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THE GREAT WORK OF RELIGION.
NEHEMIAH Vi. 3.
I am doing a great work, therefore I cannot come down.
THE great work which Nehemiah was performing was the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, which had been broken down by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the restoration of the Jewish state from the exceedingly low condition in which it was after the return of the people from captivity. The antecedent history shows the desperate condition in which Jerusalem was left after it was sacked by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age; he gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he
brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and break down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof." By the edict of Cyrus, the Jews returned after their seventy years captivity, and the history of the transactions which then occurred, are given at large in the book of Ezra. It It appears that Nehemiah was among those who went up with Zerubbabel and the people, but how long he remained in Jerusalem is not ascertained. It is certain that he returned to Persia; and the history with which his book commences finds him in the royal palace at Shushan, a city in which the kings of Persia, from the time of Cyrus, were accustomed to spend the winters, on account of the moderation of its winter climate. It is now a very beautiful Persian city, called Suster, and is about one hundred and twenty miles south-west of Ispahan, the capital of Persia. Nehemiah appears to have been a great favourite of Artaxerxes, by whom he was raised to the peculiarly responsible and honourable condition of cup-bearer. This was an office of very singular importance, from the fact that in those days, when conspiracies against the life of kings were very often accomplished by means of poison mingled in their wine, the cup-bearer was always the most confidential person; and it was part of his duty to taste the wine before it was presented to the king. This ensured his own fidelity, and it better ensured the life of the king: for if the cup-bearer had poisoned the wine himself, he would not have been very likely to drink it, and if it had been poisoned by others, the cup-bearer would get the first benefit of the draught, and thus save the king, though
he lost his own life. As it was an office of peril, as well as honour, so it was an office, as well it might be, of great profit: for Nehemiah, when he was made Governor of Israel, supported his state out of his own private purse. While Nehemiah was exercising this office of cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, he had a visit from Hanani, and other men of Judah, from Jerusalem, and of them he inquired concerning the state of the people generally. They told him that the people were suffering great reproach and distress from their own weakness and the opposition of their neighbours, the Samaritans; that the walls of Jerusalem were still just in the state in which they had been left by Nebuchadnezzar, and that the people had no means of defence or security. On the receipt of this melancholy intelligence, Nehemiah wept at the condition of his country and his brethren, and he betook himself to prayer and fasting. His prayer, which is one of great pathos and beauty, is recorded in the latter part of the first chapter"O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name; and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." But Nehemiah acted, as well as prayed. Prayer for the Lord's cause is comparatively cheap, that is, such prayers as cold and lukewarm Christians make, who are more liberal in their formal prayers than in their doings; the prayers of a real child of God are always accompanied by correspondent actions. Thus it was with Nehemiah; he watched his opportunity, and in the month Nisan, which answers to our March, about four months after he had this visit from his friends of Jerusalem,
he took this expedient to get the king's attention. Notwithstanding the sorrow which had been in his heart, he had hitherto been obliged to dissemble it: for it was contrary to the etiquette of the court to come before the king with any thing but smiles. Nevertheless, on this occasion, Nehemiah determined to let the king see that something was the matter with him, in hopes of being permitted to explain. It turned out, in the providence of God, most favourable. The history is extremely touching and interesting "Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, and said unto the king, Let the king live for ever why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it. And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me ; and I set him a time. Moreover, I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over, till I come into Judah; and a letter unto Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house
that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me." Nehemiah, when he went to Jerusalem, acted with exceeding prudence-" And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man. what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon-well, and to the dung-port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then went I up in the night by the brook; and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work." After this he called the people together, explained his commission and views, and they were so encouraged that they went on. As was to be expected in a good work, he met with opposition. Their opposers, however, did not let the matter rest-"But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?" The devil is always active, and his agents, male or female, leave no stone unturned to accomplish his purposes of destruction. Sanballat formed a conspiracy to hinder the building of the wall of Jerusalem, and they