The Bible teaches that people are natural unfaithful. If people are prone to be unfaithful to the Lord God Almighty, how much more other people? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. If not for the Word of God, people would have any faith at all. The scriptures explain why this is so. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. The scriptures ask an unsettling rhetorical question, “Who can know the heart.” God knows the true intents and thoughts of all people, but as people, we don’t even understand our own hearts and intents. We don’t know what we want. We don’t know why we want the things we want. We don’t know what we’re doing or why we’re doing them. Therefore, as people, we make observations based on what we can see and come to conclusions with skewed perspective. Our decisions are made with flawed information and so our actions are based on the premise of what we think is right and good, rather than what is actually right and good by God’s perspective. This causes people to do things that are harmful to self and to one another. Still, God’s sovereign control is such that these human weaknesses are not a deterrent to His purposes and have no effect on His ability to do what He promises.
Evidence of this truth is provided in the testimony of Nehemiah 6:15-19. This portion of scripture explains that after all of the opposition that occurred while the children of Israel tried to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah, the wall was completed in just fifty-two days! The people struggled within their own fleshly desires to live according to personal comforts rather than God’s purposes; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The builders lacked experience and wisdom to do the work; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The people faced opposition from foreigners that sought to frustrate the psyche and attitudes of the people with mocking, insults, and rumors; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The opposition increased the intensity of their efforts by making threats of physical attack and threats of death; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The people multi-tasked as watchmen while building, holding swords, spears, and shields in their hands while they built; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The people grew weary in their work and looked to usury to take advantage of one another, some even selling their land for bread, and putting their own families into slavery; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days. The opposition tried to frustrate Nehemiah and lure him into traps, slandering his name, purposes, and hopes; yet the wall was built in fifty-two days.
The testimony of Nehemiah 6:15-19 shows that the successful building of the wall had little to do with the men and women that built it. It was not the persevering strength and wisdom of Nehemiah that ensured the wall was built. It was not the diligent focus of the people or the financing that ensured the wall was built. All of the opposition that is documented in the testimony of Nehemiah shows that the opposition was spiritually influenced and took a massive toll on the mental and physical capacity of the people. Still, the wall was built in record time because even though the people were weary, distracted, frustrated, and fearful, they were hopeful in the Lord’s strength to enable them. The faith of the people in God’s identity was sufficient to give the people enough nerve to report to their duties every day, so that without realizing it, the wall was built in fifty-two days. The completion of the wall was so astounding that even the enemy was discouraged, recognizing that the hand of God must have enabled the people to persevere and successfully build in record time. The Bible explains that God worked through the people at such a pace that Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and their followers were very discouraged, not only because their efforts failed, but because they realized their efforts were foiled by the Lord God Almighty Himself!
Though the enemies of God’s people were discouraged, the leadership in Israel still remained an irritant to Nehemiah. He testifies that while the building was going on, the opposition intensified because of the unfaithful conduct of the leadership. Nehemiah already spoke about men that were hired by Sanballat and Geshem to cause fear in Nehemiah’s heart. The testimony of Nehemiah 6:15-19 explains that some of the elders and leaders in Judah frustrated the work of the Jews because of their personal allegiances to Tobiah. The scriptures state that Tobiah was one of the chief men that hurled insults and threats at the Jews. Tobiah is named as one of the chief men that hated the Jews. Tobiah was an Ammonite. He was a man whose heritage was historically hateful of Israel and jealous of God’s work in them. Tobiah certain encapsulated that national tradition against the Jews. The Bible says that some of the Jews were friendly with Tobiah and frequently corresponded with him because he was related to a well-known Jewish family.
Recall that the Jews had taken on foreign wives in the Book of Ezra. Though that issue was dealt with for the most part, the elapsed time between then and the time of Nehemiah shows that the people fell back into ungodly relationships – this time, a Jewish woman marrying an Ammonite man. Since this Ammonite man was connected to the Jews by marriage, some of the Jewish leaders took friendly relationships with him just like the Lord predicted. This shows that when one person engages in a single ungodly personal relationship, that relationship has a tendency of birthing into a team of people that oppose God’s people and God’s work. Tobiah was one man that was highly charged against God’s command for the Jews to rebuild the wall. Since the Jewish leaders were affectionate towards Tobiah because of his marriage, those Jewish leaders also became irritants to God’s commands to build the wall. Nehemiah testifies that those leaders tried to convince Nehemiah that Tobiah was a swell guy who did good things even though he was making threats and plots to kill God’s people. The Jews that were friendly with Tobiah couldn’t believe their friend was capable of such things and so influenced more opposition and frustration against Nehemiah’s leadership to build the wall. Still, the wall was built in fifty-two days.
This testimony shows that certain men made judgments and decisions based on their personal understanding instead of the wisdom of God. A woman married an Ammonite, figuring it to be good according to her personal desire and did not consider the commands of God. Due to that marriage, certain Jews became friendly with Tobiah, examining his conduct through the flawed perspective of their flesh, rather than according to the wisdom of God. As a result, the Jewish leaders became tools of the devil, used to frustrate and intimidate God’s people against God’s purposes. A seemingly-harmless relationship spurned into a committee of men that tried to make evil intentions seem harmless, ultimately causing grief, fear, and frustration for God’s people and purposes. These Jewish men were unfaithful to their own people because of their connection with one person, and were used by the devil to infect God’s people with difficulties from within. This was simply because God’s people failed to seek and consult the Lord and His righteousness in their daily decisions. Still, the wall was built in fifty-two days, proving that the weaknesses of God’s people doesn’t make God weak.
The Bible is filled with commands from God to abstain from sin. Over and over the Bible tells God’s people not to be afraid, seemingly when things are the most frightening. This truth has caused many people to misunderstand the truth of God’s commands. The reality is that fear is a natural instinct and impulse. Fear is not necessarily the ways that we act as people, but is the cause of many actions. For example, when discussing the concept of “fight or flight,” fearful and high-stress circumstances are usually the cause of the fight or the flight. Fear is not the response. Fear is the cause. This is important to understand from a Biblical standpoint. When God commands His people to abstain from fear, He is not commanding people to stop natural impulses. That’s impossible. Instead, the Lord is commanding His people not to be governed by fear. Fear is a natural response, but the Lord needs to be the supernatural motivator for our actions, not the fear. Thus, though people get afraid of things that happen in life, those things should not govern whether or not we do what the Lord says.
It is for this reason that God’s people need to pay attention to our circumstances to measure whether or not we are being governed by fear concerning God’s commands and purposes. The enemy, knowing that fear is a simple way to motivate God’s people against His purposes, will often causes fearful circumstances in order to hinder our obedience to the Lord. For example, if the Lord says to “make disciples of all nations,” the enemy will often plant thoughts and influence circumstances that make us afraid to engage with people. The Lord commanded His people to “love one another.” Therefore, we can expect the enemy to leverage fear in some way to keep us from manifesting the attributes of Jesus Christ to encourage one another’s salvation. If we are not looking out for these things on a regular basis, there is a very good chance that fear is a driving influence in our lives, thereby keeping us from doing that which God wants of us.
The testimony of Nehemiah 6:10-14 shows just how subtle the influence of the enemy can be when it comes to encouraging fear. The testimony of Nehemiah 6:10-14 explains that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem continued in various ways to foil the work of the Lord by frustrating the building efforts of the children of Israel that were restoring the wall in Jerusalem. They mocked the people. They threatened the people. They tried to distract Nehemiah to corrupt the leadership of the people. They tried to slander the reputation and motives of Nehemiah. The testimony of Nehemiah 6:10-14 shows that the opposition also tried to use scare tactics in hopes that Nehemiah would do something out of character, motivated by fear, and that they could have an actual accusation against him in order to remove him as leader of the people and cause the building to stop as a result.
The scriptures state that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem hired a man within the builders of the children of Israel that was close to Nehemiah. They hired him as an informant at first, but also used his influence to try to plant thoughts in the mind of Nehemiah, hoping that those thoughts would cause Nehemiah to respond in fear and paranoia. The man’s name was Shemaiah. He was a man that worked in the temple of the Lord and planted ideas in Nehemiah’s head while Nehemiah was in the temple. Shemaiah told Nehemiah that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were plotting to kill him, which was true. However, Shemaiah also suggested that Nehemiah should take refuge in the temple so as to stay safe there. Shemaiah told Nehemiah that it would be better for him to stay the night in the temple since the enemy was planning to attack at night.
Nehemiah’s response to Shemaiah reveals how the enemy was trying to foil the plans of God by tripping up Nehemiah. The Bible states that Nehemiah rejected the suggestion of Shemaiah. Nehemiah recognized that there was no one in the temple that was committed to the work of the Lord to the degree that he was. The Bible shows that the priests and the Levites had their struggles and often fell victim to self-indulgences. The Bible shows that the priests and the Levites were already forced to take an oath in repentance because of the usury they exacted on their own people. The priests and Levites of the temple already had a reputation for being selfish, not men who went out of their way to look out for the well-being of others by protecting their lives. Nehemiah was suspicious, wondering why suddenly Shemaiah was showing concern for the life and purpose of someone else, and was volunteering to protect life.
Nehemiah plainly stated, “why should I flee?” Recognizing that the priest and Levites of the temple were not likely to help if genuine help was required, Nehemiah stated the truth. What good would fleeing do, entrusting his life in the hands of untrustworthy people? The Bible explains that God provided Nehemiah wisdom and discernment. Nehemiah perceived by the wisdom of God that Shemaiah was not truly looking to protect Nehemiah, but was working for Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was hired in order to put fear into his heart. The opposition was hoping that they could either trap Nehemiah in the temple or keep him confined to the temple in fear so that the people would be left without a leader.
The Bible shows that Nehemiah considered the thought of him taking refuge in the temple as sin. Plain and simple, Nehemiah knew that hiding in the temple was a misuse of God’s resources. The temple was built so that the people could worship God through praises, offerings, and sacrifices. The temple was built so that the people could bless the Lord through faithful obedience to His commands. The temple was not built so that the people could escape their problems. The temple was not built so that the people could hide from the difficult issues of life. The temple was not built so that the people could go to “church” in place of doing that which God commanded them to do. Nehemiah knew that the enemy was trying to put fear in his heart so that they could accuse him or anyone of these things and soil the reputation of the people’s leader. Nehemiah would not let the enemy cause him to misuse the purpose of the temple to protect his personal integrity and purpose to encourage and lead the people in the building of the wall.
Nehemiah was committed to staying in plain sight of the people, regardless of the risk, so that he could do the simple job that God called him to do. The job did not call for Nehemiah to hide out in the temple, even if it seemed good and safe to others. Knowing that the enemy was trying to cause fear, he would not allow the enemy to govern his actions by fear, especially by perverting the use of the temple, which he considered to be evil. Notice that the enemy will try to stimulate fear into the hearts of God’s people through people outside AND inside the congregation of God’s people. Notice that the enemy was content to keep Nehemiah within the walls of the temple so long as he was disobedient to the simple command God gave. The enemy doesn’t need people to leave the building of the church if he is able to use fear to cause people to misuse its purpose. Nehemiah, faithful to the Lord God Almighty, considered it evil to let fear govern his life to rebel against God’s plain command. Thus, he sought the Lord for strength and also justice against those that were working diligently to destroy the purposes of God. In the end, God was faithful, Nehemiah was successful, and God was glorified. Though Nehemiah might have been fearful of the consequences of his decisions, he didn’t let that fear cause him to stop doing what God commanded, trusting God would be faithful to see the work through.
The Bible teaches that when Jesus came into the world that He created, His creation did not recognize Him. Additionally, when Jesus went to minister and serve the spiritual needs of His own people, His own people rejected Him. Jesus promised His disciples that they would be hated for His namesake because His righteousness was offensive to the world around them. In the same way that the people persecuted Him, Jesus swore that the world would persecute His disciples. When examining the testimonies of the Gospels, it is clear to see that those who opposed Jesus tried to get rid of Jesus by any means necessary. They insulted Jesus and His family to try to discourage Him. They tried spread rumors and lies about Him to try to discourage people from following Him. Eventually they took those lies and rumors to governing officials in order to stir up political controversy. The Jewish religious leaders made things up about Jesus in order to accuse Him of criminal activity to make Him seem like an offense to the governing principles of the region. Ultimately, this led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus’ promise and guarantee of future persecution was a valid claim long before Jesus’ promise was fulfilled through the persecution the apostles had to endure. The people of God have always dealt with opposition. The history of God’s people shows that those who seek to do the things of God will eventually have to deal with people who disagree, and are willing to express that disagreement in harmful and hurtful ways. The testimony of Nehemiah shows that the people of his time had to deal with the same sorts of persecution tactics that Jesus did. In the testimony of Nehemiah 6:5-9 the Bible explains that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were persistent in their attempts to discourage and intimidate Nehemiah. They figured that if they could get Nehemiah to stop his work, the people would stop their building. The opposition recognized that, while Nehemiah didn’t lead the people in manual labor, his spiritual encouragement and intercession is what strengthened and empowered the people to build the wall of Jerusalem. The enemy sought to cut off the head of the people in hopes that the body would fizzle out and die. Nehemiah understood the enemy objective and relied on the persevering strength and patience of God to endure the trials.
The Bible explains that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem tried to lure Nehemiah away from Jerusalem to meet with them thirty miles northwest to have “friendly discussions.” The opposition was trying to set a trap, hoping that Nehemiah would accept their invitation at which point they could imprison him or worse. Nehemiah, understanding the temperament of the enemy, and fearing God so as to not abandon his duty or the location of it, denied the invitations. The enemy tried four times to lure Nehemiah away. Each time, Nehemiah rejected their invitation stating that he was too consumed with the work of the Lord to step away for a moment. Nehemiah understood his relationship with God. He was merely a servant and God was the Master that commanded Nehemiah to remain in Jerusalem until the wall was built. Since the wall was not finished, Nehemiah would not leave, being faithful to the simple task that God commanded.
The testimony of Nehemiah 6:5-9 explains that the enemy kept on in their attempts to frustrate Nehemiah. They approached him a fifth time, but this time with a letter that Sanballat wrote. The letter was sent by a messenger so that Nehemiah could not directly oppose the accusations against Nehemiah that were written in the letter. The letter accused Nehemiah of trying to lead the children of Israel in a rebellion against the Persian government. Sanballat wrote that Geshem was informed of a secret plan by the Jews to rebuild the wall and then organize a rebellion against Artaxerxes, thereby making Nehemiah the king of the Jews. Never in any portion of Israel’s works was this discussed. Nehemiah had legal permission from the king to do the work that he did. Nehemiah had royal provision from the king to rebuild the wall and continually offer sacrifices, even on behalf of the king. Nehemiah had a good relationship with the king as his cupbearer. Nehemiah was a faithful servant, not only to God, but also to his employer. The accusations of Sanballat and Geshem weren’t based on any form of truth whatsoever. Their accusations were fabricated in the manner that any fictional story would be, not based on any truth in any way.
The absence of concrete accusations against Nehemiah didn’t matter to the opposition. Where they lacked truthful evidence to oppose Nehemiah, they simply made stuff up without fear. Sanballat wrote that he was going to spread his manufactured rumors to the king, thereby planting fear in the king’s mind. Sanballat and Geshem didn’t care if they had no evidence to back up their claim. They were simply trying to scare Nehemiah to stop doing that which God commanded him to do. Sanballat’s letter concluded by inviting Nehemiah to meet and consult yet again. Thus, Nehemiah was put in a difficult situation. If he ignored the threats, slanders, and gossips of the opposition, he risked the king becoming paranoid and acting against the Jews to dispel a rebellion that was never taking place. If Nehemiah addressed the letter, he would have to go to meet with Sanballat and put himself at risk. The situation was very difficult for Nehemiah as the persistent opposition of the enemy put him in a trap.
The Bible explains that Nehemiah addressed Sanballat while also ignoring him. Nehemiah sent a response to Sanballat’s letter simply stating that his accusation against the Jews was a lie and that the people who opposed the Jews were inventing stories in their own hearts. Here, it is important to recognize the truth of those who oppose God’s people. Why are they so persistent though their accusations are so flawed and foolish? According to the Bible, the opposition believes in their own lies with all their hearts. Though there was no basis at all for the stories that Sanballat and Geshem concocted, they believed in their hearts that their slanderous words were true. Thus, they conducted themselves as if Nehemiah was really preparing to lead a rebellion. How does this happen? Recall that the scriptures teach that this opposition was spiritually influenced. The prophesies of Daniel show that the physical difficulties were on account of influences of demonic forces causing certain individuals to be zealous against God’s purposes and people. This means that the motivation of those who oppose God’s people is fueled by the father of lies and his workers. It is not uncommon for those who oppose God’s people to believe their own lies because the devil has manipulated the circumstances to first lie to the opposition that he uses.
Nehemiah recognized this truth and let his response against Sanballat suffice. He didn’t seek to defend himself no more than Jesus defended Himself when false accusations were cast against Him. Instead, Nehemiah recognized that the opposition was simply trying to intimidate the people of God from their purpose. Nehemiah wasn’t going to let the lies of the devil paralyze him in fear so as to stop doing that which God commanded. The Bible shows that Nehemiah trusted in the strength of the Lord to empower him and the people. He trusted that God would weaken the hands of the enemy so as to enable the hands of His own people. Nehemiah didn’t feel the need to take further action in response against the enemy because he trusted God would protect His own purposes and the people who worked towards them. Nehemiah had already set up watchmen and armed the people to protect themselves. There was nothing more that could be done and so Nehemiah let the enemy speak however they pleased, trusting that the Lord would be faithful to fulfill His purposes. Nehemiah pleaded to God for His strength in order that he would be able to endure the difficulties without fear. As Jesus prayed to the Father to endure the suffering of the trial and crucifixion that awaited Him, Nehemiah sought the Father for the strength to endure similar trials that threatened in parallel manners. The Bible proves that God was able to sustain Nehemiah and the people to accomplish His people then, just as He was able to do the same through Jesus much later. God is not tired or weak. As He was able and willing to enable His people then, He is still able and willing today.
The Bible explains that the relationship that God has with His people is likened to the relationship between a master and a servant. Though Jesus explained to His disciples that He no longer considered them servants, but instead “friends,” this description concerned the quality of revelation He had given them, not the nature of an informal acquaintance. Jesus explained that He considered the disciples friends because He had revealed the purposes and promises of the Father to them. That which was a mystery at first, and was hidden, Jesus made known. This is what made the disciples friends. When Jesus sent the disciples out in the Great Commission, He sent them out as servants in which He expected them to be obedient to the command. This means that God’s people are still expected to obey His commands. Though Jesus considered Himself a “friend” of the disciples, the disciples identified themselves as “bondservants,” especially as notated in the introductions of the epistles of the New Testament. As servants of God, we are called to forfeit our selfish ambitions, desires, and affections in order to do that which the Master commands, understanding the magnitude of God’s purposes behind the command. Not only is He God, but He is eternal, meaning that His commands have eternal implications, and no matter the extent of command God gives us, it also has eternal value. What greater privilege is there to accept this sort of responsibility?
The scriptures also show that God’s work and purposes are always opposed. There are always men and women that try to frustrate God’s people from the work that God commands. While the work in it of itself will always get done by God, the opposition seeks to strip God’s people from the privilege of doing that work since God uses that work to reveal Himself to His people, drawing Himself closer to His people, and blessing His people in the process of His revelation, provision, protection, and instruction. When God’s people are separated from God’s work, they miss out on seeing the hand of God, and thereby become weaker witnesses of God’s glory. Being weaker witnesses, the strength of the Lord can run dry, leaving people discontented and prime for attacks of the flesh to indulge in self-gratifying pleasures that further distance people from God. This is a tactic that the enemy frequently employs throughout scripture, and it is important for God’s people to recognize these things in order to avoid them.
An example of this sort of opposition is documented in Nehemiah 6:1-4. In this portion of scripture, the Bible explains that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem sought to lure Nehemiah away from his purpose. The Bible explains that Nehemiah spent a great deal of time trying to maintain the spiritual integrity of the people that worked to rebuild the wall according to God’s commands. Nehemiah was not one of the builders himself, but undertook the responsibility of observing the spiritual condition of the people in order to encourage and build up the spiritual integrity of the people. Nehemiah knew that if the spiritual integrity of the people was well, the people would be more likely to depend on the Lord for the physical ability to do that which was required of them. The testimony of Nehemiah explains that Nehemiah dealt with Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem several times already when they sought to mock, insult, and threaten the children of Israel and their building. Nehemiah told the opposition to mind their business. Nehemiah interceded on behalf of his people in prayer. Nehemiah encouraged the people as they grew weary in their work by reminding them of who God was. Nehemiah administrated the work schedule to coincide with a watch schedule so that the people could be prepared in case of an attack. Nehemiah exhorted the people to live according to God’s righteousness in order to maintain a good witness of God while rebuilding the wall.
Nehemiah did not teach the people how to build. He did not develop blue prints. The Bible doesn’t say that Nehemiah was a great speaker to lead inspirational Bible studies. Nehemiah wasn’t a great warrior that taught the people how to defend themselves. Nehemiah was not a great philanthropist that encouraged the people by his great gifts. Nehemiah was a cupbearer of the king of Persia, sent by God to lead inexperienced and spiritually-weak men and women to labor in troublesome times to build a wall that was important to God and His purposes. Still, the testimony of Nehemiah 6:1-4 shows that Nehemiah was committed to his work as a faithful servant. He was dedicated to doing what was required of him whether the work seemed glorious, important, or impactful or not. Nehemiah knew that God wanted the wall to be built, and whether he understood why or not; whether he understood his fit within God’s plans or not; whether the people agreed with him or not, Nehemiah did the job faithfully without compromise.
The Bible explains that when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem tried to intimidate the builders with threats of attacks, the Lord foiled their plans and they were the ones who ended up frustrated. Knowing that the people could not be swayed in their work, the opposition turned their attention to the leader – Nehemiah. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem figured that if they could get Nehemiah to relent in his duties in leading and encouraging the people, the people would be overcome by their weariness, become discouraged, and stop building. The opposition heard that the people were just about done building the wall. The testimony shows that, despite all of the opposition that had taken place so far, the wall was fully built and all gaps were filled. Only the doors of the gates needed to be hung, but in the minds of the opposition, the work was as good as done as long as Nehemiah was fulfilling his duty. The Bible explains that they sent four invitations to Nehemiah in order to lure him away from his duties in Jerusalem. Specifically, the opposition invited Nehemiah to Ono, which is a valley city in the region of Benjamin, about thirty miles northwest of Jerusalem. The invitation was friendly, as if to resolve past conflicts and become friends. However, the Bible says that each time Nehemiah was invited, he plainly declined the invitation.
The scriptures state that each time Nehemiah declined his invitation, he gave the same response. He was too busy with his work in Jerusalem. The testimony of Nehemiah also explains that he knew the opposition was up to no good. While the Bible is not specific to say how Nehemiah knew, the scriptures do state that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were setting a trap to either imprison Nehemiah, or worse. Nehemiah had good wisdom and sense to avoid the trap, but only on account of his commitment to his simple duties in Jerusalem. The extent of Nehemiah’s job was not important. The important point is that Nehemiah was committed to fulfilling his duty as the Lord commanded and was consumed with the simple things the Lord desired. Nehemiah considered himself as servant to the extent that he could not step away from his work, even if it was for a short time to investigate secondary issues. In the mind of Nehemiah, his call to be in Jerusalem to encourage the people was supremely important, and there were not competing issues. It was simple for Nehemiah to decline an invitation to remove himself from the place he was supposed to serve to engage in other affairs thirty miles away. Even if the opposition had good intentions, Nehemiah simply explained that his simple job to serve the Lord in Jerusalem was more important, and that he was too busy with that duty.
Here it is important to recognize the objective of the enemy, but also the appropriate response towards the enemy. The enemy might have had evil intentions, but those intentions were disguised by a friendly invitation. The location of the invitation was unassuming, yet it was just far enough to remove Nehemiah from his place of purpose. The invitation of the enemy seemed to be more important than the simple job Nehemiah was commanded to do by the Lord. Would it not be better to handle the diplomatic relationships with the leaders of those who oppose God’s people? Is there not a greater need to negotiate peace where there is none? Is there not a great purpose in speaking friendly terms to those who are unfriendly or unfamiliar with God’s divine purposes? These are the types of questions that might go through the minds of God’s people, but not the mind of Nehemiah. What greater purpose is there for the people of God other than the purpose God has commanded in the moment until its completion? The problem is that people have a tendency of examining the importance of works based on our personal opinion, often disregarding the fact that it is God who gives commands to servants. The servant/master relationship doesn’t require the servant to think about how important their task might be within the grand plans of the master. The servant only needs to do what they are told, regardless of how important they might perceive the work. Nehemiah was not willing to compromise his duty, fearing God as His Master, as evidenced in the previous chapter.
The key to avoiding these sorts of attacks from the opposition is to trust in the simplicity and smallness of the commands God gives. If God is the One ultimately doing the work, what is “small” to the Lord? Recall that God told the children of Israel during the days of Ezra that they were not to despise the days of small things. Should each member of the body of Christ submit to the simplicity of their single duty, and spiritually encourage the those that God places them in the midst of like Nehemiah, the body would be far healthier, with fewer imbalances. God’s work would not only get done, but the people of God would enjoy the benefits of being used in His work, being properly connected to His people, recognizing the magnitude of God’s revelation in simple circumstances, boldly proclaiming His greatness to others who are then encouraged in their simple work. The people of God are not called to venture off to places that seem more important. The Bible teaches that God Himself is faithful to complete the work that He does in us. It would not be good for Him to depart from the issues of our lives to engage in something that He thinks is bigger or more important. Nehemiah’s conduct was merely a reflection of God’s own character. The people of God are to trust in His commands and fulfill the purposes He ordains until the work is fulfilled. Until the time that the work is fulfilled, God’s people should be committed to that work and only that work, remembering the holiness, righteousness, wisdom, and authority that our Master carries.
The Bible teaches that it is better to try to please God rather than to gratify self by looking for the praises of others. The scriptures show that when people are trying to make themselves feel better, it is not uncommon for people to seek the approval and compliments of other people. Thus, many people spend their lives trying to please other people and neglect to consider the Lord. The Bible is clear that God is greatly offended by this. People should not be motivated in life by the pursuit of receiving the approval of other people. It is God alone who will judge. It is God alone who is righteous. It is God alone who is able to bless and reward. The LORD is God and there is no other. Only God is worthy of praise and honor and glory so that our treatment of Him should be much different than our treatment towards others. This isn’t to say that our treatment towards others should be based on neglect and indifference. Instead, the Bible explains that our treatment of others should be motivated by our affection towards God. We should treat people according to God’s kindness, mercy, and grace because God treats us that way first. We should love others because He first loved us. We should remember that God will judge the wicked and ungodly by revealing His wrath, and so should desire to please Him as our chief pursuit in life so that we are well equipped to treat others as He would, and in the end, hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
The testimony of Nehemiah shows what it looks like to live in such a manner. Nehemiah was an exceptional example of what a godly leader should look like. Nehemiah’s example is so commendable that theologians have agreed that his life is parallel to the life of Christ, making Nehemiah’s testimony like a prophetic picture of Jesus’ ministry as the Son of God. For this reason, it is not only helpful to pay close attention to that which Nehemiah did, but also understand the reasons that he did those things. The testimony of Nehemiah 5:14-19 provides a summary to explain how Nehemiah dealt with the issues that the Jews had while building the wall. The Bible explains that the Jews experienced opposition in a number of different ways. The people dealt with difficulty to rebuild the Jerusalem wall simply by the nature of the labor and their inexperience to do it. The people experienced difficulty from opposition from neighboring communities and people groups that assembled together to mock and threaten the people. The people also experienced difficulty based on how they treated each other. The Bible testifies that the other areas of difficulty caused some of the Jewish leaders and elders to cope by gratifying their fleshly and personal ambitions, feeling entitled to certain benefits at the expense of their brethren.
When Nehemiah learned of this, he handled the situation with great care. First, Nehemiah didn’t immediately respond in anger, though he was angry. The Bible teaches that he took time to carefully consider his words and response. When he did respond, he made references to the scriptures to show that the conduct of the people was wrong. Nehemiah reminded the people that usury was a violation of God’s Law and the people were guilty of offending God again. Nehemiah didn’t attack the personal integrity of the people by exalting himself or casting others down. Nehemiah upheld the supremely righteous standards of God and let God’s Law speak for itself. The people admitted to their faults and made efforts to repent. The people repented by giving back that which they unjustly took from their brethren. Nehemiah and the leaders worked to restore the poor and suffering Jews that had been taken advantage of so as to do what was right in the Lord’s eyes. They made mistakes according to their flesh, but sought to repent to restore their relationship with God.
The testimony of Nehemiah 6:14-19 explains the motives behind Nehemiah’s practical responses. The Bible plainly states that he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes because he was afraid of God. Nehemiah was afraid of what would happen if God decided to respond to the offense the people caused. Nehemiah knew that the Lord warned that if the people practiced usury against one another, they would suffer certain curses. Nehemiah didn’t want the Lord to punish the people according to the full measure of their sin. Nehemiah, having come from Babylon to help restore the wall, knew that God was willing to judge the unrighteousness of His people. God had already cast the people out of the land. God had already caused great calamity and violence to come over the people. God had already caused the people to suffer greatly on account of their unfaithfulness and deliberate disobedience. Nehemiah was afraid that God might to do again because he knew the people were deserving of such punishment again. For this reason, Nehemiah endured the difficulties of keeping the people on track for quite some time. While it might have been easier to mind his own business so long as the wall was being built, he made sure the people were building the wall while treating one another according to God’s righteousness. This shows that God is not only concerned with the work that gets done, but the attitudes of His people while the work is being done.
The Bible explains that Nehemiah dealt with these issues for twelve years. Though the wall was built in just a few months, Nehemiah recognized that his purpose was greater than a wall. The wall was a key part of God’s plans, but those plans were centered on the condition of God’s people. Why simply build a wall if the condition of God’s people was not according to God’s desire and purpose? Nehemiah knew that the condition of the wall was representative of the condition of God’s people, but even after the wall was restored, the people were not. Nehemiah endured the difficulty of addressing these spiritual issues in Judah because he feared God. He could have just returned to his home since the wall was built, but the fear of God and His righteousness caused Nehemiah to do the work that was more important to the Lord – spiritually restore His people.
The people brought difficulties upon one another by usury. The leaders and elders took advantage of the poor in order to indulge their personal ambitions according to the self-entitled attitudes. To lead as an example once the people were restored, Nehemiah did not take of the governors portions the entire time he served the people. The scriptures show that Nehemiah had the right to take a salary as the acting governor of Judah. He decided that he would not do so. Since the governors before him abused their position, Nehemiah took extra efforts to restore trust and humility in Israel by restraining himself from that which he had a right to. Nehemiah addressed attitudes of self-entitlement by living according to meekness. He forfeited the opportunity to take even though he had permission to do so. Nehemiah did the work required to lead the people and ensure the completion of the wall, and all of his servants granted to him by the king were involved as well. Still, Nehemiah didn’t seek to indulge himself. He was content to live in a manner that was humble and well below the normal means for his position.
The Bible shows that Nehemiah showed great discipline in his restraint, limiting the amount of resources he and his servants were allowed to take. Even the sacrifices were distributed fairly so that the quota of resources Nehemiah took for any reason, was far below that which was standard for his position. He did not demand the governor’s provisions because the bondage that was previously caused, was a massive strain on the people. Nehemiah feared God and didn’t want to be the cause of any more suffering for the people. The testimony of Nehemiah 5:14-19 shows that Nehemiah called out to God to remember his example. Nehemiah wanted God to take note of that which he did, sacrificing his personal gain and comforts for the spiritual needs of others. Nehemiah wasn’t looking for congratulations from God, but his inquiry shows that Nehemiah’s aim was to please God more than the people he served. He wanted God to be pleased. He wanted God to make note of his works and the motives behind them. Nehemiah certainly wanted the people to pay attention and follow his example, but not so that he could be praised by those people for his humanitarian efforts. Nehemiah treated the people well because he had great care for their spiritual well-being based on his fear of God. Nehemiah did what was right in God’s eyes according to the Law because he wanted to please God more than anything else in life. His sacrifice and humility is evidence that Nehemiah’s focus was on praising God rather than receiving praises to impress others.
The Bible teaches that it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. In other words, it is impossible to know God’s true standards of right and wrong unless we first fear God. The Lord is the source of all wisdom. Wisdom is hidden from mankind until God reveals the true essence of wisdom and knowledge, and according to the Bible, God will not reveal wisdom nor make it accessible to people that don’t fear Him. This idea doesn’t just refer to a form of reverent respect. To “fear” God means to dread Him and be terrified. It means that we recognize the supreme holiness, righteousness, and glory of God and are legitimately afraid of it. We fear the possibility of facing such a God in the condition that we are in currently since our nature is so pitiful and opposite His nature. We are terrified by the consequences of offending God. The fear of the Lord requires the people of God to consider His identity, His past works, His future promises, and compare those truths to our current condition, being afraid of the sovereign control and power of one so much greater and glorious than us. The Bible assures the people of God, that if we do not approach life in this manner, with this consideration, we will not have the wisdom required to live properly, creating more problems and issues within our own lives and the lives of others.
This principle is illustrated in the testimony of Nehemiah 5:6-13. This portion of scripture explains how Nehemiah responded to the circumstances he learned about in Jerusalem in how the people were opposing one another though selfishness, greed, and self-entitlement. The Bible explains that difficult circumstances of building the wall in Jerusalem had taken a toll on the people. The labor was hard. The insults that were spoken of them were hard. The threats of attack were hard. The multi-tasking of building while standing guard and carrying shields and swords was hard. The people were tired, afraid, discouraged, and were only able to continue in their work by the miraculous power of God. To deal with the difficulties, the Bible shows that the people sought to indulge their flesh. It is common for people to cope with challenges and trials by trying to fulfill personal wants, desires, and ambitions. According to the testimony of Nehemiah 5:6-13, the elders and leaders in Jerusalem began to leverage their titles and positions of influence to build up their personal wealth and ambitions by taking from others. The leaders, elders, and priests were misallocating resources and hording funds in order to build themselves up, which ultimately had an effect on others. The leaders felt that since the work was hard, they were entitled to certain privileges, and began to make themselves rich at the expense of their own people.
The Bible says that the self-entitlement of the few had a rough impact on the others. These circumstances took place in the midst of a famine, which compounded the problem. As a result, many of the people were forced to mortgage their land and sell their children into slavery in order to have enough food to survive. Many of the Jews sold the land inheritance that God intended them to have, but sold their land to fellow Jews. Many of the Jews sold their children as slaves so that their children could live, but sold them to fellow Jews. Nehemiah learned that the Jewish leaders were taking advantage of their own people in ways that were immoral and unrighteous according to the Law. The testimony of Nehemiah 5:6-13 states that many of the people had borrowed money from the leaders and elders to pay the “king’s tax.” This was a tax that both Darius I and Artaxerxes imposed so as to fund the building of the temple, the construction of the wall, and ensure the priests and Levites had the necessary resources to conduct sacrifices and give regular offerings, even on their behalf. According to the Bible, those taxes were being collected to build up the personal gain of the leaders instead of its intended purpose. The money was not used in the manner that God or the kings had intended, and many Jews were going into severe debt as a result.
In addition to the leaders and elders misusing the taxes, the Bible explains that they also charged their fellow Jews interest to pay the taxes that they were using for their personal gain. Nehemiah saw that the Jewish elders and leaders were practicing usury, which was specifically forbidden in the Law of Moses. Not only were the leaders putting others in debt in order to make themselves rich, feeling entitled to certain benefits as leaders, but also charged interest against the people in direct violation of God’s Law in order to do so. In Exodus 22:25-27 the Lord plainly commanded His people that if they needed to loan money or resources, they were not to charge interest to their Jewish brethren under any circumstances. The command of Leviticus 25:35-38 explains the same principle, saying that if a fellow Jew becomes poor and needs help, that help was not to be offered with the expectation of repayment with interest so that the one who helped could receive gain from the help they offered.
When God gave these commands in the Law, He also explained His reasons for those commands. The people were not allowed to profit from helping their own people in order that the relationships of the people between one another could be reflective of God’s relationship with the people. God explained that He wanted the people to treat one another graciously because He is gracious. When God led His people into the Promised Land, they were people who were once slaves. God did not require anything of the Jews to remove them from bondage. God did not seek His own profit while redeeming His people from their hardships. Moreover, God did not redeem His people from slavery so that they could enslave one another. Therefore, He commanded them to abstain from these sorts of practices that reflected selfishness. God provided unmerited favor to the Jews through the judgments of the Egyptians. God commanded His people to remember what He did to the Egyptians, consider the power God exercised to provide favor to the Jews, fear Him, and then treat one another with the same grace that God showed to Israel, lest they be judged like the Egyptians.
When Nehemiah learned about the usury that was taking place in Judah, he gathered the elders and leaders together and plainly asked them, “Should you not walk in the fear of the Lord?” Nehemiah quickly recognized that the people lived according to the flesh because they forgot about who God is and the extent of His righteousness and grace. The people forgot about God’s ability to judge those who rebel against His righteousness. Nehemiah reminded the people about the judgment that God brought upon Israel through Babylon, and that those generations of Jews were judged for the same fundamental offenses against God. People sought to live according to selfish ambitions rather than God’s righteousness, not considering the consequences of offending God this way. They did not fear God, and so did not have the wisdom of God to know how to treat one another rightly. As a result, Israel was weakened, conquered, and dispersed throughout the region in God’s judgment.
When Nehemiah reminded the leaders of this truth, the people were convicted. Nehemiah then led the people by example, taking his own funds and resources to help restore the people out of debt. Nehemiah took what he had and paid the debts of those that he could. He also commanded the elders and leaders to restore the people in the same manner. The leaders in Jerusalem agreed. They recognized that they had forgotten the Lord and were not fearing the consequences of their unrighteousness. When Nehemiah reminded them of God’s past judgments, the people were sobered up and quickly agreed to return the land to those who had sold it, release the children who had been enslaved, and restore the monies and interest that had been taken. Nehemiah reminded the people about the righteousness of God, and that was sufficient to convict the people to make things right again. They were not walking in the fear of the Lord at first, but upon remembering who God is and His judgments, the people suddenly were able to do what was right because they were afraid of the consequences of offending God. As a result, God’s people were restored and the suffering that was caused by the usury ceased. The opposition that came from within the congregation of Israel that complicated the building of the wall had ceased and over time, the children of Israel were able to get back to work with a little less strain. Knowing the Lord, fearing His righteousness, and walking according to these truths enabled the people to do their jobs as God commanded so that none of the people were burdened with debts. The minds and hearts of the people could focus on their purpose and do that work with less strain as a result of the wisdom God provided.
The Bible is thorough to show that when God’s people engage in the service of His purposes, there is always going to be opposition. However, it is also important to examine the testimonies of scripture to see how the opposition manifests itself. The scriptures are clear to show that opposition usually begins from within. The Lord gives commands concerning His eternal and spiritually-focused purposes. These things are contrary to our nature. We as people are finite and carnal. We desire to do things that benefit us in temporary ways. We desire to do things that gratify our flesh. These things are contrary to the purposes of God, so our service to the Lord usually begins with the conflict from within that seeks to do what we think is good instead of what God says is right. Secondly, the Bible explains that the devil and his demons will frequently influence other people to frustrate, discourage, and destroy the efforts of God’s people to serve Him. The Bible shows that there are often individuals and groups of people that will oppose the people of God and the purposes that they undertake to obey the Lord. However, these are not the only two forms of opposition. The Bible shows that frequently, God’s own people will oppose one another. The flesh and the devil are effective at destroying the work of God from within the congregation of His own people that are supposed to love one another and work together for the glory of God. This is an important form of opposition that requires attention in order to deal with it Biblically.
Circumstances of “friendly fire” can be observed in the testimony of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 5:1-5 the Bible explains that the Jews were having a hard time taking care of one another as they worked to rebuild the Jerusalem wall and its gates. The prophet Daniel explained that the restoration of the wall was a critical part of God’s plans to offer forgiveness of sins through the revelation of Messiah. For this reason, the Bible explains that the devil placed extra emphasis on opposing the Jews in Jerusalem at this time by stirring up opposition in several ways. The testimony of Nehemiah shows that the Jews dealt with a band of evil men led by two men named Sanballat and Tobiah. These men stirred up certain Ammonites, Moabites, Arabs, and Samaritans to oppose the rebuilding of the wall. The opposition insulted and mocked the Jews verbally. When that didn’t work, the opposition started to plot physical attacks and make threats. The Bible shows that those efforts didn’t work either. Since this work was important to the Lord, He was faithful to equip the people to endure the trials and difficulties of building during troublesome times by reminding the people of His identity, nature, purposes, and promises.
This was not the only form of opposition that the people faced. When considering the testimony of Nehemiah 5:1-5 it is important to remember the difficulties that the Jews faced when they were tasked to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem during the days of Zerubbabel and Joshua. At that time, the people started their work and rejoiced greatly when they finished laying the foundation of the temple. However, shortly after, there were outside influences that opposed the rebuilding of the temple at that time, and like Sanballat and Tobiah, cursed the work of Israel with insults, mocking, and threats. These verbal assaults and the difficulty of the labor wore on the builders of the temple and the scriptures state that the people got weary. They sought to cope with their weariness by gratifying the desires of their flesh. Ultimately, the people stopped building the temple for fourteen years and used the resources that were intended for God’s temple to build up their own personal dwelling places and businesses. God eventually sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to charge the children of Israel to get back to work on the temple, but the testimony of the Jews shows that they were prone to indulge the flesh when the circumstances of life got hard.
This is a common habit of all people. When the flesh grows weary from labor or the mind grows frustrated from opposition and friction, the normal habit is to try and remedy the issues by stimulating the flesh. People will seek to gratify themselves by seeking fulfillment in personal desires in order to cope with the difficulties. The children of Israel were not any different during the time of Zerubbabel, Ezra, or Nehemiah. The testimony of Nehemiah 5:1-5 shows the effects of what happens when people seek to gratify self in order to deal with the difficulties associated with serving the Lord. The pursuit of personal ambitions will inevitably intrude upon the personal ambitions or provision of another so that competition and selfishness cause friction and division within the congregation of God’s own people. Instead of many people seeking the Lord in the unifying bond of the Spirit, God’s people divide and seek to conquer in order to build up self, with God’s people going in many directions while His purposes are neglected.
The testimony of Nehemiah 5:1-5 explains that this is what took place. The opposition was not successful to stop the Jews from building because God’s sovereignty was greater than the enemy purposes. However, the enemy was successful in changing the attitudes of the people so that they were not able to enjoy the privilege of serving the Lord’s purposes. So, while the work of the Lord got done by God’s own hands, the people that God used to do so did not experience the joy of the Lord in the process. That which God intended to be an honor and privilege ended up being a burden that caused suffering among the people. The scriptures explain that the personal pursuits of the nobles, elders, leaders, and priests had an adverse effect on the people they led. According to the Bible, there was a famine in the land and the resources were not being properly distributed. Those who had influence and authority began to leverage that authority to gratify their personal desires. Those who had families needed resources that were being horded by others who felt that their personal gain was more important than the needs of others. People began to leverage titles and positions as reasons to justify their increase even though it was at the expense of others. Since the difficulties of the labor in building the wall and gates, coupled with the difficulties of dealing with the enemy opposition had taken its toll, people began to feel entitled to certain personal gains, increases, and indulgences.
People were looking only at their personal circumstances, not realizing the effect that it was having on the total congregation of God’s people. The circumstances were such that some families were not even able to buy food because of the misallocation and improper distribution of funds and resources. In order to survive, some families had mortgaged their properties to pay the king’s taxes and to buy food. The very land inheritance that God gave to the people He brought out of Babylon in order to restore them, were being sold off into the hands of a few people who felt entitled because of their position and influence. Some of the families in Jerusalem also had to sell some of their children into slavery in order to exchange goods and resources. In the minds of some families, it was better that a child be sold as a slave and live, rather than remain with their parents and die from starvation. Though God had brought the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt and Babylon with a strong hand in order to fulfill His promises to make them a great nation to glorify His name, His people were enslaving one another because some felt entitled to certain benefits and a certain quality of living.
This testimony shows how quickly the desires of the flesh can utterly destroy the people of God. It was the sense of entitlement that caused some people to increase at the expense of others. It was the selfish ambitions of a few influential people of position that felt it necessary to misuse God’s resources and funds. Rather than equally take care of the needs of God’s people, they felt their position and authority granted them the right to take more. It is important to see that when people live in order to gratify the desires of their flesh, there inevitably comes a time when a person feels they are deserving of certain treats and gains. This is contrary to the testimony of scripture. According to the Bible, the only thing people are entitled to is condemnation. If not for the grace of God, we’d all be dead! If not for the grace of God, Israel would have remained in bondage, whether Egyptian or Babylonian bondage. If not for the grace of God, we’d all remain in the bondage of sin unto death. Our position as being freed from bondage was not given to us so that we could feel entitled to more – especially at the expense of others of God’s people.
Seeing this testimony should be a clear and stern warning to the people of God. The enemy seeks to oppose God’s work, not just to foil and frustrate God’s purposes, but also to steal the blessings and pervert the witness of God’s people. The Jews tasked with rebuilding the wall were part of one of God’s most miraculous works in human history. Yet the people suffered because they were divided among themselves, each seeking to do what seemed right in their own minds rather than submit to the righteousness of God according to the Word. The wall got built anyway because the enemy cannot stop God’s purposes. Still, the people suffered more than they needed to because they didn’t trust in the privilege that comes with serving the Lord. The people didn’t trust that humble service unto God’s purposes is truly satisfying, and that gratifying the flesh ALWAYS causes destruction at some point in time. The selfish ambition of one person was sufficient to affect another person, and then another, and then another. By the time Nehemiah was told about the situation, the Jews had already managed to cause great distress from within so that the testimony of God’s grace and goodness were distorted and corrupted by the conduct of His people.
Serving the Lord is not easy. There are so many dynamics that affect our service to the Lord. First, there is the difficulty of discerning the commands of the Lord according to the scriptures, and applying them to our individual circumstances. There is the fight that we must deal with between the commands of the Lord and the desires of our flesh. According to Jesus, the power required to raise from the dead is the same power required to die to self! Then there are the issues of faith once the service has begun. Often times the Lord will call His people to serve Him in ways that are foreign to our experience, beyond our ability, uncertain and unpredictable. These situations can cause tension, fear, and concern, which of course, sparks more issues with the flesh such as complaints, indifference, and outright rebellion. This is all before the enemy opposes the work that God commanded us to do by influencing others to discourage, distract, and defeat God’s people. However, the Bible teaches that God will fight on behalf His people. God will reveal His attributes throughout the difficulties of our service unto Him to show that He is ultimately the One that is in charge, thereby providing ability and confidence to persevere. God doesn’t seek courageous, bold, and able people. God seeks the weak so that He can make them strong by His own power, thereby transforming the weak into the courageous, bold, and able by His Spirit.
The interesting thing about this work is that, often times, God’s people don’t even recognize they are being transformed. Many times the difficulty of the circumstances associated with serving God can cloud the supernatural work that God does to fulfill His purposes. Often times, God’s people are in the midst of doing things supernaturally, well beyond their capacity, and don’t even realize it until after the fact. While God’s servants struggle with fear, anxiety, doubt, discouragement, and complaints, God’s mercy and grace transcends human weakness to pull His people through the commands He makes so that His purposes are fulfilled in spite of those human weaknesses unto God’s glory. This truth is made powerfully evident in the testimony of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 4:15-23 the Bible shows that God’s people were worn down, ill-equipped, and afraid while they worked as hard as they could to build the wall of Jerusalem as God commanded. The people were not experienced builders, but undertook the task anyway. As they built, the devil influenced certain men to oppose and frustrate God’s plans concerning the wall. The opposition hurled insults and threats at the Jews that built, and over time, the opposition started to take its toll.
After some time of dealing with the insults of the opposition, the Jews began to get tired and recognize that some of the mockery was actually true. The opposition made fun of the manner in which the Jews built and called them weak and feeble. Over time, the Jews started to feel weak and feeble from the difficulty of the labor, and looking at their progress, their efforts started to feel futile like the opposition was accusing. Nehemiah interceded on behalf of the builders by praying to God, but when the people were given the ability to persevere, the opposition intensified. They began making threats of physical attacks, saying that as long as the building continued, they would seek to kill those who built. The opposition conspired together and made plans to try and attack. Nehemiah prayed to God for protection, but was also practical to place guards at the weak areas of the wall. Though the men were not trained to build OR fight in combat, Nehemiah reminded the people about the great and awesome nature of God, which was sufficient to inspire the people to do what needed to be done, whether they had experience and training or not.
The Bible then testifies that the builders were forced to multi-task in ways that seemed to be too much. The Bible explains that the guards worked in shifts, reinforcing the weak areas of the wall. Nehemiah was humble to recognize that there were areas susceptible to attack, and whether his guards were trained to fight or not, he placed them in positions that eventually discouraged the opposition. The scriptures testify that God brought the plans of the enemy to nothing. The Lord provided Nehemiah with the wisdom to place men in certain areas, and when the enemy saw that Nehemiah was able to guard the specific areas they wanted to attack, they were frustrated and discouraged in their planning. This shows that, though the enemy seeks to discourage the work of the Lord, the Lord is able to frustrate and discourage the plans of the enemy just the same; in this case, without having to swing a single sword, shoot a single arrow, or throw a single spear. It didn’t matter that Nehemiah’s men were not trained warriors. God did the necessary work to cause the enemy to flee by providing wisdom. When the enemy recognizes that God’s people know what they’re up to, the enemy is often frustrated and flees.
The Jews continued in their vigilance. The work of building the wall was hard. The threats of attacks were real. Just because one or two attacks were thwarted didn’t mean that the enemy was going to stop. Therefore, Nehemiah called for the builders of the wall to arm themselves with shields and spears WHILE they worked to build. The Bible explains that men who transported materials, lifted materials with one hand and held swords with another hand. While some laid bricks with one hand, they held shields with another hand. They took shifts so that some stood guard while others continued to build the wall and repair its gates. The people didn’t stop building, not even to change their clothes unless it was to wash them. Nehemiah reminded the people about the great and awesome and terrible nature of the One True Living God, and the people were ignited WELL beyond their normal capacity and built according to command.
The Jews were not builders. The Jews were not warriors. The Jews were certainly not people qualified to serve as both builder and warrior at the same time. Still, it was the remembrance of the identity of God that inspired the people to do what He said. The wall was important to the children of Israel because the wall was important to God. Since the wall was a critical piece to God’s prophetic revelation of the Messiah, He ensured the people were able to do whatever needed to be done to finish the wall. The work was hard but the Lord fought for the people by giving them the mind to work with all their hearts, minds, and bodies. When the enemy saw the extent of commitment the people had to build the wall, it was discouraging to the enemy. Who builds a wall with a sword in hand? Who moves bricks with one hand while carrying a shield? Why were the people so committed to building the wall that the Jews were willing to risk their lives for such a cause?
The service that God called Nehemiah and his peers to was not easy work. In fact, as the people made progress, the work got harder, not easier. The people didn’t even recognize the progress they were making because the circumstances kept intensifying. It might be hard to focus on the progress of the building when forced to carry a shield and spear while moving materials. It would likely be hard to think about the joy of completing the work when the handle of a sword is the tool you use to hammer nails and spread mortar. When God spoke of the Jews rebuilding the wall and the spiritual significance of that through the prophet Daniel, He said it would happen in the midst of “troublesome times.” The testimony of Nehemiah proves God’s prophetic word to be true. Still, the people continued because the Lord fought on their behalf. Here, it is important to recognize the nature of God’s fighting. While God could have destroyed the opposition, He only destroyed their plans. The opposition continued to plan and scheme, presenting constant threats. Still, God ensured that their efforts were rendered ineffective because God’s offensive attack against the opposition was levied by the commitment and perseverance of His people. It was the continuous dedication of the people to obey God, no matter the extent of difficulty or inconvenience, that frustrated the enemy. God gave His people the faith and endurance they needed to take one difficult step at a time, even though they didn’t feel like they were gaining ground. Nevertheless, the ability that God provided exceeded the difficulty required to serve God, whether the people realized it or not.
The Bible is filled with courageous testimonies of many men and women throughout history that defied the odds to do incredible things by the hand of the Lord. Abraham left his hometown, his surroundings, his job, and lots more to follow the command to go to a place that God would show him. Moses stood up to Pharaoh in order to lead the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. Joshua led the children of Israel to fight against the people of Jericho and fought against the rest of the Canaanites. Gideon let the Lord strip his army down to three hundred before going off to fight the people of Midian. David fought Goliath as a boy with a sling. Esther risked her life to approach the King of Persia on behalf of her people. Then of course, the scriptures talk about the New Testament apostles and disciples of Jesus that gave their lives while proclaiming the Gospel up to the point of violent deaths. The testimony of Hebrews Chapter 11 lists many of the amazing exploits that God’s people had succeeded in throughout the centuries; amazing victories that testified of the greatness of God. How do these things work? Many people read the testimonies of these men and women and imagine what it would be like to be used in such a way, but most normal people would not consider themselves brave enough to undertake the commands that God gave those people that allowed them to receive such great victories. Thankfully, the Bible shows that God’s people enjoy these kinds of victories on account of remembrance, not courage.
The Bible explains that all of the heroes of the Bible that enjoyed tremendous success in serving the Lord had two things in common. First, none of them were qualified to do that which God enabled them to do. Abraham had not performed any righteous works to warrant God’s promises. Moses tried to convince God to call someone else. Joshua grew up as a boy in the wilderness, not a trained military fighter. Gideon was bitter against God even while talking to Him unknowingly. David was merely a boy. Esther wished that someone else would be able to do that which she was charged to do. None of these people were well prepared for the task they faced. None of these people were trained up with specific experience to do that which God called them to do. However, each of them received the faith that God implanted in their hearts at the moment that they needed it in order to do that which was required. In each of those instances, God revealed Himself to those people in unique ways that gave the people hope in God’s identity and purposes. The people were not called to summon the courage and strength within themselves. God purposefully selected people that had no strength or courage. Instead, the Bible explains that the people God selected found strength and courage in the Lord based on the revelation He provided of Himself. That was the means by which those people were able to receive their victories.
The testimony of Nehemiah 4:10-14 proves this truth. Here, the Bible explains that Nehemiah was tasked with the responsibility of encouraging the people in Judah to continue in their building of the wall in Jerusalem in spite of the enemy opposition. The enemy, headed by men named Sanballat and Tobiah, began their opposition with insults, mocking, and words of discouragement. Motivated by hate and jealousy, the opposition sought to disrupt the focus of the Jews so as to discourage their building efforts, and cause the quality of their building to be compromised. The words of the enemy were acknowledged but the people continued to build. However, since the opposition was emotionally charged by spiritual influences that opposed God, the enemy persisted and increased in their efforts to stop the Jews. The enemy soon began to plot and gossip about physical threats since the mocking wasn’t good enough. The Bible explains that Sanballat and Tobiah spoke before a congregation of Samaritans and stirred them up so that they began to make constant threats to kill the Jews unless they stopped building the wall.
When the enemy began to oppose God’s people, they first sought to belittle the building efforts of the people. Recognizing that the men and women building were not professional builders, the enemy made fun of the Jews. They criticized their ill-experience. They teased about the quality of the wall they were building since they saw priests, Levites, singers, and craftsmen doing the work of building. They insulted the plans of the Jews and the weakness of the people. Though the words of the opposition had little effect at the beginning, the labor of the people combined with the increasing antagonizing of the enemy began to take its toll. The testimony of Nehemiah 4:10-14 explains that the people started to get tired and weary. Specifically, the Bible says that “the strength of the people began to fail.” The difficulty of serving the Lord in a manner that was beyond their realms of natural ability, talent, and experience likely caused the people to experience mental and physical strain, while the nagging and threats of physical attack likely weighed on the emotional fortitude of the people. Suddenly the insults of the enemy were becoming true. Now, the Jews were weak. Now their building did seem futile. Now the construction of the wall might have been compromised. It appeared that the enemy was succeeding over the people of God.
When Nehemiah saw this, and heard about the constant threats of attack from the opposition, he responded quickly. First, Nehemiah made practical adjustments to the manner of the work of the people. He positioned men to guard the weak parts of the wall that were still unfinished. Nehemiah didn’t train men to fight, but had good sense to post men to look out for coming attacks. He didn’t continue in his work with arrogance as if God would not allow certain things to take place. Nehemiah knew the Lord was in charge, but did not presume that God would make the work He commanded to be so simple. If God had allowed the mocking and the threats of attack, why would God not also allow the opposition to attack? God is not a respecter of persons so that His people are disqualified from difficulties while they work. In fact, God often allows difficulties to compound in the work of His people so that He can be glorified by the strength He provides that transcends the difficulties. The Bible teaches that when God’s people are weak, He is strong. Nehemiah knew God to understand these principles, and so he prepared for any set of circumstances the Lord might permit.
Nehemiah had good sense to recognize that there were weaknesses in his work. There were areas that he saw were more easily penetrable in case of an attack. Many people go about their work refusing to acknowledge weaknesses or the need of help. Nehemiah led the people through humility, acknowledging the truth of the circumstances. While the people were empowered by the Lord, their flesh was still weak and their work still incomplete. Nehemiah placed men with spears and swords and bows at the weak parts of the wall while the rest of the people continued to build. Here, it is important to consider the reality of the circumstances. When the people began to build, the names of the contributors were listed, and none of them were listed as trained men of war. The people were listed as elders, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, craftsmen, artisans, and nobles. There were men and women, older and younger. When Nehemiah selected people to stand as armed guards, he did not have a group of men to select from that were well-trained with their weaponry. They weren’t even trained to build the wall they were trying to build. The Lord put the people in a position where they were called to build despite their ability AND possibly fight despite their ability.
The scriptures show that the people needed further encouragement upon seeing the reality of the threats. Nehemiah took it upon himself to speak to the nobles, leaders and the rest of the people. Though the people were afraid, Nehemiah told the people to abstain from fear. Nehemiah told the people:
“Remember the LORD, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
Here, it is important to closely examine the words that Nehemiah spoke and the order in which he spoke them. While Nehemiah encouraged the people to “fight,” he never told the Jews to attack the enemy. The scriptures state that the first thing the people were called to do was “remember the LORD, great and awesome.” The King James Version of Bible translates the phrase as, “remember the LORD, great and terrible.” Nehemiah wanted the people to remember the incredible power, strength, and control of the Lord God Almighty. Nehemiah wanted the people to remember that, while the enemy might have made threats of the work and physical well-being of the people, God was able to do far worse damage to the soul. As Jesus once said, His people should not fear those who can destroy the body, but fear God who is able to cast both body and soul into hell! The enemy threats might have been scary. Eternal condemnation and separation from God is scarier! The enemy might have assembled a few jealous Samaritans to stand against the Jews, but God is able to command the heavens and the earth to fight on His behalf. The Lord is the Lord of Hosts. This is the same God that revealed Himself as the Angel of the Lord and killed one hundred eighty-five thousand Assyrians in one night! This is the same God that led Abraham, protected Moses, gave Joshua, Gideon, and David victory, and enabled Esther to fulfill her duty. The chief principle that Nehemiah sought to communicate was this: If God is for us, who can be against us?
The “fight” of the Jews had little to do with the wielding of swords and spears. Their fight was spiritual and so they fought spiritually. The Bible states that the people took up arms to protect themselves, but their offensive attack was committed by simply obeying God’s command to build the wall. The fight of the Jews waged in the war of their minds. They needed to fight their fear of the enemy by working to remember the Lord and His identity, purposes, and promises. The enemy sought to lean on the minds of the Jews to discourage them. Nehemiah called the people of God to fight the right way – remember who God is. Thus, the Bible is clear. To engage in the heroic service of the Lord doesn’t require courage or strength. It simply requires God’s people to remember who God is and what His promises and purposes are. He takes care of the rest regardless of the circumstances that surround us.
The Bible is candid to explain that the life of God’s people will be difficult on account of the opposition that we face in this life. The scriptures teach that the world and the people who live according to the philosophies and doctrines of self-righteousness, continually oppose God’s purposes and promises. This means that those who seek to live by faith according to the righteous standards of God as documented in scripture, will be opposed by those who seek to live contrary. There will be disagreements. There will be friction. There will be jealousies. Sometimes the attitudes against God’s people can escalate so that they are not just personal opinions. Sometimes the enemies of God’s people can take their disagreements further by casting insults, mocking, gossips, and slanders. Sometimes the enemies of God can go even further by making threats of physical confrontations; and of course history has shown that sometimes those physical threats become real and many people suffer greatly. The Bible does not try to hide this reality. Instead, the Bible is clear to show that these issues are real challenges for God’s people and provides testimonies of others who dealt with these things in the past so as to equip those who have to deal with the same issues in the future.
The Bible explains that the testimony of Nehemiah was filled with opposition. Nehemiah was God’s anointed man to lead the children of Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem in 444 BC. This project was important to God. The wall was not just a symbol of the spiritual integrity of His people, but was also a catalyst to His work concerning Bible prophecy. God communicated a very important Bible prophecy to the prophet Daniel long before, and there explained that the rebuilding of the wall during “troublesome times” would signify the work He would do to reveal His Messiah and thereby put an end to sins and transgression. The scriptures show that the devil and his demons immediately started opposing God’s work in Israel, but his opposition had little effect. Up to that point in Jewish history, many Jews were able to leave the captivity of the Persians in Babylon, resettle their lives in Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, restore temple worship, and were in the midst of working on rebuilding the wall. The devil sought to influence certain people to frustrate and confuse the work of the Jews during these works, but the work continued on in spite of the difficulty.
Since the efforts of the enemy were have little effect, the enemy sought to increase the intensity of their opposition. In Nehemiah 4:7-9 the Bible explains that the enemy began making threats of physical attack instead of just speaking discouraging words. The Bible says that the opposition first started to frustrate the work of God by insulting God’s workers. The enemy accused the people of God as being worthless so that their efforts to rebuild would also be worthless. The Bible teaches that the enemy was correct in one sense. The people were useless. The scriptures explain that all people as sinner are unprofitable to God. However, the Bible also teaches that God expresses His mercy by selecting people to be His own children and heirs of His promises in spite of who they are naturally. Thus, while the people of themselves, were unprofitable and worthless, their work was not. Their work had value because the worthless people were made valuable as instruments of God’s righteousness. Since their labor was service to God that facilitated the revelation of God’s Messiah, their service to God was most valuable. Hence, while we as people are valueless on our own, our position as God’s servants gives us the highest form of value in God’s economy, which is the only one of substance.
The people weren’t discouraged by the mocking and insults of the enemy. The people were stirred up in their hearts to do what God said. They worked hard with one accord. They were not experienced builders, but instead were priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, craftsmen, artisans, and Nehemiah was a cupbearer. Still, the people undertook the difficulty of God’s command because God encouraged their hearts and gave them the ability. When the enemy saw this, they intensified their opposition. The testimony of Nehemiah 4:6-9 explains that the opposition, led by Sanballat and Tobiah, organized a group of Ammonites, Moabites, Arabs, and Ashdodites to stir up anger. The scriptures explain that the enemy became very angry when they heard that the Jews were making progress in their building. The Jews were closing the gaps of the walls and the gates were started to get restored. The “anger” of the opposition is the same Hebrew word used in Nehemiah Chapter 1 that is frequently translated “evil” in the Bible. Thus, when the enemy sees the progress of God’s people, their jealousy quickly becomes manifested in harsher and more violent ways on account of evil in their hearts.
The scriptures state that all of them conspired together to attack the people building in Jerusalem. First, it is important to notice the groups of people that were mentioned as opposition. The descendants of Moab, Ammon, and Ishmael has traditionally opposed the children of Israel. The scriptures are filled with testimonies of these people groups causing trouble, grief, and distress towards the children of Israel. The scriptures show that God has always been aware of this and has communicated several prophecies concerning judgment for these people groups. Some of those prophecies have been fulfilled, and some are still awaiting fulfillment. In fact, Psalm 83 shows that these same people groups continue to assemble together conspiring against God Himself by seeking to destroy God’s people. Psalm 83 mentions these same people groups forming a confederacy against the children of Israel to remove them from the face of the earth. This is a battle that has yet to take place, but shows that the devil is comfortable using those whose heritage is to hate the people of God. Those who have hated for so long don’t have to be trained up in the ways of hate.
This is important to recognize. Since God’s people will inevitably experience opposition, it is important to recognize where the opposition will come from. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and spiritual forces in dark and evil places. Seeing that the enemy has a habit of influencing people who make a lifestyle of hate and jealousy, it is important consider the possibilities of opposition continuing to come from such people. This is why God commands His people to abstain from being unequally yoked with non-believers. Those who live according to selfish ambition being motivated by jealousy and anger are easily influenced by the enemy so as to inflict harm and frustration in the lives of God’s people. The testimony of Nehemiah 4:6-9 shows that the people did well to pay attention to these things and address these threats sensibly.
The Bible states that the children of Israel kept building and continued in their work, but did not neglect the threats of the opposition. Though the people continued to go about their business as God commanded, they didn’t arrogantly or foolishly ignore the legitimate threats of Sanballat and Tobiah. The Bible explains that the people prayed constantly as well as set up watchmen to keep an eye out. The scriptures state that Nehemiah was in tune with the motives of the enemy. The enemy was preparing to attack Jerusalem, but was quite vocal about their motives to do so. They could have just attacked secretly, but instead decided to promote their agenda to the Jews so as to “confuse” their building efforts. In other words, the enemy wanted to corrupt the work that the Jews were doing until they were able to physically attack. The enemy figured that if the Jews were consumed with fear concerning an attack, the quality of their work would suffer and the building that did get done would be weak and easy to destroy. Thus, it was not just in the minds of the opposition to destroy the people and plans of God, but also to shame them in the process. Nehemiah and the builders responded by praying to God and setting a schedule of people to keep watch in case an attack came.
Later, the scriptures explain that Nehemiah put his watchmen in the gaps of the wall. It was not just that the children of Israel prayed to God expecting some miracle while they neglected practicality. The children of Israel made reasonable steps to enables themselves to continue in God’s work. People were set to watch “day and night” while the rest of the people continued in building the wall. The watchmen were placed with guards in the gaps of the walls, which Nehemiah recognized were the weak areas. This shows good wisdom for the people of God. If the Bible explains that the enemy is willing to intensify attacks against God’s people doing God’s will, then God’s people would be wise to help one another in the same manner that Nehemiah did. We would be wise to watch out for one another to look out for attacks. God’s people should not be so consumed in the difficulties of their own issues, but should look out from the rest of the body of Christ, seeking to bear one another’s burdens. The people of God would be wise to especially pay attention to the “weak areas” where the enemy could easily attack and destroy the lives of God’s people.
This would require the people of God to live honestly, humbly, and transparently. The Bible calls for God’s people to humble ourselves by confessing our sins to one another. Many people seek to isolate self and hide the issues that plague them in sin. This is a mistake and leaves God’s people open to attacks in those weak areas since those people don’t have others that are able to keep watch on them in those weak areas. The children of Israel were able to keep building because they knew their weaknesses, were honest about their inadequacies, and recognized their need of help from one another. This is the sort of humility and meekness that invites the Spirit of God to move through the rest of God’s people to encourage and stimulate the work of God through His people. Though the enemy might intensify the ways they try to destroy God’s work through God’s people, it is the humility of God’s people to seek Him by serving the needs of one another that allows God to protect His people and provide them with victory and success!