How do you feel when you have finished a project? Satisfied? Pleased? Proud? Thankful? All of the above? I have never been much of a builder. My finished projects look more like where everyone else starts their projects. My rule of thumb is, if an eight-penny finishing nail will hold something, then a twenty-penny spike will really hold it. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t force it, get a bigger a hammer.” I come by it naturally, my dad was not very handy either. He had his own chair, an old captain’s chair that no one dared touch! Well, he had repaired it so many times that I was literally held together by big old rusty nails and heavy wire. It looked horrible, but he loved it. I’ll tell you how handy I am. When I was in college our old car needed overhauling, one of my classmates, who was a shade-tree mechanic offered to do the work. “How much,” I asked, “Five dollars an hour” was his reply. “I said, “what if I help?” “Then it will be ten dollars and hour.” Our son recently received his degree from the University of California a
t Davis. I have told everyone that he had a tough time cramming four years of college into thirty years.
What a sense of accomplishment they must have felt when the wall was finished. There it stood, two and one half miles around, forty feet high, over eight feet thick, with stones weighing in at over one-million pounds, with its ten gates and its towers, all the time with opposition from within and without.
It was a thrilling announcement: “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days’ (Verse 15). “This work was done by our God” (Verse 16).
Nehemiah triumphed because he was doing God’s work. God initiated it, and empowered it. It would never have succeeded without God’s intervention. If this work had not been in the heart of God, it would never have been in the heart of Nehemiah! God’s great, burning passion is to find a person here and there, fill them with His Holy Spirit, so they may become channels through which He can accomplish great things.
Dr. Clovis Chapel, a Methodist Minister, had a sermon titled, “The Successful Failure.” The thesis of the message was that God blesses just as much by the desire to do great things for Him, as for the accomplishments themselves. The one thing King David wanted more than anything else was to build a house for God. This was not to be, but, God assured him of the blessings even though the Eastern sun will never rise over a magnificent temple built by him…“Whereas it was in your heart to build a temple for My name, you did well that it was in your heart’” (1 Kings 8:18). So the pastor with a flock of forty or fifty people will be on equal terms with the mega church pastor, because he had it in his heart to build a great mega church. God only expects faithfulness, and He is one who can say what is success.
That puts me in mind of a Southern Gospel song:
Daddy was a preacher, he loved to tell the folks about the Lord.
For those of us who knew him, knew he believed every word.
And the few did turn to Jesus, but most just turned away,
Late at night I lie awake and hear my daddy pray
"Lord am sorry I know I must have let you down,
I'll try harder, one more lost sheep might be found.
Lord I'm tryin’ to hold those gates open wide"
Daddy couldn't save the world, but until the day he died,
God took this man, Nehemiah, and found in him a man through whom He had a clear channel , and “The wall was finished.” On the one hand this was a plan initiated in Heaven, on the other hand, here is a man totally abandoned to the will of God. God found a man He could trust with his plans.
Under Nehemiah’s leadership the wall was completed in fifty-two days. Incredible! Even Israel’s enemies recognized this accomplishment as the hand of God, engineered, not only by Nehemiah and the people of Israel, but by God Himself.
Now all that is left is to hang the doors in the gates (Verse 1). Again we meet the same three opponents, Sanballet, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab as they make one final attempt to stop the work.
These attacks were directed at Nehemiah, personally.
“When Sanballat and his conspirators realize they have been out- maneuvered, out-generaled and outwitted by Nehemiah, they decide to attack him personally. Their wounded pride would not be appeased until Nehemiah has been humiliated.” –Cyril Barber, Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership.
This idea is not new…kill the chief, shoot the officers, sack the quarterback, it is always the best plan to take out the leader.
I. The first attack: opposition by conspiracy (Verses 1-4).
This is the most subtle attack of all. Why attack now? The wall was finished. Further opposition would seem useless. Maybe people had lowered their guard now that the job was almost finished.
The conspirators propose a conference. This seems to be a reasonable request. They may want to make a concession speech…”Nehemiah, it’s no secret that we have opposed the building of the wall, but in spite of all of our efforts, you got the job done. You built this wall in spite of everything we could do to hinder you. Now there’s no need to carry on this opposition any longer, we have to live together. We have our own provinces to manage. Let’s be friends, we’re all interested in peace, aren’t we? What we need is a summit meeting, you choose a village in Ono, and we will be there.”
What could possibly be wrong with holding a conference like this? Isn’t dialogue good? Isn’t it better to talk than fight? Isn’t it good to keep the lines of communication open, to let bygones be bygones, to bury the hatchet? What possible reason could Nehemiah have for refusing a conference?
There’s just one problem, the job isn’t done yet! The doors had not been hung in the gates, until that is done they were still in jeopardy.
I love Nehemiah’s response, what a courageous, totally practical, single-minded man he was. “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Verse 3).
There are two characteristics of leadership:
1) A leader must learn to say “No.” This request was repeated four times. Nehemiah continued to say, “No.” “There’s a great difference between an available man or woman of God, and being a puppet of the people…One of the marks of maturity is the ability to say, “No” without explanation” –Chuck Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick.
When is it okay to say, “No?”
•Whenever necessary and a lot more often than I do.
•When I’m asked to compromise truth or morality.
•When a lesser good threatens to undermine a great one.
•When I’m asked to sacrifice my family for the ministry. We are all faced with the tyranny of the urgent. Urgent things much of the time take precedence over important things.
To whom I should say “No?”
•My children, a lot more than I do. Probably the making of what we are today is a result of what we didn’t have, not what we did have.
•To my enemies and the enemies of God.
•To friends who would detract me from my ministry.
2) The second characteristic of leadership is practical wisdom. Nehemiah is not taken in by this request, even though it seems like a normal, reasonable request. He’s smart enough to figure out that these men have not changed, the end of verse two reads, “They thought to do me harm.” It would have taken at least a day to get to the meeting, a day for the meeting, and another day to get back home, three days with no work being accomplished. “His ability to see the issues clearly and stand firm under pressure safeguarded him from succumbing to the wiles of his adversaries” –Cyril Barber.
II. Opposition by innuendo.
On the surface it appears they have Nehemiah’s welfare at heart. They tell Nehemiah that they have heard rumors that Nehemiah is going to rebel against the king…”If the king hears this he won’t know they are rumors so we better get together and discuss this.” We don’t know, but some well-meaning religious leader may have inadvertently thought Nehemiah was the Messiah come to set up His kingdom. This is not it too far-fetched, that’s what the Jews and the apostles wanted Jesus to do.
They were attempting to get Nehemiah to react out of fear. By reading this letter publicly, they were putting the pressure on Nehemiah. What made this dirty politics was that it was an “open letter.” This letter would have been widely circulated, so we have no idea how many read it before Nehemiah saw it. It may have been read scores of times as it progressed from Samaria to Jerusalem. And as in the case of all gossip, the damage had already been done.
Rumor is always exaggerated, the authorship is never disclosed, and it is almost always inaccurate. There was only one item in the letter that was true was the Jews had rebuilt the wall! Everything else was false. The Jews were not planning a revolt, and Nehemiah was not scheming to become the king of Judah.
Rumor is designed to hurt. By linking the letter with an invitation to meet, they seemed to have placed Nehemiah between a rock and a hard place. If he refused to go, it would make him look guilty. If he had stopped the work and gone to meet them, his enemies would have accomplished their purpose, and would have taken the opportunity to capture and assassinate him.
Nehemiah’s bold response.
He denies their accusations. “Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart” (Verse 8).
He assesses the threat. “For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done” (Verse 9).
He prays. “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (Verse 9). He needs divine help. No one likes to be accused, and Nehemiah is being publicly accused.
After he prays, he asks God for strength and goes on with work. Commit your cause to God and move forward! He was secure in God, confident of God’s words, he knew he was doing God’s will, and God’s work, God’s way!
III. Opposition by intimation.
They tried to destroy his credibility. The enemy has a man on the inside, Shemaiah, who claimed to be a prophet, so this attack was disguised as a revelation from God. It was designed to make Nehemiah make two mistakes.
1) To put his own personal safety above the work of God.
2) To break God’s law to save his own life.
There are two fatal flaws in Shemaiah’s false prophecy.
1) It would be totally illogical for Nehemiah to run away at this time. It took a miracle to get him to Jerusalem, and God had protected him time and again during the building of the wall. Now the wall is finished, so it makes no sense for them to stop now.
2) The second flaw in Shemaiah’s false prophetic message, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple.” The term he actually used was, “The holy place.” Nehemiah was not a priest so he could not enter into the “Holy place.” It would have been a violation of the Word of God. Fortunately he knew God’s Word, he immediately recognized the false from the true. Desecration of the “Holy place” would have brought swift judgment from God. (Numbers 18:7, “The outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
This proved to Nehemiah that Shemaiah was a pagan, it was a pagan belief that a person could be spared punishment for a crime if they would run to a pagan temple. “And I said, ‘Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!’” (Verse 11).
God had not sent Shemaiah, “Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (Verse 12).
To do this would have been a sin for Nehemiah. “For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me” (Verse 13).
He knew God’s Word well enough to know that God never allows anyone to violate His Word, even to save themselves. That’s a great lesson for us. We disobey God’s Holy Word and assume He will change His mind or alter His requirements. Nehemiah saved his life by keeping God’s law not by breaking God’s law.
Seven tools Satan uses to entice us to violate God’s Word:
1) A little bit won’t hurt.
2) Everybody else is doing it. (My mom used to ask me, “If all your friends were driving off of a cliff I suppose you would follow them?”
3) You have to keep an open mind. Someone has said, “Most open minds should be closed for repairs.”
4) We always have done it.
5) There’s no harm in it.
6) We live in the 21st century not the dark ages.
7) You’ve got to live, No you don’t-but you have to die, and after this the judgment.
Conclusion: Nehemiah is saying, “If I should succumb to their threats and sin against God:
•I would disgrace myself and deserve the consequences.
•I would bring reproach on God and His work.
•I would give joy to Satan and the enemies of God.
•I would cause injury and hurt weaker believers.
•God’s hand of judgment would be upon me.
“So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God” (Verses 15, 16).
We see the kind of man Nehemiah was.
•He was a man of faith. His absolute, unbending faith were in God’s ability to work through him.
•He was a man of purpose. “This one thing I do…” (Philippians 3:13). He had his eye on the goal and on God.
•He was a man of vision. That first night when he saw the wall, he saw it finished, he never saw anything else.
Two final lessons:
1) Never give up on God. He will always come through. Whatever the difficulties you are facing in life you can Romans 8:28it! “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
2) Blind faith and single-minded dedication to God and His work will always result in victory. “Yours is the mighty power and glory and victory and majesty. Everything in the heavens and earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything” (1 Chronicles 29:11).
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).