Part 3 out of 3
nor did he live in these luxurious days when the heartache of anxiety
may be relieved and set at rest by a telegram. What had been going on in
his absence? Were the Samaritans quiet, or had Sanballat and Tobiah
taken the opportunity afforded by his absence, and invaded Jerusalem?
And the people; how were they? Were they keeping the solemn covenant
which had been sealed in his presence? Were they continuing to serve and
obey the Heavenly King? All this, and much more, Nehemiah longed to
He is therefore only too thankful when, after spending a year in Persia,
Artaxerxes gives him leave to return as governor of Jerusalem.
'In the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, King of Babylon, came I
unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king.
'After certain days.' This is a common expression in the Bible for a
year. The same Hebrew word is translated a whole year in many other
passages, _e.g._ Lev. xxv. 29, Num. ix. 22. Thus we may safely conclude
that a year was the length of time that Nehemiah was absent from
As soon as he had received the king's permission, Nehemiah left the
lovely City of Lilies behind, and set out once more across the desert
for Jerusalem. Probably no one there knew when he was coming, or whether
he was coming at all. When Nehemiah left the city he possibly had no
idea that he would be allowed to return, but expected that his royal
master would again require his services as Rab-shakeh in the palace of
Shushan; nor was it likely that any news had reached the city of the
permission given him to return. Suddenly, one day, a small cavalcade of
camels, mules, and donkeys arrived at the northern gate, and the news
spread through the city that Nehemiah the governor had returned. Was
this intelligence received with unmixed joy and thankfulness, or were
there some in the city to whom it came as anything but pleasant tidings?
No sooner has the governor arrived than he begins to look round the
city, to see and to inquire how all has been going on in his absence. He
goes up to the temple, and no sooner has he entered the gate leading
into the outer court, than he notices that the whole appearance of the
place is changed. The temple enclosure looks empty and deserted; a few
priests in their white robes are moving about, but where is the company
of Levites who used to wait upon them, and help them in their work?
Nehemiah had left no less than 284 Levites in the temple, now he cannot
see one of them. And, not only does he miss those Levites, whose duty it
was to attend upon the priests, but he misses also the temple singers;
the sons of Asaph and their companions are nowhere to be seen. The
temple choir has entirely disappeared, and the services have accordingly
languished. As Nehemiah looks round the whole place appears to him
quiet, empty, and dismal. Nothing seems to be going on, all is
apparently at a standstill.
Nehemiah feels sure that something is wrong, and the further he goes
into the temple area the more convinced he is that he is not mistaken.
Passing through the Beautiful Gate, he crosses the Court of the Women,
and ascends the steps into the Court of Israel, where stands the temple
Into the temple Nehemiah cannot pass, for none but the priests may enter
the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. But round the temple building there
had been erected an out-building or lean-to which surrounded the temple
on three sides, and which was made up of three stories, each containing
a number of rooms, some smaller, some larger. Just such an out-building
as this had been made by Solomon in the first temple (1 Kings vi. 5-10),
and the builders of the new temple had copied the idea, and had put up a
similar lean-to against the outer walls.
In these rooms or chambers were kept all the stores belonging to the
temple. The corn, and wine, and oil belonging to the priests and
Levites; the first-fruits and free-will offerings brought by the people
for the temple service; and the meat-offerings, which were cakes made
of fine flour, salt, and oil. One of these cakes was offered twice a
day, at the morning and evening sacrifice, besides on many other
occasions, and with several other sacrifices; so that it was necessary
to have a number of them always ready for use. In these chambers was
also stored the frankincense, of which a large quantity was used every
day, for a handful of it was burnt on the altar of incense both morning
and night. This frankincense was very costly; it was brought on camels'
backs from Arabia, where it was obtained by making incisions in the bark
of a tree which grew in no other country. Out of these incisions oozed
the gummy juice of the tree, and from this was made the frankincense. It
was very rare, and could only be obtained occasionally, and therefore it
was important to store it carefully in the temple.
Nehemiah wonders if the stores of the temple are in good condition, and
he throws open the door of one of the chambers, to see if its contents
are plentiful and well-stored. As he does so, he starts back in dismay.
The whole place is altered, utterly and completely transformed. The
small rooms have all been thrown into one vast chamber, the partition
walls have been removed, the corn, the wine, the oil, the frankincense,
and all the other stores are nowhere to be seen, they have all been
cleared away; the vessels in use in the temple, the knives for cutting
up the sacrifices, the censers for incense, the priests' robes and other
garments have all disappeared. There is not one single thing to be found
which ought to have been found there, and this chamber of the temple,
instead of being a useful and necessary store-house, has become more
like one of the grand reception rooms of the King of Persia, a
luxurious drawing-room, fit for the palace of a king. Gay curtains cover
the walls, costly furniture is set in order round the large room, the
softest of divans, the most comfortable of cushions, the most elaborate
ornaments and decorations surround Nehemiah on all sides, as he stands
amazed and disconsolate in their midst.
Nehemiah calls one of the priests, and inquires the meaning of this
extraordinary change in the building. He is told, to his horror, that
this grand reception room has actually been made for the use and
convenience of Tobiah the secretary. Tobiah the heathen, Tobiah, who had
mocked them as they built the walls, and who had done all that was in
his power ever since to annoy and to hinder Nehemiah and his helpers.
This splendid apartment has actually been made and fitted up, in order
that Tobiah may have a grand place in which to dwell, and in which to
entertain his friends whenever he chooses to pay a visit to Jerusalem.
What an abominable thing is this, which the poor governor has
discovered! For was not this Tobiah an Ammonite, a Gentile? and as such
Nehemiah knew perfectly well he had no right to set his foot in the
Court of the Women, or the Court of Israel; much less then had he the
right to enter the temple building.
Where is Eliashib the high priest? How is it that he has not put a stop
to this proceeding? Nehemiah finds, to his dismay, that Eliashib has
actually been the very one who has had this chamber prepared. The very
man who was responsible for the temple, and who had, by his office, the
right and the power to shut out from the holy building all that was
evil, had been the man to introduce Tobiah the heathen, with marked
honour, into the temple itself.
Eliashib had begun well. Earnestly and heartily he had helped in
building the walls; he had actually led the band of workers, and had
been the very first to begin to build, chap. iii. 1.
But Eliashib had a grandson named Manasseh, and this young man had made
what he thought a very good match. Priest though he was, he had married
the daughter of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, a heathen girl, who
was rich and possibly good-looking, and whose father was the most
powerful man in the country, but who did not fear or own the God of
Israel. And the grandfather, so far from forbidding the marriage, seems
to have connived at it and sanctioned it.
Nay, he seems not only to have allowed himself to be allied with
Sanballat the governor, but also with Tobiah the secretary, chap. xiii.
4. In what way he was connected by marriage we are not told, but
inasmuch as both Tobiah and his son had married Jewish wives, one or
both of these may have been closely related to the high priest, chap.
vi. 17, 18. So the friendship with the Samaritans had grown; Eliashib
had probably visited Samaria, and had been made much of and royally
entertained by Sanballat and his secretary; and in proportion as his
friendship with the heathen had grown warm, his love and earnestness in
the Lord's service had grown cold.
In the latter part of the Book of Nehemiah we never find Eliashib coming
forward as a helper in any good work. Ezra stands in the huge pulpit to
read the law of God, thirteen of the chief men in Jerusalem stand by
him to help him, but Eliashib the high priest, who surely should have
been well to the front in that pulpit, is conspicuous by his absence.
How could he stand up and read the law to the people, when he knew, and
they knew, that he was not keeping it himself?
Nehemiah draws up a covenant between the people and their God, in which
they promise to obey God and keep His commandments. No less than
eighty-four seals are fastened to that document, but not one of those
seals bears the name of Eliashib.
How could he engage to keep that covenant, one article of which was a
promise to have nothing to do with the heathen, when at the very time he
was living on the most friendly terms with both Sanballat and Tobiah?
Then comes the grand service of dedication, when the city and all it
contained was devoted to God. Not a single mention is made of Eliashib
in the account of the services of the day. Many priests are mentioned by
name, but the high priest, who, we should have expected, would have
taken a prominent part in the proceedings, is never heard of throughout.
Eliashib's connection with the heathen had made him cold and remiss in
the service of God. It is no wonder then that so soon as Nehemiah went
away, and the restraint of his presence was removed, Eliashib did worse
than ever, and at length actually entertained Tobiah in the temple
But poor Nehemiah had not come to the end of his painful discoveries. He
inquired next what had become of all the stores of corn and wine
belonging to the Levites, all the tithes which the people were
accustomed to bring to the temple for their support, and which, in that
solemn covenant, they had so faithfully promised to supply. Since these
stores have been removed from the place which was built on purpose to
receive them, Nehemiah wishes to know what new store-house has been
prepared for them. But the governor finds, to his sorrow and dismay,
that no sooner was his back turned upon Jerusalem, than the people had
ceased to bring their tithes and their contributions for the house of
It was not surprising then that Nehemiah found the temple so deserted.
How could the Levites serve, how could the choir sing unless they were
fed? They could not live on air, no food was provided for them; what
could they do but take care of themselves? In order to save themselves
from utter starvation, they had been driven to leave the temple, and to
go to their fields and small farms in the country, which they had been
accustomed to cultivate only at such times as they were not engaged in
the work of the temple (Num. xxxv. 2). Now they were compelled to resort
to these fields, as a means of keeping themselves and their families
from beggary. No wonder then that few were found ready to help in the
The first Sabbath after Nehemiah's arrival, he sets out, with an anxious
heart, to see how it is kept by his fellow-countrymen. In the solemn
covenant the people had promised carefully to observe the day of rest.
They have broken their word in the matter of the tithes; have they kept
their promise with regard to the Sabbath?
Nehemiah, as he walks through the city on the Sabbath day, finds a
regular market going on in the streets. He is horrified to find that all
manner of fruit and all kinds of food are being bought and sold, as on
any other day of the week. Wine, and oil, and merchandise of all kinds
is being bargained for, and the streets are filled with the noisy cries
and shouts of the sellers and purchasers.
Going on to the Fish Gate, Nehemiah finds that a colony of heathen
Tyrians have come to live there, in order that they may hold a
fish-market close to the gate. The fish was caught by their
fellow-countrymen in Tyre and Sidon, and was sent down to Jerusalem
slightly salted, in order to preserve it from corruption. Nehemiah finds
that these Tyrians are doing a grand traffic in salted fish, especially
on the Sabbath day. The Jews loved fish, and always have loved it. How
they enjoyed it in Egypt, how they longed for it in the wilderness!
'We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely.'
So they sighed, and murmured, as they thought of their lost luxuries.
There was nothing a Jew liked so well for his Sabbath dinner as a piece
of fish; and, therefore, on the Sabbath, the Tyrians found they did more
business than on any other day.
As Nehemiah leaves the city by the Fish Gate, he meets donkeys and mules
bringing in sheaves of corn, or laden with paniers containing figs, and
grapes, and melons; he meets men laden with all kinds of burdens, and
women bringing in the country produce that they may sell it in the
streets of Jerusalem.
Then, passing on into the fields, he notices that work is going on as
usual. They are tilling the ground, gathering in the corn, pruning the
vines, and standing bare-footed in the winepresses to tread out the
juice of the grapes.
So the promise about the Sabbath has been kept no better than the other
promise; the covenant has been totally disregarded.
Turning homewards, Nehemiah discovers that the remaining article of the
agreement has also been broken. For, as he passes through the streets,
and listens to the children at play, he finds that some of the little
ones are talking a language he cannot understand. Here and there he
catches a Jewish word, but most of their talk is entirely unintelligible
to him. On inquiring into the reason of this, he is told that these
children have Jewish fathers but Philistine mothers, and that they are
being brought up to talk the language and learn the religion of their
heathen parent. They are making for themselves a strange dialect, a
mixture of the two languages they have spoken; it is half Jewish, half
'Their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak
in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people,'
Poor Nehemiah must have been filled with sorrow and bitter
disappointment, as he found Jerusalem and its people in such a
disgraceful condition. He had left the holy city like the garden of the
Lord, he comes back to find the trail of the serpent all over his
paradise. They did so well whilst he was there, they wandered to the
right hand and the left so soon as he was parted from them.
Nor is Nehemiah the only one who has had this bitter disappointment;
many a parent, many a teacher, many a friend can enter into his
feelings, for they have gone through the same.
The young King Joash 'did that which was right in the sight of the Lord
all the days of Jehoiada the priest.' But as soon as the old man was in
his grave all was changed, and he did instead that which was evil.
And Joash has many followers, those who do well so long as they are
under good and holy influence, and who do so badly when that influence
The young man, with the anxious, careful mother, who does so well as
long as she lives, and who wanders from the right path as soon as she is
taken from him; the young woman, who, whilst living under her parents'
roof, sheltered and guarded by wise restrictions from all that would
harm her, seems not far from the Kingdom of God, but, who, leaving home
and becoming her own mistress, drifts into frivolity and carelessness;
the man or woman who, when removed from good and holy influence, falls
away from God and goes backwards; all these are followers of Joash, all
these cause pain and distress to those who watch over their souls.
What is the reason of this sad change? Why is it that some only stand
firm so long as they are under the care and influence of others? The
Master has answered the question. He tells us the reason.
'These have no root.'
Last Christmas we had in our house a large green fir-tree. It reached
from the floor to the ceiling, and spread its branches abroad in all
directions. It stood well and firmly; it had all the appearance of
growing; it held its head erect, and seemed as likely to stand as any of
the trees outside in the garden.
But our tree only stood for a time. So long as the heavy weights and
props which held it up remained, so long as the strings, which were
tightly tied to nails in the wall, were uncut; just so long the tree
remained upright and unmoved. But the very instant that the props and
supports were taken away our tree came down with a crash.
What was the reason of its downfall? Why did the trees in the garden
stand unsupported, and yet this tree fell so soon as its props were
The answer is clear and simple. The trees in the garden had each of them
a root, our Christmas tree had no root. Having no root, it was
impossible for it to stand alone.
There is, alas, plenty of no-root religion now-a-days. We see around us
too many whose godliness is dependent on their surroundings and their
circumstances. They mean well, they try to do right, but there it ends.
They have no root; the heart is unchanged, unconverted, unrenewed. Their
religion is merely a surface religion.
So they for a time believe, for a time do well, for a time appear to be
true Christians, but in time of temptation they fall away. Their
'goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.'
If we would stand firm, we must see to it that our religion goes deep
enough. I myself must be made new if I am to grow in grace; my heart
must be Christ's if I am to stand firm in the faith.
'As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.
Rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith.'
What an objection some people have to strong measures! They see around
them, amongst those under their influence, a great deal going on which
is downright evil. You call upon them to put a stop to it, and to do all
in their power to prevent it.
But what do they say? They tell you they will go gently and quietly to
work; but they do not like to hurt other people's feelings, or to tread
upon their prejudices. They have no objection to try gradually, quietly,
and gently, to turn the tide of evil into a good and holy channel, but
they hate and abominate anything in the shape of strong measures.
And yet there are cases where nothing short of strong measures will be
of any avail. Here is a man who has a diseased hand. For some time the
doctor has been trying gentle remedies: the poultice, the plaster, the
fomentation, have all been tried. But now the doctor sees a change in
the appearance of the hand. He sees very clearly that mortification is
setting in. No poultice, no plaster, no fomentation will be of any avail
now, nothing but the knife, nothing but cutting off the limb will save
the man's life. What a foolish doctor he would be, who should refuse in
such a case to take strong measures!
The great reformer, Martin Luther, looked around him, and what did he
see? The whole civilized world a slave at the feet of one man, the Pope
of Rome, obeying that man as if he were God; believing every word that
came from his mouth, following carefully in his footsteps as he led them
Luther feels nothing will do but strong measures. He will not go gently
and quietly to work in his reform, for he feels that would be of no use;
the case is so serious that nothing but a strong and decided step will
answer the purpose. His strong step consisted in the making of a
bonfire. On December 10, 1520, as the students of the great University
at Wittenburg came to the college, they found fastened to the walls a
notice inviting them and the professors, and all who liked to come, to
meet Martin Luther at the east gate of the college at nine o'clock the
Full of curiosity, they assembled in great numbers to find a bonfire,
and Luther standing by it with a paper in his hand. That paper was a
letter from the Pope to Luther, telling him that if he did not recant
from all he was teaching in less than sixty days, the Pope would give
him over to Satan. After reading the letter to the assembled crowd,
Luther solemnly threw it into the flames and watched it burn to ashes,
that all might see how little he cared for the Pope or his threats. From
that time there could be no more peace between Luther and Rome.
It was certainly a strong measure, and Luther owns that he had to make a
great effort to force himself to take it. He says: 'When I burnt the
bull, it was with inward fear and trembling, but I look upon that act
with more pleasure than upon any passage of my life.' For Luther felt,
and felt rightly, that the glorious Reformation would never have been
brought about unless he had used strong measures.
Nehemiah was the Martin Luther of his age, the great reformer of his
nation, and never did he feel the need of strong measure to be so great,
as when he came back to Jerusalem after his absence in Persia.
Four glaring evils were staring him in the face.
(1) In the temple itself a grand reception room had been prepared for
Tobiah the Ammonite.
(2) The people had refused to pay tithes or contributions to the temple
service, and the Levites had consequently all left the sanctuary.
(3) The Sabbath day was desecrated and profaned; trade went on as usual
both within and without the city.
(4) So common had marriage with heathen people become, that even the
very children in the street were chattering in foreign languages.
Four evils, all of them very serious and deep-rooted, all calling for
instant reformation at his hand.
How does Nehemiah go to work? Does he shrink from giving offence, or
hurting people's feelings, or calling things by their right names? No,
he feels his nation have sinned; the disease of sin is spreading,
mortification is setting in, nothing will do but strong measures. The
offending members must be cut off, that the whole body may be saved.
He begins first with the temple. Going into the inner court, and taking
with him a band of his faithful servants, he throws open the door of the
great store-chamber and begins his work. Indignantly he bids his
servants to clear out all Tobiah's goods, nay, he himself gives a
helping hand, and leads them in the work. The grand divans, the elegant
cushions, the elaborate mats, the bright-coloured curtains are all
dragged out and cast forth outside. And then, when the great chamber is
empty he has it thoroughly cleaned and purified and put in order, to
receive again the temple vessels and stores.
A strong measure certainly, but a very necessary one. If Nehemiah had
stopped to think what Tobiah might happen to say the next time he came
to Jerusalem, or if he had held back because he was afraid of hurting
the feelings of Eliashib the high priest, the sin would never have been
stopped, the temple would never have been cleansed.
St. Paul tells all those who are Christ's, that they themselves are
'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God
dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God
destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.'
Ye are the temple of God, you yourself God's dwelling-place. Examine
then the secret chambers of your heart. Are any of Tobiah's goods there?
Is there any secret sin hidden away in your heart?
If so, be your own Nehemiah; cleanse the chamber of your heart, or
rather cry unto God to do it for you.
'Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.'
This is an all-important matter, for, unless the hidden sin is removed,
you will receive no answer to your prayers, and therefore to attempt to
pray is useless.
'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.'
Then, too, the Holy Spirit will be grieved and will cease to move you,
and without His help you can do nothing; He cannot inhabit that temple
in the secret chambers of which is to be found cherished sin.
In such a case nothing but strong measures will avail. That sin must be
given up, or your soul will be darkened; that chamber must be cleansed,
or the holy presence of the Lord cannot remain.
Do you say, It is hard to give it up, to clear it out; it has become a
second nature to me, and I know not how to rid myself of it?
Surely it is worth making the effort, however much pain and suffering it
may cause. Amputation, however much agony it may entail, is necessary if
mortification has set in.
'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for
it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not
that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand
offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for
thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body
should be cast into hell.'
The first evil has been dealt with and cleared away, Tobiah and his
goods have been cast out of the temple. Nehemiah now passes on to the
next thing which had so greatly shocked him on his arrival in Jerusalem,
namely, the neglect on the part of the people with regard to the payment
of what was due from them for the temple service.
Again Nehemiah takes strong measures. He calls together the rulers, as
the leaders and representatives of the rest, and he gives them very
strongly his mind on the subject. No smooth words or gentle hints will
do. He tells us, 'I contended some time with them' (that is, I reproved
them and argued with them), 'and I said, Why is the house of our God
Then, without waiting for a response to his appeal, he sends round to
all the Levites and singers, bidding them with all haste to come up to
the temple and to take up their work again. And the people, seeing he
was determined, and that there was no possibility of his allowing the
matter to drop, came also, bringing with them the corn, and the wine,
and the oil, with which once more to fill the empty chamber.
'Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the
oil unto the treasuries.'
And, in order to prevent such a thing ever happening again, Nehemiah
appointed treasurers to look after the temple stores. Eliashib the high
priest had been the store-keeper before, xiii. 4, but he had shown
himself unworthy of his office. Four men are accordingly chosen to
collect the stores, and afterwards to deal them out to the priests and
Levites. One is a priest, one a Levite, one a layman of rank, and the
fourth a scribe, ver. 13. Nehemiah tells us why he selected these four
men. 'They were counted faithful,' and as faithful men they could be
thoroughly depended upon.
Now, having set the temple in order, Nehemiah proceeds to fight the
battle with regard to the observance of the Sabbath.
Again he uses strong measures. He once more speaks strongly and hotly
to the nobles, for they had led the van in Sabbath desecration. They
liked the freshest fruit and the daintiest dishes for their Sabbath
feast, and they had, therefore, encouraged the market-people to go on
with their Sabbath trade. Then, as now, there were plenty of people who,
for their own self-pleasing, were ready to argue in favour of the loose
observance of the fourth commandment.
Nehemiah reminds the nobles that the destruction of Jerusalem, the
overthrow of that very city which they were taking so much trouble to
rebuild, had all been brought about through desecration of the Sabbath
For what message had Jeremiah brought their fathers?
'If ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to
bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath
day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour
the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.'
God's word had come true. Their fathers, despising the warning, had
continued to break the Sabbath, and Nebuchadnezzar had burnt and
destroyed the very gates through which the Sabbath burdens had been
carried. What safety, then, could they hope for now, how could they
expect to keep their new gates from destruction, if they followed in the
footsteps of their fathers, and did the very thing that God, by the
mouth of Jeremiah, condemned?
'Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What
evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your
fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon
this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the
But though Nehemiah began by rebuking the nobles, he did not stop here.
He took up the matter with a high hand. He commanded the gate-keepers to
shut the gates on Friday evening, about half-an-hour earlier than usual.
On other nights they were shut as soon as the sun had set, but now
Nehemiah orders them to close the gates on Friday evenings, so soon as
the shadows began to lengthen and the day was drawing to a close. They
were also, in future, to be kept shut the whole of the Sabbath, so that
no mules, or donkeys, or camels, or other beasts of burden, might be
able to enter the city on the holy day.
The little gate, inside the large gate, by means of which
foot-passengers might enter and leave the city, was left open, in order
that people living in the country villages round might be able to come
into the city to attend the temple services. But at this smaller gate
Nehemiah took care to place some of his own trusty servants, and gave
them strict instructions to admit no burdens, no parcel, no goods of any
kind into the city on the Sabbath day, xiii. 19.
Very naturally, the merchants and the salespeople did not like this.
They did a good stroke of business on the Sabbath day, and would not
lose their large profits without a struggle. Accordingly, what do we
find them doing? They were refused admittance into the city, so they set
up their stalls outside the walls. If the Jerusalem people could not buy
of them, because of that strait-laced, narrow-minded Nehemiah, still
the country people who came in to attend the temple services could
purchase at their stalls on their way home. They might thus maintain a
certain amount of their Sabbath business, and secure at least a portion
of their Sabbath gains. Not only so, but surely many Jews from the city
itself, as they strolled through the gates on the day of rest, might
pass by their stalls, and, in the conveniently loose folds of their
robes, many, even of these inhabitants of Jerusalem, might conceal a
pomegranate, or a melon, a piece of fish, or a bunch of grapes, a
handful of figs, or a freshly-cut cucumber, and might easily escape
detection by Nehemiah's servants, standing at the gate.
Nehemiah, seeing this state of things, feels that once again strong
measures are required. He must make a clean sweep of these traders at
once. So, going out to them, he gives them warning that they will be
arrested and imprisoned the very next time that they come within sight
of the city on the Sabbath day.
'So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without
Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified unto them: Why lodge ye about
the wall? If ye do so again I will lay hands on you.'
That put a stop to it.
'From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.'
Then, from that day, Nehemiah held the Levites responsible for the
strict observance of this rule. His own servants had guarded the gates
in the first emergency, now he bids the Levites to take their place, and
to do all in their power to enforce and to maintain the sanctity of the
Surely we need a Nehemiah now-a-days, we need some of his strong
measures to stop the growing disregard of the Sabbath, which is creeping
slowly but surely like a dark shadow over this country of ours. We need
a man who will not be afraid of being called strait-laced, or
narrow-minded, or peculiar, or Jewish, or Puritanical, but who will
speak his mind clearly and decidedly on such an all-important point,
and who will not hesitate to use strong measures to put down the
Sabbath-breaking and the utter disregard of God's law, which is
threatening the ruin of our beloved country.
Let each of us ask himself or herself, What am I doing in this matter?
How do I keep the Sabbath myself? God asks for the whole day; do I give
it to Him, or do I spend the best of its hours in bed? Am I careful not
to please myself on the Lord's Day, or do I think it no shame to amuse
myself on that day as I choose, by travelling, by light reading, or by
any other means that I have within my disposal? Am I anxious to dedicate
the day wholly and entirely to God, setting it apart entirely for His
service, and looking upon it as a foretaste of the great and eternal
Sabbath that is coming?
And, if I myself keep and reverence God's Sabbath, do I see that those
over whom I have influence are doing the same? Am I anxious that my
children, my servants, the visitors who come to see me, all who are in
my home on the Lord's Day should do the same? Do I help them by every
means in my power? Do I strive that in my home at least God shall have
And if in my home the Sabbath is observed, what am I doing with regard
to it outside, in my own town, or village, amongst my acquaintances,
companions, and friends? Am I doing all I can, using all the influence
God has given me, to lead others to reverence and observe the holy day?
And my country, dear old England; am I praying day by day that her glory
may not depart, that her sun may not go down because of desecration of
the Sabbath day? The old promise holds good still; it is true of
individuals, of families, and of nations.
'If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on
My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord,
honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding
thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own word: then shalt thou delight
thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places
of the earth.'
'FOR THE MOUTH OF THE LORD HATH SPOKEN IT.'
The Oldest Sin.
We have all read the adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and we have all
pitied the man, alone on a desert island, alone without a friend,
without a single companion, never hearing any voice but his own, being
able to exchange thoughts with no one, alone, solitary, desolate.
Yet after all, in one respect, Robinson Crusoe was to be envied, for he
was shut off from one of the greatest temptations which besets us in
this world, a temptation which comes across the path of each of us, and
from which it is by no means easy to escape. Of that temptation,
Robinson Crusoe on his desert island knew nothing. He did not find
himself ever tempted to one of the most common of sins. Robinson Crusoe
was never tempted to keep bad company, for the simple reason that there
was no bad company for him to keep.
What curious beings hermits are! they are to be found in China, India,
Africa, in various parts of Europe, in fact, all over the world. And in
olden time there was many a lonely cave, many a shady retreat on the
hill-side, which was inhabited by one of these hermits.
Who then were these hermits? They were men who were so much afraid of
falling into the snare of keeping bad company, that they refused to keep
any company at all, men who so dreaded being led astray by their fellow
men, that they shut themselves off from all intercourse with the human
It was not a right nor a wise thing to do, and these hermits found that
sin followed them even to their quiet lonely caves; yet it is scarcely
surprising that they dreaded evil companionship, and did all they could
to avoid it, seeing as they did how much misery it had brought into the
For what was the oldest sin? What was the very first sin that entered
into this fair earth of ours? Some say it was pride, or selfishness, or
hard thoughts of God. But surely it was no other sin than this, the
keeping of bad company.
There was Eve in the garden. God had provided her with company; He had
given her Adam, the holy angels came in and out of that fair paradise;
nay more, God Himself was her friend, in the cool of the day He walked
with Eve under the trees of the garden, walked and talked with her as a
companion and friend.
But, in spite of this, Eve got into bad company. She stands, she talks,
she entertains Satan, the great enemy of God, against whom she must
often have been warned by God and the holy angels. And the consequence
was that Eve lost paradise, became a sinner, and brought sin and all its
attendant miseries into the world. We should never have had our weary
battle with sin if Eve had not kept bad company.
Nor was Eve the last of those who have brought trouble on themselves and
others by the same sin.
If the descendants of Seth had not kept bad company and made friends of
Cain's wicked race, the flood would never have swept them away. If
Samson had not gone into bad company he would never have lost his
strength, and have had to grind blindly and miserably at the mill. If
Solomon had not kept bad company idolatry would never have ruined
Jerusalem. If Rehoboam had not kept bad company the kingdom of Israel
would never have been divided; and again, and again, both in the history
of the past and in the story of the present, we see men and women led
astray by keeping bad company.
We have already seen Nehemiah taking strong measures to put down three
of the great glaring evils which he found in Jerusalem on his return. We
have now to see him battling with this dreadful curse and snare--bad
company. If the other three evils needed strong measures, Nehemiah feels
there is a tenfold need to take decided steps in this fourth and
For what does he find as he walks through the streets of Jerusalem? He
discovers that the inhabitants of the holy city are fast becoming
foreigners and heathen. He hears the very children in the street talking
a language he cannot understand.
So common has marriage with heathen foreigners become, that Nehemiah
sees clearly that unless something is done to put a stop to it the next
generation will grow up utterly un-Jewish in language, appearance, and
dross, and worse still, heathen in their religion, kneeling down to
idols of wood and stone, and carrying on in Jerusalem itself all the
vile customs and abominations of the heathen.
'If the girls are pretty and nice, and if the men like them, why should
not they please themselves?' So the Jerusalem folk had talked in
Nehemiah's absence. They quite forgot to what it was all leading. They
shut their eyes to the danger of keeping bad company, they thought only
of what was pleasant and of what they liked, they quite forgot to ask
what was right, and what was the will of God.
Nehemiah, as governor of Jerusalem, summons into his presence, and
commands to appear before him in his judicial court, every man in
Jerusalem who had married a foreign heathen wife.
When all were assembled:
(1) He contended with them, _i.e._ he rebuked and argued with them, as
he had done with the rulers on the question of Sabbath observance.
(2) He cursed them, or as it is in the margin 'he reviled them.'
Probably he pronounced, as governor of Jerusalem, speaking in the name
of God, the judgments of God on those who broke his law.
(3) He smote certain of them. That is, he had some of them publicly
beaten. Nehemiah called upon the officers of the court to make an
example of some of the principal offenders by inflicting corporal
punishment upon them.
(4) He plucked off their hair, _lit_., He made them bald. The Hebrew
word, _marat_, which is used here, means to make smooth, to polish, to
peel. The word hair is not expressed in the original.
We are surely not to suppose that Nehemiah, with his own hands, either
struck these men or made them bald. What he did was simply this. He, as
the head magistrate, inflicted a judicial punishment upon them, a
(1) They were beaten.
(2) They were made bald.
We read (Matt, xxvii. 26) that Pontius Pilate took our Lord and scourged
him; but we surely do not imagine that the Roman governor with his own
hands inflicted the scourging, but we understand it to mean that he gave
the order for the punishment to the Roman soldiers. Just so, Nehemiah
the governor commanded these offending Jews to be beaten and made bald
by the officers of the court.
One of the most flourishing trades in an Eastern city is the trade of
the barber. This may easily be seen by walking through the streets of an
Eastern town, and noting the numerous barbers at work, some in their
shops, which are open to the street, and others outside on the
doorsteps, or in some shady corner. Especially in the evening are these
numerous barbers busy; when the work of the rest of the city is drawing
to a close the barber's work is at its height. Yet, strange to say,
although the barber is so busy, everyone in the East wears a beard; a
man in the East would think it a terrible disgrace if he was obliged to
be shorn of his beard.
The beard is considered a very sacred thing; it is thought a great
insult even to touch a man's beard, and if you want to make any man an
object of scorn and ridicule, you cannot do so better than by shaving
off his beard. This was the way in which the Ammonites insulted David's
ambassadors (2 Sam. x. 4, 5). And we read that they stopped at Jericho
till their beards were grown, for 'the men were greatly ashamed.'
What then is the barber's work? If men in the East wear beards, what is
it that keeps him so busy? The barber in the Eastern city shaves not the
man's chin, but his head. It is a very natural custom in hot, dusty
climates, where the head is always kept covered, both indoors and out of
doors. It is also a very ancient custom, for even in the old Egyptian
hieroglyphics we find pictures of barbers shaving the head. And we find
that in these modern days, Egyptians, Copts, Turks, Arabs, Hindoos, and
Chinese, all shave the head. But there is one great exception to this
rule. A barber would find no work in a purely Jewish city, for not only
do the Jews wear beards, but they also never shave their heads as their
Eastern neighbours do. The only ones amongst the Jews who were allowed
to have shaven heads were the poor outcast lepers. Hence the shaven head
was to them a sign or symbol of uncleanness and of excommunication. They
looked upon a man with a bald head very much as we look upon one whose
hair is cropped very suspiciously close, and whom we therefore imagine
must have been in gaol.
Thus it came to pass that 'Bald-head' became a common term of reproach
and insult. Elisha, the holy prophet, goes up the hill, wearing a thick
turban to protect his head from the sun. Out come a troop of wicked,
mocking children. Elisha is not bald, for he is a Jew, nor, even if he
had been bald, could these children have seen it, since his head is
covered; but they wish to annoy and to insult the holy man, so they cry
'Go up, thou bald head, go up.'
They simply use a common term of reproach. To have a bald head was
amongst the Jews a sign that a man was cut off from his nation, that he
was counted as a Gentile and an outsider, and therefore to call a man 'a
bald head' was equivalent to calling him a Gentile dog and an outcast.
Now Nehemiah inflicts this very punishment on these Jews who have
married heathen wives. He commands them to be made bald, as a sign of
shame and disgrace. It was a very significant and appropriate
punishment. They had thrown in their lot with the heathen Gentiles, let
them then become Gentiles, let them be branded with their mark, let
them, by being made bald, be stamped as those who are no longer citizens
of Jerusalem, but who have become outcasts and foreigners.
Then, when this was done, Nehemiah calls them to him, and makes them
take a solemn oath before God, that from that time forth they will never
fall into the same sin again:
'I made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto
their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.'
Then he reminds them how dreadful the consequences of the same sin had
been to no less a person than their great and glorious King Solomon, the
wisest of men, the beloved of his God. Even Solomon had been drawn aside
into sin by his love of heathen foreigners, or outlandish women, as
Nehemiah calls them, women living outside his own land. If he fell, if
he the wisest of men, if he the beloved of his God, was led astray, was
it likely that they could walk into the very same trap, and escape being
caught and ensnared by it?
'Did not Solomon King of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many
nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God
made him king over all Israel: nevertheless _even him_ did outlandish
women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great
evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?'
Did Nehemiah then break up the marriages which had already taken place,
and send the wives away? We are not told that he did. Probably he only
insisted, and insisted very strongly, that no more such marriages should
take place. For he knew that if the custom was continued it would lead
to ruin, shame, and disgrace, and he was therefore perfectly right to
take strong measures to put a stop to it.
One man he saw fit to make an example of in a still more decided
way--one offending member he felt must be cut off. This was Manasseh,
the grandson of the high priest, the very one who had been the cause of
Tobiah's entrance into the temple, and of the friendly feeling that
existed between Eliashib and the Samaritans.
Here was Manasseh, a priest, living in the temple itself, dressed in the
white robe, and taking part in the service of God, yet all the time
having a heathen wife, and allowing heathen ways in his household.
Manasseh's wife was actually Sanballat's daughter; and so long as he and
she remained in the temple precincts, Nehemiah felt they would never be
free from Sanballat's influence.
Accordingly we read:
'I chased him from me.'
Nehemiah banished him from the temple and from Jerusalem, and Manasseh
went away with his wife to her father's grand home in Samaria.
No doubt Nehemiah was far from popular in Jerusalem that night. There
were many who thought he had been too severe, too narrow, too
particular. And doubtless there were many who, if they had dared, would
have rebelled against his decision. But Nehemiah had done everything; he
had taken all these strong measures, not to please men, but to please
God. If the Master praised him, he cared not what others might say of
him. 'Lord, what wilt _Thou_ have me to do?' was the constant prayer of
Nehemiah's heart; and though the work was oftentimes unpopular and
disagreeable, Nehemiah did it both boldly and fearlessly.
The wheel of time goes round, and history, which works ever in a circle,
constantly repeats itself, and so also does sin. The sin of Nehemiah's
days is still to be seen; the same temptation which beset those
Jerusalem Jews, besets us even in these more enlightened days.
We all love company. There is in us a natural shrinking from being alone
and desolate. That feeling is born in us; we inherit it from our first
father Adam. 'It is not good for the man to be alone,' said the Lord in
His tenderness and His pity.
But a choice lies before us, a choice of friends. Our relatives are
given us by God, no man can choose who shall be his father, or mother,
or brother, or sister. But our friends are of our own choosing, and we
do not sufficiently consider that upon that choice may hang our
eternity. Heaven with all its brightness, hell with all its darkness
and misery, which shall be for me? The answer may hang, it often does
hang, on the choice of a friend.
For there are only two divisions in this world of ours, only two
companies, only two flocks. The kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of
light, the Lord's people and those who are none of His, the sheep and
the goats. From which division, from which company, from which flock
shall I choose my friends?
'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what
fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion
hath light with darkness?'
Especially careful should we be in that nearest and dearest of
friendships, in the choice of the one who is to be to us our other self.
Would we be made one, would we link ourselves by that firm and sacred
tie, whilst knowing all the time that the one who is to be dearer to us
than life itself is outside the fold? No blessing can surely rest on
such a marriage. Jesus cannot be an invited guest at that marriage
feast. For clear and unmistakable is the trumpet call of the great
Captain of our salvation:
'Come out from among them, and be ye separate, said the Lord, and touch
not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto
you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.'
How fond people are of collecting old books, and what a large price old
books will fetch! Those who are so fortunate as to obtain possession of
a book which is four or five hundred years old may put their own price
upon it, for some antiquarian will be sure to purchase it.
But how modern, how very far from being ancient, the oldest of our
English books, printed in the most primitive black letter, appears, when
it is laid side by side with that curious old book which travellers,
visiting the little village of Nablus, are shown this very day. Well may
the old white-headed man who has charge of that book bring it out with
pride, for it is one of the oldest books in the world.
The book is in the form of a roll of parchment. It is made of goat
skins, twenty-five inches broad, and about fifteen feet long. The skins
are neatly joined together, but in many places they have been torn and
rather clumsily mended. The roll is kept in a grand silver-gilt case in
the form of a cylinder, embossed and engraved. On this case are carved
representations of the Tabernacle, of the ark, of the two altars, of
the trumpets, and of the various instruments used in sacrifice. A
crimson satin cover, on which inscriptions are worked in gold thread, is
thrown over this precious book.
This old manuscript is written in Hebrew, and is said by the Jews to be
the work of a man whose name has already come before us in Nehemiah's
story. We saw that Eliashib, the high priest, had a grandson named
Manasseh, that Manasseh married the daughter of Sanballat, the Samaritan
governor, and that Nehemiah felt very strongly that the temple would
never be cleansed, nor God's blessing rest upon them as a nation, so
long as one of their own priests had a heathen wife, and was in constant
communication with Sanballat. Accordingly he chased Manasseh from him,
he made him at once leave the temple and his high position there; and
Manasseh, in disgust and indignation, went off to Samaria to his
father-in-law, Sanballat, taking his heathen wife and family with him.
Now it is that very Manasseh who was, according to the Jews, the writer
of the Samaritan Pentateuch, that old copy of the Books of Moses. The
Samaritans themselves declare that it is far more ancient; that it was
written soon after the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, by the
great-grandson of Aaron; whilst some scholars think it is far more
modern than some other copies of the Pentateuch which have been
discovered; but the Jews pronounce it to have been the work of Manasseh,
the grandson of Eliashib, the high priest of Nehemiah's day.
Manasseh arrived in Samaria, indignant with Nehemiah, and determined to
have his revenge. He and his father-in-law were resolved not to be
outdone by the Jews. They in Samaria would build a grand temple, just as
the Jews had done in Jerusalem. One hill was as good as another, so they
thought; their own Gerizim, with its lovely trees and its sunny slopes,
was as fair or fairer than Mount Moriah.
So they set to work with all their energy, to build the rival temple on
the very hill where 1000 years before, in the time of Joshua, the
blessings of the law had been read, whilst the curses were pronounced
from the hill on the opposite side of the valley, Mount Ebal.
Here then, on Gerizim, the mount of blessing, rose the new temple, which
was built with one object in view, that it might outvie in splendour the
one in Jerusalem. When it was finished, Manasseh was made the rival high
priest, and was able to do what he liked, and to exercise his authority
in any way he pleased in his father-in-law's province.
Nor was Manasseh the only priest in the Gerizim temple; many other
runaway priests joined him, all who were angry with Nehemiah, all who
were offended or touchy, all who thought themselves injured in any way,
all who had been found fault with for Sabbath-breaking or for any other
sin, left Jerusalem for Samaria--chose the temple of Mount Gerizim
instead of the holy temple on Mount Moriah.
Yet of the Samaritans it is said:
'They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.'
It was a half-and-half religion, Judaism and heathenism mixed up
together, the worship of God and the worship of idols side by side.
Satan, now-a-days, has his modern temple of Gerizim. He does not try to
lead nominal Christians to throw up religion altogether, for he sees
that it would be of no use to do so. He knows we have a conscience, he
knows that conscience is often busy, he knows that we fully believe that
some day we must die, and that after death will come the judgment, and
he sees therefore that we shall not be satisfied without some kind of
religion. So Satan tries to tempt us to the Gerizim temple. Serve God by
all means, he cries, but serve the world too. Go to church, say your
prayers, have a fair polish of Sunday religion; it is decent, it is
respectable, it is what is expected of you. But yet, at the very same
time, serve the world, please yourself. Take part in any pleasure that
attracts you, live as you please, enjoy yourself to the full. Let the
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life have
their share in your allegiance. Be half for God, and half for the world.
Live partly for the world to come, and partly for this present world. By
no means throw overboard religion altogether, but let it have its proper
place, let it stand side by side with self-pleasing and worldliness.
But what says the Master?
'No man can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.'
Let us then choose this day whom we will serve. Shall it be Christ or
Satan, Jerusalem or Gerizim, God or the world?
For centuries after the time of Nehemiah, these Samaritans continued a
source of annoyance to the Jews, tempting all who were disaffected and
lawless to come to Gerizim, and vexing and troubling the Jews in every
possible way. No one who was travelling up to the rival temple was ever
made welcome in Samaria, or treated as he passed through with the
slightest show of hospitality. As our Lord and His disciples journeyed
up to the feast, we read that they came to a village of the Samaritans,
and our Lord sent messengers before Him to engage a lodging, where they
might find refreshment and shelter on their way. But we read,
'They did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to
Sometimes they carried this antagonism to such a degree that they would
even waylay and murder the temple pilgrims who were on their way through
their country, and the poor travellers were compelled to take a much
longer route to Jerusalem, crossing the Jordan, and journeying on the
eastern side until they came opposite Jericho, and then ascending by the
long, winding, difficult road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
Once, in order to mortify the Jews, the Samaritans were guilty of a very
dreadful insult. The Passover was being kept in Jerusalem, and it was
customary in Passover week for the priest to open the temple gates just
after midnight. Through these opened gates, in the darkness of the
night, stole in some Samaritans, carrying under their robes dead men's
bones and bits of dead men's bodies, and these they strewed up and down
the cloisters of the temple, to make them defiled and unclean.
But perhaps the most trying thing which the Samaritans did was to put a
stop to a very old and very favourite custom of the Jews. For a long
time those Jews who lived in Jerusalem had been accustomed to let their
brethren in Babylon know the very time that the Passover moon rose in
Jerusalem, so that they and their absent friends might keep the feast
together at the very same time. They did this in a very curious and
interesting way. As soon as the watchers on the Mount of Olives saw the
moon rising, they lighted a beacon fire, other fires were already
prepared on a succession of hilltops, reaching all the way from
Jerusalem to Babylon. As soon as the light was seen on Olivet the next
fire was lighted, and then the next, and the next, till in a very short
time those Jews who sat by the waters of Babylon saw the signal, and
joined in the Passover rejoicing with their friends hundreds of miles
away in Jerusalem. It showed them that they were not forgotten, and it
helped them to join in the prayer and the praise of those who were in
But the Samaritans annoyed the Jews and spoilt this beautiful old
custom, by lighting false fires on other mountains, on wrong days, and
at wrong hours, and thus confusing those who were watching by the
beacon-fires. After a time, so many mistakes were made by means of these
false signals, that the Jews were compelled to give up the system of
beacon-fires altogether, and to depend on the slower course of sending
We have now come to the end of Nehemiah's story, and we have, at the
very same time, come to the end of the history of the Old Testament. For
if all the historical books were arranged chronologically, Nehemiah's
book would come the very last in the series. Nothing more is told us in
the Book of God of this world's history, until St. Matthew takes up the
pen and writes an account of the birth of the expected Messiah. Yet
between the Book of Nehemiah and the Gospel of St. Matthew there is an
interval of 400 years, years which were full of interest in Jewish
history, but of which we are told nothing in the Bible story.
There was one prophet who lived in the time of Nehemiah, and whose book
is a commentary on the book of Nehemiah. The prophet Malachi was living
in Jerusalem at this very time, and if we look at his book we shall see
that mention is made of many things of which we are told in the Book of
Nehemiah. For instance, if we turn to Mai. iii. 8, 9, 10, we shall find
the very words which the prophet spoke to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
at the time when the temple store-house was empty, and when the people
had ceased to bring their tithes and offerings, and to give God the due
proportion of their possessions.
'Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we
robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye
have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the
storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house.'
Thus, if we read the Book of Malachi carefully, we shall find much that
throws light on Nehemiah's history; and we can easily imagine how much
the prophet's sympathy and help must have cheered and strengthened the
great reformer in his trying and difficult work.
What became of Nehemiah, the great cup-bearer, the faithful governor of
Jerusalem, we do not know. Whether he returned to Persia and took up his
old work in the palace, standing behind the king's chair in his office
of Rab-shakeh, or whether he remained in Jerusalem, guarding his
beloved city from enemies without and from false friends within, we are
not told. Whether he died in the prime of life, or whether he lived to a
good old age, neither the Bible nor profane history informs us.
But although we know nothing of Nehemiah's death, we know much of his
life. We have watched him carefully and closely, and there is one thing
which we cannot fail to have noticed, and that is that Nehemiah was
emphatically a man of prayer. In every trouble, in each anxiety, in all
times of danger, he turned to God. Standing behind the king's chair,
Nehemiah prayed; in his private room in the Shushan palace, he pleaded
for Jerusalem; and all through his rough anxious life as a reformer and
a governor, we find him constantly lifting up his heart to God in short
earnest prayers. When Tobiah mocked his work, when the Samaritans
threatened to attack the city, when the people were inclined to be angry
with him for his reforms, when he discovered that there were traitors
and hired agents of Sanballat inside the very walls of Jerusalem, when
he brought upon himself enmity and hatred because of his faithful
dealing in the matter of the temple store-house, when he had to
encounter difficulty and opposition in his determination with regard to
the observance of the Sabbath, and when he still further incensed the
half-hearted Jews by his prompt punishment of those who had taken
heathen wives, and by his summary dismissal of Manasseh; in all these
times of danger, difficulty, and trial, we find Nehemiah turning to the
Lord in prayer.
There was one prayer of which he seems to have been especially fond,
three times over does Nehemiah ask God to remember him.
'Think upon me, my God, for good,' v. 19.
'Remember me, O my God,' xiii. 14.
'Remember me, O my God, for good,' xiii. 31.
Can it be that this prayer was suggested to him by the words of his
friend, the prophet Malachi? Can it be, that as he and Nehemiah took
sweet counsel together, and spoke together of the Lord they loved,
Malachi may have spoken those beautiful words which we find in chap. in.
16, 17, of his prophecy, in order to cheer and encourage his
disheartened and unappreciated friend:--
'They that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord
hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before
Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And
they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up
My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that
Can we wonder that Nehemiah longed to know that his name was in that
book of remembrance of which his friend Malachi spoke, and that he often
turned the desire into a prayer, pleading with God, 'Remember _me_, O my
It is a very touching prayer. Nehemiah evidently felt that others did
not value his work, nay, that Borne even condemned him for it. The
people, instead of being grateful to him for his reforms, found fault
with him, misunderstood him, and reproached him.
But God knew, the Master did not blame him. He saw that all Nehemiah
did had been done for His glory and for the good of his nation. And to
the Master whom he served Nehemiah appealed. Away from the fault-finding
people, he turned to the merciful God.
Remember Thou me, O God, for good; others blame me, but it is Thy praise
alone that I crave, wipe not _Thou_ out my good deeds, spare _Thou_ me
in the greatness of Thy mercy.
There is no pride or boasting in this prayer. Is it not the very prayer
of the penitent thief, 'Lord, remember me?' Look carefully at the
wording of it, and you will notice, as Bishop Wordsworth so beautifully
points out, that it is humble in its every detail. Nehemiah does not
say, publish to the world my good deeds, but wipe them not out. He does
not say, reward me, but remember me. He does not say, remember me for my
merit, but according to the greatest of Thy mercies.
So Nehemiah passes away from our sight with that prayer on his lips,
'Remember me, O my God, for good.'
And was the prayer heard? Was Nehemiah remembered? Did God, has God
forgotten His faithful servant? Surely not, for 'The righteous shall be
had in everlasting remembrance.'
Remembered by God, and remembered for ever, entered in the great book of
God's remembrance, of which he had so often thought, and of which
Malachi had written.
The day is coming when we shall see Nehemiah the cup-bearer. In God's
great day of reward, when one after another of His faithful servants
shall appear before Him, we shall hear the response to Nehemiah's
'Remember me, O my God,' said Nehemiah, long years ago, as he toiled on,
unthanked and unblessed by man.
And we shall hear the Lord answer, 'Well done, good and faithful
servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'