Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
When Sanballat and the enemies associated with him were unable to obstruct the building of the wall of Jerusalem by Open violence (Neh 4), they endeavoured to ruin Nehemiah by secret snares. They invited him to meet them in the plain of Ono (Neh 6:1, Neh 6:2); but Nehemiah, perceiving that they intended mischief, replied to them by messengers, that he could not come to them on account of the building. After receiving for the fourth time this refusal, Sanballat sent his servant to Nehemiah with an open letter, in which he accused him of rebellion against the king of Persia. Nehemiah, however, repelled this accusation as the invention of Sanballat (Neh 6:3-9). Tobiah and Sanballat, moreover, hired a false prophet to make Nehemiah flee into the temple from fear of the snares prepared for him, that they might then be able to calumniate him (Neh 6:10-14). The building of the wall was completed in fifty-two days, and the enemies were disheartened (Neh 6:15-17), although at that time many nobles of Judah had entered into epistolary correspondence with Tobiah, to obstruct the proceedings of Nehemiah (Neh 6:18, Neh 6:19).
The attempts of Sanballat and his associates to ruin Nehemiah. - Neh 6:1, Neh 6:2. When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of the enemies, heard that the wall was built, and that no breaches were left therein, though the doors were then not yet set up in the gates, he sent, etc. לו נשׁמע, it was heard by him, in the indefinite sense of: it came to his ears. The use of the passive is more frequent in later Hebrew; comp. Neh 6:6, Neh 6:7, Neh 13:27; Est 1:20, and elsewhere. On Sanballat and his allies, see remarks on Neh 2:19. The "rest of our enemies" were, according to Neh 4:1 (Neh 4:7, A.V.), Ashdodites, and also other hostile individuals. וגו העת עד גּם introduces a parenthetical sentence limiting the statement already made: Nevertheless, down to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates. The wall-building was quite finished, but doors to the gates were as yet wanting to the complete fortification of the city. The enemies sent to him, saying, Come, let us meet together (for a discussion) in the villages in the valley of Ono. - In Neh 6:7, נוּערה of the present verse. The form כּפרים, elsewhere only כּפר, Ch1 27:25, or כּפר, village, Sa1 6:18, occurs only here. כּפירה, however, being found Ezr 2:25 and elsewhere as a proper name, the form כּפיר seems to have been in use as well as כּפר. There is no valid ground for regarding כּפרים as the proper name of a special locality. To make their proposal appear impartial, they leave the appointment of the place in the valley of Ono to Nehemiah. Ono seems, according to Ch1 8:12, to have been situate in the neighbourhood of Lod (Lydda), and is therefore identified by Van de Velde (Mem. p. 337) and Bertheau with Kefr Ana (Arab. kfr ‛ânâ) or Kefr Anna, one and three-quarter leagues north of Ludd. But no certain information concerning the position of the place can be obtained from Ch1 8:12; and Roediger (in the Hallische Lit. Zeitung, 1842, No. 71, p. 665) is more correct, in accordance both with the orthography and the sense, in comparing it with Beit Unia (Arab. byt ûniya), north-west of Jerusalem, not far from Beitin (Bethel); comp. Rob. Pal. ii. p. 351. The circumstance that the plain of Ono was, according to the present verse, somewhere between Jerusalem and Samaria, which suits Beit Unia, but not Kefr Ana (comp. Arnold in Herzog's Realenc. xii. p. 759), is also in favour of the latter view. "But they thought to do me harm." Probably they wanted to make him a prisoner, perhaps even to assassinate him.
Nehemiah sent messengers to them, saying: "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down thither. Why should the work cease whilst I leave it and come down to you?" That is, he let them know that he could not undertake the journey, because his presence in Jerusalem was necessary for the uninterrupted prosecution of the work of building.
They sent to him four times in the same manner (הזּה כּדּבר, comp. Sa2 15:6), and Nehemiah gave them the same answer.
Then Sanballat sent his servant in this manner, the fifth time, with an open letter, in which was written: "It is reported (נשׁמע, it is heard) among the nations, and Gashmu saith, (that) thou and the Jews intend to rebel; for which cause thou buildest the wall, and thou wilt be their king, according to these words." "The nations" are naturally the nations dwelling in the land, in the neighbourhood of the Jewish community. On the form Gashmu, comp. rem. on Neh 2:19. הוה, the particip., is used of that which any one intends or prepares to do: thou art intending to become their king. על־כּן, therefore, for no other reason than to rebel, dost thou build the wall.
It was further said in the letter: "Thou hast also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning thee in Jerusalem, saying, King of Judah; and now it will be reported to the king according to these words (or things). Come, therefore, and let us take counsel together," sc. to refute these things as groundless rumours. By such accusations in an open letter, which might be read by any one, Sanballat thought to oblige Nehemiah to come and clear himself from suspicion by an interview.
Nehemiah, however, saw through his stratagem, and sent word to him by a messenger: "There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart." בּודאם, a contraction of בּודאם, from בּדא, which occurs again only in Kg1 12:33, to invent, to feign, especially evil things.
"For," adds Nehemiah when writing of these things, "they all desired to make us afraid, thinking (לאמר) their hands will cease from the work, that it be not done." The last words, "And now strengthen my hands," are to be explained by the fact that Nehemiah hastily transports himself into the situation and feelings of those days when he prayed to God for strength. To make this request fit into the train of thought, we must supply: I however thought, or said, Strengthen, O God, my hands. חזּק is imperative. The translation, in the first pers. sing. of the imperfect, "I strengthened" (lxx, Vulg., Syr.), is only an attempt to fit into their context words not understood by the translators.
A false prophet, hired by Tobiah and Sanballat, also sought, by prophesying that the enemies of Nehemiah would kill him in the night, to cause him to flee with him into the holy place of the temple, and to protect his life from the machinations of his enemies by closing the temple doors. His purpose was, as Nehemiah subsequently learned, to seduce him into taking an illegal step, and so give occasion for speaking evil of him.
"And I came into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up." Nothing further is known of this prophet Shemaiah. From what is here related we learn, that he was one of the lying prophets employed by Sanballat and Tobiah to ruin Nehemiah. We are not told what induced or caused Nehemiah to go into the house of Shemaiah; he merely recounts what the latter was hired by his enemies to effect. From the accessory clause, "and he was shut up," we may perhaps infer that Shemaiah in some way or other, perhaps by announcing that he had something of importance to communicate, persuaded Nehemiah to visit him at his house. עצוּר והוּא does not, however, involved the meaning which Bertheau gives it, viz., that Nehemiah went to Shemaiah's house, because the latter as עצוּר could not come to him. The phrase says only, that when Nehemiah entered Shemaiah's house, he found him עצוּר, which simply means shut up, shut in his house, not imprisoned, and still less in a state of ceremonial uncleanness (Ewald), or overpowered by the hand of Jahve - laid hold on by a higher power (Bertheau). It is evident from his proposal to Nehemiah, "Let us go together to the house of God," etc., that he was neither imprisoned in his house, nor prevented by any physical cause from leaving home. Hence it follows that he had shut himself in his house, to intimate to Nehemiah that also he felt his life in danger through the machinations of his enemies, and that he was thus dissimulating in order the more easily to induce him to agree to his proposal, that they should together escape the snares laid for them by fleeing to the temple. In this case, it may be uncertain whether Shemaiah had shut himself up, feigning that the enemies of Judah were seeking his life also, as the prophet of Jahve; or whether by this action he was symbolically announcing what God charged him to make known to Nehemiah. Either view is possible; while the circumstance that Nehemiah in Neh 6:12 calls his advice to flee into the temple a נבוּאה against him, and that it was quite in character with the proceedings of such false prophets to enforce their words by symbolical signs (comp. Kg1 22:11), favours the former. The going into the house of God is more closely defined by ההיכל אל־תּוך, within the holy place; for they (the enemies) will come to slay thee, and indeed this night will they come to slay thee." He seeks to corroborate his warning as a special revelation from God, by making it appear that God had not only made known to him the design of the enemies, but also the precise time at which they intended to carry it into execution.
Nehemiah, however, was not to be alarmed thereby, but exclaimed: Should such a man as I flee? and what man like me could go into the holy place and live? I will not go in. וחי is the perf. with Vav consecutive: that he may live. This word is ambiguous; it may mean: to save his life, or: and save his life, not, expiate such a transgression of the law with his life. Probably Nehemiah used it in the latter sense, having in mind the command, Num 18:7, that the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
And I perceived, - viz. from the conduct of Shemaiah on my refusal to follow his advice, - and, lo, not God had sent him (i.e., had not commissioned or inspired him to speak these words; לא emphatically precedes אלהים: not God, but himself), but that he pronounced this prophecy against me, because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. The verb שׂכרו (sing.) agrees only with the latter word, although in fact it refers to both these individuals.
"On this account was he hired that I might be afraid, and do so; and if I had sinned (by entering the holy place), it (my sin) would have been to them for an evil report, that they might defame me." The use of למאן before two sentences, the second of which expresses the purpose of the first, is peculiar: for this purpose, that I might fear, etc., was he hired. To enter and to shut himself within the holy place would have been a grave desecration of the house of God, which would have given occasion to his enemies to cast suspicion upon Nehemiah as a despiser of God's commands, and so to undermine his authority with the people. - In Neh 6:14 Nehemiah concludes his account of the stratagems of his enemies, with the wish that God would think upon them according to their works. In expressing it, he names, besides Tobiah and Sanballat, the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who, like Shemaiah, would have put him in fear: whence we perceive, 1st, that the case related (Neh 6:10-13) is given as only one of the chief events of the kind (מיראים, like Neh 6:9, Neh 6:19); and 2nd, that false prophets were again busy in the congregation, as in the period preceding the captivity, and seeking to seduce the people from hearkening to the voice of the true prophets of God, who preached repentance and conversation as the conditions of prosperity.
The wall completed, and the impression made by this work upon the enemies of the Jews. - Neh 6:15 The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, i.e., of the sixth month, in fifty-two days. According to this statement, it must have been begun on the third day of the fifth month (Ab). The year is not mentioned, the before-named (Neh 2:1) twentieth year of Artaxerxes being intended. This agrees with the other chronological statements of this book. For, according to Neh 2:1, it was in Nisan (the first month) of this year that Nehemiah entreated permission of the king to go to Jerusalem; and we learn from Neh 5:14 and Neh 13:6 that he was governor in Jerusalem from the twentieth year onwards, and must therefore have set out for that place immediately after receiving the royal permission. In this case, he might well arrive in Jerusalem before the expiration of the fourth month. He then surveyed the wall, and called a public assembly for the purpose of urging the whole community to enter heartily upon the work of restoration (Neh 2:11-17). All this might take place in the course of the fourth month, so that the work could be actually taken in hand in the fifth. Nor is there any reasonable ground, as Bertheau has already shown, for doubting the correctness of the statement, that the building was completed in fifty-two days, and (with Ewald) altering the fifty-two days into two years and four months.
(Note: Ewald, Gesch. iv. p. 178, thinks that traces of the correct reading of this verse are found in the statement of Josephus, Ant. xi. 5. 7f., that the wall of Jerusalem was finished in two years and four months, and that the word וּשׁנתים may have been omitted from Neh 6:15 by an ancient clerical error, though he is obliged to admit that Josephus in other instances gives no trustworthy dates concerning Nehemiah, whom he makes arrive at Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth, and complete the wall in the twenty-eight year of Xerxes. On the other hand, Bertheau has already remarked, that even if שׁנתים is supplied, no agreement with the statement of Josephus is obtained, since the question still remains how four months can be made out of fifty-two days, or vice versa, fifty-two days of four months. In fact, it is vain to seek for any common ground on which these two different statements can be harmonized; and hence the two years and four months of Josephus can scarcely be regarded as furnishing traces of another reading of the text.)
For we must in this case consider, 1st, the necessity for hastening the work repeatedly pointed out by Nehemiah; 2nd, the zeal and relatively very large number of builders - the whole community, both the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, etc. having combined their efforts; 3rd, that the kind of exertion demanded by such laborious work and unintermitted watchfulness as are described Neh 4, though it might be continued for fifty-two days, could scarcely endure during a longer period; and lastly, the amount of the work itself, which must not be regarded as the rebuilding of the whole wall, but only as the restoration of those portions that had been destroyed, the repair of the breaches (Neh 1:3; Neh 2:13; Neh 6:1), and of the ruined gates, - a large portion of wall and at least one gate having remained uninjured.). To this must be added that the material, so far as stone was concerned, was close at hand, stone needing for the most part to be merely brought out of the ruins; besides which, materials of all kind might have been collected and prepared beforehand. It is, moreover, incorrect to compute the extent of this fortified wall by the extent of the wall of modern Jerusalem.
The news that the wall was finished spread fear among the enemies, viz., among the nations in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem (comp. Neh 4:1; Neh 5:9); they were much cast down, and perceived "that this work was effected with the help of our God." The expression בעניהם יפּלוּ occurs only here, and must be explained according to פּניו יפּלוּ, his countenance fell (Gen 4:5), and לב יפּל, the heart fails (i.e., the courage) (Sa1 17:32): they sank in their own eyes, i.e., they felt themselves cast down, discouraged.
To this Nehemiah adds the supplementary remark, that in those days even nobles of Judah were in alliance and active correspondence with Tobiah, because he had married into a respectable Jewish family.
"Also in those days the nobles of Judah wrote many letters (אגּרתיהם מרבּים, they made many, multiplied, their letters) passing to Tobiah, and those of Tobiah came to them."
For many in Judah were sworn unto him, for he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken (to wife) the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. In this case Tobiah was connected with two Jewish families, - a statement which is made to confirm the fact that many in Judah were שׁבוּעה בּעלי, associates of an oath, joined to him by an oath, not allies in consequence of a treaty sworn to (Bertheau). From this reason being given, we may conclude his affinity by marriage was confirmed by an oath. Shecaniah ben Arah was certainly a respectable Jew of the race of Arah, Ezr 2:5. Meshullam ben Berechiah appears among those who shared in the work of building, Neh 3:4 and Neh 3:30. According to Neh 13:4, the high priest Eliashib was also related to Tobiah. From the fact that both Tobiah and his son Jehohanan have genuine Jewish names, Bertheau rightly infers that they were probably descended from Israelites of the northern kingdom of the ten tribes. With this the designation of Tobiah as "the Ammonite" may be harmonized by the supposition that his more recent or remote ancestors were naturalized Ammonites.
"Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him." טּובתיו, the good things in him, or "his good qualities and intentions" (Bertheau). The subject of the sentence is the nobles of Judah. לו מוציאים, they were bringing forth to him. On this matter Bertheau remarks, that there is no reason for assuming that the nobles of Judah endeavoured, by misrepresenting and distorting the words of Nehemiah, to widen the breach between him and Tobiah. This is certainly true; but, at the same time, we cannot further infer from these words that they were trying to effect an understanding between the two, and representing to Nehemiah how dangerous and objectionable his undertaking was; but were by this very course playing into the hands of Tobiah. For an understanding between two individuals, hostile the one to the other, is not to be brought about by reporting to the one what is the other's opinion of him. Finally, Nehemiah mentions also that Tobiah also sent letters to put him in fear (יראני, infin. Piel, like Ch2 32:18; comp. the participle above, Neh 6:9 and Neh 6:14). The letters were probably of similar contents with the letter of Sanballat given in Neh 6:6.