Sanballat and Tobiah appear throughout the book as the bitterest foes he had to encounter. ‘Sanballat,’ or, as perhaps it should be called, Saneballat (LXX. Σαναβαλλὰτ, Josephus Σαναβαλλέτης) is probably an Assyrian name, meaning ‘Sin (the moon-god of the Assyrians) giveth life,’ just as Nabubalitanni means ‘Nebo giveth the life.’ The name of the moon-god appears also in Sennacherib = ‘Sin gives many brothers.’ Sanballat is distinguished as ‘the Horonite,’ by which is probably meant ‘dweller in Beth-horon,’ a town on the borders of Ephraim (Jos_16:3; Jos_16:5; Jos_18:13; Jos_21:22; 2Ch_8:5; 2Ch_25:13), about 18 miles N.W. of Jerusalem, upon the main road leading to the plain of the coast. Beth-horon commanded the pass into the mountains. Strategically it was a place of great importance. It is famous for its connexion with the victories of Joshua (Jos_10:10), of Judas Maccabeus (1Ma_3:15; 1Ma_7:39), and as the scene of the overthrow of Cestius Gallus (Joseph. Bell. J. ii. 19. 8).
Sanballat was evidently one of the leaders of the Samaritan community (see on Neh_4:2). Some scholars imagine from the frequent conjunction of his name with that of Tobiah the Ammonite, that Sanballat must have been a Moabite, and that the title ‘Horonite’ denotes a dweller in ‘Horonaim,’ a town in Southern Moab, mentioned in Isa_15:5; Jer_48:3; Jer_48:5; Jer_48:34, and twice in the Inscription of the Moabite Stone.
Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite] Why Tobiah is called ‘the servant’ is not clear. It may denote that he once held some position under the Persian governor or under the king. Rawlinson’s suggestion that he was Sanballat’s secretary and councillor, and had originally been an Ammonite slave, is less probable. He is generally mentioned on an equality with Sanballat, and in Neh_6:12; Neh_6:14, his name stands first. Frequent mention is made of Tobiah’s intrigues against the work and authority of Nehemiah. According to some, the termination ‘-jah’ shows him to have been a renegade Jew: cf. Ezr_2:60; Zec_6:10, where the same name occurs. His son’s name, Jehohanan (Neh_6:18), is also compounded of the Jewish Sacred Name.
The race-hatred between the Jews and the Ammonites and Moabites (see Neh_13:1-2) may explain in some degree Tobiah’s hostility. But in all probability the Samaritans and the neighbouring nations (Moabites, Ammonites, Arabians, &c.) were combined in the desire to foil any effort made to reinstate Jerusalem in her old position of being the most powerful town in Palestine. The policy of Nehemiah would weaken the neighbouring tribes in proportion as it would strengthen the Jews.
Tobiah may have in some way represented the Ammonites, possibly as governor of their small community, having received the position from the court where he had been a slave (cf. Ecc_10:6; Lam_5:8, ‘servants rule over us’).
Geshem the Arabian] A third prominent adversary of Nehemiah is here introduced. His name occurs again in Neh_6:1-2. In Neh_6:6, the name is written as ‘Gashmu,’ a dialectical variety agreeing, as it is said, with North-Arabian usage. Geshem is clearly the chief of some Arabian tribe. But whether he represented Arabians on the Southern border of Judah or the Arabian community established by Sargon king of Assyria in the depopulated neighbourhood of Samaria (715) is a disputed point. If the former, then the movement, which he now took part in, must be regarded as a coalition of all the neighbouring peoples against the restoration of Jerusalem’s greatness. If the latter, then the movement is to be chiefly connected with the hostility of the Samaritans.
when S.… and the rest of our enemies, heard] R.V. when it was reported to S.…, and unto the rest of our enemies. The R.V. is more literal; the passive verb ‘to be reported’ occurs in Neh_6:6-7, and possibly in chap. Neh_13:27. For the spread of previous rumours, cf. Neh_2:19, Neh_4:1. ‘The rest of our enemies,’ probably the representatives of hostile neighbouring communities, cf. Neh_4:7, where ‘the Arabians and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites’ are associated with Sanballat and Tobiah.
no breach left] referring to the description in Neh_1:3, Neh_2:13, Neh_4:7.
though at that time] R.V. though even unto that time. Nehemiah introduces this saving clause for the sake of accuracy. The report was not quite true; the walls were indeed finished, but as yet the gates were not in their places.
upon the gates] R.V. in the gates, i.e. in the great fortified gateways. The construction of ‘the doors’ is mentioned in chap. Neh_3:3; Neh_3:6; Neh_3:14-15. Why had the doors not yet been ‘set in the gates?’ Perhaps we are to infer that in the hurry of rebuilding the wall the delicate operation of swinging the heavy metal-covered city doors had been postponed. Temporary barricades would be sufficient to block the approaches. When the work on the wall was finished, the doors would be ‘set up’ by skilled workmen. To have set them up before would have caused delay in the repair of the walls. In the Assyrian Room (Upper Floor, Case A) of the British Museum are to be seen the bronze coverings of gates found by Mr Rassam at Balawa in 1879, and the pivots on which these gates turned.
Sanballat and Geshem] It is noticeable that Tobiah’s name is not also mentioned. Some commentators have held that this omission is to be accounted for by the fact of Tobiah being ‘the mere servant of Sanballat’ (see Neh_2:10). But the explanation seems very improbable when we consider the prominence of Tobiah in Neh_2:10; Neh_2:19, Neh_4:7, Neh_6:17; Neh_6:19, Neh_13:7-8, and the way in which his name is mentioned in Neh_6:12; Neh_6:14. It is better to suppose that Nehemiah’s enemies deputed two of the most crafty of their number to make these overtures for an interview. An invitation to meet and discuss matters with only two of the leaders would wear a friendly and innocent appearance. Perhaps Tobiah and the other conspirators were intended to take advantage of Nehemiah’s absence and to make a surprise attack upon Jerusalem.
in some one of the villages] R.V. in one of the villages. According to this translation the invitation leaves it open to Nehemiah to select the place of meeting. But literally the Hebrew gives ‘in the villages (Chephirim)’. It is very possible that this word gives the name of a place (cf. Chephirah, Ezr_2:25), as Rashi long ago suggested. It is certainly natural to expect that Sanballat and Geshem would name a place for the proposed interview; and the form of the Hebrew word favours this explanation. The proposed meeting-place then would be ‘Hacchephirim.’
in the plain of Ono] On Ono, see Ezr_2:33 (Neh_7:37; Neh_11:35; 1Ch_8:12). An interview in the plain of Ono would have necessitated Nehemiah’s absence from Jerusalem during three or four days. The object of his enemies was doubtless to seize or assassinate him at a distance from Jerusalem.
thought to do me mischief] ‘thought’ i.e. ‘considered how.’ Cf. Neh_6:6, ‘think to rebel.’ Gen_50:20, ‘ye thought (R.V. meant) evil against me.’ ‘Mischief,’ lit. ‘evil,’ by which expression Nehemiah hints that his foes plotted to assassinate him. Cf. 1Sa_23:9, ‘Saul devised mischief.’ Est_8:3, ‘the mischief of Haman the Agagite.’
I am doing a great work: he tells them one, but not the only, nor the principal, reason of his refusal, because his coming might cause the work to cease, not only by the neglect of it during his absence, but by his death, which they by this means might compass, though he thought it not fit to express so much to them.
yet] R.V. And. The A.V. suggests the thought which the copula does not express, that in spite of such a rebuff Sanballat and his companions were not daunted.
after this sort … after the same manner] The Hebrew phrase is the same in both cases. As it occurs again in the next verse (Neh_6:5, ‘in like manner’), though the nature of the message is different, we clearly must not press the words here to mean a literal repetition of the request and answer. It only indicates a general similarity in the character of the four applications, and in the answers which they elicited. Cf. for the use of this phrase 1Sa_17:27; 1Sa_17:30; 2Sa_15:6.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;
Then sent Sanballat his servant … the fifth time with an open letter in his hand , [ ‘igeret (H107) pªtuwchaah (H6605); Septuagint, epistolee aneoogmeneen]. In Western Asia, letters, after being rolled up like a map, are flattened to the breadth of an inch, and instead of being sealed, are pasted at the ends. In Eastern Asia, the Persians make up their letters in the form of a roll about six inches long, and a bit of paper is fastened round it with gum, and sealed with an impression of ink, which resembles our printers’ ink, but is not so thick. Letters were, and are still, sent to persons of distinction in a bag or purse, and even to equals they are enclosed-the tie being made with a coloured ribbon; but to inferiors, or persons who are to be treated contemptuously, the letters were sent open – i:e., not enclosed in a bag.
Nehemiah, accustomed to the punctilious ceremonial of the Persian court, would at once notice the want of the usual formality, and know that it was from designed disrespect. The strain of the letter was equally insolent. It was to this effect: that the fortifications with which he was so busy were intended to strengthen his position in the view of a meditated revolt; that he had engaged prophets to incite the people to enter into his design, and support his claim to be their native king; and that, to stop the circulation of such reports, which would soon reach the court, he was earnestly besought to come to the wished for conference. Nehemiah, strong in the consciousness of his own integrity, and penetrating the purpose of this shallow artifice, replied that there were no rumours of the kind described; that the idea of a revolt, and the stimulating addresses, of hired demagogues, were stories of the writer’s own invention; and that he declined now, as formerly, to leave his work.
his servant] Cf. Neh_4:22.
an open letter in his hand] ‘Open,’ not sealed. The object of this is obvious. It was intended that the contents of the letter should become public property. The servant himself and the adherents of Sanballat within the walls of Jerusalem (Neh_6:17) would possess themselves of its contents long before it reached the hands of Nehemiah. (1) The charge of treason against Nehemiah and the Jews would terrify the timid from active co-operation in the work, and decide those who were wavering to desist altogether (cf. Neh_6:9). The dissemination of the contents of the letter was therefore an attempt to stay the rebuilding of the walls at the last moment. (2) The effect upon the people which the letter was calculated to produce might decide Nehemiah to concede the proposed interview. Sanballat’s challenge being made public, it was hoped that Nehemiah would find himself compelled to rebut the charges, and to meet his adversaries in the way which they proposed (Neh_6:7). Thus the opportunity would be obtained of seizing his person and of employing to their own advantage the interval of his absence from the city.
among the heathen] R.V. among the nations, i.e. among the nations who surrounded the Jews, and were at this time combined against the Jews under Sanballat’s leadership.
and Gashmu saith it] i.e. it is no mere vague rumour. It is asserted by individuals of position and influence. ‘Gashmu’ is generally assumed to be identical with Geshem (ch. Neh_2:19, Neh_6:1-2). It is very probable that the difference of pronunciation preserves a variation of the Arabian dialect. Compare the interchange of ‘Jether’ (Exo_4:18) with ‘Jethro’ (Exo_3:1).
think to rebel] Cf. the charge in Ezr_4:12-16. ‘Think,’ cf. Neh_6:2. This is the substance of the first rumour reported ‘among the nations.’
thou buildest the wall] This is the first indication of rebellion; and it is to be noted the blame is credited to Nehemiah alone (‘thou buildest,’ &c.), not to the people.
that thou mayest be their king] R.V. and thou wouldest be king. The words might be rendered ‘and thou art becoming their king.’ The A.V. is wrong in making the words depend upon the previous clause. They represent the second rumour reported ‘among the nations,’ that Nehemiah, if not actually king, was on the point of becoming so.
according to these words] A peculiar and unexpected termination to the sentence which recurs in the following verse. According to Rashi the expression refers back to the opening words of the letter, ‘It is reported;’ and the majority of commentators take the same view, considering it equivalent to ‘according to the tenour of these reports.’ Another explanation, which is more probable, regards it as a technical expression equivalent to ‘and so forth,’ ‘&c. &c.’, inserted to abbreviate the extract from the letter. If so, it should be compared with the phrase ‘and so forth’ in Ezr_4:10-11; Ezr_4:17. Accepting this explanation, the phrase may be Nehemiah’s, to save himself the transcript of a long letter. But it may also have been inserted by Sanballat himself in the original letter. A general ‘&c. &c.’ would suggest that there were other similar reports in the background, which he did not at present choose to particularize.
thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee] There were doubtless prophets in Jerusalem who supported Nehemiah as well as prophets who opposed him (Neh_6:10-14). Sanballat suggests firstly that Nehemiah had bribed prophets to support him, and secondly that their support was of a treasonable nature. Rashi, perhaps jealous of the sacred term ‘prophets,’ says that the word here denotes ‘eloquent’ speakers. The prophet Malachi may well have been one of the prophets referred to.
It would be a mistake to attach too much importance to Sanballat’s malicious words, or to suppose that they contain a popular misrepresentation of such expressions as Zec_9:9, ‘Behold, thy King cometh.’
to the king] Implying that the real king Artaxerxes would take summary vengeance for this assumption of royalty by a petty governor.
according to these words] It is natural as in the A.V. and R.V. to take these words closely with ‘shall it be reported.’ If however, as is not unlikely, the phrase occurs here, as in Neh_6:6, to summarize this part of the letter, we must place a comma after ‘king.’ ‘Now shall it be reported to the king, and so forth,’ i.e. the sentences describing the results of the report and the king’s vengeance need not be transcribed at length.
let us take counsel together] As much as to say, we offer you the opportunity of an interview, in the course of which you can clear yourself of these charges which are the talk of every bazaar; and we will do all in our power to contradict them in your name.
There are no such things done] Literally, ‘it has not happened or it has not been done according to these words.’ Nehemiah contents himself with curtly retorting that there is no sort of foundation for Sanballat’s words. The letters of Artaxerxes to ‘the governor beyond the river’ (Neh_2:9) were well known to all; Nehemiah could not be a rebel; he had royal and official support for his work. And the assertion that he was currently rumoured to be engaged in an insurrectionary movement was a mere pretence. The very rumour, he replies, is of Sanballat’s own making; and such as it is, it has nothing to go upon.
Nehemiah saw that the object of the letter was to damage him in the eyes of the people. Compare Sennacherib’s messengers, 2Ch_32:18.
thou feignest them out of thine own heart] i.e. your assertion that a rumour of this kind is being circulated is as much your own invention as the statements which you graft upon it. ‘Feignest.’ The Hebrew word so rendered only occurs elsewhere in the O. T. in 1Ki_12:33, ‘in the month which he had devised of his own heart.’
For they all made us afraid] R.V. For they all would have made us afraid. The participle in the original does not convey more than that the attempt was made. It does not assert, as the A.V. rendering, that the attempt succeeded. By ‘they all’ Nehemiah refers to the enemies mentioned in Neh_6:1. The present verse is his comment upon the whole episode.
saying] i.e. amongst themselves and in their own minds.
Their hands shall be weakened] For this expression cf. Job_4:3; Isa_35:3; Jer_38:4; 2Ch_15:7. Cf. ‘fearful hearts and faint hands’ (Sir_2:12); ‘hands that hang down’ (Heb_12:12).
Now therefore, O God, strengthen, &c.] R.V. But now, O God, strengthen. Marg. ‘Or, I will strengthen my hands’. The adversative ‘but’ is required, since the clause is Nehemiah’s reply to his enemies’ machinations, which are summarized in the previous sentence. The construction in the Hebrew creates a difficulty in the translation. The words ‘O God’ are not in the original: the verb ‘strengthen’ may either be the imperative or the infinitive.
(i) The A.V. and R.V. and the majority of commentators accept the view that the verb is in the imperative, and regard the words as a prayerful soliloquy with which Nehemiah closes his description of this scene. To this rendering it is an objection (1) that the name of the Deity must be supplied in order to make the words intelligible; (2) that even for an interjectional prayer the language is abrupt; (3) that the substance as well as the form of the sentence differs from the interjectional prayers in Neh_5:19, Neh_6:14.
(ii) If the verb be in the infin., the words express Nehemiah’s resolution in the face of his difficulties, ‘I will strengthen my hands.’ There would be no difficulty presented by such a construction if either the infinitive had been preceded by a verb in a finite form, or the subject of the verb had been expressed. But as both those conditions are lacking, the infinitival construction is certainly extremely harsh and unusual. It is strange to find ‘a note added, in the form of a soliloquy, to a description of events which had happened at least 12 years before the final publication of these memoirs.’
Somewhat in favour of the latter view is the evidence of the Gr. and Latin versions, which give, ‘And I strengthened my hands.’ LXX. καὶ νῦν ἐκραταίωσα τὰς χεῖράς μου. Vulg. ‘quam ob causam magis confortavi manus meas,’ and ‘But I will strengthen my hands,’ Syr. and Arab. It may be contended that the Versions have merely aimed at giving the most probable sense, without facing the grammatical difficulty; and that, if so, their evidence is of little value. On the other hand their unanimity possibly indicates a difference of text at any early time. So far as they only record a traditional interpretation, they are opposed to the view that the words are a prayer. On the whole the rendering of the R.V. margin seems preferable. It is a harsh construction, but with a simple meaning. The explanation of a prayer escapes the difficulty of construction, but creates a greater objection in the ellipse of the Sacred Name. Among the older explanations of this clause there is the very strange one which suggested that Nehemiah’s words are addressed to Sanballat, whom he invites to strengthen his hands instead of weakening them in the task of completing the walls. For the phrase ‘strengthen my hands,’ cf. 1Sa_23:16, ‘strengthened his hands in God.’
Dangers from within: False Prophets (Neh_6:10-14)
10.10. Afterward I came] R.V. And I went. There is no note of time expressed.
Shemaiah the son of Delaiah] Not otherwise known; apparently a priest and a prophet. The name Delaiah occurs in 1Ch_24:18 as that of the three-and-twentieth priestly house.
Mehetabeel] R.V. Mehetabel.
who was shut up] Concerning the meaning of this obscure phrase there is much variety of opinion. (LXX. καὶ αὐτὸς συνεχόμενος. Vulg. secreto.)
(a) According to one view, he was ‘shut up’ in the sense that he was prevented by ceremonial pollution from mixing in the society of his countrymen or from approaching the Temple. Cf. Jer_33:1; Jer_36:5. Accepting this interpretation, we see in his proposal to Nehemiah the extremity of his alarms real or feigned.
(b) According to another view, the expression is metaphorical, and denotes that he was a ‘prisoner,’ in the sense of being ‘possessed by’ the prophetic spirit.
(c) According to a third view, he had shut himself up in his house in order to show by a symbolical action that Nehemiah was prophetically warned to take refuge in some hiding-place. Cf. 1Ki_22:11; Jer_28:10; Act_21:11.
within the temple … doors of the temple] Shemaiah’s proposal is that Nehemiah should hide himself in sacred precincts, where only priests could go. He implies that this advice which he gives as a prophet is sufficient sanction to absolve the act of profanation. The safety of the governor, he seems to say, is of more importance than a detail of ceremonial.
yea, in the night, &c.] The repetition of the clauses has all the ring of poetic parallelism.
‘They will come.’ The indefiniteness of the oracular utterance does not state who the assassins are.
11 And I said] Nehemiah refuses to listen to Shemaiah. (1) He has his duty and position as governor to remember; it is not for him to show the white feather. (2) The proposal to take refuge in the Temple is monstrous; it was forbidden by the Law, which he served, and to trespass upon the domain of the priests was impious in the extreme. (Cf. 2Ch_26:16-20.)
Should such a man as I] The governor and the leader of the national movement.
being as I am] R.V. being such as I, i.e. not a Priest, cf. Neh_1:1, Neh_2:3, but the Governor responsible for the protection of his countrymen.
would go into the temple to save his life] R.V. marg. ‘Or, could go into the temple and live’. According to the A.V. and R.V. text the words ‘and live’ are made to depend upon the verb ‘go,’ and denote the purpose of the action ‘to save his life.’ According to the rendering of the R.V. marg., which is more probable, the words ‘and live’ (cf. Deu_5:24) are coordinate with ‘go,’ and represent the main thought of astonished enquiry. The Law declared that the stranger, i.e. ‘the layman that cometh nigh shall be put to death,’ Num_18:7. Nehemiah’s words point to this prohibition, binding against the governor as much as against the poorest of the Israelites. He does not quote a written statute, but appeals to what was generally known and recognised as law.
Should such a man as I flee? i.e. Should a man in my position, the head of the state, bound to set an example to others, fly from danger and hide myself? Surely not. And who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? Rather, “could go into the temple and live?” Dean Stanley compares Becket’s noble words,—”I will not turn the cathedral into a castle,”—but the parallel is not close. Nehemiah feels, not that he would profane the temple by making it into a place of refuge, but that he would break the law by simply entering it. Ewald shows that he has caught the point of the objection when he says, “Nehemiah thought that, as a layman, he must not break the Divine command by entering the sanctuary itself”.
And lo, I perceived that] R.V. And I discerned, and, lo. The R.V. gives the verb the requisite sense of ‘recognition’ as in Gen_27:23, ‘he discerned him not.’ Not as some commentators ‘I considered.’ Of a sudden, as it were, Nehemiah distinguishes the man’s object. The interjection ‘and, lo,’ follows after the recognition of Shemaiah’s character and intent.
God had not sent him] The emphasis lies on ‘God,’ i.e. it was not God that sent him, but Sanballat and his party. Cf. Jer_23:21, ‘I sent not these prophets, yet they ran: I spake not unto them, yet they prophesied.’ Nehemiah’s words probably refer to the Deuteronomic law about the false prophet that ‘speaketh rebellion against God’ and seeketh ‘to draw thee away from the Lord thy God’ (Deu_13:5; Deu_13:10).
he pronounced this prophecy against me] i.e. his prophecy was not on behalf of God to declare a divine message, but to oppose Nehemiah.
for (R.V. And) Tobiah and Sanballat] The clause is not a parenthetical explanation, but gives the third point which Nehemiah ‘discerned’ in Shemaiah’s action. He had ‘discerned’ (1) that Shemaiah’s message was not of God, (2) that its purpose was hostile to himself, (3) that it was the result of bribery on the part of Tobiah and Sanballat.
This is the first statement that Tobiah and Sanballat were in communication with a party in Jerusalem itself hostile to Nehemiah, cf. Neh_6:17-19; Neh_13:4; Neh_13:28. ‘Tobiah and Sanballat.’ The usual order of the names is inverted, it has been suggested, because ‘Tobiah was the immediate briber, Sanballat only finding the funds’ (Pulpit Comm.). More probably, however, his name stands first in this passage because in intrigues with the Jews of Jerusalem (Neh_13:4 ff.) he was the more active and dangerous.
hired] Cf. Ezr_4:5.
Therefore] R.V. For this cause.
and sin] i.e. by transgressing ‘the law,’ by violating the sanctity of the House of God.
matter for an evil report] Literally, ‘and that it might be to them for an evil name.’ The Vulgate gives the sense generally ‘et haberent malum quod exprobrarent mihi.’ The LXX. goes wrong, καὶ γένωμαι αὐτοῖς εἰς ὄνομα πονηρόν. The phrase ‘an evil name’ occurs also in Deu_22:14; Deu_22:19 in the sense ‘an evil report.’
Nehemiah would incur ‘an evil name’ with the priestly class and the strict Jews for consulting his personal safety rather than the sanctity of the law. Such conduct would weaken his hold upon the best people of the nation. Cf. Psa_38:16, ‘For I said, Lest they rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me.’
My God, think thou upon] R.V. Remember, O my God. Tobiah’s name stands before Sanballat’s. Cf. Neh_6:12.
and on the prophetess] R.V. and also the prophetess. Noadiah’s name only occurs here. We know from the case of Huldah and Anna that women were sometimes privileged to possess the gift of prophecy (2Ki_22:14; Luk_2:36). Noadiah seems to have acted with ‘the rest of the prophets,’ who were probably bribed to intimidate Nehemiah. Sanballat had accused Nehemiah of obtaining popular influence by suborning prophets to support him (Neh_6:7). Nehemiah’s words in this verse show that the religious teachers of the people were divided in mind. The LXX. and possibly the Vulgate regarded ‘Noadiah’ as masc. (τῷ Νωαδίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ, ‘Noadiζ prophetζ’).
Nehemiah’s prayer closes this section. Cf. Neh_6:14, Neh_5:19, and Neh_13:14; Neh_13:22; Neh_13:31.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. According to Josephus (‘Ant. Jud.,’ Neh_11:5, § 8), the work of restoration occupied two years and four months, or 840 days, instead of fifty-two. And this period has been thought so much more probable than the smaller one, that moderns generally have accepted it, while some have even proposed to alter our present text of Nehemiah by the insertion of u-shnathayim, “and two years,” at the end of this verse (Ewald). But the authority of Josephus on matters of remote history is so small, and the whole account of Nehemiah is so harmonious and consistent with itself, that alteration seems quite unnecessary. Nehemiah leaves Susa in Nisan, probably towards the middle or close of the month, for his preparations must have taken him some time. He would be likely to be nearly three months on his journey, and would thus reach Jerusalem about the middle of July—say July 15. He then rested three days, surveyed the wall, laid his plan before the nobles, arranged the working parties, and set to work. It was his object to hasten matters as much as possible; and he may well have commenced the rebuilding within ten days of his arrival. Fifty-two days from July 25 would bring him to Sept. 15, which corresponds, as nearly as may be, to the 25th of Elul. There is no difficulty in supposing that the wall could have been repaired in this space. The materials were ready at hand; the working parties were numerous; the workmen full of zeal. If we estimate the circumference of the wall at four miles, which is probably beyond the truth, and the working parties at forty-two (Ewald), it will follow that each party had, on the average, to repair 168 yards, or at the rate of between three and four yards a day. There was probably no work done on the sabbaths, and there may have been one or two days of interruption, when attack seemed imminent (Neh_4:13-15); but otherwise the work was carried on without pause from early dawn to dark (ibid. verse 21). The wall attained to half its height in a very short time (ibid. verse 6),—there was then a brief interruption,—after which came the main work of completing the entire circuit to its full height. It is possible that the fifty-two days are counted from the “return to work (ibid. verse 15).
15–19. The Completion of the Wall (Neh_6:15); and the impression produced (Neh_6:16): treasonable correspondence (Neh_6:17-19)
15.15. Elul] This month, which is the same as the Assyrian U-lu-lu, corresponds to the end of August and beginning of September. It is mentioned in 1Ma_14:27. The 25th of Elul would be September 444. Elul, the 6th of the sacred year, was the last month of the civil year.
in fifty and two days] Nehemiah is evidently calling attention to the remarkable rapidity with which the wall was built. But though a remarkable performance, there is nothing incredible in it; and the suggestion to append to the text ‘and two years’ (so Ewald) would give a period of time strangely at variance with the description of haste and urgency in chap. 5. It is true this would nearly agree with Josephus’ statement that the wall took two years and four months building; but Josephus’s chronology is not to be preferred to our text, when the LXX. and the Vulgate show no variation. We do not know the grounds which Josephus had for giving ‘two years and four months;’ but even this circumstantial statement disagrees with the proposed reading.
In order to account for the speed with which the wall was built, we must bear in mind, (a) that large numbers of people were employed upon the work, and a thorough system of distribution facilitated its execution; (b) the walls in many parts probably only required repairing, while the materials for the most part lay all ready to hand: (c) Nehemiah and his companions constantly stimulated the people to persevere in the work: (d) according to a very reasonable computation, the 40 lots into which the wall (cf. ch. 3) was distributed averaged about 80 yards apiece, and many lots were omitted in the list.
For another instance of the rapid erection of walls under patriotic stimulus, compare the action of Themistocles and the Athenians (see Grote’s Hist. of Greece, vol. IV. p. 333 f.).
all our enemies] Cf. Neh_4:1, Neh_5:9, Neh_6:1.
that when … and all the heathen … saw these things, they, &c.] R.V. when … that all the heathen … feared, and, &c. Marg. ‘According to another reading, saw’. There is little distinction to be drawn between ‘the enemies’ and ‘the heathen.’ The leaders of the hostile races heard, and then the races themselves feared. The reading ‘feared,’ which is also that of the LXX. ἐφοβήθησαν, and the Vulg. ‘timerent,’ gives a preferable sense to ‘saw.’ The distinction in the A.V. between the ‘seeing’ of ‘the heathen’ and the ‘hearing’ of ‘the enemies’ is quite meaningless, and tells against that reading. The rendering of the R.V. suggests that the news first reached Tobiah, Sanballat and Geshem, and then spread a panic among the Moabites, Samaritans, Arabians, &c.
they were much cast down in their own eyes] A peculiar expression which occurs only in this passage; literally, ‘they fell much in their own eyes.’ According to the present text, two explanations have been given: (a) = ‘they were much vexed and disconcerted.’ ‘To fall in one’s eyes’ is then to be compared with the ‘falling’ or ‘lowering’ of the countenance. Cf. Gen_4:5-6; 1Sa_17:32. (b) = ‘they had fallen greatly in their own estimation,’ i.e. they despised themselves. In their own eyes, i.e. in their own opinion, their power had received a heavy blow; they had ‘fallen,’ as it were, and the Jews were exalted.
A different text is followed in the three renderings: (a) the LXX. ‘And fear fell upon their eyes exceedingly,’ καὶ ἐπέπεσεν φόβος σφόδρα ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτῶν. (b) the Vulgate ‘et conciderent inter semet ipsos’ (bayneyhem for b’ay-neyhem). (c) ‘And they caused their eyes to fall’, with the same meaning as that given in Jer_3:12, ‘I will not look in anger upon you’ (marg. Heb. ‘cause my countenance to fall upon you’).
this work was wrought of our God] In the completion of the wall the special favour of the God of Israel must have been recognised. What else could explain the unexpected commission from Artaxerxes at the beginning, and the frustration of all the machinations of the enemy? Cf. Psa_126:2, ‘Then said they among the nations, The Lord hath done great things for them.’ For the phrase, cf. Psa_118:23.
in those days] i.e. during the whole of this period a treasonable correspondence was carried on between Tobiah and the disaffected Jewish nobles. That these included the family of the High-priest is rendered probable by Chap. Neh_13:4.
sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of, &c.] ‘Sworn unto him.’ LXX. ἔνορκοι … αὐτῷ. It is implied that Tobiah’s connexion by marriage ensured him the support of many leading Jews; the conjunction ‘because’ suggests that the members of a family on welcoming a stranger within their circle, pledged themselves to him by an oath.
It is possible however to give a more general interpretation: many of the nobles conspired with Tobiah, and they had opportunities to meet him on account of his connexion by marriage. In Neh_13:4 we find Eliashib the High-priest described as ‘allied unto Tobiah.’ ‘Son-in-law,’ or at any rate a relation by marriage.
Shechaniah the son of Arah] R.V. Shecaniah, &c. The house of Arah is mentioned in Ezr_2:5. Shecaniah was clearly a man of eminence.
Johanan] R.V. Jehohanan. The name of Tobiah’s son is a compound of which the first two syllables are derived from the sacred Hebrew Name for God. Cf. note on Neh_2:10.
had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah] R.V. had taken … to wife. This Meshullam is mentioned in Neh_3:4; Neh_3:30, from which passages we conclude that he was of priestly descent.
reported … uttered] R.V. spoke of … reported. The Hebrew gives the idea of continuous action. They endeavoured to convince Nehemiah that Tobiah’s professions of goodwill were sincere. Perhaps too they spoke of the generous way in which he distributed money among the Jews. On the other hand they communicated to Tobiah all that Nehemiah said and did, with the view of supplying him with material for charges against Nehemiah to be made before the Persian king, or for slanders to the Jewish people. The word for ‘His good deeds,’ or ‘virtues,’ (tôbôthâv) is perhaps a play on the name ‘Tobiah.’
Tobiah … in fear] i.e. letters like that of Sanballat quoted above (Neh_6:5-8).