The Word Made Fresh
1When Sanballat heard that we were building the wall he flew into a rage and made fun of the Jews. 2He said in the presence of his friends and the army of Samaria, “What are these old Jewish men doing? Are they trying to rebuild? Are they going to make sacrifices? Do they think they can finish it in a day? Are they trying to find stones that have been burned in the piles of rubbish?”
3Tobiah the Ammonite, standing beside him, said, “That stone wall they’re building? If a fox runs up on it, it’ll fall down’!”
4Listen, LORD God, we are being taunted. Turn their laughter back on them and give them over as plunder in a captive land. 5Do not hide their guilt and don’t ignore their insults. They have slandered the builders to their face.
6We kept building the wall and completed it to half its height because the people were hard workers. 7But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and Ammonites and Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls was progressing and the gaps were being closed they were very angry, 8and began to plot together to come and oppose the work being done in Jerusalem by causing confusion. 9So, we prayed to our God and appointed guards to protect us against them day and night.
10The people of Judah said, “The stone carriers are getting weak and there is just so much debris that we can’t work on the wall.” 11And our enemies said, “They won’t suspect anything before we attack them and kill them and stop the work.” 12Other Jews who lived near them then came to us and said over and over, “They’ll attack us from all their towns and settlements!”
13So, I began to station the people in the lowest spaces behind the wall with their families, and armed them with swords, spears and bows. 14Once they were organized I looked everything over and told the leaders and the officials and the people, “Don’t be afraid of them! Remember that the great and terrible LORD is with you, and fight for your families and your children, your sons and your daughters and your wives and your homes!”
15When our enemies learned that their plan was known to us, and that God had prepared us against them, we were able to return to the wall and continue the work. 16From that day on half of the men worked on the walls while the other half held the spears, shields, bows and armor, and the leaders backed up all the people of Judah 17who were working on the wall. The carriers kept one hand on what they were carrying and the other hand on a weapon. 18The builders worked with their swords strapped to their belts. I kept a man beside me to sound the trumpet, 19and I told the family heads and officials and all the people, “The project is huge and spread widely so that there is a lot of distance between us on the wall. 20Whenever you hear the trumpet sound come together. Our God will fight for us!”
21So, on we worked. Half of the people held the spears from sunrise to starshine. 22I told them that every man and his servant should stay the night inside Jerusalem, so that we had guards during the night and workers during the day.23None of us – neither me nor my brothers nor my servants nor the guards who followed us around ever took off our clothes, and we each kept a weapon in our hands.
1-6: In chapter 4 we return to the first-person perspective of the first 2 chapters. Nehemiah receives word that Sanballat and Tobiah are ridiculing their rebuilding efforts, but meanwhile progress is being made and the wall is rising.
7-9: Nehemiah receives word that Sanballat and the others are actually planning to intervene in their efforts, and he sets guards around the clock to protect them from a surprise attack.
10-14: The work begins to falter as the laborers encounter more rubbish than they are able to clear. Meanwhile Nehemiah is getting regular reports from people coming in from the countryside that an attack is imminent. He tells the people to keep their weapons handy and to camp beneath the walls day and night.
15-20: The attack is delayed when their enemies get word that Nehemiah has made preparations for the defense of the city. So, Nehemiah orders the construction to continue, but only in shifts so that half the people will constantly be on guard duty. He sets up an alarm system so that they can respond quickly should any part of the wall come under attack.
21-23: The whole city remains in a state of constant vigilance as the work to rebuild the walls slowly progresses.
The officials in Samaria are not particularly alarmed that the temple has been rebuilt, but they do become alarmed when the people begin to rebuild the walls around the city. Nehemiah is a determined man, though, and the construction continues, weapons in hand. Horonites (Sanballat) and Ammonites (Tobiah) are ancient enemies of Israel.