Nehemiah: Chapters 7-13

Chapter 7
Restoring Order

The greater part of this chapter, from verse 6 to the end, consists of the register of the genealogy, which has already been considered in our study of the book of Ezra (chap. 2), and which we need not again go over here.

This might seem to leave very little that is new for our present concern; but a careful examination of the five opening verses will reveal much on which we may meditate with profit, as being of marked importance at the present serious moment of our history as saints and servants of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. The more Nehemiah’s record is examined, the more it will be seen that every sentence is pregnant with instruction for these closing days of the dispensation of grace. “Written aforetime,” they were, nevertheless, “written for our learning;” and we shall be blessed indeed if we carefully appropriate and earnestly practice the lessons they convey to us.

“Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed, that I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem; for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many” (vers. 1, 2). There are several matters of moment to occupy us in these two verses. Tfre wall, we have seen, speaks of separation—both from the world and its evil and to the Lord the God of Israel. The gates speak, not of unscriptural exclusion that has no heart for those who are of the one family, but of fellowship, admitting to the privileges to be enjoyed within the walls all who have divine title to enter, and barring out all others. And this suggests the importance of Nehemiah’s appointment of porters, or gate-keepers. He was not indifferent as to who came or went. The business of the porters was to act as watchmen of the gates, permitting only such to come inside as could give evidence of their right so to do.

In applying this to the ordering of the assembly, it is easy to see what an important place the porter occupies. Suppose a company of believers, gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in separation from worldly and ecclesiastical evil: how long will its purity and holy character be maintained if people are allowed to come and go as they will, without true, godly care as to their new birth, their behavior, the doctrines that they bring, or the associations they go on with? Hence the need of the sometimes unpleasant service of the porter.

I do not mean that certain ones should be appointed as inquisitors of those applying for fellowship; rather, that all should be duly exercised before God as to who are received to the holy and exalted privileges of Christian fellowship. In the breaking and eating of the loaf, and the drinking of the cup, we not only set forth the Lord’s death, and fellowship with Him who thus gave Himself for us, but we thereby manifest our communion or fellowship with those participating with us in this solemn observance. And how can there be fellowship if there be not confidence and unity? Therefore the folly of declaring that “We examine no one: each must judge himself: none are accountable to others.”

Such principles are subversive of Christian communion. We are called upon to discern those who, with us, partake at the table of the Lord. “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one” we are commanded “not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). But must we not then examine those called brothers if we are to be obedient to this scripture? And again, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine” (i.e., the doctrine of Christ), we are told to “receive him not into your house, nor greet him, for he that greeteth him is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jno. 10, 11, N. T.). But if the gates be left wide open, and the porter asleep, or off duty, who shall hinder persons—either themselves bringing the evil teaching, or contaminated by known association with it—forcing their way in, to the defilement of the whole company? Hence the need of godly care in receiving to Christian fellowship.

It is sometimes said, “We receive all who are Christ’s.” But do any really mean this? Who dares pronounce as to those who are Christ’s? “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). We make a great mistake when we attempt to give oracular decisions as to so momentous a matter. We are only called upon to examine the profession, the life, the doctrine, and, as a matter of course, the associations of the applicant for fellowship. Even then, when all due care has been exercised, a self-deceived one or a deceiver, may be unwittingly permitted to creep in (Jude 4), to cause serious trouble later; but if there were no porter-service at all, who can conceive the state of things that would soon exist! The world itself is not so foolish as to leave its ports of entry unguarded. It is certainly far easier to allow any who desire to come in unchallenged; but it is neither for their blessing nor the peace of the assembly, not to speak of the glory of the Lord. So it would have been easier in Nehemiah’s day to have opened the gates at dawn and left them open till nightfall, with no watchful porter to question persons de- siring to enter; hut in that case, how much of the work we have been considering would have gone for nothing!

The porter at the gate was therefore a person of great importance in Jerusalem, and only discreet and cautious men should have performed this service. And what answers to this in the Christian assembly is the exercise of godly, thoughtful care as to who are permitted to share in the holy things committed to the people of God. Fellowship is worth too much to be frittered away by mere sentimentality. It has been said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”—and we might say it of Christian fellowship also, which is soon dissipated if the porter’s service is overlooked.

The second order established by Nehemiah was that of the singers. And they too may give occasion for fruitful meditation. The spirit of praise is the spirit of power. A rejoicing assembly will be one where God is free to work, and will become a channel of blessing to those without. In Israel the singers were a distinct company, separated from the body of the people. But the New Testament contemplates no such incongruity as a choir—surpliced or otherwise—to lead the praises of the assembly. The Lord Jesus Himself is the Leader, and all believers are exhorted to “sing with the spirit and with the understanding also.” “Speaking to your- selves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart unto the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19, 20). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another; in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord” (Col. 3:16). In these verses we have clearly set forth the singers, the song, and the accompaniment. All believers are the choristers. The accompaniment is not the grand pipe organ or the delightsome-orchestra, but something sweeter far in the ears of God—the melody that rises from a heart filled with His grace.

We may distinguish psalms from hymns. The former would more properly be expressions of praise. To praise is to psalm. (See Ps. 105:2, margin). A hymn is rather an ascription of the perfections of Deity; it expresses the highest point of worship, magnifying God, not because of His works in our behalf, but of His matchless perfections. A spiritual song would be different from either of these. It might be a recital of God’s12 ways or of the believer’s experience.

When gathered in assembly we come together as singers. There the Lord takes His place in the midst to lead our worship and praise, as it is written, “In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto Thffe” (Heb. 2:12). Thus, as occupied with Him, His death and the fruit resulting therefrom, praise well becomes each saint. This is not to legislate against every other spiritual exercise, but it is surely what is characteristic.

And now we turn to consider the third class mentioned in the first verse. These are the Levites, or ministering servants of God. Of old one tribe alone were Levites. But in this dispensation, just as all gathered saints have porter-responsibility upon them, and all are to be singers, so all are servants. “To every man his work” is the Lord’s word for each. But Levite-service may also speak of public ministry, and this of course is not general, but a special responsibility placed upon those who have been gifted accordingly—yea, who are themselves gifts given to the assembly for the edification of the body of Christ.

Such service must be exercised in direct responsibility to the Lord. The Church does not appoint ministers of the Word. Christ as Head alone appoints, and by the Spirit qualifies. The Church tests those who come as ministers by the message they bring, comparing it with the word of God. If it be according to what is there revealed it must be accepted. If contrary to the teaching of Scripture, both teacher and doctrine are to be refused.

There is room in every scripturally-gathered company of saints for all divinely-given ministry. The true Levite will find a welcome there. But, after all is said and done, there is no infallible court on earth that can decide whether or no a man is a gift to the assembly. The only rule is that of Prov. 18:16: “A man’s gift mak-eth room for him.” Hence, if one fancies he is called to expound the Word, and his ministry is not appreciated, he need not abuse the saints, but should rather consider that among them at least his gift has not made room. He may be a minister to others, but not to them. If assured of his divine call, let him patiently go elsewhere; but let him also carefully consider whether he may not be boasting himself of a false gift, and so cause shame at last, because of the emptiness of his ministry (Prov. 25:14). To serve as a Levite in this special sense, one must be in living touch with God, speaking from a full heart of what has stirred his own soul; otherwise his ministry will be barren and profitless. We shall see the Levites doing their God-appointed service in the interesting scenes of the next chapter.

In the second verse now before us we read of two men placed over Jerusalem. We may be as- sured it was not nepotism that led Nehemiah to appoint his own brother Hanani as one of these. To have done this because of relationship would have been most offensive. On the other hand relationship must not hinder when spiritual qualification is evident. Of Hananiah, his coadjutor in this service, it is said that “he was a faithful man and one that feared God above many.” Blessed words of commendation are these! Would that they might be rightfully applied to many more of us! What honor could be greater than to be designated faithful by the Lord Himself on His judgment-seat.

These last-mentioned men had authority over the porters, and to them Nehemiah commands: “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them, and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one to his watch, and every one over against his house” (ver. 3).

Two things concern us here. First:—Entrance into the city was to be in broad day-light. People were not to be permitted to slip in, in the dark. This may have a voice for us. Let all assembly matters especially as concerning reception and excision be open and above-board: nothing under-handed or hidden should be tolerated. Second:—Watchfulness was still required of all. It was not enough to have official porters. All were to be watchmen for the good of all. “What I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!” As long as we have anything to maintain for God down here we need to be on the watch—never off guard for a moment, lest our wily foe introduce what will cause lasting sorrow and disaster.

The city was large and great, we are told—that is, the space enclosed by the walls; but the people were few, and the houses were not builded. The wall enclosed all that had originally been marked off as the city of God. But the remnant were feeble, and care would be needed to maintain the place taken. In view of giving each one his proper portion Nehemiah now investigates the registry made when the first company came up. It was no new work he was engaged in. He is but carrying on what had been commenced some years before. The original record is therefore examined, and all ratified by the governor. As we have already gone over this register we need only refer the reader to the remarks made in the notes on the 2nd chapter of Ezra.

Its appearance here shows how completely Nehemiah had identified himself with the work which the Spirit of God had wrought through Zerubbabel and Joshua. He was one with them, and together they sought the glory of the God of Israel. Let this have a voice for all who have ears to hear.

Chapter 8
The Great Bible-Reading

In every genuine revival among God’s people the revealed Word of the Lord has had a large place. It was so in Josiah’s day, and in the awakening under Hezekiah. It has been so throughout the Church period. It was the recovery of the Word that brought about the Reformation of the 16th century, and every true, awakening since has been based upon Bible study and Bible practice. Of no spiritual movement in history could this more truthfully be said than of that special work of God which began almost simultaneously in many parts of Great Britain and Ireland in the first half of the 19th century. Here and there little companies of devoted believers were found gathering together to search the Scriptures, seeking a right way for themselves and their children in the midst of the existing ecclesiastical confusion and dead formality. To them was revealed from the Word that Christ Jesus is the one Centre of gathering, that the Church is one body in which the Holy Spirit dwells and which He is to guide. Thus disowning everything for which they could find neither a plain “Thus saith the Lord” nor a simple divine principle exemplified in Scrip- ture, they turned away from all sects and systems to be known only as brethren in Christ, members of His body, seeking to walk in subjection to the Holy Spirit. For such, these remnant books are full of important and much-needed instruction. They have failed—failed grievously and openly—as did the restored Jews of old; but the same resource remains for these as for those—the abiding, unerring word of God. And it is this that is so strikingly set forth in our chapter. There are seven things here brought to our notice, and I desire to write of them in order.

First, it is a united people waiting on God. This is what verse 1 suggests. “All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the open place that was before the Water Gate.” We have already observed that the Water Gate intimates something of the cleansing, refreshing, reviving power of the word of God. What more fitting place for a company of people to be in who are seeking divine instruction than “the open place before the Water Gate?” Depend upon it God will never disappoint His saints when thus before Him. Of old He said to Moses, “Gather the people together, and I will give them water” (Num. 21:16). And in a higher sense will that word ever be fulfilled when His people are with one mind and one heart gathered together to learn His will from His all-sufficient Word.

In the second place, we hear the cry, “Bring the Book!” Verse 1 goes on to say, “And they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.” People may sneer and call this bibliolatry if they will. Worship of the book it is not. It is rather the acknowledgement that the Author of the Book is the all-wise and all-sufficient One who has so given His Word as to make it a safe guide in every time of confusion. What was it that freed the people of the Lord in the middle ages and overthrew the power of Rome? It was the response to this same cry, “Bring the Book!” And whenever or wherever God’s children are thus ready to hear His Word and do it, there must be blessing and divine illumination.

Mark, they did not seek Ezra’s opinion, nor the ideas of Nehemiah, nor yet those of Zerubbabel. They honored these servants of God, and rightfully so; they would have despised the Master if they had not reverenced His sent ones; but the servants were to be ministers of the Word—not of science or philosophy, nor yet of theology—but of the word of the living God; hence the cry, “Bring the Book!”

It is a grievous thing when merely human writings or words are put upon a level with the Book of books. One dreads the use often made of esteemed brethren’s writings. Something is called in question, and at once there is a great effort made to show that Mr. So-and-So taught thus, or Mr. Somebody else has written this or the other. In this way the authority of the word of God is weakened in men’s souls, and people are content if they think they hold what Mr. A. or Mr. B. held, even though they are quite unable to find authority for it in the book of God. This is a snare of which we need to be watchful lest we find ourselves once more teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Thirdly, we learn that when Ezra brought the book, “He read therein before the street that was before the Water Gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law” (ver. 3). This is most blessed—an attentive people solemnized by the word of God. So great was the company that a pulpit of wood was erected for Ezra, and on his right and left were companies of devoted Levites waiting to hear the Word and explain it to the people. It was a day when books were not easily multiplied. Perhaps Ezra had the only Bible there was in all the land; but in the manner indicated it was made the common property of all the people.

Subjection to the Word is the fourth point; that comes prominently before us in verses 5 to 8. “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people); and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Who that has any conscience at all can fail to be touched by the reverence thus shown for the word of God? Such a Bible-reading was no free and easy, carnal coming together to argue over certain doctrines or debate intricate questions to the bewilderment of the simple, and the spiritual harm of the more advanced. Neither was it a place for some leader to shine, and to have his interpretations received without question as the mind of the Lord. This great Bible-reading was marked by a holy subjection to God and a hallowed reverence for His Word that contrasts strikingly with modern flippancy and irreverence in handling holy things.

To minister the Word to such a company must have been both a great joy and a solemn responsibility for Ezra and the Levites as they “caused the people to understand the law, and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (vers. 7, 8). It needs to be borne in mind that, after the captivity, Hebrew, as a spoken language, had largely been displaced by Aramaic, hence the need of carefully explaining the Hebrew words to the waiting people.

Fifthly, the word of God as a source of joy and refreshment. This is what is suggested in the next section, verses 9 to 12: “And Nehemiah, that is the Tirshatha [or, governor], and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God: mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.” Their awakened consciences told them how guilty they and their fathers had been in refusing to obey the word of God; but their tears of penitence testified to the self-judgment that was going on; and, with God, sin judged is sin put away. Hence the cheering words of verse 10. “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” God loves to surround Himself with a holy, happy people; but the two things of necessity go together. Holiness and happiness are inseparable. Who can fail to see in what is here before us a striking picture, often fulfilled, when God has visited His people in giving them bread? Refreshed and edified themselves, they become channels of blessing to others, sharing gladly with those “for whom nothing is prepared.”

“So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy, neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (vers. 11, 12). How much deeper the joy to-day, in the light of a full gospel, when saints gather about a risen Christ, and His word is brought home to each heart in the Spirit’s power, leading to similar exercises and lifting-up before God!

It is of obedience to the Word that the sixth section speaks. On the second day the chiefs of the people came together again, and the reading of the Word was continued. On this occasion a notable discovery was made: “They found written … that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month” (ver. 14). Now this was at once recognized as a challenge to obedience. Here was something which had been unobserved for a thousand years—and still it was in the Book! Verse 17 shows us that in the palmiest days of David and Solomon no attention had been paid to this particular precept. “Since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so.” To obey it required considerable inconvenience; they might have argued that what Samuel, David, Solomon and others had overlooked was surely non-essential; but “they found it written,” and that settled it for an obedient people. So the whole company went out to the mountains, and brought olive, pine, myrtle, and palm branches and made booths, “as it is written,” and in these they dwelt, thus calling to for His pilgrim, people in the wilderness: “And there was very great gladness.” What a lovely example of unquestioning obedience to the Word!

And so we come to the seventh thought, in closing our somewhat rapid survey of the chapter: The word of God is all-sufficient for every experience of life. “Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the manner” (ver. 18). Those seven days looked on to the Kingdom, when the Lord shall be surrounded by a happy, redeemed people, the eighth day bringing an outlook into eternity. Throughout Time the word of God contains all His people need for spiritual food and daily guidance.

Oh, for grace ever to hide that Word in our hearts, thus to be kept from sin, and to have our steps ordered accordingly, and every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ!

Chapter 9
The Word And Prayer

The relations of the word of God and prayer come out vividly in this portion. The seven days’ ministry of the Word had had a most blessed effect, so that “in the twenty and fourth day of this month (the same month that was ushered in by the great Bible-reading) the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sack-clothes, and earth upon them. And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshiped the Lord their God” (vers. 1-3).

The order here is most instructive. It was first the Word, then prayer,

confession, and worship. The Word had been having its effect in a wonderfully real way since the seven days’ feast. What that Word judged, they had been judging. What that Word commanded they had sought to do. Hence we have as a result the remnant reaching what was probably the highest moral state they ever occupied from the Babylonian captivity to the coming of Messiah. Their separ- ation was complete. “They separated themselves from all strangers.” It was now for the first time that position and condition seemed to coalesce.

And so they come together again desiring to learn more of the mind of God that it might lead to increased devotedness. So the Bible-reading is again prominent. The first quarter of the day is spent in hearing the Word. Then the next quarter is given up to prayer: “They confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.” It is unwise, and may be hurtful, to reverse this order. The Word and prayer should ever go together—but it should be the Word first; then prayer follows intelligently. The believer should be a man holding the even balance of learning from the Word and cultivating the spirit of prayer. We need to hear God speaking to us that we may speak rightly to God.

One who gives himself pre-eminently to the Word, neglecting prayer, will become heady and doctrinal—likely to quarrel about “points,” and be occupied with theoretical Christianity to the hurt of his soul and the irritation of his brethren. On the other hand, one who gives himself much to prayer while neglecting the Word is likely to become exceedingly introspective, mystical, and sometimes fanatical. But he who reads the word of God reverently and humbly, seeking to know the will of God, and then gives himself to prayer, confessing and judging what the Scriptures have condemned in his ways, and words, and thoughts, will have his soul drawn out in worship also, and thus grow both in grace and in knowledge, becoming a well-rounded follower of Christ. Apart from a knowledge of the Word, prayer will lack exceedingly in intelligence; for the objective must ever precede the subjective, but not be divorced therefrom.

Here, in Nehemiah 9 (which as we have else where noticed is linked, in confession, with Daniel 9 and Ezra 9), the Levites lead the people in their prayer and praise, standing “on the stairs,” as though going up to the heavenly sanctuary. And in the prayer that follows—the longest in the Bible (Solomon’s dedicatory prayer being considerably shorter)—there is much blessed instruction as we listen to the rehearsal of God’s ways with their fathers and the confession of their own failure and sin.

The opening words remind us of the beginning of what is generally called the Lord’s prayer—and of what should occupy a pre-eminent place in all prayer—“Hallowed be Thy Name.” The Levites called on all the people to stand tip and bless the Eternal One, their God, whose glorious name is exalted above all blessing and praise. To Him alone creation is ascribed and, as though testifying against the idolatry all about them that led the nations to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, they acknowledge that “all the host of heaven worship Him.” He it was who had chosen Abram, bringing him out of Ur of the Chaldees, making him in very deed to answer to his new name Abraham—“the father of a multitude.” To him the promise of the land of Canaan was given which in due course was fulfilled in his seed—multitudinous as the sand of the sea, brought out of Egyptian bondage, led through the sea and the wilderness by the cloudy pillar, first to the mount of God and then to the land of promise (vers. 4-12). The Levites celebrated the giving of the law at Sinai; and it is of moment to notice that they declare it was then—and not before—that the holy Sabbath was made known to them (ver. 14). This would seem conclusive evidence that whereas God sanctified the seventh day at the completion of His work, as recorded in the second chapter of Genesis, He did not give it to man by command until He had a redeemed people gathered about Himself in the wilderness. It was a sign, or reminder, not alone of God’s rest after the creative days, but of the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, and the pledge of a rest yet to come.

But after celebrating the mighty acts of the Lord, the Levites go on to confess the fearful break-down of the people, and that from the very first. Their fathers dealt proudly, and in place of recognizing their dependence on this mighty Deliverer who had wrought so wondrously on their behalf, they hardened their necks and harkened not to His commandments—in their rebellion desiring even to return to the very land of bondage from which He had taken them. Their wilderness history was a most humbling record, full of evidences of their folly, and yet abounding with testimonies of Jehovah’s faithfulness, who sustained them through all those forty years “so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not” (vers. 13-21). And when at last they reached the land given by covenant to Abraham, the nations therein were rooted out before them and they themselves planted in their place; there they multiplied and grew, rejoicing in the abundance of the fruitful fields of Canaan, and delighting themselves in the great goodness of their covenant-keeping God (vers. 22-25).

But disobedience and rebellion characterized them almost from the days of Joshua, and God’s holy law they cast behind their back, despising His precepts and slaying His prophets when such were sent to show them their sin and call them back to subjection to His word. When, in their distresses, they cried to Him He granted them deliverance—not for their deserts, but for His own name’s sake, according to His mercies; thus again and again manifesting His tender loving and care.

Yet scarcely had He interposed on their behalf than they turned aside as before, sinning against His judgments (that is, the testimonies rendered), “which if a man do he shall live in them,” thus fighting against His Holy Spirit who spake in the prophets; until, at last, the kings of Assyria and Babylonia were permitted to root them out of their inheritance, carrying them captive to the land of the stranger.

The Levites own the justice of all God’s dealings with the nation. “Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly,” is their humble acknowledgment. And they go on to confess how their kings, princes, priests and fathers had not kept the law, nor harkened to His commandments, nor turned from their wicked works; and so they remained bondmen to that very day, subject to the kings of Persia; even though a little reviving had been granted them, and they had been gathered once more at God’s centre. Now, bearing in mind all the evil consequences of disobedience in the past, they made a “sure covenant” (alas, again to be soon broken!) and, putting it in writing, signed and sealed it; pledging themselves to cleave to the Lord, to separate from all strangers, and faithfully to do His will (vers. 33-38).

That they were truly in earnest none can doubt, but the future would show once more, as the past so often had done, that man is not to be trusted, and that were God’s covenant based on human faithfulness, instead of divine grace, all hope for man’s lasting blessing: would be vain.

Yet it is well to have such seasons of exercise as this which we have been contemplating. Undoubtedly, it was for many a step forward, which they never retraced, although for the nation, as such, there could be no full restoration till the advent of God’s Anointed.

Chapter 10
The New Start

It is both true and false (according to the thought one has in mind) that God never restores a failed testimony. If by this expression, frequently heard at the present time, it be meant that failure having once blighted a movement that originally was of God, it will never again reach its pristine glory, the statement is undoubtedly true. But if it be meant that, ruin having come in, God will not answer the cry of repentance with revival and restoration though His face is earnestly sought, it is utterly false. It is to be feared that it is spiritual lethargy and an unwillingness to bestir oneself and seriously face existing conditions, which are the real causes why many once gathered to the name of Jesus now go on in isolation, blaming the divisions and lack of spirituality evidenced by others as the reason for their having left the path of subjection to God’s revealed will as to the corporate testimony of His people.

To such, what we have just been considering ought to speak loudly. Things had got indeed very low among the remnant. Their actual condition had become most dishonoring to God. Nevertheless their position was a right one, and nothing could be gained by forsaking it. The important thing was to remain where they were, and seek to put away all that hindered their enjoyment of the Lord’s favor, that thus their state individually and corporately might be approved of Him.

So we have seen them turning unitedly to the Word, earnestly inquiring as to what God had said, and when “they found it written,” acting upon it, though it meant, as in many instances it did, bitter sorrow and painful humiliation.

Having pledged themselves (in accord with the spirit of the legal dispensation) to put away all strangers and to walk obediently before God, they drew up a written declaration, signing and sealing it, from Nehemiah the Governor down to the lowest in rank of the common people, “all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding” (vers. 1-28).

It was a serious, solemn and definite thing they had undertaken, and it would require purpose of heart to carry it out. “They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of Jehovah our Lord, and His judgments and His statutes; and that we would not give our daughters unto the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: and if the peoples of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt” (vers. 29-31).

Notice carefully what it was they had covenanted to do—

First: To walk in God’s law; or, in other words, to be subject to the Holy Scriptures. Second (and of course all that followed was involved in the first): To maintain separation from the peoples of the land that there be no unequal yoke. Third: To honor God by a careful observance of the Sabbath day, not permitting greed or lust for strangers’ dainties to lead them to violate its sacredness. Fourth: To let the land lie fallow every seventh year, for disobedience to which command they had of old been carried to Babylon, while for seventy years the land kept Sabbath. Fifth: To deal graciously with each other as brethren, leaving the exaction of every debt, not acting in the spirit of the usurer.

Are there not weighty lessons for us in these pledges? I mean for those who have sought to give Christ His place as Head, and to act on the truth of the oneness of the body of Christ, but who have so miserably failed to keep the Spirit’s unity in the bond of peace. Wherein have we missed our way? Has it not been in what is here set forth in Old Testament language? Must we not confess that we have not been obedient to the word of our God? We prided ourselves on having taken a right position—directed thereto by the Word—but we have not been careful to be individually subject to that Word. Is it not a fact that to many the “voice of the assembly” has been louder than the voice of God in Holy Scripture? Is it not a fact that the traditions of the elders have, in critical times, been more relied on than “Thussaith the Lord?” Is it not time then that, as individuals and as gathered companies of saints, we go back to the simplicity of early days, and seek to be guided henceforth alone by the word of the Lord which abideth forever?

And, have we not, likewise, greatly missed the truth of separation? Have we not often been quite satisfied in that we were separated ecclesiastically from the world-church, while socially and in our business relations we were linked up with the world to an even greater extent than many not outwardly separated as we? Has not the spirit of the world come into our homes and assemblies? Is it not manifest in the books we enjoy, the clothing we wear, the company we frequent, the language we use? What is mere ecclesiastical separation if we are otherwise so much linked with the world?

And is it not true that, when we have been somewhat aroused as to this, we have enjoined strictest separation from saints often more godly than ourselves, instead of from the spirit of the present age of evil? Has it not often happened that saints of God have been passed by or coldly greeted because of some difference in judgment as to a disciplinary question difficult to determine righteously, while utter worldlings have been given every evidence of affection? These are serious questions, that had better be faced now than at the judgment-seat of Christ.

We know that, as we are not under law but under grace, the Sabbath of a past dispensation is now for us fulfilled in Christ, but are we then giving Christ His place, and not permitting our greed for gain or our lust after earth’s pleasant things to break in upon that Sabbath-rest we should ever enjoy in Him? Can our business affairs always bear the test of His eyes that are as a flame of fire? Have we one weight for testing sacred things and another for what we call secular affairs? May there not be cause for exercise as to these matters; and may it not be that right here is one reason for our leanness?

And what of the seventh year? It was this “leaving the seventh year” that really showed that Israel were a people confiding in the living God. “To live by faith” is often spoken of as though it were the calling or prerogative of those separated to the ministry of the Word. But are not all believers called to live by faith—to hold things here with a loose grasp, but lay hold on eternal life as the one thing needful? And have we been largely forgetting this, and contenting ourselves with “gathering on divine ground,” “scripturally breaking bread,” “maintaining the testimony,” and all the rest of what is merely outward and ecclesiastical, while losing our grip on eternal realities and living as though this world were by far the more important of the two? Is it any wonder then that when matters arise among us calling for the exercise of spiritual discernment and godly judgment we are found wanting, and what should be for the unifying of the saints becomes the means of their scattering?

And this brings us to the fifth pledge: What about the exaction of every debt? Have we not been hard and exacting and over-much righteous with one another, alienating those we ought to have drawn with cords of love, and demanding of each other what subjects of grace should be ashamed to press? Surely, as before intimated, it is high time to “leave off this usury.”

The end of the dispensation is fast approaching. The Judge is standing at the door. The Lord is looking on, close at hand. The word of God is being given up and its truth denied on every hand. It is high time that those who love that Word cease their exactions one of another, and all alike judging everything that has hindered fellowship, put away for ever the evil things that have wrought such havoc, and so stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and hand in hand for God and His truth in the little time that remains ere “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.”

On the rest of the chapter I have few remarks to offer. Judging the evil, the remnant sought, so far as they might, to put things in order in regard to providing for and maintaining the service of the house of God, giving of their first-fruits and tithes that there might be abundance to carry on the ministry and to support the ministers. Depend upon it, if the Lord’s people get right individually, that which is corporate will flourish, and there will be abundant provision for maintaining a visible testimony. Lack of spirituality closes up hearts and purses. Godliness opens both. The poverty of the people was no barrier when their consciences were in exercise, and they determined “not to forsake the house of their God” (vers. 32-39). And so will it ever be where the love of Christ reigns.

Apart from this all must degenerate more and more until all testimony for God is gone. One who knew and suffered much as standing for “the present truth” left behind seasonable words of warning with which I bring this portion to a close.

“What is important is not ‘The Brethren,’ but the truth they have … God could set them aside, and spread His truth by others—would, I believe, though full of gracious patience, if they be not faithful. Their place is to remain in obscurity and devotedness, not to think of Brethren (it is always wrong to think of ourselves), but of souls, in Christ’s name and love, and of His glory.

“Let them walk in love, in the truth, humble, as little (and content to be little) as when they began, and God will bless them. If not, their candlestick may go as that of others—and oh, what sorrow and confusion of face it would be after such grace! …

“As regards also the activity outside them, it is one of the signs of the times, and they should rejoice in it … But it does not give their testimony at all … I do not believe attacks on anything to be our path. Self-defence is every way to be avoided. The Lord will answer for us if we do His will … God has no need of us, but He has need of a people who walk in the truth, in love, and holiness. ‘I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of Jehovah’ (Zeph. 3:12).

“The gospel we may, and must, rejoice in; yet it only makes the testimony of Brethren outside the camp more necessary than ever; but it must be real … If brethren fall in with the current Christianity inside the camp, they would be but another sect with certain truths”—J. N. D.

In the light of much that has transpired one can almost hear the voice of prophecy in such words. Beloved brethren, let us one and all heed their serious message.

Chapter 11
A Willing People

The Bridegroom in the Canticles says: “I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded. Or ever I was aware, my soul set me among the chariots of my willing people” (Song 6:11, 12; 1911 Version); and in psalm 110:3 we read, “Thy people shall be willing (or, a free-will offering) in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.”

Words like these form a fitting introduction to the chapter now soliciting our thoughtful consideration—a passage that seems to be filled only with hard names and meagre details if the important truth be passed over that it is God’s own inspired honor-roll, never to be forgotten, of His willing people. Then indeed we recognize in it such a delightful valley as that described in the Song where the vine is flourishing and the fragrant pomegranates budding for the delectation of Him who rejoices to dwell among His willing-hearted saints—made willing by His power working among them, manifested in holiness of heart and life, engendered and refreshed by the precious dews of the Holy Spirit.

A free-will offering was made, not now of money or other means, but of men devoted to the Lord, to dwell in Jerusalem, that the holy city might be furnished and defended. “And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities. And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem” (vers. 1, 2). As before they had tithed their produce and possessions, so now they tithed themselves. But it was not conscription; for each one chosen responded with a free heart, glad thus to be especially linked with the defense and up-building of the city of the Name. They loved the place where God’s honor dwelt, and they were pleased to be at home there.

Of old, in the wilderness, it was the “willing-hearted and the wise-hearted” who built the sanctuary of the Lord; and may we not say that the willing-hearted are the wise-hearted? For surely it is the evidence of wisdom abiding in the heart when the whole life is freely devoted to the service of the Lord. And so when the evil had been put away from among the remnant of the Jews, and the interests of Jehovah had been made paramount to every other interest, it was the free and loyal service of His willing people that gave joy to the heart of God.

To most of us, perhaps, the details that follow in the balance of the chapter can, in the very nature of things, possess very little interest. It is a mere tabulation of families and individuals whose names to us are often well-nigh unpronounceable, and usually, forgotten almost as soon as read. But in the sight of God it is a tabulation of great importance, and, like other lists we have noticed in these post-captivity books, will be consulted at the judgment-seat of Christ. For these willing offerers will then learn how good was their choice when they accepted loss in this world that they might the better care for the city of God’s choice. Very little is said of these members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (vers. 4-9), and of Levi also who dwelt in Jerusalem (vers. 10-18), but every one is well known to the Lord, and every word and act that told their devotedness of heart to Himself will be manifested in that day. And, even now, where scholarship enables one to read something of the significance of these names, there are doubtless helpful lessons which for the present most of us fail to see.

The porters and servants (the “Nethinim”), yea, and the singers too—true sons of Asaph set “over the business of the house of God” who had their special portion by the king’s commandment (vers. 19-23)—will all be called by name when Messiah sits upon His throne to reward every one who in every dispensation had respect unto the coming recompense. For it was just as truly a service for some to till the fields and dwell in the restored villages, thus holding all the land for God, so far as strength and numbers permitted, as it was for their willing-hearted brethren to abide in the city of the coming King (vers. 25-36). He valued all according to the intention of the heart, and He does the same to-day.

We would not therefore pass carelessly over what some might call so “dry” a chapter as this, but reading it thoughtfully and prayerfully let us challenge our own hearts as to how far we have been and are now characterized by the spirit of willing, joyous obedience to all that God has been pleased to make known to us concerning His holy desires. Words need not be multiplied on such a theme; but exercise may well be real and deep, lest in that day, when the record of our service is opened on high, there be only a blotted story of slothful, almost forced obedience, contrasting unfavorably indeed with the willing offering of these men of old.

In view of this may we be stirred up to heed the Christian poet’s words:

    “Go on, go on; there’s all eternity to rest in,

    And far too few are on the active service list;

    No labor for the Lord is risky to invest in;

    But nothing will make up should His ‘well done’ be missed.”

Chapter 12
The Dedication Of The Wall

It will be remembered that in the duplicate lists of those who first came up to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (or Jeshua, as he is here called), the families only of the priests were mentioned, not the names of the chief priests themselves. That lack is supplied in the opening verses of the present chapter (vers. 1-7). God would have these men in everlasting remembrance, who so efficiently fulfilled their service with true-hearted devotion. The chiefs of the Levites are also mentioned, though of these we have read before in chapters 8:7 and 9:4, 5. A later generation of priests, serving doubtless in the latter days of Nehemiah, is given in verses 12 to 21, the sons of those referred to above, faithful men walking in their fathers’ footsteps, and ensamples to the people. But in the intervening verses (10 and 11) we have a short genealogical list carrying down the line of Jeshua for five generations to Jaddua, the great and justly-celebrated high priest who held this supreme office in the days when the Persian dominion was overthrown by Alexander the Great. There can, I think, be no question as to this table having been added by a later hand, which the Holy Spirit was pleased to use to preserve the record of Jaddua’s descent. Verse 22 must have been added at the same time, declaring that a faithful record of the heads of the Levites had been kept to the days of Darius the Persian, whom I take to be Darius Codomanus, overthrown by the great Macedonian conqueror. It is possible indeed that the book of Malachi may have been written about that time, and that he may have added to the list, or the list itself. His solemn message shows us the sad condition into which the children of the remnant, degenerated after the fathers had died.

Simple souls will not be confused or perplexed at the suggestion we have made above, if they bear in mind that the entire Old Testament was in the hands of the Jewish doctors in the days of our Lord’s sojourn upon earth, and that concerning it all He declared, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” It is not necessary therefore to know in each instance the human author of a book or part of a book. We know that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” and thus we have in every part a “God-breathed” record, and that is enough.

It is evident from the next table (vers. 23-26) that both Nehemiah and Ezra lived through “the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua,” as well as in the days of the father who accompanied Zerubbabel in the first emigration from Babylon. During their life-time the people clung to the word of God, and, with occasional individual lapses, such as we read of in the next chapter, maintained, on the whole, a testimony for the Lord who had brought them back, though in feebleness, to the place where He had set His name. Of the chief of the Levites (ver. 24) it is distinctly said that they were appointed both “to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, ward over against ward.” The temple might be poor indeed as compared with Solomon’s building, “exceeding magnifical,” and the people themselves a small and afflicted remnant, but they sought to act on the divine instruction as to the service of the house of God which had been communicated by David to Solomon at the beginning. Likewise, whatever the feebleness to-day, it is the part of faithfulness to go back to “that which was from the beginning,” and to endeavor, though in weakness, to carry out that which is written in the word of God.

The present chapter is divided into two almost equal parts, the first twenty-six verses belonging properly to chapter eleven, as being entirely composed of genealogical tables similar to those of the previous chapter. The second division continues the course of the history, and contains the account of the feast of the dedication of the now completed wall of Jerusalem. This was turned into a great occasion of rejoicing and thanksgiving to God, who had not only brought the people back from the stranger’s land, but had permitted them to surround His house and His holy city with a separating wall, testifying both to friends and enemies alike that they were under His care who had once scattered their nation because of unjudged sin.

From every quarter the Levites gathered “to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps” (ver. 27). It was a gladsome occasion indeed, and worthy of being joyously commemorated in coming years.

“The sons of the singers” were gathered together all about the city to participate in the general rejoicing. Jerusalem’s wall was a symbol of salvation and her gates of praise.

After the priests and Levites had concluded a ceremony of purification, dedicating the people, the gates, and the wall to the Lord, Nehemiah brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall and divided all into two great companies, stretching out on the right and the left “toward the Dung Gate.” With trumpets pealing out their notes of gladness and voices lifted up in songs of praise, the Levites and priests answered one another in antiphonal chants, after the manner of the 24th psalm; Nehemiah leading one company and Ezra the scribe the other. Thank-offerings were offered upon the altar, and “God made them rejoice with great joy”—as He always does when His people walk before Him in holiness and truth (vers. 31-43).

Nor were the servants of the Lord forgotten, for the people brought their tithes into the storehouse, and out of willing hearts gave abundantly for the maintenance of the sons of Aaron, in accordance with the Word (vers. 44-47).

One is reminded of the two-fold offering of Heb. 13:15, 16: “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But to do good and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” These two offerings should never be divorced—thanksgiving going up to God from grateful hearts, and benevolence flowing forth toward men, the practical expression of that gratitude.

There is no surer indication of a low state in God’s people than to find the poor among them left to suffer want, and the Lord’s servants permitted to endure privation. These last are called to a path of trial, and must needs learn to be abased as well as to abound, to be full and to be empty; but whatever blessing they may find as they thus share Christ’s sufferings, it is to the shame of the people of God, whose debtors they are. Were there more conscientious concern about this matter in many places, there would be richer and fuller ministry vouchsafed by God to His people, and more blessing in the assemblies of His saints, who often need to be reminded that:

    “It never was loving that emptied a heart,

    Nor giving that emptied a purse.”

Let God be honored with the first-fruits of our substance, and He will soon prove that He will be no man’s debtor, but will abundantly confirm the word spoken by Malachi the prophet: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in My house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mai. 3:10, 11). That this illustrates a great spiritual truth is certain. That many have proven it to be intensely literal is equally sure. And it has been to the eternal loss of greater numbers who have failed in this very thing, and forgotten that they were only the stewards, not the owners, of wealth entrusted to them, to be used in view of the everlasting habitations.

Chapter 13
Vigilance Versus Declension

The striking contrast between the praiseworthy vigilance of Nehemiah in detecting and dealing with various phases of declension, and the continual tendency to drifting away from obedience to the written Word on the part of many of the people, is most marked in this closing chapter.

That serious evils soon developed is well known to the student of Jewish history. These were of two characters. On the one hand the separation truth of Nehemiah’s day was soon held in a onesided manner, so that position was everything and condition quite ignored. This resulted in Phariseeism—doctrinally correct in the main, but cold, rigid, and heartless—glorying in separation while ignoring the weightier matters of true piety and godly benevolence. On the other hand there was a re-action against all that savored of the puritanism of those days, so that the mass of the people became careless and indifferent, and, save that idolatry was never reinstated, became as impious as their fathers whose sins had brought the captivity. In all this we may well read a solemn warning, bidding us never separate condition from position, nor piety toward God from grace toward needy men.

Sanctification in its practical aspect is by the truth. Hence it is ever gradual—as the truth is learned in the fear of God. Of this we have a splendid example in the first nine verses. On the very day of the dedication of the wall (for so I understand the opening phrase), that portion of the book of Deuteronomy (chap. 23:3, 4) was read, which we have already quoted in our notes on chapter two, and which commanded that the Ammonite and the Moabite should be excluded from the congregation of the Lord forever because of their iniquitous course towards Israel in the wilderness. This at once led to a closer application of the truth of separation than before. They had previously separated from all strangers; now they “separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (ver. 3).

Of Tobiah the Ammonite, who had so bitterly resented the building of the wall in the beginning, and whose wiles had failed to turn Nehemiah aside from his purpose, we have not heard for a long time. Now we get the startling information that Eliashib the priest, who had the oversight of the dwellings of the priests at the house of God, had made a secret alliance with Tobiah during a hitherto unnoticed absence of Nehemiah, in which time he had returned to wait upon the king. The vigilant governor’s eye being no longer upon him, Eliashib abused his liberty by preparing “a great chamber” for the un- godly Ammonite, which had been formerly used as a storehouse for the tithes and offerings. Probably this apartment was never occupied by Tobiah, for, ere Eliashib’s plan could be fully carried out, Nehemiah returned. Hearing “of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God,” he was sorely grieved, but acted with his accustomed energy, thwarting the unholy purpose by casting the stuff of Tobiah out of the room and cleansing the chambers, into which he again brought the hallowed vessels with the offerings. What an example for the people; nor do we again read of any effort on the part of Tobiah to get a foothold in Jerusalem.

But another evil soon claimed the returned governor’s attention. God’s servants were being neglected by a self-seeking people, and unable to support those dependent upon them, the Levites and the singers, who a little before had willingly offered themselves for the service of the house of God, had gone back to their fields, toiling for daily bread. The test, doubtless, revealed a weakness in these men themselves, but it also showed the declining state of the people in neglecting the temporalities of the house of the Lord; so Nehemiah contends with the rulers, and stirs them up to attend to the gathering of the unpaid tithes. This being accomplished, the Levites could attend on their service (vers. 10-14).

A third sign of declension, encroaching upon the former determination to be faithful to God, was evidenced in the laxity of some as to the sanctity of the Sabbath, the Lord’s holy day, concerning which there had been such particular pledges made. Nehemiah saw some treading wine-presses and engaged in other secular occupations on the Sabbath, even buying and selling and carrying burdens on the day of rest. In vain at first he testified against them. Strangers from Tyre brought fish and other kinds of produce which they offered for sale, and for which they found ready buyers on the Sabbath. Thoroughly aroused, Nehemiah contended with the nobles, the rulers of the people, charging this profanation of the holy day upon them, and reminding them that it was for sin such as this that all the past evil had befallen the Jews and the city of Jerusalem. “Yet,” he cries indignantly, “Ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath” (vers. 13-18).

So, with his accustomed energy, he commanded the gates to be shut at sundown, as the Sabbath drew on, and not to be opened till it was past, while guards were set to see that no burden of any kind was brought into the city on that day. Once or twice the merchants and hucksters lodged all night and all day outside Jerusalem, vainly pleading for admission, but Nehemiah’s orders were carried out to the letter.

Finally, he threatened them with arrest if they came again with their wares on the Sabbath. Seeing the orders were meant to be carried out, they came no more on the Sabbath.

As polluted, the Levites were then commanded to cleanse themselves, and henceforth maintain a guard over the gates “to sanctify the Sabbath day.” Thus for the time the evil was again judged and the declension stayed (vers. 17-22).

But not yet could vigilance be relaxed. The flesh was still at work. In spite of all that they had heard and seen, some had been marrying women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. They may have excused themselves, as many do now, on the plea that they might lead these women to know and worship the one true God and learn the ways of Israel. But it was all a delusion. Children had been born of these unions, and these children were witness to the corruption that had been brought in. They “spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people” (vers. 23, 24). This is ever the fruit of such a yoke in marriage. The children soon follow the ways of the unregenerate parent and use the language of the flesh. Too late is the error realized. Too readily they follow the example and speech of the parent who knows not God.

Again Nehemiah’s righteous anger burst forth. He contended with these unfaithful Jews and invoked the solemn judgments of the law upon them, even smiting some, and demanded of all that they swear by God no longer to countenance in any way these mixed marriages, from which only evil fruit could come. He reminded them how Solomon himself had failed so miserably because of this very thing, and besought them to harken unto the law and not expect others to condone their offences (vers. 25-27). No doubt some would speak of his ways as hard and bitter; but sin is hard and bitter; and persistency in it often requires severe measures to put things right. It is often not a sign of spirituality to be placid and sentimentally affectionate. Such behavior frequently tells of a conscience asleep and a soul unexercised. There was a time when the Lord Jesus made a scourge of small cords—a bitter whip—to drive out the traders from God’s house (Jno. 2:15). Paul’s language too was cutting and denunciatory when Satan’s emissaries were seeking to overthrow divine truth; and God’s wrath too shall be poured out without mixture in the cup of His indignation.

Another instance of declension closes both the chapter and the book. The grandson of Eliashib, the high priest, having married a daughter of Sanballat, the man of God, Nehemiah, drives him away from his presence. His grandfather’s failure is brought again to mind in the descendant’s defection.13 Remembering Eliashib’s intriguing with Tobiah, we are not surprised to read of his grandson’s association with the family of Sanballat. In defiance of all that Nehemiah had been insisting on, this youth had married the guileful Horonite’s daughter. He was the last with whom the governor had to deal, and he graphically declares, “Therefore I chased him from me.” We can almost see the indignant countenance of the now aged Nehemiah as he learns of the perfidiousness of the son of Joiada, and we cannot but admire the energy with which the doughty old warrior drives the culprit from his presence—even making intercession in the spirit of Elijah against those who had defiled the priesthood and violated the covenant. Only by such stern measures could they be cleansed from all strangers.

Consistent to the last, Nehemiah appointed “the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; and for the wood-offering, at times appointed, and for the first-fruits.” Nothing was too great for his faith, and nothing was too insignificant for his consideration if it concerned the house, the people, or the honor of the Lord his God. This was indeed “a faithful man, and one that feared God above many”—just such an one as the times demanded, and he held on his way unflinchingly to the end, neither cajoled by flattery nor intimidated by opposition, for to him the approbation of the God of Israel was infinitely more than the good opinion of carnal or natural men.

And so with the prayer, “Remember me, O my God for good!” the record comes to an abrupt termination, and Nehemiah passes from our view, only to appear again at the manifestation of the sons of God.

If we would learn something of the after-state of the Jews we must turn, as previously intimated, to the last book of the Old Testament, where we learn through Malachi’s stern charges the low state into which the remnant had fallen; while the Gospels and the Acts give us the solemn sequel and show the children of those returned from the captivity rejecting both the Son of God come in flesh to them, and the Holy Spirit also!

Well will it be for Christians who may read these lines, to lay all to heart, that similar declension may be through the mercy of God averted in the present age of grace. May He grant it for His name’s sake and the glory of His beloved Son. Amen!

12 Those who are accustomed to the “Little Flock Hymn Book” might see in No. 235 a typical psalm; in No. 150, an almost matchless hymn; while No. 139 is a good example of a spiritual song.

13 It is not certain, though probable, that Eliashib the high priest is the same as Eliashib the chief priest of verse 4.