Nehemiah 4: So We Prayed

So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.  Nehemiah 4:21

Building & Defending

Opposition grows: 4:1-23. As progress is made on the walls, Sanballat becomes incensed. The peoples around Judah are hostile and oppose building of Jerusalem’s walls. They first count on ridicule.  Sanballat and Tobiah step up their rumor and ridicule campaign.

1  But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. 2  And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish–stones that are burned?” 3  Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.”

But when the walls reach half their height, the enemy coalition is ready to kill the workmen and thus end the project (8-12)!  Nehemiah simply prays and keeps the people working.  Nehemiah encourages the people to rely on the Lord, and arms them. From that point on half stand guard while the others work. When ridicule fails to halt the rebuilding, the enemies plot an armed attack. Then the Jews hear Nehemiah reassure his fearful workers.

8  and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. 9  Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night. 10  Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” 11  And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.” 12  So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, “From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.”

Half of his workers are placed on guard while the other half work, and signals are devised to bring reinforcements to any section of the wall under attack. Thus prepared, the Jews intensify rather than abandon their building efforts.

16  So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. 17  Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. 18  Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19  Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. 20  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”  21  So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. 22  At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.” 23  So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.

Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome (4:14)


The Hebrew word translated awesome is derived from the Hebrew verb (yare’) “to fear.” In this context, the word does not mean “frightening.” Rather it suggests the quality that inspires reverence or godly fear. In some Bible passages, “fearing” and godly living are so clearly related that they are almost synonymous. Thus, while ordinary fear paralyzes a person, godly fear leads to submission and obedience to God. The person who properly fears God avoids evil and walks in God’s ways.

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways. (Ps. 128:1)



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