Nehemiah wasn’t exaggerating when he prayed to God saying, “Hear us oh God, for we are despised” (Nehemiah 4:4). Called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and rally the exiles who were already “in great distress” the task itself was difficult. Upon hearing his calling, Nehemiah sat down and wept for many days (1:4). He humbly accepted his duty and got to work. It wasn’t long before the enemy was also hard at work:
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble–burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Nehemiah 4:1-3
Doing God’s will and His work means coming up against strong opposition from and enemy that would like nothing better than to see us give up and quit. I like smooth sailing as much as the next person, but it just doesn’t work that way in the spiritual realm. God’s people are mocked, teased, threatened and worse for trying to set about the work they have been given. What I love about this story is Nehemiah’s response:
So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.” (Nehemiah 4:13-15)
- He didn’t ignore the fact that there was a problem; It sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s just easier to stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best. The Israelites weren’t just being mocked, they were being threatened. Their task of rebuilding was in jeopardy. As the opposition grew, Nehemiah knew he could not just do nothing. God doesn’t want us to focus on it, but instead acknowledge it and take it to Him.
- He didn’t respond directly to his accusers; He looked around and addressed his own people, reminding them that the Lord God, “great and awesome” would fight for them. How hard this is for me sometimes, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and instant news of all kinds where everyone has an opinion they want heard. We are called to speak the Truth and share it in the midst of all the backwards things the world proclaims – but we are also reminded to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes” (2 Timothy 2:23) that only lead to more strife. Nehemiah knew it would be a waste of time arguing with those so set against him – he turned to his fellow workers and he turned to God.
- He called on the people to PRAY and WATCH; they were to set their hearts to prayer, being watchful for what was to come. Watchmen were set strategically along the wall to be on the lookout for an attack. Being on the lookout places us in a far better position that if we are hit suddenly without warning. Prayer gets us into this position. One without the other doesn’t make much sense, but prayer and watchfulness put together make us strong.
- He called on the people to PRAY and WORK; The enemy wants to back us into a corner and fill us with fear and discouragement so that we stop our work, or quit altogether. He wants us to sit around and fret. God wants us to keep moving! Nehemiah divided his people up and had half praying while the other half continued the work. They had been assigned something very important, regardless of the opposition that came, they were to stay on task. We do God’s work because we love Him, not because our circumstances are always favorable.
We all have walls that need rebuilding, gates that need fortifying, vulnerable places that need to be patched up so the enemy can’t have access to them over and over. This story encourages me to go after the things God has told me to do without the fear of failure or ridicule nagging at me in the back of my mind. It is nice when things just seem to fall into place, many things worth having, however, are going to come at a price. How amazing to walk through that fire of discouragement, conflict and disappointment and come out on the other side just where God intended us to be.
“Those who built on the walls, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon”… (4:17).
There it is in a nutshell: Hold your weapon in one hand and keep working with the other! Don’t go about it alone, be someone’s watchman. Be a prayer warrior for someone who is hurting. Take your eyes off of the opposition and those who ridicule you – put them squarely on God and restore all those walls that have been torn down, they will be stronger than they ever were before.