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as I flee? And who is there, that being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. And lo! I perceive (said he) that God had not sent him, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me; for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore was he hired that I should be afraid, and do so and sin; and that they might have matter for an evil report that they might reproach me. But Nehemiah's grand resource was in prayer. To the Lord he carried all, and with the Lord he left all. "My God (said he) think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works; and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me to fear!" I cannot but admire the strength of faith the man of God manifested upon those multiplied exercises. And I admire and adore still more the infinite goodness of the Almighty Author and Giver of all faith, which animated his servant to the firmness he shewed to the Tobiahs, and all the other opposers of God's truth in that day. And it is very blessed to connect with it the full assurance of faith, that in all periods of the church, the same is imparted to the Lord's chosen in every time of need. The blessing of Asher, is the blessing of all that like Asher is made acceptable to his brethren; "thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy days so shall thy strength be," Deut. xxxiii. 24, 25. And it is delightful to see in this history of Nehemiah, that amidst all the rage and opposition of men and devils, the building of the wall went on, of which we shall have occasion to speak in due order. But for the present, the reader's attention must be called off to another subject, which though it cannot be strictly termed an episode, being intimately connected with Nehemiah's history in his government; yet from not being in the embassy for which he came to Jerusalem, it might have been left out, but from the circumstances
belonging to it, which seems to have given him more distress than all the other events in the clamours of the Sanballats taken altogether.
It appears from the statement of this history, according to the sacred historian, that in the midst of those daring insults of the common enemy to the people of God without, a mutiny among the Jews appeared within, which required great prudence in the Tirshatha, and great grace from God to subdue. It is related with such beautiful pathos, according to the eastern manner, in the fifth chapter; that while I refer the reader there to gratify himself in the perusal of the whole, I shall have his thanks I am persuaded, in bringing before him in these memoirs of Nehemiah, some of the leading points." And there was a great cry (saith Nehemiah) of the people, and of their wives, against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, we, our sons, and our daughters, are many; therefore we take up corn for them that we may eat and live. Some also there were that said, we have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth. There were also that said, we have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters, to be servants; and some of our daughters are brought into bondage already, neither is it in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards!" What a sad picture of oppression is here! And what added to it to give the finished colouring, it was not simply the lords of the country under the king, but brother against brother, among the Jews themselves!
I admire the magnanimity of mind, as well as the generosity which Nehemiah manifested upon this occasion. Fearlessly he rebuked the nobles and the rulers, and charged them with exacting usury every one of his
brother. He brought before them, to their recollection, how in times past the people of God had redeemed their brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen. "And will ye," said he, " even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us?" It appears that this animated expostulation, under the Lord's grace, had the desired effect; for it is said, "Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer." But Nehemiah proceeded in his pointed discourse; "I likewise," said he, "and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money, and corn. I pray you," added Nehemiah, "let us leave off this usury. Restore I pray you to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive-yards, and their houses; also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, and the wine, and the oil that ye exact of them. And what was the result of this discourse? Surely the hand of the Lord cannot but be seen in it. "Then said they, we will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then," said Nehemiah, "I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap, and said, so God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise; even thus be he shaken out and emptied. And all the congregation said Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise."
Having thus succeeded in the suppression of all usury, and quieted the minds of the people in the redress of their grievances, amongst those that had been oppressed, the noble heart of Nehemiah, in a modest and gracious manner, called upon them to observe that what he had so affectionately recommended to them; he had, from the day he first came among them, during the time he had been governor, faithfully done the same himself.
‘I, and my brethren," said he, "have not eaten the
bread of the governor; but the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people, but so did not I because of the fear of God. Moreover," said Nehemiah, "there were at my table, an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. And that which was prepared for me daily, was one ox, and six choice sheep, also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days, store of all sorts of wine; yet for all this, required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people !"
Reader, pause as you look over the portrait of this man. Examine one by one the features of character here drawn in sacred scripture, and by the Holy Ghost himself; observe his demeanour, artless, unassuming, and without any borrowed tints of colouring from the imagination, but all his statement is in the beautiful simplicity of a God-fearing man, and a lover of his people. The revenue to which by his government he was entitled, and which the former governors received, was forty shekels of silver, which, according to the standard of currency, was equal to about five pounds of our money; and from the opulence and splendour of the Persian court, most probably this was the governor's daily allowance, beside a full table according to the magnificence of the east. But like another great servant of the Lord in after days, Nehemiah might have said as Paul said, (for it is of him I now speak) “I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," Acts xx. 33, 34. Nehemiah indeed, though like Paul, he laboured with his hands in the building of the wall, yet through the bounty of the Lord he had enough of
his own for himself and his fellow workmen, to provide the daily supply of necessary food. And yet there was at his table a numerous company whom he fed continually, suis impensis! Where shall we look through all the records of ancient or modern history for a fac simile of this wonderful Tirshatha? And what a contrast doth he form to the heroes of antiquity, whose chief exploits were to desolate the earth? Yea, what a contrast to the Sanballats and Tobiahs who opposed him. And where are they now? Scripture hath answered: " As a dream when one awaketh, so shalt thou, O Lord, make their image to vanish out of the city. But the Lord knoweth them that are his, and the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."
It was a distinguishing mercy marking Nehemiah and his fellows in the work, that notwithstanding the opposition of their foes, and the clamour which brake out at the same time in Jerusalem among the Jews, there was no obstruction that stopped its progress. In the words of holy triumph, the Tirshatha gave this account of its being completed. "So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days." Marvellous expedition indeed! when it be considered what the builders had to contend with in all directions; and which is only explainable by contemplating the divine hand carrying them through all.
But I have to apologize to the reader, in drawing to such length the outlines of Nehemiah's history, and his earnestness in building the walls of Jerusalem, if from the history of these events, I have said any thing tempting him to overlook a subject of a much higher nature. Alas! I should have called his attention to very little purpose, to the memoirs of this man, if from the walls of Jerusalem, he is not led to look beyond this horizon, to what all natural fences shadowed; namely, in the Lord himself the substantial security,