Nehemiah 4, Opposition to God’s work

December 5, 2016

 

“Murphy’s Law?” The original Murphy was an engineer who conducted an experiment to test human acceleration tolerances. Unfortunately for him, he installed sixteen motion sensors the wrong way, leading to the now famous quotation, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” I guess the corollary is also true: “If anything can’t go wrong, it will anyway.”

Here are some other laws blamed on poor Mr. Murphy:

 

“Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.”
 “Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.”
 “You will never find a lost article until you replace it.”
 “Everything goes wrong all at once.” “If everything seems to be going well, you’ve obviously overlooked something.”

As we come to Nehemiah chapter four, everything seems to be going wrong all at once. In chapter one we looked at how Nehemiah prayed, in chapter two we saw how God moved him from the prosperity of Persia to the desolation of Jerusalem. Last week, we looked at the ten gates and we were introduced to the wall workers and discovered that in kingdom work, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And, because some worked harder, like Baruch who worked with more zeal than anyone else, the construction project was really moving along.
(Edited and adapted from, Nehemiah sermons, “A Time to Build,” Brian Bell).

Again, let me remind you, when everything is going well watch out! If Nehemiah thinks he has had a hard road so far, just wait until his critics arrive. Critics talk a lot, but do very little that is constructive. They’re more interested in trying to make themselves look good, by making others look bad.

If Nehemiah had listened to his critics, the wall around the city of Jerusalem would never have been rebuilt. Some of what those critics said to him was accurate. The wall was rubble, and fire had burned the stones and caused them to crack and crumble (4:2-3). But the critics talk much and do absolutely nothing to help.



 

Years ago, Theodore Roosevelt noted, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood…and who…if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”


I. Opposition through ridicule. 

“But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.  And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?’ Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.’” (4:1-3).

“Sanballat the Horonite was a Samaritan leader and official of the Persian Empire who lived in the mid to late fifth century BC.” (“Tobiah was an Ammonite official, possibly a governor of Ammon, who may have been of Jewish descent.” (Wikipedia).

Sanballat, “was furious and very indignant…” (4:1). So he begins a psychological war against God’s project.

He mocks the Jews: Mock: “To make sport, to imitate in fun, derision. to imitate; to mimic; hence, to imitate in contempt or derision; to mimic for the sake of derision; to deride by mimicry. To deride; to laugh at; to ridicule; to treat with scorn or contempt.” God says, ”Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7). Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is favor.”

 

He mocked the weakness of the Jews: “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (4:2). What they didn’t know was God and His people are always in the majority. They were weak in numbers, wealth, ability and expertise, but they were strong in God.

•“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

•“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

•“And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power  which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19-21).

•”The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him. The Lord is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed” (Psalm 28:7,8).

 

He talks about the supposed improbability of the undertaking: “Will they fortify themselves?” (4:2).

 

He questions divine help. “Will they offer sacrifices?” This was a attack on their faith. What he meant is, “Are these fanatics going to pray the wall up? Their faith was not very strong, so these accusations must have really challenged them. “Maybe you think God is going to help you, why don’t you go home and pray about it?” He basically says, are you really expecting a miracle? How on earth do you think you can do this impossible job? “Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” (4:2).

Now Tobiah put in his two-cents worth. “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.”

II. The real reason for their ridicule, scorn and mocking.

They did not understand that God had a personal interest in Israel, His chosen people. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Not only are the people of Israel special and God's chosen people, but the land is also special. “But the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, In  a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:11,2). Oh, I know that Israel still must bow the knee to Yeshua Ha-Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah.

Like Hitler and Nazi Germany, and most of the Islamic nations surrounding Israel, they hate the Jews! The enemies of Israel still do not understand nor accept the fact that Israel belongs to God.

“One thing is certain; after two thousand years, Jesus of Nazareth is still as controversial in the Jewish community as he was in the first century. Still, most hold to the traditional bottom line that whatever he was, he wasn't the expected Messiah. Jews for Jesus begs to differ. We believe that Jesus was, and still is, who he claimed to be-the Messiah of Israel and of all nations…we join with those first-century Jews and Gentiles who found Jesus-in Hebrew, Y'shua-to be “the way, the truth, and the life” –Jews for Jesus.

One day, Zechariah 12:10 says, “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

The problem with Sanballat, Tobiah and all of those who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, they didn’t know God! And they could not find any legitimate reasons for opposing, they just hated Jews! People usually ridicule what they don’t understand

Perhaps they were afraid Nehemiah and his fellow Jews were actually going to pull this off. Did you ever wish that someone would fail,  just because you didn’t like them, and you were afraid they would get some credit you didn’t think they deserved?

People usually ridicule what they oppose because:

•It is usually effective. Satan uses it.

•It is demoralizing, Nehemiah’s people were discouraged.

•It strikes at hidden weaknesses and insecurities that everyone has.

Every one of the five rhetorical questions asked by Sanballet and Tobiah struck at a legitimate weakness of Nehemiah and the Jews.

1. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” Physically they were feeble.

2. “Will they fortify themselves?” They were exposed to the ridicule, mocking and even the threats of these leaders.

3. “Will they pray up the wall?” They were discouraged. Their faith was not very strong. They had a history of failure to stay faithful to God.

4. “Will they finish it in a day?” There was probably not one Jew who had the faith to believe that this project would ever be finished.

5. “Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” Sanballat exaggerated the problem, The gates were burned, not the stones. It may have made some of Nehemiah’s crew to think: “Oh, no! Not another problem, the stones are burned, what else can go wrong?”

III. How did Nehemiah handle this attack?

 

He didn’t retaliate! “So they think we’re feeble do they!” He could have lowered himself to their level, but thank God he didn’t do that!

He prayed: “ Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders” (4:4,5). You have to be impressed with his prayer life! In chapter one, he fasted and prayed for four-five months. In chapter two he send up an arrow prayer in the presence of the king. In chapter three he consecrated all of his plans with prayer. Now he calls own fire on his detractors. “Lord, everything they’re giving us, dump on them…”

The result of his praying: It defused his anger. Anger would have hindered the work. It restored his perspective, their ridicule only assured him that God was in this.

Then in verse six, he went right on with the work! This didn’t knock him off of his pace. Once he had committed himself and the task to God, he was no longer concerned about the taunts of his enemies. His stability must have given the people a mind to work, “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, (twenty feet) for the people had a mind to work” (4:6).

This “Mind to work” springs from:

•A sense of necessity. Our ministry is a pressure ministry. When God gave the command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This is God’s only plan, and we believers are the only ones who can carry out that plan. Why should we feel pressured? Jesus is coming soon, we have very little time to reach the lost!

A sense of duty, a force of obligation before God. “If I don’t do it, who will?”

A sense of gratitude and love for God and His work.

A sense of hope. “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.” (Isaiah 62:1).

IV. Opposition through threat of attack. (4:7-15).

Nehemiah describes the problem in verses 7,8, then he describes how they met the problem in verses 9-23.

This attack comes at a time when the people were tired and under the circumstances, they have finished the wall to a height of twenty feet, half way up! They were worn out, their strength must have been failing.

Jerusalem was surrounded by four powerful enemies and they were plotting against them, “and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion…And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease’” (4:8,11).

       Sanballet of Samaria to the North.

       Tobiah of Ammon on the East.

       The Ababs on the South.

       The men of Ashdod (Philistia) on the West.

The opposition was not going away just because they had prayed about it. “A going foot and a praying knee both grow on the same leg.” The threat against them was constant and more threatening than ever.

And it was effective: “So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, ‘From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us’” (4:12).

Had it not been for the strong leadership of Nehemiah they might have abandoned the work. He and God kept them focusing on the main thing, rebuilding the wall, and restoring the people.

Nehemiah did not just pray about the problem, hoping it old go away, he did something about it. There are a couple of war-time slogans that fit here: “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” And, “Trust the Lord and keep your powder dry.” Or “A praying knee and a fighting arm both grow on the same body.”

He turned Jerusalem into an armed camp. “So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah” (4:16). A strong defense will always ward off the enemy. So he armed the workers; posted guards; he arranged the people into family groups at the most exposed places (verse 13); he knew that they would fiercely to protect their own families!

He divided them into two groups: “So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.  Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (4:16.17).

He devised a plan for dealing with unexpected attacks, “Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us’” (Verses 18-20).

He accelerated the work pace from dawn until the stars came out. There is nothing more important than finishing God’s work!

And he continually reminds them that God will work for them. “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Verse 24). “Our God will fight for us” (Verse 20).

In one of Israel’s battles, God says, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s”  (2 Chronicles 20:15).

Nehemiah didn’t even have time to change his clothes! “So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing” (4:23).

Nehemiah worked with them through it all, Praying, watching, warring and working! Lots of people watch, some people pray, a few war, but not many work. Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9: 37,38).

Conclusion: The discouragement for Nehemiah’s workers must have been crippling!  It begs the age-old question, “Where is God when it hurts? Where is God when we are discouraged?” There have been times when I have asked God for a miracle, sometimes it seems like God doesn’t always come through. And much of the time He doesn’t come through the way we expect.

Elijah went from the mountain of victory to the valley of despair. He was running from Jezebel’s threat. He arose and ran for his life…and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’” (1 Kings 19:1-4). He is saying, “Where are You, God?” But God sent an angel to sustain him and guide him on his journey.

Shadrach, Meshech and Abed-nego were not saved from the fiery  furnace, but God saved them in it! “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25).

Daniel was not saved from the Lion’s den! But God came through to save him in the lion’s den. “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me” (Daniel 6:22).

Paul was stoned, beaten, starved, shipwrecked and given a thorn in the flesh…Discouraged? Listen what God says to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

God always comes through!

Nehemiah’s people were a discouraged people! They were told over and a]over again, “Every time you turn around we’ll be on you, you have no chance to build this wall.” That kind of negative talk can’t help but affect them. I was raised with a father that tore me down every day. I had some older brothers that were in and out of prison, so my dad told me, “You’re just like your brothers, you will never amount to anything.” That kind of negative talk is hard to overcome.

When someone is telling you, “You can’t do it.” For some it strengthens their resolve but for most is just discourages them. It only  serves to support their own fears! Never forget, the Lord tells us, “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory…Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” (2 Chronicles 20:17).

During the Civil War, General Sherman and his Union army were at Stone Mountain, Georgia. There was a lone rebel soldier firing on them from the mountain. So the General sent a squad in to route him. The first squad came back totally defeated. So he sent in another squad and they too came back wounded and dying. In desperation, he sent in even more soldiers, with the same devastating result. Then one of his soldiers came running down the side of the mountain shouting, General, they’s lied to us, they’s two of ‘em! (Probably not a true story, I don’t know!)

An old preacher while reading his Bible was having a conversation with Paul about, Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things…”

•“Paul, are you really telling us you can do all things?”

•“Is there nothing you cannot do?”

•“Can you fight principalities and powers?

•“Can you fight the rulers of darkness?”

•”Can you resist the power of Satan, even in places of authority?”

•”Are you equal to the task of fighting the world, the flesh and the devil?” The old preacher went on for some time, putting up difficulties, asking the apostle questions, suggesting that he was going beyond himself. Even Abraham, God’s friend was defeated by Satan, are you telling me that you are greater than Abraham when you say, “I can do all things?”

Then the old preacher read the rest of the verse, “I can do all things…through Christ who strengthens me.” Oh, I beg your pardon, Paul, I didn’t realize there were two of you.”

 

God and I are a majority. 

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).

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