Chapter 3 of Nehemiah closes with the people of Jerusalem working in unison, shoulder to shoulder to restore the walls of the city. They had been inspired by Nehemiah’s impassioned plea to rebuild lest they continue to be a reproach and the name of their God disgraced (2:17).
An important application of the book is to look at it in terms of building the walls of our personal lives in order to build strong families and churches. As previously stated in Lesson 4, “families are built on the foundation of marriage between a man and a woman. Regrettably, the enemy has been successful in destroying the strength, influence, and testimony of the western church by breaking up families through demolishing marriages. In many cases the building blocks that protect a marriage have been neglected, falling into disrepair and leaving the marriage vulnerable to attack.”1
In Chapter 4, the walls surrounding Jerusalem are beginning to take shape. However, as soon as the progress became evident, the enemy began a campaign of opposition. The kind of opposition Nehemiah faced is the same for us today. As soon as one determines to fortify the walls of one’s personal and family life, you can be sure that the enemy will rise up to combat such work. Why? The enemy hates everything that represents God on earth including you, if you’re a Christian, your marriage, your children, your Christian testimony, and your Christian community. If he can destroy any of those things, he will.
The way in which Nehemiah handled the opposition is a fine example of how we, too, can overcome the menace of the enemy. His tactics haven’t changed. As he sought to intimidate, discourage, and physically threaten those who attempted to build God’s kingdom in Nehemiah’s day, so he employs similar strategies with us today.
DAYS ONE and TWO: Nehemiah Encounters Opposition from Without (4:1-3)
A. Worldly people used by Satan to thwart the work of God are usually motivated by one or more of the following: power, prestige or profits. In the case of Sanballat, all three were in jeopardy by the strengthening of Jerusalem’s walls. Jerusalem was situated on the main trade route between the northern Tigris-Euphrates River Valley, Egypt to the south and Philistia to the west. As a defensible city, Jerusalem would become a secure and economically profitable trading center. Samaria, which was ruled by Sanballat would become “back-water”. His power, prestige, and profits would be seriously compromised as Jerusalem became the center of commerce. Hence, Sanballat is furious (4:1).
1. How would you characterize the opposition presented by Sanballat and Tobiah?
2. What do you think he hoped to accomplish by his rhetorical questions? How did Tobiah’s comment further the opposition?
3. Try to put yourself in the place of those who had labored long hours and done their best. How are you affected by negative criticism and ridicule, especially after you’ve put forth your best effort? What does it do to your confidence and/or courage?
4. In your opinion, what part does Satan play in designing circumstances and/or motivating others to oppose God’s work through you? Support your answer with Scriptures.
B. I find it fascinating that God allowed so much opposition. Again I find myself asking the age-old questions. Why does God permit the enemy to resist His will and thwart His purpose? Why does God allow His people to suffer while they are trying to accomplish His will? Consider Paul, an apostle of Christ who wrote much of the New Testament. Why did God allow him to suffer so much physical weakness and opposition?
1. What insight do you receive from II Corinthians 4:7?
2. In a column, list the various types of opposition mentioned in II Corinthians 4:8-10. In a second column opposite the first, list the contrasting attitude or circumstantial situation.
3. A principle that we need to remember is that a spiritual leader will always experience opposition. Whether you are seeking to lead your children, rebuild the walls of your marriage, influence others for Christ, teach Sunday school, lead worship, or supply the physical needs of the poor, there will be opposition. In fact the more effective you are, the more opposition you may experience.
4. In your journal, write about the opposition you are facing at this time. How have you believed the lie that what you are doing is insufficient and will never accomplish anything of value? How have you been disheartened by the size and seeming insignificance of your ministry? How have you been made to feel inadequate, lacking intelligence, out of touch, and powerless because you are poor? How have you been overwhelmed simply by the fact that you are a woman and therefore unimportant and limited by what you are allowed to do?
5. Re-read II Corinthians 4:7-10 and 12:7-10. Think about the fact that God does not just build walls supernaturally or communicate His truth by angels. God uses people– insignificant, feeble, “cracked pots”. God does so because He wants to use not just what’s in the pot (the glorious life of Jesus), but the pot itself. In that way, God takes intangible truth and makes it concrete; He fleshes it out in the life of the pot. He uses that pot as He wills. We all know that pots that get used a lot aren’t very pretty. They’ve been nicked, scratched, chipped, and even cracked a little but not destroyed. With these thoughts in mind, journal specific encouragements from the passages concerning the opposition you are presently facing.
DAY THREE: Nehemiah’s Response to Psychological Threats (4:4-6)
A. Sanballat’s words had struck a nerve. Successfully he had identified and played upon the Jew’s sense of insecurity, feebleness, and fear. Readily, most of us can identify with those feelings because they are in varying degrees part of the human framework. Sanballat and Tobiah were determined to stop the building project by stirring up a sense of hopelessness leading to discouragement and despair. The natural tendency for most of us is to verbally retaliate when such comments are directed at us. Here again, Nehemiah sets a fine example.
1. What was Nehemiah’s first response to criticism?
2. Nehemiah wants his readers to know that anything accomplished for God’s
glory must be accomplished by prayer. There are two parts to Nehemiah’s intercessory prayer in verses 4-5.
a. What do you think Nehemiah intended to convey in the phrase, “Hear,
O our God for we are despised;”? How might this cry provide release for Nehemiah’s own soul?
b. What do you make of the second part of Nehemiah’s prayer in verses
4b-5? What do you think is Nehemiah’s motive in praying such vengeful thoughts against his adversaries?
c. How do you reconcile this kind of prayer with Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28; and Romans 12:20?
d. Consider Psalm 139:21-22. Is it possible that we find this type of prayer for God’s honor offensive because we have such a diminished desire for His glory? How might your prayers change if the main heartfelt concern was for the glory of God?
3. Note the contrast between Jesus’ prayers for those who opposed Him (Matthew 23:37; Luke 23:34) and His pronouncement of judgment upon those who opposed Him and remained unrepentant (Matthew 7:23; 10:33; 23:33-35; 24:48-51; 25:41-46). The apparent difficulty between these two lines of thought is resolved if we see both as God-glorifying. It is always right to ask God to show mercy towards our enemies by converting them to Christ. At the same time, it is right to acknowledge that God will certainly judge all enemies of His kingdom. To ask that He do so now in hopes that such adversity might cause them to be saved is not unloving but a means of bringing them into the kingdom. One of the anticipated blessings of the redeemed is the removal of all unrighteousness. The fact that God makes distinctions between the righteous and the wicked is ultimately for His glory and our blessing (Psalm 1:4-6).
B. The result of Nehemiah’s prayer was that the low morale of the workers was overcome. No longer distracted by discouragement and despair, the people got busy. Nehemiah 4:6 says, “So we built the wall…” – I love that phrase!
1. In what way might you apply that same kind of determination to your present circumstance?
2. In the face of criticism, how might prayer help you to stay focused on the task at hand and close the door on discouragement?
DAYS FOUR and FIVE: Nehemiah Responds to Physical Threats (4:7-23)
A. The enemy is never at bay very long. Possibly, it had only been a few days since the enemy was beaten back by Nehemiah’s imprecatory prayer. Now the confederation of Israel’s enemies steps up their offensive by threat of violence (vs.8, 11-12). Sanballat rules Samaria to the north, Tobiah and the Ammonites rule east of Jerusalem, the Arabs were to the south, and the Ashdodites were west. Jerusalem was virtually surrounded by the enemy and they were very angry. Again, Nehemiah records that the incident was met first with prayer and then decisive action.
1. Following prayer, what precautions did Nehemiah take to combat the threat?
2. Nehemiah models an important principle of leadership in that he kept his goal clearly in mind – building the wall. All the decisions he made in crisis mode reflected his goal. He chose to defend his position while continuing to work rather than deploy his work force to the front lines. A leader is called to a particular piece of work and must keep the goal in mind without becoming side-tracked. In what way do you need to set or clarify your goals in order to effectively accomplish God’s will? Perhaps you have been side-tracked by the opposition. How do you need to refocus on your primary goals? Take some time to record your answer in your journal.
B. Once the 24/7 guard was set we find another wave of discouragement crashing on these overworked and overwhelmed people. The wall was half finished. The newness had worn off and the work seemed endless, requiring more energy than expected. To make matters worse, people started to complain (v.10). The source of discouragement came not only from the enemy (v.11) but the other Jews as well (v.12). Opposition from within and from without – that’s discouraging! Most of us engaged in ministry find that we must deal with discouragement from these same two sources. Here are four ways that I personally find helpful.
1. Prayer: At the first sign of discouragement, one should set aside time for concentrated prayer. Even if you cannot articulate your requests, kneel in quiet before the Lord, allowing His peace to pervade your being. (Romans 8:26; Philippians 4:6-7)
Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matter beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us in quiet through the age long minute
While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill:
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?
2. Perspective: Often our perspective becomes distorted by the amount of rubbish in our lives. To make matters worse, some people in our ministries insist that the rubbish is not really rubbish and must not be removed! Ask God to help you regain His perspective on the matter. Re-read your journal taking note of those entries that clearly show God’s leading and priorities as it concerns you. Thank Him that He has a plan and purpose for your life and ask Him to help you keep that in clear view. If the problem concerns your leadership circle, ask God to give you clarity on the problem. Trust Him for His wisdom which He promises to give (Ecclesiastes 2:26; Daniel 2:21; Luke 21:15-memorize this one; James. 1:5). You will then be able to help others gain a better perspective as well.
3. Promises: Nehemiah redirected the attention of the people from the enemy to the Lord; “Remember the Lord…” (v.14). We can do this for ourselves and others by choosing to recall the promises of Scripture and/or passages that remind us of the greatness of our God. Just this week I was dealing with a trial that seems endless and very discouraging. Our pastor had recently taught a lesson on the fact that we cannot fully understand God’s mind. One of the texts was Romans 11:33-36. As I was running errands I decided to recite the passage out loud in the car until I had it memorized perfectly. That passage has continued to sustain me all week as I realized that there are some things about this problem that I will likely never understand. But God does – His wisdom and knowledge are deep and His ways – well, they are beyond tracing out.
4. Perseverance: A leader does not have the option of throwing in the towel. You must do all you know to do and then choose to persevere (4:23). This is the exercise of one’s faith by which we gain Christ-like character and maturity (Romans 5:3-5; James. 1:2-4). Nehemiah’s faith was the foundation of his life the factor that motivated him to continue in spite of the odds. To give up would have been an act of faithlessness. It would have meant that he doubted God’s ability to perform His will. On the other hand, Nehemiah’s faith created an expectant, positive attitude that soon impacted the whole crowd. This attitude must be cultivated if we are to please God (Hebrews11:6).
“Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us here. Our God will fight for us.” (4:20)
Nehemiah had a rallying point and a trumpeter with which to call the people to his side (v.18). The work was enormous and the workers were spread out upon the wall. At the sound of the trumpet, they were to leave their place and rally to Nehemiah for the final overthrow of the enemy. Does this not sound familiar (I Thessalonians 4:15-18)?
Oh that we could have a worldwide vision of the church today for a moment, could God open our eyes to see our missionaries scattered all over the world – the ranks are very thin, with many other lands cut off from fellowship and communication. The work is great and the area is immense, but wherever they be scattered, there is a mighty commander-in-Chief, our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is the rallying point for us all, and one day the trumpet shall sound, the rallying call will come, and on that day we will be taken from our work to meet Him; one glorious day the enemy will be utterly overthrown. How thrilling it is to know today that we are in that fight! Although the struggle may be terrific, the onslaught tremendous, and the journey may seem to be long, we are all united together under our great Lord Jesus Christ. One day the journey will be over, the trumpet shall sound, and Jesus will come; one day our enemy will be finally vanquished.3
1. Donna Jeffries, Weekly Word Bible Study: Nehemiah, Lesson 4, (Denver, CO: Women of the Harvest, 2007), p.1.
2. Amy Carmichael, Toward Jerusalem as quoted in Elisabeth Elliot’s Keep A Quiet Heart, (Ann Arbor, MI.: Servant Publications, 1995), p.16.
3. Alan Redpath Victorious Christian Service (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1958), pp. 105-106
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