Despite the opposition in chapter 4 & the challenges brought on by the famine conditions and oppression of the marginalised we read about in chapter 5 the work on the wall has continued. As a result, gruesome threesome of Sanballat, Tobiah & Geshem are not happy!
They know that the work on the wall is nearing completion, soon Jerusalem will have been restored and so their influence and ability to regulate and intimidate will have diminished!
So they introduce a new tactic, one far more complex than those that have gone before. Up to now they have tried to oppose using ridicule, mockery, intimidation & threats of violence. These have all been upfront and confrontational in nature.
Now in chapter 6, a new tactic is introduced that is both subtle & difficult to discern at times. Their plan is to get Nehemiah to compromise and in so doing to divert him from his God-given mission. They invite him to a meeting to talk things through.
Compromise is often subtle & therefore can come in under our radar undetected. The request for a meeting may have seemed reasonable at first, maybe meeting would help create an amicable environment in which the building work could continue unhindered.
Compromise is like that, it often doesn’t appear too bad, it might even appear reasonable at first. But Nehemiah’s reply is a model of clarity;
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”(Nehemiah 6:3)
Nehemiah knew his priorities, knew what mattered most.
As finite beings, if we give ourselves to one thing that means we ignore something else.
So, if I decide to spend 5-6 hours playing a round of golf, by implication I have chosen not to spend 5-6 hours doing something else like spending time with family (unless they were playing with me).
Nehemiah turned down the request for a meeting because he valued his God-given mission higher than anything else! He refused to meet with the gruesome threesome because doing so would mean not continuing the work God had given him to do.
Bill Beckham said; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”
Nehemiah showed what he valued by what he chose to and what not to do! Knowing what we value will help us to avoid sin and self-centred compromise.
In vs10-14 under the false guise of a prophetic word Nehemiah is tempted by Shemaiah to look out for himself and his personal safety, to forget the wall…
Here again we see Nehemiah’s principals coming to aide his decision making process as he responds to Shemaiah with principals stronger than his personal fear of death.
My paraphrase: He says; ’Should a man like me run away? I will trust in God rather than try to save my own life’
Once again, the compromise seems reasonable. Surely God would want Nehemiah to consider his own personal safety? But doing so would have taken him off the wall and would have caused him to compromise & sin by doing what he was prohibited from doing.
More than this, Nehemiah couldn’t enter into the temple as he wasn’t a priest and God prohibited anyone from entering it who was not a priest. So, Nehemiah feared God more than someone who could take his life! More than anything else he wanted to hear God say over him one day; “Well done Nehemiah, with you I am well pleased.”
He valued God being pleased with Him above even a fear for his own life! This kept him from sinning. The power of sin is broken when we realise this: that in God and delighting in God we will be satisfied:
Is there any area in your life where there is temptation to compromise? It might seem reasonable but it will rob your focus from God’s call on your life. Identify the tactic of your enemy and resist like Nehemiah did (6:3).
Do a personal audit of your time remembering that; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”. Do you need to make any adjustments?
I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical. All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.
The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer. We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…
But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.
Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good! But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.
So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.
Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.
God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”. I love that!
They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.
This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.
So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.
Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.
So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).
Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays. There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;
“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)
Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14). And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.
PRAY AND ACT!
The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one. Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.
Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy. In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!
Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:
- In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
- In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
- Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)
Analysing the Opposition:
Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy. Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence. Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.
Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat. This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided. We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.
Doubt (vs2) – Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt. “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned. Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.
Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said. At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame. Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do. Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself. Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.
Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah. Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip. When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.
Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it! We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.
Responding to criticism
1. Take it to God! “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4) Your Father is large and in charge of everything. You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him. You are the beloved child of the most high God. So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.
Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’. When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself. Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.
2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6) After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition. Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?
We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church. May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!