their way; do not let us give the world a wrong idea
We are not half awake, we are not half careful enough; let us walk
circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. Let us, whenever we have been
tempted to any inconsistency, be able to take up Nehemiah's brave noble
'So did not I, because of the fear of God.'
I could not get into a temper, I could not be hard or grasping, I could
not do that piece of sharp practice, I could not stoop to that deceit, I
could not disgrace my Master, because in my heart was a principle
holding me back from sin, the fear of the Lord. I feared to grieve the
One who loved me, and that fear kept me safe. 'So did not I, because of
the fear of God.'
[Transcribers note 1: stumbling-black corrected to stumbling-block.]
True to his Post.
Lot's wife was changed into a pillar of salt; and if that pillar still
remained, we should see her to-day standing in exactly the same attitude
in which she was standing when death suddenly came upon her.
About a hundred years ago, a baker in the south of Italy sunk a well in
his garden; and whilst doing so he suddenly came upon a buried city, a
city which had been lost to the world for 1800 years. The underground
city was no empty place; it was peopled with the dead, and these were
found in the very attitude and position in which death had overtaken
them, standing, sitting, lying, just as they had been on that awful day
when Mount Vesuvius sent out terrible showers of ashes, destroying them
Very various were the positions of the dead in that buried city. Many
were in the streets, in the attitude of running, trying to make their
escape from the city gate; others were in deep vaults whither they had
gone for safety, crouching, in their fear of what might fall upon them;
others were on staircases and flights of stone steps leading to the
roof, in the attitude of climbing to a place where they hoped the lava
might not bury them. Two men were found by the garden gate of a large
and beautiful mansion. One was standing with the key in his hand, a
handsome ring on his finger, and a hundred gold and silver coins
scattered round him. The other, who was probably his slave, was
stretched on the ground, with his hands clutching some silver cups and
vases. These men had evidently been suffocated whilst trying to carry
off the money and treasure.
But one man in that buried city deserves to be remembered to the end of
time. Who was he? One Roman soldier, the brave sentinel at the gate.
There he had been posted in the morning, and there he had been bidden to
And how was he found? Standing at his post, with his hand still grasping
his sword, faithful unto death. There, by the city gate; whilst the
earth shook and rocked, whilst the sky was black with ashes, whilst
showers of stones were falling around him, and whilst hundreds of men,
women and children brushed past him as they fled in terror from the
city, there he stood, firm and unmoved. Should such a man as I flee?
thought the sentinel. And in that same spot, in that post of duty, he
was found 1800 years after, faithful to his trust, faithful unto death.
Oh, that the Lord's soldiers were more like that brave man in Pompeii!
It is so easy to begin a thing, so hard to stick to it; so easy to start
on the Christian course, so difficult to persevere; so easy to enlist in
the army, so very hard to stand unmoved in the time of danger or trial.
Yet what says the Master? He that endureth to the end (and he alone)
shall be saved. What says the Captain? chat it is the soldier who is
faithful unto death (and no one else) who shall receive the crown of
Who then amongst us are faithful, true and unmoved? Who amongst us
can stand firm in spite of Satan's efforts to lead us aside? Who
can hold on, not for a week only, but still faithful as the weeks
change into months, and the months into years, faithful unto death?
About 100 years before the time of Nehemiah, there lived a wise old
Chinaman, the philosopher Confucius. Looking round upon his fellow-men,
Confucius said that he noticed that a large proportion of them were
'Copper-kettle-boiling-water men.' The water in a copper kettle, said
Confucius, boils very quickly, much more quickly than in an iron kettle;
but the worst of it is that it just as quickly cools down, and ceases to
So, said Confucius, is it with numbers of my fellow-men: they are one
day hot and eager, boiling over with zeal in some particular cause; but
the next day they have cooled down, and they take no interest in it
whatever. Soon up, soon down, like the water in a copper kettle.
Just so is it in the service of God. There are, sad to say, many
copper-kettle-boiling-water Christians, hot and earnest in the work of
God one moment, but in the next they have cooled down, and are ready to
leave the work to take care of itself.
But Nehemiah was no copper-kettle-boiling-water man, he comes before us
as a man faithful to his post, standing firm to his duty, a man whom no
one could draw from his work, or cause to swerve from what he knew to be
The Samaritans have made a mighty effort to stop Nehemiah's great work,
the building of the walls of Jerusalem. They began with ridicule; but
the builders took no notice of the shouts of laughter, but built on as
before. Then they tried to stop the work by force; but they found the
whole company of builders changed, as by a magic wand, into an army of
soldiers, ready and waiting for their attack. Now the news reaches them,
chap. vi. 1., that the walls are progressing, that the gaps are filled
up, the different pieces are joined together, and that nothing now
remains but to put up the gates in the various gateways.
They feel accordingly that no time is to be lost; they must, in some way
or other, put a stop to Nehemiah and his work at once. They determine,
therefore, to try a new plan, they will entrap Nehemiah by stratagem and
deceit. So they send an invitation to Jerusalem, begging him to meet
them in a certain place, that there they may settle their differences by
a friendly conference.
Sanballat is to be there as the head of the Samaritans, Geshem as the
head of the Arabians, and Nehemiah as the head of the Jews; and surely,
meeting in a friendly way, and embued with a friendly spirit, nothing
will be easier than quietly and peacefully to confer together, and then
to arrange matters in a comfortable and satisfactory manner.
The place appointed for the meeting is the Plain of Ono--the green,
beautiful plain between the Judean hills and the Mediterranean--called
elsewhere the Plain of Sharon. There in later days stood Lydda, the
place where St. Peter healed Aeneas; there stood Joppa, from which Jonah
embarked; there, at the present day, may be seen fields of melons and
cucumbers, groves of orange and lemon trees, and fields of waving corn.
Nehemiah would have a journey of about thirty miles before he reached
the appointed meeting-place.
Sanballat's proposal sounded very fine and even very friendly, but it
was a trap. His real desire was to tempt Nehemiah from behind the walls
of Jerusalem, to entice him to a safe distance from his brave friends
and companions, and then to have him secretly assassinated. Who then
would ever hear again of the power of Jerusalem? Who then would ever see
the gates put in their places?
Is Nehemiah moved from his post of duty by Sanballat's message? Does he
leave his work at once, and set off for the Plain of Ono? Look at his
'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?'
God's work would be done better, and with more success, if all His
workmen were like Nehemiah. But, alas! many who call themselves workers
for God are ready to run off from the work at every call, every
invitation, every appeal from the world, the flesh, or the devil. I am
doing a great work, but there is that amusement I want to take part in,
the work must be left to-day.
I am doing a great work; but I do not feel inclined for it just now, I
feel idle, or the weather is too cold to go out, or the sun shines so
brightly I should like a walk instead, I must leave my work to others
I am doing a great work; but I love my own ease, or pleasure, or
convenience, better than I love the work, these must come first and the
work must come second.
So speak the actions of many so-called workers, and thus it is that so
much Christian work is a dead failure.
But, says Nehemiah, '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
Let us remember his words, let us inwardly digest them, and the very
next time that we are tempted to give up work for God and to run off to
something else, let us take care to echo them.
But Sanballat is determined not to be beaten, he will try again and yet
again. Four times over he sends Nehemiah a friendly invitation to a
friendly conference, four times over Nehemiah steadily refuses to come.
Then, when that plot completely fails, Sanballat loses his temper.
One day a messenger arrives at the gate of Jerusalem with an insult in
his hand. The insult is in the form of a piece of parchment; it is a
letter from Sanballat, an 'open letter,' ver. 5.
Letters in the East are not put into envelopes, but are rolled up like a
map, then the ends are flattened and pasted together. The Persians make
up their letters in a roll about six inches long, and then gum a piece
of paper round them, and put a seal on the outside. But in writing to
persons of distinction, not only is the letter gummed together, but it
is tied up in several places with coloured ribbon, and then enclosed in
a bag or purse. To send a letter to such a man as Nehemiah, not only
untied and unenclosed, but actually not even having the ends pasted
together, was a tremendous insult, and Nehemiah, who had been
accustomed to the strict etiquette of the Persian court, knew this well.
But Sanballat probably sent this open letter not only with the intention
of insulting Nehemiah, but also in order that every one whom the
messenger came across might read it, and that the Jews in Jerusalem and
its neighbourhood might be frightened by its contents, and might
therefore be inclined to forward his plans.
The letter contained a piece of gossip.
'It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it.'
So the letter began, and then there followed the scandal, the gossip
People's tongues were busy 2,000 years ago, just as people's tongues are
busy now, and the gossips of those days, like the gossips of to-day,
were not particular about truth.
What was the gossip which Gashmu had started against Nehemiah? It was
this: Jerusalem is being built, we all see that, says Gashmu. But now,
what is at the bottom of this business? Hush! says Gashmu, do not tell
any one, and I will tell you a secret. You would never believe it, you
would never guess it; but what do you think? As soon as those walls are
built and those gates are finished, you will hear news. There is going
to be a king in Jerusalem, and his name is Nehemiah. As soon as ever he
has a strong city in which to defend himself, he is going to rebel
against Persia. Nay, he has already paid people inside Jerusalem to
pretend to be prophets, and to say to the people:
'There is a king in Judah.'
That is the gossip, says Sanballat, that is going the round of all the
gossips' tongues in the land. And now what will be the result? If the
King of Persia hears of it, and it is sure to reach his ears sooner or
later, it will go badly with you, Nehemiah. The best thing you can do is
to consent to meet me, and we will talk the matter over and see what can
be done to prevent this report reaching Persia.
'Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.'
Nehemiah has stood firm under ridicule; he has been unmoved by force or
deceitful friendships; will he be frightened from his duty by gossip?
No, he cares not what they say, nor who says it. He simply sends
Sanballat word that there is not a vestige of truth in the report, nor
does he intend to take any notice of it.
'There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them
out of thine own heart.'
Over the entrance to one of our old English castles these words are
carved in the stonework:--
WHAT DO THEY SAY?
LET THEM SAY.
These words are well worth our remembering. It is not pleasant to be
talked about, especially if the words spoken about us are untrue, but it
will be a wonderful thing if any of us escape the gossip's tongue.
_They say_, and they always will _say_, to the end of time; people
will talk, and their talk will chiefly be of their neighbours.
_What do they say?_ Do you answer like the Psalmist, 'They lay to my
charge things I knew not?' They speak unkindly, untruly, unfairly.
Never mind, _Let them say._ You cannot stop their mouths, but you can
hinder yourself from taking notice of their words. Let them say, for
they will have their say out, but they will end it all the sooner if you
take no notice of it.
Let us try for the future to be thick-skinned, and when Gashmu's tongue
is whispering, and whenever some busybody like Sanballat repeats
Gashmu's words to us, let us act as Nehemiah did. Let us take no notice
of the repeated tittle-tattle.
Yet, although we may practically ignore the gossiping tongue, if we are
naturally sensitive and highly strung we cannot help feeling some sting
from the unkind or untrue speech. Poor Nehemiah, unmoved though he was
by the gossip, yet feels it necessary to remember the meaning of his
name, and to turn from Sanballat's letter to 'the Lord my Comforter.'
'O God, strengthen my hands.'
So he cries from the depths of his soul, and so he was comforted.
Sanballat now feels that he is attempting an impossibility. It is of no
use trying himself to move Nehemiah, for Nehemiah is thoroughly on his
guard against him. If he reaches him at all, he must do so through
others, whom Nehemiah does not suspect. So, by means of his gold,
Sanballat tempts some of the Jerusalem Jews over to his side.
There is a woman living in Jerusalem named Noadiah, and she (to her
shame be it spoken) is bribed by Sanballat to give herself out as a
prophetess, and to be the bearer of messages to Nehemiah, pretending
that those messages were sent to him by God. Nor is Noadiah the only
one who is bribed by the Samaritan governor to pretend the gift of
One day, Nehemiah is sent for to the house of one of these people who
profess to be able to prophesy. He is a young man of the name of
Shemaiah, whose family had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, but
who had never been able to prove their Jewish descent (vii. 61, 62, 64).
This young man professes to be very fond of Nehemiah, and begs him to
come to see him. Nehemiah does so, and finds him shut up, his doors
barred and bolted, his house barricaded like a fortress. He admits
Nehemiah, and seems, as he does so, to be in a great state of fear and
Then he whispers a dreadful secret in his ear. He tells Nehemiah that
his life is in immediate danger, that there is a plot set on foot by
Sanballat to murder him that very night, and that this plot has been
revealed to him by God. He tells him that he feels his own life, as one
of Nehemiah's best friends, is also in danger, and therefore he proposes
that they shall go together after dark to the temple courts, and,
passing through these, enter into the sanctuary itself, the Holy Place,
in which stood the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the
table of showbread. There, having carefully closed the folding doors of
fir-wood, they may hide till daybreak, and those who were coming to
assassinate Nehemiah will seek him in vain.
Shemaiah gives this advice as a direct message from God, but Nehemiah
saw through it. He felt sure God could not have sent that message, for
God cannot contradict His own Word. And what said the Word? It was
clearly laid down in the law of Moses that no man, unless he was a
priest, might enter the Holy Place; if he attempted to do so, death
would be the penalty.
'The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.' So Nehemiah
'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.'
Who is there, that, being as I am--that is, being a layman, not a
priest--as I am, could go into the temple and live? for that is the
better translation. In other words, if I, Nehemiah, who am not a priest,
should break the clear command of God, by crossing the threshold of the
temple, instead of saving my life I should lose it. I will not go in.
So failed this dastardly plot to get Nehemiah to sin, in order that his
God might desert him. The sentinel stood unmoved at his post, Nehemiah
goes on steadily with his work. Should such a man as I flee? And in
fifty-two days after its commencement, in less than two months, the wall
was finished, vi. 15.
With a huge army, with hundreds of horses, and with twenty elephants,
Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, crossed over from Greece to Italy to conquer
the Romans. No elephants had ever before been seen in Italy; and when
the two armies met, and the huge animals advanced with their dark trunks
curling and snorting, and their ponderous feet shaking the earth, the
horses in the Roman army were so terrified that they refused to move,
and Pyrrhus won an easy victory. After the battle was over Pyrrhus
walked amongst the dead, and looked at the bodies of his slain foes. As
he did so, one fact struck him very forcibly, and it was this, the
Romans did not know how to run away. Not one had turned and fled from
the field of battle. The wounds were all in front, not one was wounded
in the back.
'Ah,' said Pyrrhus, 'with such soldiers as that the whole world would
belong to me.'
Soldiers of Christ, let us be brave for the Master. Let the language of
the heart of each in the Lord's army be that of Nehemiah, 'Should such a
man as I flee?' Nay, I will not flee, I will not desert my post, I will
stand my ground, bravely, consistently, perseveringly, unto death.
The Tarpeian Rock was the place where Roman criminals who had been
guilty of the crime of treason were executed. They were thrown headlong
from this rock into the valley below, and perished at its base. The rock
took its name from a woman named Tarpeia, who has ever been a disgrace
to her sex, and whose name was hated in Rome, for she was a traitress to
her country. For a long time the war had raged between the Romans and
the Sabines. The Romans were at last compelled to shut themselves up in
their strong fortress, which the Sabines attempted to take, but in vain.
So steep were the rocks on which it stood, so strong were the walls,
that the Sabines must have given up their attempt in despair, had it not
been for the treachery of Tarpeia, the governor's daughter. She looked
down from the fortress into the Sabine host, and she noticed that,
whilst with their right arms the Sabines held their swords, on their
left arms were hung massive golden bracelets, such as Tarpeia had never
beheld before. One day, leaning over the precipice, she managed to
whisper into the ear of a Sabine soldier her treacherous plan. She was
willing in the dead of night to unlock the gate of the fortress, and to
admit the Sabines, provided that they promised on their part to give her
what they carried on their left arms. Tarpeia's proposition was agreed
to, and that night the governor's daughter stole the keys of the
fortress from her father's room, and admitted the enemy.
But the Sabines had too much right feeling to let her treachery go
unpunished. She stood by the gate, hoping to receive the bracelets, but
each Sabine soldier, as he entered, threw at her head his massive iron
shield, which he also carried on his left arm, until she was crushed to
the ground, and buried beneath a mass of metal. They had fulfilled their
promise, but in a way the treacherous Tarpeia did not expect. When she
was quite dead, they took up her body, and threw it over the rock which
ever after bore her name, as a warning to traitors.
Treachery within the camp, those in league with the enemy in the very
midst of the citadel, those who whilst pretending to be friends are
secretly conspiring to hinder and annoy. Surely such a state of things
is enough to move any man's heart. Who could help feeling it bitterly?
David could not. Listen to his heartrending cry--
'For it is not an open enemy, that hath done me this dishonour; for then
I could have borne it. Neither was it mine adversary that did magnify
himself against me; for then I would have hid myself from him. But it
was even thou, my companion, my guide, and mine own familiar friend.'
Nehemiah could not help feeling it. He had borne patiently ridicule,
force, deceit from without; whatever of harm or mischief Sanballat did,
he could not help, nor was he surprised at it. But when the trouble came
nearer home, when he found that in Jerusalem itself, amongst those whom
he had loved and for whom he had sacrificed so much, there were actually
to be found traitors, then indeed Nehemiah's soul was stirred to its
He discovered to his horror that letters, secret, treacherous letters,
were constantly passing from Tobiah the secretary to some of his
so-called friends in Jerusalem. Nay more, he discovered that these
letters were diligently answered, and that a quick correspondence was
being kept up by Tobiah on the one side and these treacherous Jews on
Worse still, Nehemiah found that many of those round him were acting as
spies, watching all he did, taking note of every single thing that went
on in Jerusalem, and then writing it down for Tobiah's benefit. And in
spite of this, these Jews had the audacity and the bad taste when they
met Nehemiah in the street, or sat at his table, or came across him in
business, to harp constantly upon one string--the goodness, and
perfections, and excellences of dear Tobiah.
'They reported his good deeds to me, and uttered my words to him.'
Nor was this communication with the secretary at all easy to break off,
for he was connected by marriage with some of the first families in
Jerusalem. Tobiah himself had obtained a Jewish girl for his wife, the
daughter of one of Nehemiah's helpers--Shechaniah, the son of Arah.
Not only so, but Meshullam, one of the wealthiest men in the city, one
of the most earnest builders on the wall, one who had worked so
diligently that he had actually repaired two portions (chap. iii. 4,
30), one who must have been either a priest or a Levite, for we read of
his having a chamber in the temple, this man, Meshullam, so well spoken
of, and so much esteemed in Jerusalem, had actually forgotten himself so
far as to let his daughter marry the son of the secretary, Tobiah. We
cannot excuse Meshullam by suggesting that his daughter may have been
spoilt or wilful, and may have married in spite of her father's
displeasure, for, in the East, marriages are entirely arranged by the
parents, and Meshullam's daughter probably had no choice in the matter.
Seeing then that there are enemies without, and half-hearted friends
within, Nehemiah feels it necessary, so soon as the walls are finished
and the gates set up, to do all he can to make Jerusalem secure and
strong. Solomon had appointed 212 Levites to be porters or gate-keepers,
to guard the entrances to the temple. Ever since his time there had been
an armed body of Levites, kept always at hand, to guard the treasures of
the temple, and to keep watch at the gates. From these Nehemiah selects
the keepers for his new gates. Surely these Levites will be faithful,
and they have had some experience in watching, inasmuch as they have for
so long acted as temple police.
Nehemiah's next step was to appoint two men to superintend these guards,
and to be responsible to him for the safety of the city. At any moment
he might be recalled to Persia, at any moment he might have to leave
his important work in Jerusalem, that he might stand again as cup-bearer
behind the king's chair. He felt that he must therefore appoint deputies
to guard the city for him, so that all might not hang upon the fact of
his presence in the city.
Whom did Nehemiah choose for this post of enormous trust? One was his
brother Hanani, the very one who had come to see him in Persia. Why, he
would never have even thought of doing this great work, if it had not
been for Hanani; and he felt he could thoroughly trust him, and rely
upon him entirely.
His other choice was Hananiah, the ruler of the palace or the fort,
which was a tower, standing in the temple courts on the spot on which,
in Roman days, stood the Tower of Antonia. Nehemiah tells us exactly why
he made choice of the man Hananiah.
'He was a faithful man, and feared God above many.'
He was a faithful man, thoroughly trustworthy and reliable. He feared
God above many, and therefore Nehemiah knew that he would be kept safe
and free from sin. 'So did not I,' he had said of himself, 'because of
the fear of God; that fear held me back from sin,' and he felt sure it
would be the same with Hananiah. He feared God, and therefore he could
be depended upon.
These two rulers, Hanani and Hananiah, planned out the defence of the
city. They divided the wall amongst all the men in Jerusalem, holding
each man responsible for the safety of that part of the wall which lay
nearest to his own house. Then, by Nehemiah's orders, they saw that the
guards took care that the gates were not only carefully closed every
night, but that they were kept closed till the sun was hot, that is,
till some hours after sunrise. These orders were most necessary, seeing
that there were traitors inside the gates as well as enemies without.
It was the sixth month of the Jewish year when the walls were finished.
Then came Tisri, the seventh month, the greatest and grandest of the
months. The Jews say that God made the world in the month Tisri, and in
it they have no less than two feasts and one great fast.
On the first day of the month Tisri was held the Feast of Trumpets, or
the day of blowing. On that day trumpets or horns were blown all day
long in Jerusalem; on the house-tops, and from the courts and gardens,
as well as from the temple.
Obedient to the voice of the trumpets, at early dawn the people all
gathered together, and stood by the water-gate, in a large open space
suitable for such a gathering. This gate is supposed to have been
somewhere at the south-east of the temple courts, and to have taken its
name from the fact that through it the temple servants, the Nethinims
and the Gibeonites, carried water from the dragon well into the city.
Here a huge pulpit had been erected, not such a pulpit as we find in our
churches, but such an one as is to be seen in the synagogues of
Jerusalem, a pulpit as large as a small room, and capable of holding a
large number of persons.
The pulpit by the water-gate was a raised platform, made for the
purpose. In it stood Ezra the scribe, and beside him stood thirteen of
the chief men of Jerusalem. Meshullam was there; but one man was
conspicuous by his absence. Eliashib, the high priest, who should
surely have been found taking a principal part in the solemn service of
the day, was nowhere to be seen.
Before the great pulpit was gathered together an enormous crowd, men,
women, and children, all those who were old enough to understand
anything having been brought there, that they might listen to all that
It was early in the morning, soon after sunrise, when the great company
met together. The blowing of the trumpets ceased, and there was brought
out by a Levite an old roll of parchment. What was it? It was the Book
of the Law, the Bible of Nehemiah's day, consisting of the five books of
Slowly and reverently Ezra unrolled the law in the sight of all the
people; and they, sitting below, watched him, and as soon as the book
was opened they stood up, to show their respect and their reverence for
the Word of God.
Then the reading began, and the ears of all the people were attentive to
the book of the law. For no less than six hours Ezra read on, from early
morning until midday, yet still the people stood, still the people
listened attentively. There was no stir in the crowd, no one asked what
time it was, there was no shuffling of feet, no yawning, no fidgeting;
in earnest, fixed attention the people listened.
As Ezra read, a body of Levites went about amongst the crowd,
translating what he said. So long had the people lived in captivity that
some of them had forgotten the old Hebrew, or had been brought up from
children to talk the Chaldean tongue. Thus many of Ezra's words and
phrases were quite unintelligible to them. So the Levites acted as
interpreters; and besides explaining the words, they also opened out
the meaning of what was read.
'The Levites caused the people to understand the law: and the people
stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God
distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the
And at the end of six hours there came tears--there was not a dry eye in
the crowd--men and women alike wept like children. There was Ezra in his
pulpit, his voice faltering as he read, and there were the people below,
sobbing as they heard the words.
What was the matter? What had filled them with grief? St. Paul tells us
the secret of their tears (Rom. iii. 20).
'By the law is the knowledge of sin.'
You draw a line. How shall you know if it be straight or not? Lay the
ruler beside it, and you will soon find out its crookedness.
You build a wall. How shall you tell if it be perpendicular? Bring the
plumb-line, put it against it, and you will soon find out where the wall
You take up a drawing of wood, and hill, and tree; how shall you know if
it be correctly sketched? Put beside it the master's copy, look from one
to another, and you will soon discover the mistakes and imperfections of
Take the perfect law of God, lay it beside your own life, as these
people did, you will find out exactly what they found. You will find
that you are a sinner, that you have left undone what ought to have been
done, that you have done what ought not to have been done, and that you
yourself are full of sin.
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy
mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.'
Have you done that? No! Then you are not like the copy.
'Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord thy God.'
Have you done that? No! Then you are not like the copy.
So felt the company at the water-gate, as they listened to the word that
day. And with the knowledge came tears, bitter, sorrowful tears, as they
thought of the past. Each man, woman, and child amongst them was ready
to cry out
'Red like crimson, deep as scarlet,
Scarlet of the deepest dye,
Are the manifold transgressions,
That upon my conscience lie.
God alone can count their number,
God alone can look within,
O the sinfulness of sinning,
O the guilt of every sin!'
Some years ago there lived in Jerusalem a Scripture reader. He was an
Austrian Jew, and he worked amongst the large Jewish population in
Jerusalem. That man had been brought up to a very curious occupation.
For years he had maintained himself in a very strange way. His business
was this--to take children to school every morning, and to bring them
home again in the evening. Each morning he called at the various houses,
he led the children out, he carried the little ones, some on his back
and some in his arms, he chastised with a stick those who were inclined
to play truant, and he landed them all safely at the school-door.
St. Paul, when he went to the Rabbi's school in Tarsus, was taken there
by just such a man as that, a man who was paid by his parents to drive
him to school regularly, and to see that he arrived there in good time.
This man was called in his day a Paidagogos, or Boy-driver.
Years afterwards, when the apostle was writing to the Galatians, he
remembered his old Paidagogos, and he used him as an illustration. He
said, in his epistle, that that boy-driver was like the law of God; just
what the Paidagogos had done for him, that also the Word of God had
done. That man had driven him to the school of the Rabbi, the law of God
had driven him to the school of Christ. 'The law was our schoolmaster to
bring us unto Christ.'
The word schoolmaster does not mean the man who teaches, but it is this
very word Paidagogos or Boy-driver.
How, then, does the law of God drive us to Christ? Because it makes us
feel that we need saving, that we are sinners and cannot help ourselves,
that if ever we are to see the inside of the golden gates of heaven, it
must be by learning in the school of Christ, by learning to know Him as
our Saviour, our atonement, our all in all.
Lord, save me, or I perish, for I cannot save myself! All my
righteousness is as filthy rags, I myself am full of sin. There is no
hope for me except in Thee!
So the Law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
The Secret of Strength.
Who was the strongest person who ever lived? Surely there is no
difficulty in answering that question, surely there has never been
anyone to compare with Samson in wonderful feats of strength! Did he not
alone and unaided rend a young lion in two, as easily as if it had been
a kid? Did he not lift the massive iron gates of Gaza from their hinges,
carry them on his back for forty miles, and climb with them to the top
of a high hill? Did he not overthrow an enormous building by simply
leaning on the huge stone pillars that held it up? We see trials of
strength and feats of strength nowadays, we may have seen a man who
could with one blow of the sword cut a sheep in two, we may have seen
another who, by the mere power of his fist, could snap an iron chain,
yet what modern Samson, strong and powerful and mighty above his fellows
though he may be, can equal or rival the old Samson of Bible story.
Yet after all are we right in calling Samson the strongest man? It all
depends upon the kind of strength of which we are speaking. If we mean
bodily strength, mere physical force, then undoubtedly Samson was the
But is bodily strength the only kind of force or power a man can
possess? Is it the chief kind of strength?
What is one name that we give to physical power; do we not call it
_brute force_? Why do we call it this? Because it is force which we have
in common with the brutes, nay, it is strength in which the brutes can
surpass us. Take the strongest man who ever lived, give him the most
powerful limbs, the strongest back, the greatest strength of muscle,
what is that man compared with an elephant? The mighty elephant has more
power in one limb than the man has in his whole body. Bodily strength is
then, after all, a kind of strength that is worth comparatively little,
and of which we have small cause to boast, for even an animal can easily
surpass us in it.
A stronger man than Samson, where shall we find him? Come to the Senate
House in Cambridge, look at that man hard at work on the examination
papers. Look at him well, for you will see that man's name at the head
of the list when it comes out. Look at his broad forehead, his quick
eager eye, his earnest face. That man is the strongest man in England:
strong, not in bodily strength, he would do but little on the football
field, nor could he win a single prize in athletic sports; he is a thin,
slight, fragile man, but he is strong in mind, powerful and mighty in
brain. That man's memory is simply perfect, his powers of reasoning are
faultless, his grasp of a subject is enormous, he is a giant in
Here then we have another kind of strength, mental strength; and
inasmuch as the mind is vastly superior to the body, and inasmuch as
power of mind is a power which the animals so far from rivalling man,
possess only in a very limited degree, we shall be ready to admit that
the student is stronger than Samson, because he is strong in a superior
kind of strength.
But there is a stronger than he, and it is a woman. She is weak and
delicate, and has certainly no bodily strength; she knows very little,
for she is a poor, simple country girl; she has no mental strength, but
she is stronger than Samson, stronger than the Cambridge student,
because she is endued with a strength far superior to bodily or mental
strength--she is strong in soul.
A great crowd of people was gathered on the shore that day in the county
of Wigton in Scotland. There lay the wooded hills and the heathery
moors, and the quiet sea dividing them like a peaceful lake. Two
prisoners, carefully guarded, were brought down to the shore, one was an
old woman with white hair, the other was a young and beautiful girl. Two
stakes were driven into the sand, one close to the approaching sea, the
other much nearer to the shore. The old woman was tied to the stake
nearest to the sea, and the young girl to the other. The tide was out
when they were taken there, but they were told that, unless they would
deny the Master whom they loved, unless they would renounce the truth of
God, there they must remain, until the high tide had covered them, and
life was extinct.
The old woman was questioned by her murderers. Would she renounce her
Lord? Never; she could not deny the faith of Christ. So they left her to
her fate, and the sea rose. Silently, quietly, stealthily it crept on,
till her arms, her shoulders, her neck were covered, and then soon after
the wave came which carried her into the presence of her Lord. Then they
pleaded with the girl, they tried to make her change, they used every
argument likely to move her, but all in vain. She was strong in soul,
strong and mighty, so strong that death itself could not make her
flinch. Still the sea crept on, still the water rose, and still they
tried to make her deny her Lord. But, strong in spirit, the girl held
bravely on. Higher and higher came that ever-encroaching water, and soon
her head was covered, and she thought her sorrows were ended, but her
tormentors brought her out of the water, rubbed and warmed her, and
brought her to life again, only to put the question to her once more.
Would she deny her Master? No; again she refused to do so, and was
dragged back, wet and dripping as she was, once more to be chained to
the stake, and to lay down her life a second time. But the Lord was with
her, and she was faithful to the end.
That girl was strong in soul, strong in the highest, noblest form of
strength; she could say No when tempted to do wrong, she was faithful
when sorely tried. But Samson was weak as water, he had no strength of
soul; a woman's pretty face, a woman's coaxing word, was quite
sufficient to overthrow all the strength of soul he possessed. He could
resist no temptation that came across his path; he was an easy prey to
Oh! that we were all strong, strong in this highest, grandest form of
strength, mighty giants in spirit!
But do you say, How can I obtain this strength, by what means can I
acquire it? I feel I need it. I am often led astray; I listen to the
voice of the tempter, I give way to my besetting sin. I want to break
off from it, but I cannot; I want to leave the companions who are
leading me wrong, but I have not the strength to do it. How can I become
Here, in the story of Nehemiah, we find the answer. Let us come again to
the water-gate, at the south-east of the city. There is the huge pulpit
of wood, there is Ezra with the roll in his hand, there are the people,
sobbing as if their hearts would break.
But 'blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted' It is for
sin that their hearts are broken, they feel they have left undone so
much that ought to have been done, they have done so much that they
ought not to have done, that they are crushed with sorrow, and the tears
But hush, who are these passing amongst the weeping crowd? There is
Nehemiah the Tirshatha, or governor, there is Ezra the scribe, and they
are followed by a company of Levites. They call to the people to stop
crying, and to rejoice. Is not our God a God of mercy? Is there not
forgiveness with Him? If sin is confessed and forsaken, will He not
pardon it? Dry your tears then, and, instead of crying, rejoice. Be
merry and glad that God is willing to forgive, nay, that He has forgiven
Cheer up, for this day is holy unto the Lord; it is a feast day, the
joyous Feast of Trumpets. Mourn not, nor weep. Do not imagine that God
likes you to be miserable; He wants you to be happy. You have owned your
sin, you have repented of your sin; now let your hearts be filled with
the joy that come from a sense of sin forgiven.
Go home now, and keep the feast. Eat and drink of the best you have,
eat the fat and drink the sweet, the new sweet wine made from this
year's grapes. Go home and enjoy yourselves to the full; but do not
forget those who are worse off than yourselves, remember those poor
people who have suffered so much from the late famine, who have paid
their last penny to the tax-collector, who have lost their all in these
hard times. Let them enjoy themselves too to-day. Eat the fat and drink
the sweet, but do not forget to send portions to them for whom nothing
is prepared. Remember the empty cupboards, and the bare tables, and the
houses where the fat and the sweet are nowhere to be seen.
What a word for us at the time of our joyous Christmas feast! God loves
us to be happy. He likes us to rejoice; He does not want us to go about
with long faces and melancholy looks. A long-faced Christian is a
Christian who brings disgrace on his Master.
Then as we meet, year by year, round the happy Christmas table, and sit
down to our Christmas dinner, let us remember that God loves us to be
happy; but let us also remember that in the midst of all our joy He
would have us unselfish. He would have us send portions to them for whom
nothing is prepared. Is there no one whom we can cheer? Is there no
desolate home into which we can bring a ray of light? Is there no
sorrowful heart to which we can bring comfort? And what about the
portions? Is there no poor relative, or neighbour, or friend, with whom
we can share the good things that have fallen to our lot?
Our own Christmas dinner will taste all the better if we have helped
some one else to happiness or comfort, our own festal rejoicing will be
tenfold more full of merriment and real joy, if we have helped to spread
the festal joy into dark and gloomy places.
'Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto
them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord:
neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'
Yes, there we have the secret of strength, of the highest kind of
strength, of strength of soul. The joy of the Lord, that joy which comes
from knowing our sin is pardoned.
Can I say--
'O happy day, O happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away?'
Then I have spiritual strength, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.
He has forgiven me, He has washed me from my sins in His own blood; how
can I grieve Him? How can I pain Him by yielding to temptation? How can
I ever risk losing the joy of my heart by going contrary to His will? I
am joyful because I am forgiven, and I am strong because I am joyful.
Here then is the highest kind of strength, and it is a strength within
the reach of all. Bodily strength some of us can never attain. We are
born with weakly bodies, we have grown up delicate and frail, we could
no more transform ourselves into strong, powerful men, than we could
make ourselves into elephants.
There was a man who lived in Greece long before Hezekiah, who was
determined to make his nation the strongest nation on earth; he was
resolved that it should consist of mighty giants in strength, and that
not one delicate or weak man should be found amongst them. But what did
Lycurgus find himself obliged to do in order to secure his end? He was
compelled to have every infant carefully examined as soon as it was
born, and if a child had the least appearance of delicacy, he took it
from its mother, and sent it to some lonely cave on the hill-side, where
it was left to die of cold and hunger. He found that it was not possible
to turn a puny delicate child into a strong man.
Bodily strength then is beyond the reach of many men; weak they were
born, weak they live, and weak they will die, nothing will alter or
Nor can strength of mind be attained by many. They were born with no
power of memory, no aptitude for learning, no gift for study; you may
teach them, and labour with them, and they may work hard themselves, but
no application can instil into them what was not born in them; they came
into the world with second-rate intellects, and they will die with the
But, thank God, the highest form of strength, strength of soul is, in
this respect, not like strength of body or strength of mind. No one is
born with it, we are all by nature weak as water, an easy prey for
Satan; but there is not one of us who may not acquire this spiritual
power. If we will take the lost sinner's place, and claim the lost
sinner's Saviour, we shall be filled by that Saviour with joy, joy
because sin is forgiven, and with the joy will come the strength of
In Greece, in that city in which all the weakly babies were murdered,
those children who were spared and who were pronounced to be strong,
were looked upon from that time as belonging not to their parents but to
the state, and they were trained and brought up with this one object in
view, to make them strong and powerful men. They were taught to bear
cold, wearing the same clothing in winter as in summer; they were
trained to bear fatigue, being accustomed to walk barefoot for miles;
they were practised in wrestling, in racing, in throwing heavy weights,
in carrying burdens, in anything and everything which was calculated to
make the strength that was in them grow and increase. And it was
wonderful how, by means of practice, the strength did grow.
We are told of one man, who in the public games carried a full grown ox
for a mile, and we are told that he accomplished this by gradually
accustoming himself to the weight. He began when the ox was a tiny calf
to carry it a mile every day, and the increase of weight was so gradual
that he did not feel it; his arms became used to the weight, and as the
ox grew bigger, he at the same time grew stronger.
Strength of body then grows and increases in proportion to our use of
So, too, does strength of mind. Here is a boy, born with good abilities
and with an intelligent mind. Take that child, and shut him off from
every possibility of using his mind; never teach him anything, never
allow him to look at a book or a picture, keep him shut off from
everything that might tend to open his mind, tell him nothing, bring him
up as a mere animal, and soon he will lose all his powers of mind, and
become an imbecile. But, on the other hand, teach him, train him,
educate him, let his mind have full scope and exercise, and his mental
powers will grow and increase a hundred-fold, for strength of mind,
like strength of body, grows with the using.
Just so is it with strength of soul. Every temptation you overcome makes
you stronger, every lust you subdue, every battle of soul you fight,
every inclination to evil you resist, makes you stronger.
'From strength to strength' is the motto of the Christian.
So let us press forward.
'Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the
Son of God, unto _a perfect man_' (or as R.V. has it, a _full-grown
man_) 'unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.'
Now we are but children in spiritual strength, then we shall be giants
in power, full-grown men, with full powers and energy and strength,
ready to work for the Master through eternity.
The Eighty-four Seals.
Merrily the Christmas bells were chiming in the old city of York, on
Christmas morning in the year 1890, speaking gaily and joyfully of the
Christmas feast, when suddenly there came a change. The merry peal
ceased, and was followed by the quiet sorrowful sound which always
speaks of mourning and death, a muffled peal. News had reached the
ringers that the Archbishop of York, who had been known and respected in
the city for more than twenty-eight years, had gone home to God.
And as we ate our Christmas dinner that day, as we gathered round the
table to eat the fat and drink the sweet, the solemn voice of Old Peter,
the great minster bell, was heard tolling for the departed soul.
Truly in the midst of life we are in death, in the midst of joy there
comes sorrow, in the midst of festivity we are plunged into mourning.
'Shadow and shine is life, little Annie,
Flower and thorn.'
So the poet makes the old grandmother sum up her life's story.
And it is just the same in our religious life. One day the joy of the
Lord makes us strong, the next the sense of sin weighs us to the ground;
one moment we are ready to overflow with thanksgiving, the next we are
down in the dust mourning and weeping.
Just such a change as this, a change from the gay to the solemn, from
joy to mourning, from feasting to fasting, comes before us in the Book
Look at Jerusalem, as we visit it in imagination to-day, and take a
bird's-eye view of the city. The whole place is mad with joy. They are
keeping the gayest, the merriest, the prettiest feast in the whole year,
the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a saying amongst the Jews, that unless
a man had been present at the Feast of Tabernacles he did not know what
joy was. And in Nehemiah's time this feast was kept more fully and with
more rejoicing than it had been kept for a thousand years; no one had
ever witnessed such a Feast of Tabernacles since the days of Joshua.
The city was a mass of green booths, made with branches of olive, pine,
myrtle, and palm; and in these the people lived, and ate, and slept for
eight days; whilst the whole city was lighted up, and glad music was
constantly heard, and the people feasted, and laughed, and made merry.
It was the 22nd day of the month Tisri when the Feast of Tabernacles was
ended, and only two days afterwards there came a remarkable change.
Look at Jerusalem again, you would hardly know it to be the same place.
The green booths are all gone, they have been carefully cleared away.
There is not a branch, or a banner, or a bit of decoration to be seen.
The bright holiday dresses, the gay blue, and red, and yellow, and
lilac robes, the smart, many-coloured turbans have all been laid by;
there is not a sign of one of them. We see instead an extraordinary
company of men, women and children making their way to the open space by
the water gate. They are covered with rough coarse sackcloth, a material
made of black goats' hair and used for making sacks. Every one of the
company is dressed in this rough material; not only so, but the robe of
each is made like a sack in shape, so that they look like a crowd of
moving sacks, and on their heads are sprinkled earth and dust and ashes.
The rejoicing has turned into mourning, the feast into a fast. A great
sense of sin has come over the people; they feel their need of
forgiveness, and they are come to seek it.
The meeting seems to have assembled about nine o'clock, the time of the
morning sacrifice. For a quarter of the day, for three hours, they read
the law of God, for three hours more they fell prostrate on the ground,
and confessed their sin. Their prayers were led by Levites, standing on
high scaffoldings where everyone could see them, where all could hear
them as they cried with a loud voice to God.
Then just at the time of the evening sacrifice, at three o'clock in the
afternoon, the Levites called to the kneeling multitude and bade them
rise, 'Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and
blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and
Then the Levites went through the history of God's wonderful goodness to
His people, to Abraham in Egypt, in the wilderness, in the land of
Canaan; everywhere, and at all times He had been good to them, again
and again He had delivered them. But they--what had they done?
'Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly. Neither have our
kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers kept Thy law, nor
hearkened unto Thy commandments.... For they have not served Thee.'
Therefore, as a natural consequence and result, 'Behold, we are servants
They would not serve God, they would not be His servants, so they had
been made to serve someone else; they had, as a punishment for their
sin, been made servants to the King of Persia. And what was the result?
'The land that Thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and
the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it. And it yieldeth much
increase unto the kings whom Thou hast set over us because of our sins.'
The amount of tribute paid by Judea to Persia is not known; but the
province of Syria, in which Judea was included, paid L90,000 a year.
'Also they have dominion over our bodies.'
They can force us against our will to be either soldiers or sailors, and
can make us fight their battles for them.
They have dominion 'over our cattle.'
They can seize our cattle at their pleasure, for their own use or the
use of their armies.
'And we are in great distress.'
Yes, our sin has indeed brought its punishment; and feeling this,
realizing this very deeply, we have gathered together to do what we
intend to do this day, to make a solemn agreement, a covenant with God.
We intend to promise to have done with sin, and for the future to serve
and glorify God.
Then a long roll of parchment was brought out, on which the covenant was
written, and one by one all the leading men in Jerusalem came forward
and put their seals to it, as a sign that they intended to keep it.
In the East it is always the seal that authenticates a document. In
Babylon the documents were often sealed with half-a-dozen seals or more.
These were impressed on moist clay, and then the clay was baked, and the
seals were each fastened to the parchment by a separate string. In this
way any number of seals could be attached.
We are given in Neh. x. the names of those who sealed, honoured names,
for they made a brave and noble stand. First of all comes the name of
Nehemiah, the governor, setting a good example to the rest. He is
followed by Zidkijah, or Zadok, the secretary. Then come the names of
eighty-two others, heads of families, all well-known men in Jerusalem.
Each one fastened his seal to the roll of parchment containing the
solemn covenant. No less than eighty-four seals were attached to it.
What then were the articles of the covenant?
What did those who sealed promise?
First of all, they bound themselves (x. 29) to walk in God's law, and to
observe and do all the commandments. What need after that to enter a
single other article in the covenant? If a man walks in God's law he
cannot go wrong; if he keeps all God's commandments, what more can be
But they were wise men who drew up that solemn covenant. They knew and
understood the human heart. Is it not a fact, that whilst we are all
ready to own that we are sinners in a general sense, we are slow to own
that we are guilty of any particular sin? We do not mind confessing that
we are miserable sinners, but we should indignantly deny being selfish
or idle, or unforgiving, or proud, or bad-tempered.
So those who wrote the parchment felt it best to go more into detail,
and to put down certain things in which they felt they had done wrong in
the past, but in which they meant to do better in the time to come.
(1) They promised that they would not in future marry heathen people,
that they would not give their daughters to heathen men, or let their
sons choose heathen wives.
(2) They engaged to keep the Sabbath, and not to buy and sell on the
holy day; and they promised that if the heathen people round came to the
city gates with baskets of fruit, or vegetables, or fish on the Sabbath,
they would refuse to buy.
(3) They stated that for the future they would keep every seventh year
as a year of Sabbath. The Sabbath year had in times past been a great
blessing to the land. The one work and occupation of the Jews was
agriculture, farming of all kinds. Every seventh year God commanded that
all work was to stop; there was to be a year's universal holiday, that
the nation might have rest and leisure to think of higher things. Yet
they did not starve in the Sabbath year, for God gave them double crops
in the sixth year, enough to cover all their wants until the crops of
the eighth year were ripe. All that grew of itself during the seventh
year, all the self-sown grain that sprang up, all the fruit that came
on the olives, and the vines, and the fig-trees, was left for the poor
people to gather; they went out and helped themselves, and comfort was
brought to many a sad home, and cupboards which were often empty during
the six ordinary years were kept well filled in the Sabbath year. But
this command of God had been neglected by the Jews; it needed more faith
and trust than they had possessed, and they had let it slip. Now,
however, they promise once more to observe the Sabbath year.
The rest of the covenant concerned the amount to be contributed for the
service of God. They agreed to pay one-third of a shekel each year
towards the temple service, and to bring by turn the wood required for
the sacrifices, beside giving God, regularly and conscientiously, the
first-fruits of all they had.
This was the solemn covenant to which were fastened so many seals, this
was the agreement by which they bound themselves to the service of God.
As they went home, and shook the dust off their heads, and took off
their sacks, they went home pledged to obey and to love their God.
Which of us will follow their example? Who will bind himself to God? Who
will put his seal to the document, and promise to serve and obey the
Master who died for him? Will you?
Is it not right, is it not wise to pull up at times and to look at our
life, at what it has been, and at what it might have been? What about
prayer? Has it been always earnest, heartfelt, true? What about our
Bible reading? Has it been as regular, as profitable as it might have
been? Do we not feel we have come short in the past, and that we should
like to do better in the time to come?
What about sin, that besetting sin of ours, so often indulged in, so
little fought against? Are we going on like this for ever, beaten by
sin, overcome and defeated? Should we not like to leave the old careless
days behind, and for the future to fight manfully against the world, the
flesh, and the devil?
What about work for God? Have we done all that we could for His service?
Have we given Him the tenth of our money? Have we consecrated to Him our
time and our talents? Do we not feel we should like to do more for the
Master in time to come?
It is a good plan to get alone and quiet for a time, and taking a piece
of paper, to write down all we feel has been wrong in the past, all we
mean to do in the future. Then let us sign our name to it, put the date
at the bottom, fold it carefully up, put it away, let no one see it but
God, it is a covenant between us and Him. He will give us grace to keep
it if we only ask Him.
Will you try this plan this very night? Then you will open your eyes
to-morrow morning with the recollection, 'I am the Lord's; I have given
myself to Him; I am His now by my own agreement; I am pledged to His
Lord, make me faithful, keep me humble, keep me prayerful, give me grace
and courage and strength!
For 'better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest
vow and not pay.'
The Brave Volunteers.
'Jerusalem, my happy home, Name ever dear to me.'
So we sing, and it is the echo of the song that went up from the heart
of many a Jew in olden time.
We all love our native land, our dear old England, yet none of us love
it as the Jews loved Jerusalem. We have only to open the Book of Psalms
to see how dear the city of their fathers was to the heart of the Jews.
'Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in
the mountain of His holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the
whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the
great King,' Psalm xlviii. 1, 2.
'Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is
builded as a city that is compact together. Whither the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall
prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within
thy palaces,' Psalm cxxii. 2-4, 6, 7.
These are just samples of countless expressions of love and devotion
for Jerusalem, their happy home. And all the time of the captivity in
Babylon the Jews were longing to be once more in Jerusalem! Oh, to see
the city of cities again; oh, to tread once more the streets of the holy
Jerusalem! They could not even think of their far-off home without
'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we
remembered Zion. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget
her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof
of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy,' Psalm
cxxxvii. 1, 5, 6.
Yet, strange to say, although the Jews were longing for the Holy City
all the time they were in captivity, when they did return to their
native land, and it was possible once more to live in Jerusalem, they
seem to have preferred any other place before it. It was the most
difficult thing to get any of them to consent to take up their abode in
Nehemiah found himself face to face with this difficulty when he had
finished the repairs of the city. The rubbish was cleared away, the
walls were built, the gates were set up, the fortresses were
strengthened, but the city itself was nowhere. Here and there houses
were scattered about, here and there was a group of buildings, but
inside the walls were many great empty spaces, large pieces of
The walls had been set up on the old sites, and were about four miles in
circumference. It was a large space to fill, and, as Nehemiah looked
round, he saw that whilst the city was imposing from without, it was a
bare, miserable place inside.
'The city was large and great; but the people were few therein, and the
houses were not builded.'
Not only so, not only was the city unsightly, but there were not enough
inhabitants to protect the walls. In case of an attack, what would be
done? Four miles of wall was a long space to guard and defend, how could
more hands be secured? It was absolutely necessary that Jerusalem should
have a larger population.
Yet Nehemiah found that no one wished to move from the country places
round, and to come into Jerusalem. Every town, every village in Judea
was more popular than the capital. They had rather live in sultry
Jericho than on the mountain heights of Jerusalem; they preferred stony
Bethel to the vine-clad hills of the City of God; they had rather live
in the tiny insignificant village of Anathoth than in the capital
Why was this? Why had the Jews of Nehemiah's day such an objection to
living in Jerusalem? Why, after longing for Jerusalem all the time of
the captivity, did they shrink from it on their return?
The reason was this. Jerusalem had become the point of danger. All round
the returned captives were enemies. The Samaritans, the Moabites, the
Ammonites, the Edomites, and a host of others were ready at any moment
to pounce down upon the Jews. In case of an attack from their united
forces, what would be the mark at which all these enemies would aim?
What place would have to bear the whole force of the attack? Jerusalem
itself. They would pass by Jericho, Bethel, and Anathoth, as places
beneath their notice, but they would all make for Jerusalem. To live in
the capital was consequently to live in constant danger and in constant
fear. So it is not to be wondered at that they avoided it, and that they
settled down in the villages and left the capital to take care of
Nehemiah sees that steps must be taken to put a stop to this state of
things. In order to bring about the end he had in view, he first took a
census of the whole nation, and then he required each town and district
to send a tenth of its people to live in Jerusalem.
But of whom was the tenth to consist? How should the number of those who
were to migrate to the capital be chosen? It was done by lot; they drew
lots who were to go and who were to stay. This was probably done in the
usual Jewish way, by means of pebbles. The people of a village would be
divided into tens, then a bag would be brought out containing nine
dark-coloured pebbles and one white one. The ten men would all draw from
the bag, and the man who drew the white pebble would be the one who was
to remove to Jerusalem. By this means the capital would be provided with
about 20,000 inhabitants, and would be in a condition to defend itself
No doubt there was much grumbling, and there were many groans and
complaints when the lots were drawn, and those who drew the white stone
found they must give up their little farms, their pretty country houses,
the homes they had learnt to love so well and which they had built for
themselves and their children, the vineyards which their own hands had
planted, the olive yards and fig groves of which they had been so proud,
and which had been so profitable to them, that they must give up all
these which had been so dear to them and move at once into the city in
which they would be in constant danger.
But there were certain brave volunteers. Besides those on whom the lot
fell, a certain number came forward and offered to go of their own free
will and choice to live in the capital. They would break up their
country homes, and for love of their country and love of Jerusalem would
move into the Holy City. The post of danger was the post which most
needed them, and they were not afraid to go to it. Brave, noble men and
women, no wonder that we read that blessings were called down upon them
by the rest of their countrymen. 'And the people blessed all the men
that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem,' Neh. xi. 2.
But those brave Jews, who are mentioned here with so much honour, are
not the only ones who of their own free will and choice have gone with
open eyes to the point of danger.
Fourteen thousand pounds arrived in the course of a few days at a
certain house in London, the office of the Church Missionary Society.
One person sent L5,000 with no name, only a day or two afterwards
another sent a second L5,000, whilst L4,000 was contributed in smaller
For what purpose was this immense sum of money sent? It was forwarded to
the Society in consequence of a very famous letter which appeared in the
_Daily Telegraph_ of November 15, 1876. This letter was written by Dr.
Stanley, the great African traveller. It told of a new country he had
discovered in the heart of Africa, a country inhabited by a nation
clothed and living in houses, and reigned over by a king of some
intelligence named Mtesa. Dr. Stanley had talked to this man, he had
shown him his Bible, and told him something of Christianity, and in this
letter in the _Daily Telegraph_ Dr. Stanley stated that King Mtesa was
ready and willing to receive Christian teachers, if any were prepared to
go out to his kingdom of Uganda.
The result of that letter was, that in a few days no less than L14,000
was sent to the Church Missionary Society, in order that they might have
the means to establish a mission by the shores of the Victoria Nyanza. A
committee meeting was accordingly held, and the Society declared
themselves ready to take up the work.
The money was forthcoming, but a great difficulty stared them in the
face. Where were the men? Who would be found willing to go to such a
place as the heart of Africa? The climate was most trying and dangerous
for Europeans, the food was bad and scanty, and, worst of all, the
country was so unsafe that all who went must go with their life in their
hands, feeling that at any moment they might be attacked and murdered by
Would any offer for such a post of danger? Would any be found willing to
volunteer for the work, would any be ready to leave their safe,
comfortable homes in England to take up their abode in Uganda?
Yes, men were found who willingly offered themselves for the work. Eight
noble men at once came forward. A young naval officer, Lieutenant Smith;
a clergyman from Manchester, Mr. Wilson; an Irish architect, Mr.
O'Neill; a Scotch engineer, Mr. Mackay; a doctor from Edinburgh, Dr.
Smith; a railway contractor's engineer, Mr. Clark, and two working men,
a blacksmith and a builder.
'And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to
dwell' in Uganda.
A meeting was held in the Church Missionary Society's house, to bid them
farewell and to pray for a blessing on their work. Then each of the
eight volunteers was asked to say a few words to the friends who were
taking leave of them. Mr. Mackay, the young engineer, was the last to
speak. Looking round on those who were sending him out, he said:
'There is one thing which my brethren have not said, and which I want to
say. I want to remind the Committee that within six months they will
probably hear that one of us is dead.'
There was a great silence in the room as he spoke these startling words.
'Yes,' he went on, 'is it at all likely that eight Englishmen should
start for Central Africa and all be alive six months after? One of us at
least--it may be I--will surely fall before that. But what I want to say
is this, when the news comes do not be cast down, but send some one else
immediately to take the vacant place.'
Mr. Mackay was not wrong. One of the eight, the builder, died as soon as
he landed in Africa. The seven others set off for the interior to find
the country of King Mtesa. Two of these, Mackay the engineer, and
Robertson the blacksmith, were taken so ill with fever that they were
compelled to go back to the coast.
It was a long wearisome journey, of from four to five months, from the
coast to Victoria Nyanza; for a little way they were able to go in a
boat which they had brought with them from England, but after a short
distance they were obliged to leave the river, and, taking their boat to
pieces, to carry it with them through the tangled forest. When they
arrived at a place named Mpwapwa, it seemed such a good field for
missionary labour that one of their number, Mr. Clark, was left to begin
missionary work there, whilst the rest pressed forward to Uganda.
The great lake at last came in sight, and they were cheered by the sight
of its blue waters. But, when they arrived on its shores, the naval
officer and the doctor were both very ill; for thirty-one days they had
been carried by the porters, being quite unable to walk, and only a few
months after their arrival at the south end of the lake the young doctor
died. He was worn to a skeleton, and suffered terribly. The three who
remained buried him by the side of the lake, and put a heap of stones
over his grave. On a slab of limestone they carved--
M.B. EDN., C.M.S.
DIED MAY 11, 1877,
AGED 25 YEARS.'
Now, only the clergyman, the architect, and the naval officer were left
to carry on the work. But that very same year, in December, a quarrel
broke out between two tribes living at the south of the lake. A man
named Songoro, who had been friendly to the missionaries, fled to them
for protection. They were at once surrounded by a party of the natives,
and, on refusing to give up Songoro to his enemies, Lieutenant Smith and
Mr. O'Neill, together with all the men who were with them, were
murdered on December 7.
Only two days before, Lieutenant Smith had written a letter to a friend
in England, in which were these words:
'One feels very near to heaven here, for who knows what a day may bring
Only one of the five who had arrived at the lake was now left, Mr.
Wilson, the clergyman. But, thank God, man after man has offered himself
to fill up the vacant places. Some have fallen, some still remain,
The people blessed the men who willingly offered themselves for the post
of danger. Should we not bless them too? Should we not day by day call
down blessings on the brave noble missionaries? Should we not pray for
them, that strength and courage may be given them? Should we not help
them all we can? Let our daily prayer be:
'Lord, bless them all!
Thy workers in the field,
Where'er they be;
Prosper them, Lord, and bless
Their work for Thee--
Lord, bless them all.
Lord, bless them all!
Give them Thy smile to-day,
Cheer each faint heart,
More of Thy grace, more strength,
Lord, bless them all!'
The post of danger is the post of honour, and at that post of honour Mr.
Mackay, the engineer, died, February 8, 1890. For thirteen years he had
bravely held on to his work. He had never had a holiday, he had never
come home to see his friends. The Secretary of the Church Missionary
Society wrote at last, urging him to come to England for rest and
change. His answer to this letter arrived ten days after the sorrowful
telegram which told of his death. He said, 'But what is this you write;
come home? Surely now, in our terrible dearth of workers, it is not the
time for any one to desert his post. Send us only our first twenty men,
and I may be tempted to come to help you to find the second twenty.'
So he was faithful unto death.
The _people_ blessed the men who willingly offered themselves, and
surely _God_ blessed them too, for 'God loveth a cheerful giver.' He who
gives to God grudgingly, or because he feels obliged to do so, had
better never give at all, for God will not receive the offering. The
money must be willingly given, the service must be cheerfully rendered,
the post of danger must be readily occupied, or God will have nothing to
do with it.
The only giver whose gifts He can receive is the cheerful giver, the one
who willingly offers himself.
To be comfortable is the great aim of our lives and our hearts by
nature. But sometimes God calls us to be uncomfortable, to leave the
cosy home, the bright fireside, the comparative luxury, and to go forth
to the post of danger, or difficulty, or trial.
God grant that we may be amongst the number of those who go forth with a
smiling face amongst the people who willingly offer themselves!
The Holy City.
In the time of the terrible siege of Jerusalem, when the Roman armies
surrounded the city, when famine was killing the Jews by hundreds, and
when every day the enemy seemed more likely to take the city, a strange
thing happened. Some priests were watching, as was their custom, in the
temple courts at dead of night. They had passed through the Beautiful
Gate, crossed the Court of the Women, and had ascended the steps leading
into the inner court, which was close to the Temple itself. Suddenly
they stopped, for the earth shook beneath them, whilst overhead came a
noise as of the rushing of many wings, and a multitude of voices was
heard saying, again and again, the solemn words, 'Let us depart, let us
The angels of God were leaving the doomed city to its fate.
For centuries Jerusalem had been known as the Holy City. Why was it so
called? Not because of its inhabitants, for, instead of being holy, many
of them were sunk in wickedness and impurity. Jerusalem was called the
Holy City simply because of one inhabitant; it was the dwelling-place
of God, and His presence there made it what no other city of the earth
was, the Holy City.
'In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling, place in Zion,'
Psalm lxxvi. 2.
'Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, which dwelleth at Jerusalem,' Psalm
So wrote the Psalmist, and he was right. God had chosen Jerusalem as His
home on earth, His abiding-place, His dwelling; and so long as _He_
remained there, Jerusalem and all its surroundings was holy. The
mountain on which it stood was the Holy Mountain; the city itself was
the Holy City; the courts of the temple were the Holy Place, the temple
itself was the Most Holy Place, whilst the inner sanctuary, in which
God's glory appeared, was the Holy of Holies.
But at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, God was leaving the city, it
was no longer to be His dwelling-place, and consequently it was no
longer to be called the Holy City. And therefore it was that the holy
angels cried aloud to one another, Let us depart, for it is a holy city
no longer, God has deserted it; it is His no more.
But in Nehemiah's day, Jerusalem, in spite of her sins, was still the
Holy City. We find her twice called so in his book, Neh. xi. 1, 18, and
inasmuch as it was the Holy City, God's home on earth, His special
property, His constant dwelling-place, Nehemiah felt it was only right
that, as soon as the city was finished, as soon as all within its walls
was set in order, the city and all it contained should be dedicated to
the service of that God to whom it belonged.
Accordingly, as we visit Jerusalem in thought, we find the people busily
preparing for a great and glorious day; they are going, by means of a
grand and imposing ceremonial, to dedicate the city to God.
It is nearly thirteen years since the walls were finished and the gates
set up. Why then did not Nehemiah hold the service of dedication before?
Why did he allow so long a time to elapse before he summoned the people
to put the finishing touch to their work by laying it at the feet of
The Tirshatha had probably two good reasons for the delay. In the first
place, there was much to do inside the city after the walls and gates
were finished; the city itself had to be rebuilt, strengthened, and put
into order. Then he probably dare not attempt such a grand celebration
without special leave from Persia. If he made a great demonstration of
any kind, it would be easy for the Samaritans to put their own
construction upon it, and to write off at once to Persia to accuse him
of setting up the standard of rebellion. It was, therefore, advisable to
obtain direct permission for such a step from Artaxerxes himself. Now
the city is in order, the necessary precautions have been taken, and
Nehemiah feels that there is nothing to hinder the holding of the solemn
ceremonial of the dedication of the Holy City to God.
Who are these men who are arriving by companies at all the different
gates of Jerusalem? They are the Levites, coming up from all parts of
the country to the service of dedication. They are carrying with them
various musical instruments--cymbals, trumpets, psalteries and
harps--old instruments used by King David, and some of them evidently
invented by him and bearing his name, for we find them called, in xii.
'The musical instruments of David, the man of God.'
These are to be used in the grand service which is about to take place.
Many new musical instruments had been invented since the time of David,
and the Jews of the captivity had seen and used these in Babylon and
Shushan. We read, in the Book of Daniel, of the cornet, the flute, the
sackbut, the dulcimer; all these instruments were familiar to the Jews
of Nehemiah's day. But we do not find one of these newly invented
instruments in use at this grand service. They cling to the old
instruments, used in the first temple, dear to their hearts as being
connected with King David, and as having been used by their fathers
before them, ver. 27.
Not only the musicians, but the singers are called together from the
valleys round Jerusalem, in which the temple choir had chosen to live,
in order that they might go up by turn to lead the temple singing, xii.
When all who were to take part in the service had assembled, there was a
great sprinkling. The priests and the Levites purified themselves, and
purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.
A red heifer (see Num. xix.) was led by one of the priests outside the
city. There she was killed, her blood was caught in a basin, and was
sprinkled seven times before the temple. Then her flesh was burnt
outside the city, and the ashes were carefully collected and mixed with
water. This water was put into a number of basins, and the priests and
Levites went with it up and down the city, sprinkling it first on
themselves, then on the men, women and children in the city, and
afterwards on the wall, and the gates, and all that was to be dedicated
All were to be made pure before they could be used in God's service. The
Great Master cannot use dirty vessels; they are not fit for His use,
they cannot do His work.
If you want God to use you in His service, you must first be sprinkled,
made pure from all defilement of sin. Until this has been done you
cannot do one single thing to please God; until you have been cleansed,
it is impossible for you to work for God.
How, then, can we be cleansed? How can we be made vessels meet for the
Master's use, fit for the service of God? Thank God, we have a better
way of cleansing than by washing in the ashes of a heifer.
'For if the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to
the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ,
who, through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God,
purge your conscience from dead works _to serve the living God?_' Heb.
ix. 13, 14.
The blood must be sprinkled, the conscience must be purged, then begins
the service of the living God; all works before that are dead, works of
no avail, utterly worthless and good for nothing, in the Master's
When all was ready and the purification was complete, the great company
of the musicians met in the temple courts. The blast of the priests'
trumpets was heard on one side, and on the other the sweet melodious
songs of the white-robed minstrels.
When all were in order they marched to the Valley Gate, on the western
side of the city. Here Nehemiah divided them into two companies, in
order that they might make the circuit of the city, walking in gay
procession on the top of the new walls. One company was to go north and
the other south, walking round the city until they met on the other
side; whilst all the people stood below, watching the progress of the
two processions, each of which was formed of singers, nobles and
priests, who were dressed in white and flowing robes.
It must have been a grand and imposing sight, as the bright Eastern sun
streamed on the dazzling white of their fine linen, and made their
instruments glitter and shine. Then there was the sound of glorious
music, which seemed to encircle the city in a wave of rejoicing and
song. Everyone made merry that day, and no wonder; it was a day to be
The order of each procession was as follows. First and foremost went a
band of musicians with their various instruments. Then followed a small
company of princes, the finest men in the nation, arrayed in all the
brilliance of Eastern costume, and bringing up the rear were seven
priests, bearing trumpets. Each procession had a leader, Nehemiah
conducted one, and Ezra the scribe the other.
Ezra's procession proceeded southward, and then eastward. They passed
the Dung Gate, whence was swept out the refuse of the city. Then they
came to the Fountain Gate, opposite to the Pool of Siloam, and here they
descended by steps in the Tower of Siloam. They probably came down in
order that they might dedicate the buildings over the Pool of Siloam and
the Dragon Well, and then they climbed to the top of the wall again, by
the steps that went up to that part of Jerusalem called the City of
David. From thence Ezra's procession moved on to the eastern wall, where
they were to meet the other party.
Nehemiah's company, on leaving the Valley Gate, turned northward, passed
the Tower of the Furnaces, went across the Broad Wall, which was almost
the only piece of the old wall still standing, passed the Gate of
Ephraim, the Old Gate, the Tower of Hananeel, the Tower of Meah, the
Sheep Gate, and so down to the temple, and the gate named the Prison
Gate, because it opened upon a street leading to the court of the
Then, somewhere near the Water Gate, the two processions met, and
marched together into the court of the temple, the two bands now joining
together in a united glorious strain, whilst the two companies of
singers formed again one enormous united choir, and filled the temple
courts with their harmonious song.
'So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of
God,' xii. 40.
Not a voice was silent, there was no idle person in the choir. Headed by
their choir-master they did their utmost to praise the Lord.
'The singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer.'
Nor were the musical people the only ones who showed their joy that
happy day. For, as the priests offered great sacrifices, the rejoicing
was both universal and tremendous. 'For God had made them rejoice with
great joy.' Not the men alone, but the wives and the children, so that
'The joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.'
Women's tears, how often we read of them in the Bible! Rachel weeps
over her children and will not be comforted, Hagar lifts up her voice
and weeps over her son, Naomi weeps as she comes back to her desolate
home, Hannah weeps as she kneels in the tabernacle court, the widow
weeps as she follows her only son to the grave, and the company of women
weep as Jesus of Nazareth is led out to the cross.
So many women's tears, so very few women's smiles; so much mourning and
lamentation, so very little happiness and rejoicing. But, on this day of
dedication, the wives were as merry and glad as the husbands, and even
the children took part in the general joy.
It is interesting to notice that the Book of Psalms was the national
song-book of the Jewish nation, a large number of the Psalms having been
composed for special occasions, in order to commemorate certain
memorable days in the history of the nation.
One Psalm, namely Psalm cxlvii., was probably composed in the time of
Nehemiah, in order that it might be sung at the dedication of the walls.
Ver. 1: 'Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our
God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.
Ver. 2: 'The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: He gathereth together the
outcasts of Israel.'
Ver. 12: 'Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
Ver. 13: 'For He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; He hath
blessed thy children within thee.'
There follows in the Psalm a curious mention of snow and ice. The
dedication of the city took place late in the year, and probably
Jerusalem was white with snow as the singers in their white robes went
round the walls, the snow being a glorious emblem of the purification
which had just taken place. White as snow,--white in the blood.
Vers. 16-18: 'He giveth snow like wool: He scattereth the hoar frost
like ashes. He casteth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before
His cold? He sendeth out His word, and melteth them. He causeth His wind
to blow, and the waters flow.'
Surely as the people rejoiced on the day that the city was finished,
they must have remembered the words of old Daniel the prophet, written
whilst they were in captivity, a hundred years before this time.
For what had Daniel declared? He had foretold that his nation should
return from captivity, and that Jerusalem should be restored.
'The street shalt be built again, and the wall, even in troublous
Nehemiah's work was evidently revealed to Daniel, and he was also told
something about Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the other troublers of the
Then, says Daniel, as soon as the command goes forth to build Jerusalem,
then can you begin to reckon the time to the coming of the Messiah, only
a limited and stated time must then elapse before the Christ, the
Saviour of Israel, shall appear (Dan. ix. 25).
No wonder then that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off that day, as
they thought of the good days that were coming. The word of the living
God had come true, the street was built, the wall was built, now they
had only to wait for the fulfilment of the rest of the prophecy, for
the coming of their own Messiah and King.
We should all like to have stood in Jerusalem on that joyous dedication
day, and watched the glorious procession entering the temple on Mount
Zion. But we shall see one day a far grander procession than that.
The leader of that procession will ride on a white horse. His eyes will
be as a flame of fire, on His head will be many crowns, His name will be
King of kings and Lord of lords. He will be followed in the procession
by the armies of heaven, on white horses, clothed in fine linen, clean
and white (Rev. xix.)
Coming down to earth, His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of
Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and then passing through
the Golden Gate, the King and His followers will enter Jerusalem.
Then again Jerusalem will become the Holy City, for from that day the
name of the city shall be 'The Lord is there,' Ezek. xlviii. 35.
So soon as the Lord, who deserted Jerusalem, returns to her, she must
become once more the Holy City. Even upon the bells of the horses and
the vessels of the temple shall then be inscribed, Holiness to the Lord;
all dedicated to Him and to His service.
Then indeed shall the glad cry go up:
'Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion, put on thy beautiful
garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more
come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.'
Then again, in that glad day, the joy of Jerusalem shall be heard afar
off, for God Himself will call upon all to rejoice with her.
'Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her:
rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her,' Isa. lxvi. 10.
And the King Himself will lead the rejoicing:
'And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people: and the voice of
weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying,' Isa.
Shall we indeed take part in that grand procession? Shall we stand with
the King of Glory on Olivet? Shall we pass within the gate into the
city? It all depends upon whether we are sprinkled, made pure, washed
white in the blood of the Lamb. Only those who were purified could take
part in Nehemiah's procession; only sprinkled ones, cleansed by Christ,
will be allowed to join in the song of rejoicing, when the Lord comes to
reign in Jerusalem gloriously.
If we are indeed His redeemed ones, let us keep the blessed hope of that
day ever before us. Let it cheer us as we are tossed to and fro on the
waves of this troublesome world.
'Courage! oh, have courage,
For soon His feet shall stand
Upon the Mount of Olives,
In the glorious Promised Land;
For the Prince of Peace is coming,
With pomp and royal state,
To pass, with all His followers,
Within the Golden Gate.
Courage! oh, have courage!
For the time it is not long,
E'en now across the mountains
Comes a distant sound of song;
The dreary night is closing,
'Tis near the break of day,
And thy King, the King of Glory,
Will soon be on His way.'
Having no Root.
The sky is brilliant and cloudless, the snow-clad mountains stand out
clear in the distance, the air is laden with the scent of orange and
lemon groves, and the sweet fragrance of thousands of lilies. Nehemiah
the Tirshatha is once more in Shushan; his feet are treading again, as
in days gone by, the streets of the capital of Persia.
It is thirteen years since he left the City of Lilies with his brother
Hanani, in order that he might go to Jerusalem, and do his utmost to
improve the ruined and desolate city. He has returned with his work
accomplished. The walls are built, the gates are set up, the bare spaces
in the city have been built over, the whole place has been strongly
fortified, the people have been brought back to their allegiance to God,
and, as the topstone of his work, he has seen, just before his departure
for Persia, the city and all it contained dedicated to the service of
the Great King.
Very glad, very thankful is Nehemiah, as he enters once more the
glorious palace on the top of the hill, and stands before his master
Artaxerxes, the long-handed, to give in his report of all he has done
since the king gave him leave to return to his native land.
Nehemiah finds himself once more surrounded by luxury and refinement and
beauty. What is Jerusalem compared with Shushan? Surely, now his work is
accomplished, he will settle down to a life of ease in Persia, where he
may dwell free from fear or anxiety or care, eating the dainties from
the king's table, and partaking of all the pleasures of an Eastern
court. After the rough life he has led during the last thirteen years,
after the perils he has undergone, and the difficulties he has
surmounted, he may surely retire, now that his work has been so happily
accomplished, and spend the remainder of his life in peace and comfort.
But no; Nehemiah's heart was in Jerusalem, he preferred Jerusalem above
his chief joy. All the time he had been absent he had been hungering for
news, and receiving none; there were no posts across the vast deserts,