Builders by day, guards by night
Angry Samaritan rages at the Jews1Sanballat exploded in rage when he heard Jews were rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. He spun himself into a tirade, insulting them.
2Then he took his show on the road, insulting them in public. He told his friends and some men in the Samaritan army, “Do these pitiful weaklings really think they’ve got the chutzpah to do this? By themselves? How, by sacrificing a goat? Maybe they think they’ll finish in a day. Maybe they think they can actually reuse those busted rocks, scorched and weakened by fire.”
3Standing beside him, Tobiah of Ammon said, “If a fox jumped on that poor excuse of a wall, look out fox. That wall would snap, crackle, and pop.”
4I prayed, “Dear God, please listen to me now. The people despise us. Lord, let their insults backfire and splatter them in their faces. Let them see what it’s like to lose a battle and end up as captives. 5Don’t excuse them, cut them slack, or ignore what they’ve done. They’re trying to provoke these builders.”
6We worked hard and we worked fast. And we lifted those walls halfway to the top. 7That didn’t make us any friends. It enraged Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, and city of Ashdod. They all hated hearing that we were filling in the gaps of the wall—and making quick work of it. 8So, they plotted to slow us down, and then to shut us down. They wanted to attack.
Pray and carry a big stick9We prayed to God about this. Then we stationed armed guards around the city day and night, for protection. 10But people in our own Judean community were already complaining. They would sing the blues:
Rock-hauler strength is running low.
Too many busted rocks to go.
We’ll never do this on our own,
Rebuild this wall, stone by stone.
12Jews who lived near Jerusalem came to town and tried time and again to get their people to go home. They said the enemies won’t hurt Jews outside the city. But they’ll attack Jerusalem from all sides. 13So, I posted guards around the city walls, keeping them in their family groups. I stationed them at gaps in the walls and in places where the walls were lowest. They carried swords, spears, and bows.
14I addressed the people—the nobles, officials, and everyone else. As they stood there with their families I said, “Don’t be afraid of those people out there. Remember the LORD. He is a great and awesome God. If it comes to a fight, defend your families, your sons, your daughters, your homes, and all you hold dear.”
Nehemiah bums a bad Samaritan15When our enemies found out we knew about their plot, they didn’t know what to do. We went back to the wall, each one to his or her assignment.
16From that day on, I split the workers into two groups. Half worked construction. Half pulled guard duty. Guards were armed with weapons that included spears, shields, bows, and body armor. Leaders pulled back and supervised the people of Judah from inside the city.
Construction workers armed and dangerous17That included the people building the wall. Workers who hauled rocks and lumber did it with one hand on a weapon. 18Every construction worker packed a sword at his or her side. A man with a ram’s horn stayed with me in case we needed to sound the alarm.
19I told the nobles, officials, and all the rest of the people, “Listen, this is a huge job, and the work is spread out all over this hilltop, from one wall to the other. We’re separated with wide gaps between us. 20So, when you hear this horn, come running to it. God is fighting on our side.”
Nehemiah sleeps in work clothes21Half the workers repaired the walls and gates. The other half stood guard from sunrise to starry night, armed with spears.
22I asked construction supervisors and their workers to spend each night inside the walled city, guarding Jerusalem. These people stood guard at night and worked during the day.
23When I was able to catch some sleep, I slept in my day clothes at night. So did everyone around me, my entourage: my family, my men, and the guards who protected me. We never took off our clothes. And we never left our weapons. We carried them even when we went for a drink of water.
In Hebrew scrolls and in the Jewish Bible today, Nehemiah 4:1-6 are the final verses in Nehemiah 3, verses 33-38. English translations divided the chapters differently.
We could describe Nehemiah’s approach several ways: Nehemiah was pragmatic. He was “covering his six,” as a fighter pilot might say. Or we could paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt: “Pray softly and carry a big stick; You will go far.”
This is our best guess. The verse in Hebrew makes no sense; it’s random words as far as scholars can tell. Pick a Bible version and read this verse, those are guesses, too. Educated guesses, often based on the context of the words in the verses before and after.
Some of the weaponry is above what the average farmer, herder, or merchant would have. Some of these guards may have been fulltime soldiers or part-time volunteer militia.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.