Story Seventeen

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 6
THE NOBLEMAN WHO BUILT THE WALL OF JERUSALEM
WHILE the good scribe Ezra was at work finding the books of the Bible, and copying them, and teaching them, another great man was helping God's people in another way. This man was Nē-he-mī́ ah. He was a nobleman of high rank at the court of the great King Är-tăx̝-e͂rx̝́ ēs̝. Är-tăx̝-e͂rx̝́ ēs̝ reigned after Ä-hăs̝-u-ḗ rŭs, of whom we read in the story of the beautiful Queen Ĕś the͂r.
Nē-he-mī́ ah was the "cup-bearer" to the king of Pe͂ŕ s̝iȧ at Shṳ́ shan. It was his office to take charge of all the wine that was used at the king's table, to pour it out and hand the cup to the king. This was an important office, for he saw the king every day at his meals, and could speak with him, as very few of even the highest princes could speak. Then, too, the life of the king was in his hands, for if he were an enemy he could have allowed poison to be put into the wine to kill the king. So the cup-bearer was always a man whom the king could trust as his friend.
Nē-he-mī́ ah was a Jew, and, like all the Jews, felt a great love for Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm. At one time a Jew named Hā̇-nā́ nī, and certain of his friends who had come from Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm, visited Nē-he-mī́ ah. Nē-he-mī́ ah asked them, "How are the Jews̝ in Jē̇-zṳ́ sā̇-lĕm doing? How does the city look?”
And they answered, "The people who are living in the land of Jū-dḗ ȧ are very poor, and are looked down upon by all around them. The wall of Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
When Nē-he-mī́ ah heard this he was filled with sorrow for his city and his people. After the Jews̝ left him he sat down for days, and would eat nothing. He fasted, and wept, and prayed. He said, "O Lord God of heaven, the great God, who keeps his promises to those who love him and do his will; hear, O Lord, my prayer for the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el, thy servants. We have done very wickedly, O Lord, and because of our sins thou hast scattered us among the nations. Now, O Lord, give me grace this day in the sight of this man, the king of Pe͂ŕ s̝ia, and may the king help me to do good and to help my people in the land of Ĭś̝ ra-el.”
A few days after this Nē-he-mī́ ah was standing beside the king's table, while the king and queen were seated at their meal. As he poured out the wine the king saw that his face was sad, which was not usual, for Nē-he-mī́ ah was of a cheerful spirit, and generally showed a happy face. The king said to him, "Nē-he-mī́ ah, why do you look so sad? You do not seem to be sick. I am sure that there is something that gives you trouble. What is it? Tell me.”
Then Nē-he-mī́ ah was afraid that the king might be displeased with him, but he said, "Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city where my fathers are buried lies waste, with its walls broken down, and its gates burned with fire?”
The king said, "Do you wish to ask of me any favor? Tell me what I can do to help you.”
Then Nē-he-mī́ ah lifted up a silent prayer to God, and said, "May it please the king, I would be glad if you would send me to Jē̇-rṳ́ sa-lem, in the land of Jū́ dah, with an order to build the walls.”
The king said, "How long will the journey be? And when will you come back?”
Nē-he-mī́ ah fixed upon a time, and told the king how long it would be, and he asked also that he might have letters to the men who ruled the different provinces through which he would pass, for them to give him a safe journey; and also a letter to the keeper of the king's forest, to give him wood for the beams of a house which he wished to build, and for repairing the Temple, and for building the wall. The king was kind to Nē-hē-mī́ ah, and he gave him all that he asked.
Nē-he-mī́ ah, with a company of horsemen and many friends, made the long journey of almost a thousand miles to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm. All the people were glad to have a visit from a man of such high rank, and the whole city rejoiced at his coming. But Nē-he-mī́ ah was distressed as he saw how poor and mean and helpless the city lay.
One night, without telling any of the men in the city his purpose, he rose up with a few of his friends, and by the light of the moon rode on his horse around the city. There he saw in how many places the walls were mere heaps of ruins, and gates were broken down and burned. He found great heaps of ashes, and piles of stone, so that in some places his horse could not walk over them. The next day he called together the rulers of the city and the chief priests, and he said to them, "You see how poor and helpless this city lies, without walls, or gates, and open to all its enemies. Come, let us build the wall of Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm, so that no longer other people may look upon us with contempt." Then he told them how God had heard his prayer, and had made the king friendly, and had sent gifts to help them. Then the people and the rulers said, "Let us rise up and build the wall!" So at once they began the work. Each family in Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm agreed to build a part of the wall. The high-priest said that he would build one of the gates, and the wall beside it to a certain tower. Some of the rich men built a long space, and others did very little, and some would do nothing. One man built just as much of the wall as would stand in front of his house, and no more, and another man only as much as fronted upon his Own room. One man and his daughters hired workers to build; the goldsmiths built some, and so did the apothecaries, the men who sold medicines; and the merchants built a part. Almost all the men of the city, and some of the women, took part in the building, for the people had a mind to work.
Soon the news went abroad through Jū-dḗ ȧ, and the lands around, that the walls of Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm were rising from their ruins. There were many who were far from pleased as they heard this, for they hated the Jews and their God, and they did not wish to see Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm strong, as it had been of old. The leader of these enemies was a man named Săn-băĺ lat, who came from Sā̇-mā́ rĭ-ȧ, where all the people were jealous of the Jews̝.
"What are these feeble Jews doing?" said Săn-băĺ lat. "Do they intend to make their city strong? Will they pile up stones out of the rubbish of the burned city?”
And his servant Tō̇-bī́ ah was with him, saying, "Why, if a fox should go up, he could break down their little wall!”
The A-rail-wig from the desert, and the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ from Ăsh́ dŏd on the plain, and the Ăḿ mon-ītes from the east of Jôŕ dan, saw that if the wall should be built they could no more rob and plunder the city. They tried to form an army to come against the city and stop building. But Nē-he-mī́ ah prayed to God for help, and he chose watchmen who should go around the wall, and look out for the coming of the enemies. Half of Nē-he-mī́ ah's men worked on the wall, and the other half held the bows, and spears, and armor of the workers. And in some places a man would hold a spear in one hand while he spread mortar with the other. At other places men worked with their swords hanging at one side, ready for the fight any moment.
Nē-he-mī́ ah rode on his horse around the wall, and his servant walked beside him with a trumpet. He said, "The work is large, And you are apart from each other. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, leave your work, take your arms, and go to the place where it sounds; and there the Lord will fight for us.”
But their enemies were not strong enough to fight the Jews̝; so Săn-băĺ lat, and Tō̇-bī́ ah, and another of their leaders named Ḡḗ shem, sent a letter to Nē-he-mī́ ah, saying, "Come and meet us in one of the villages on the plain near the Great Sea, and let us talk over this matter.”
Now Nē-he-mī́ ah knew that to go to this place and then come back again to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm would take more than a week; and he sent answer thus, "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down; why should the work stop, while I leave it, to come down and talk with you?”
Over and over again they sent for Nē-he-mī́ ah, but he refused to come. Finally, Săn-băĺ lat sent a letter, with this message:
"It is told among all the people, and Ḡḗ shem says it is a fact, that you are building this city to rebel against the king of Pe͂ŕ s̝ia, and to set up a kingdom of your own. Come now, and let us talk with you, or trouble may come to you.”
Nē-he-mī́ ah wrote back, "You know very well that there is no truth in all these stories. You have made them up yourselves.”
Some of the Jews in the city were friendly to these enemies outside, and these men tried to frighten Nē-he-mī́ ah. One of them made believe that he was a prophet, and said to Nē-he-mī́ ah, "Go into the Temple and hide, for in the night your enemies will come to kill you!”
"Should such a man as I am run away and hide himself?" said Nē-he-mī́ ah. "No; I will not go.”
So earnestly did the men of Jū́ dah work that in fifty-two days after the work was begun it was finished, and the gates were hung, and guards were placed within, so that no enemies might enter. Thus Jē̇-rṳ́ sa-lĕm began to rise from its weakness and helplessness, and once more to be a strong city.