Nehemiah Responds to the External Opposition - Nehemiah 4:1-23
Nehemiah’s Response to the External Opposition
Nehemiah 4:1 – 6
Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. 6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
Uncompromising Determination story
Purpose: Every Christ follower must have a determination to follow through with God’s vision for his or her life in the face of strong opposition
“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.
- If you and I are breathing air and doing something, we will surely face opposition
- Someone aptly said that we are either leaving behind a storm, heading into a storm or in the middle of a storm
Quote: ““God had one Son without sin, but He never had a son without trial.” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon
- When we face opposition, it is because God is blessing and because He wants us to grow closer to Him.
Illustration: When Sir James Thornhill was painting the inside of the cupola of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, at one point he finished an area and stepped back to view it. Had he gone back one step more, he would have fallen from the scaffolding and perhaps killed himself. Seeing the situation, a friend seized one of the brushes and rubbed paint over a part of the picture. The artist rushed forward to protect his work, and at the same time, his life was saved.
When the picture of our life or ministry is not all we think it ought to be, perhaps the Master Artist is rescuing us from something far worse and preparing us for something far better. – Warren Wiersbe
- Sometimes God rescues us from what we really want because in the end it will destroy us.
- When Nehemiah came to town, it was a threat to the region
- A strong Jerusalem would upset the balance of power in that area.
- Sanballat and his friends were afraid of their influence and wealth being minimized.
- That is why in chapter 2:19, we see the beginnings of the opposition to Nehemiah carrying out God’s vision. Sanballat is saying that Nehemiah is rebelling against the authority of King Artaxerxes
- For us as Christians, just like Nehemiah, it is not a matter of if we will face opposition but how will we respond when it comes our way?
Transition: “If you start building, you will soon be battling; so, be prepared!” – Warren Wiersbe
The Taunting by the Accusers – Nehemiah 4:1-6
Nehemiah 4:1 – 3
Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
- The ridiculeof the Jews – 4:1-3
- Sanballat was laughing them to scorn at the plan rebuild the walls of Jerusalem you will remember in chapter 2:19
- He accused Nehemiah and the people of rebelling against King Artaxerxes
- Now in this chapter, he believes they are incapable of finishing the project
- He poses these mocking questions
- What are these feeble Jews doing? – implying they are too weak and incapable of doing the job right. Feeble means withered and miserable
- Will they restore it for themselves?
- Will they sacrifice? – Will they be able to offer praise, worship and thanksgiving after finishing
- Will they finish it in a day? – Don’t they know that they are underestimating the work they are getting into?
- Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that? – How can they make bricks from really old debris
- Notice that he is mocking the Jews in front of a very important and influential crowd of people. Samaritan soldiers
- Tobiah in verse 3 interjects with his mocking comment. A fox would walk on the wall the Jews are building and it would collapse.
- How is Nehemiah going to respond?
- The response of Nehemiah – 4:4-6
4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. 6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work
- Notice that Nehemiah’s response is always to go to prayer. When he heard about the destruction in Jerusalem, when he was to ask King Artaxerxes to allow him to go back and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and now as he faces strong opposition.
- He prays an imprecatory prayer to God toward his detractors. He was invoking, and calling down curses on his enemy.
- David prayed prayers similar to this toward his enemies.
Psalm 69:22 – 28
22 Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. 23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. 24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. 25 May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents. 26 For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded. 27 Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. 28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
- Jesus said to pray differently for your enemies
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
- Here are some principles we can learn from Nehemiah about how to deal with those who persecute you for righteous things
- Remember that when they persecute you for standing for Christ and speaking on behalf of Christ, they are persecuting God. Don’t take it personally
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
- Sanballat was persecuting the Jews and in turn persecuting and speaking against God.
- 2. Remember that if we are praying in God’s will, we are always protected. God’s man or woman is indestructible until God calls him or her home.
Illustration: Man attacked by mountain lion suffocates the mountain lion to death.
- God had already pronounced judgment on Israel’s enemies so Nehemiah was praying in God’s will
- God promises to protect His people. Nehemiah knew that he was praying for God to keep his promise to Abraham.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
- The Bible teaches that vengeance belongs to the Lord and not to Nehemiah and the people of Judah
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Quote: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton
- It is always interesting to note that the opposition is always unified but God’s people have trouble working together in unity and harmony
- We forget who the enemy is
Quote: “If we focus on the visible enemy alone and forget the invisible enemy, we are sure to start trusting our own resources; and this will lead to defeat.” – Warren Wiersbe
- The enemy is Satan, his demons, the world system and even our sinful nature we call the flesh.
- The enemy is out there but yet at times as believers we battle among ourselves.
- Notice in Nehemiah 4:6, he prays and goes to work. Some people, they just pray and wait on God.
Illustration: It is easier to steer a moving truck than one sitting still.
Illustration: There are three kinds of people in this world according to Oliver Wendall Holmes. There are people who watch things happen, there are people who make things happen and then there are those who say ‘what happened’.
- God wants us to pray as if it all depends on Him and work like it all depends on us.
- Sanballat and his buddies did not take into account the God Nehemiah knew and the spiritual resources at his disposal.
- Nehemiah did a masterful job of blending the divine with the human perspective of the situation the Jews were facing
- He simply committed the work to the Lord
- He trusted God would take care of the work.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
I Thessalonians 5:24
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it
- Notice in verse 6
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
- They rebuilt the wall to half of its height within approximately 4 weeks
- How do we know that, well they finished the wall in 52 days or 6-day work weeks for 8 days?
- In the NIV it says that they worked with all of their heart – diligently, enthusiastically
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,
Application: Praying for God’s intervention against your enemies is the best form of protection.
Transition: As we face ridicule and shame for being a Christ follower from time to time, we have to be aware of the ways they could attack us. We need to know the enemies strategy and techniques.
The Threat of Battle by the Accusers – Nehemiah 4:7-14
- The threat of provocation – 4:7-8
7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.
- The rapid pace of the work made the opposition even more angry. They decided they needed to turn up the heat on Nehemiah
- Samaritans were to the north – Sanballat in command
- Ammonites to the East – Tobiah in command
- Geshem – Arabs to the South
- Men from Ashdod to the west
- The Jews could be surrounded by the enemy
- Reminder that Satan hates the Jews because they are ‘God’s chosen people.’
- The power of prayer – 4:9a
And we prayed to our God
- Nehemiah sets up a 24/7 guard and continues to pray
- Jesus said several times in the NT that we are to watch and pray until He returns
- We are facing opposition every morning when we wake up, the flesh, the devil and / or his demons, and the world system that we are trying to row upstream and against the current.
38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
- The paralysis of fear – 4:10 -12
In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”
Quote: “In his First Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to a nation in the grip of an economic depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- The rumor going around the people who were working on the wall was this
- We are physically exhausted
- We are mentally exhausted
- We are overwhelmed and discouraged by how hard the work is
- We fear the enemy will secretly attack us.
- Notice that it was repeated ten times by others Jews to abandon the work in Jerusalem and come and live with them in their fortified cities!!
- Fear is contagious and brings paralysis
- The Jews and Goliath
- Peter walking on water
- One of the problems were the people inside Jerusalem working alongside Nehemiah
- Some of the Jews were cooperating with the enemy
- Some of the Jews had marital ties with those who were opposing the work
- Some had wrong motives for rebuilding the wall that when it was finished, their businesses would thrive and they could take advantage of the Jews.
- Marriage and Money became internal issues among the Jews
- The protection of the people – 4:9b;13-14
Nehemiah 4:9b; 13-14
And set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
- Notice that Nehemiah posted guards in the lowest spaces behind the wall because they were the weakest and most vulnerable points in the face of an attack.
- Nehemiah made a difficult decision to arm the families as they worked together risking that the entire family would have to fight the enemy because they were together. Risk to see kids and young people in the same family killed as well as one’s spouse or both parents. That was a risk that Nehemiah commanded them to take.
- It really was the only decision Nehemiah could make to complete the wall.
- Nehemiah shouts words of encouragement to the tired, discouraged workers in verse 14
- Be courageous
- Remember that the Lord you serve and pray to is great and awesome
- Remember that you are fighting for your fellow Jew and for your family
Application: When persecution comes your way, remember that it is really Christ that they are persecuting. I don’t say that tritely
Transition: Our last point today is this.
The Team Prepares for Battle Against the Accusers – Nehemiah 4:15 – 23
- The encouragement to work – 4:15
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.
- They worked confidently
- They worked cautiously, keeping an eye out for the enemy approaching at anytime from anyplace
- Some workers carried materials to work in one hand and sword in the next
- The masons placed their sword at their side so they could use two hands to work
- There were fewer brick layers on the job but they were well protected
- Nehemiah did not let the whiners and complainers to stop what he believed God wanted him to do.
- He just kept working
- The empowerment to protect – 4:16-23
16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.
- Nehemiah had a strategy to protect the people and how to rally them for battle
- He wanted them first of all to see that God wanted them to build a great wall for protection and to know God will fight their battles for them
- Nehemiah had a trumpeter by his side at all times in case he needed A
- The people, led by Nehemiah worked hard for six days a week from early sunup to early evening
- He had workers stand guard all night
- Nehemiah was right there with them in verse 23. They did not change their clothes but kept on working or in them.
- Nehemiah once again leads by example. He never, ever expected people to do what he was not willing to do himself
I Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ
- Is your life worthy to be imitated to point someone to Christ?
- As we share life on life and disciple people whether by teaching at Awana or Sunday School or at Men’s Group, we are to be faithful followers of Christ
2 Timothy 2:2
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
- God is calling us to be faithful to disciple others and share life on life so that they in turn can reach and disciple others.
- We are making plans to be very focused on that soon in our church
Illustration: Wilma Rudolph
Application: Quitting in the face of opposition is never God’s plan
Key Thought: When faced with opposition;
1) Respond first with prayer
2) Remind yourself continually of God’s faithfulness
3) Revise your plan to continue the work in the face of opposition
Questions to Ponder This Week
1. Are you letting criticism and opposition wear you down with discouragement?
2. Are you trusting in who you are in Christ to overcome the criticism and opposition?
3. Are you willing to trust God and let the truth prevail despite the criticisms and oppositions?