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Opposition To The Rebuilding (ch. 4:1- 23)


 In verse 1 we read that Sanballat "was angry and incensed" when he heard that Nehemiah and the Jews began to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. We've already seen Sanballat ridicule the Jews. That didn't work and now he is very angry.  The more the people of God do His work as they are supposed to do, the more opposition they will get. The reverse is true as well.  When we don't do God's work as we should, we won't get the opposition.  That might well be why many Christians  aren't opposed by anyone in our day.


In verse 2 we see five questions that Sanballat asks in order to discourage the Jews.  Often questions are raised by those who oppose God's work.  They are meant  to make us think in a direction that would make us discouraged and give up.  These questions are often valid questions.


The first question that Sanballat asks is.   "What are these feeble Jews doing?"  In this question there might well be a measure of truth.  The Jews building the walls were probably feeble in comparison to Sanballat and his military strength that backed him up.  This question was meant to have the Jews look at themselves and realize that they really were feeble.  How could they possibly pull this off?  


The second question raised by Sanballat is this.  "Will they restore their wall?"  Once the Jews understood they were feeble, but put their hope in God, this question is logical to ask.  Can the Jews really rebuild the wall. This wall had been torn down for close to 170 years, and they think they can restore the wall when no one before them did.  How could this be?


The third question Sanballat asks is this.  "Will they offer sacrifices?"  I'm sure the Jews were thinking of offering sacrifices to their God once the wall was built.  Sanballat might be  suggesting that they are thinking way too far ahead.  They haven't even rebuilt the wall.  Why are they thinking of sacrificing to God?


The fourth question Sanballat asks is this one.  "Will they finish in a day?"   I sincerely doubt that Nehemiah and the Jews thought they'd finish this job in a day.  It actually took 52 days, and that's probably pretty quick.  This question was probably meant to frustrate the Jews.  Of course they didn't think they'd do this in one day.  Why would Sanballat think that, they'd ask themselves?  


The fifth question Sanballat asks is this.  "Can they bring the stones back to life from this heap of rubble…"?   Now this is a funny question.  Stones don't have life, at least not life as humans have.  But these stones would have meaning and significance.  Each of the stones laid on top of each other in this wall would have its own importance and significance.  In this respect they might have a life. These words are almost prophetic. I'm not saying they are, but as living stones in New Testament times, we are built into a city of God .  Each of us stones have life, and each of us stones have an important part to play in the city of our God.  And each stone is cemented to another stone. 


In verse 3 we see that Tobiah was standing by Sanballat.  He also joins in on the ridicule of the Jews.   Tobiah says that the wall the Jews are building is useless.  A little fox could nock it down to the ground.  I don't think all these Jews were master builders. They were just ordinary people doing their best. They could have thought that Tobiah might have a point.  


We see Nehemiah's response to the questioning from those who opposed him. Actually, he did not respond to them.  He prayed to God instead.  That's quite a response.  We often want to argue with those who criticize us, but for the most part, we should probably just keep silent, and pray.  Arguing doesn't often do much good.  Prayer can do a lot more good.   


Nehemiah asks his God to hear his prayer because the Jews were despised.  The Jews were often despised, and still are in many respects.  Christians are despised too when they do the will of God.  God never promised us that we wouldn't be despised.  Jesus actually told us that we would be ridiculed.  Paul said the same.  He said that all those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).


Nehemiah might well have felt like retaliating but he didn't.  He prayed that God would turn their insults back on them.  He knew that he should not repay evil with evil, as we are taught.  This is so important because it goes to the heart of being God's representatives on earth.  Retaliating does not represent God.  It represents us, and we are not to represent ourselves.


Nehemiah continues to ask God in verse 4 "to give them over to plunder…"  Once again, it's not Nehemiah who wants to plunder his enemies. He wants God to do that.  Besides, his job is to build the wall.  He can't be distracted with retaliating against his enemies. 


I believe we see something here.  It is my thinking, and I believe you see it in Scripture, that God deals with humanity in two respects.  He deals with individuals and he deals with nations.  He can cause both to either prosper or to fall to His judgment.  With this in mind, when it comes to the individual, we don't retaliate.  We leave that for God.  Yet when it comes to nations, there is a place for nations to retaliate against a national injustice.  God Himself asked Israel to do this.  In this case with Nehemiah, this is a personal individual issue.  It is a few men ridiculing him and his friends.  If this was a nation coming up against Israel , it would be a different story.  At this point Nehemiah could lead a national battle force.


In verse 5 Nehemiah asks God not to cover over the guilt of his enemies sin.  We know that eventually God holds all people and all nations accountable for their sin.  He wants to cover sin over, and Nehemiah knows this, and so that's why he asks God not to cover these sins. 


In verse 6 we now see that half of the wall was built.  We also know that those who helped in the building process put their whole hearts in to their work.  This was a unified effort performed from a heart felt conviction that this was indeed God's will.  It is in these situations that the Kingdom of God rises to high levels.  When God's people come together in unity and conviction of heart to do His will, things happen.  We have to note here though that it's not just unity that brings about God's will.  It's also following His blue print out of a heart of conviction.  Unity alone is not enough.  Unity alone can be merely humanistic.


In verses 7 and 8 the conflict between Nehemiah and his enemies escalate once they see that the wall is now half built. It's no more a matter of words alone,  Sanballat, Tobiah, and others actually begin to use some force against the builders.  Such is the battle between God's people and their opposition.  The devil doesn’t easily give up.


In verse 9 we see Nehemiah's response to this threat.  It was purely defensive.  They did two things.  They first prayed to their God, and then they posted guards along the wall.   If they would have acted in more of an offensive stance, that would have created a battle that most likely would have destroyed the work they had just done.


It was at this half way mark that the pressure was really beginning to mount against the Jews.  It wasn't only the pressure from without, but there was pressure from within.  They were beginning to wonder if all this work was worth it.  In verse 10 we see that the people of Israel were losing strength.  I believe what is being spoken of here is physical, mental, and emotional  strength.  There was so much rubble to move that their bodies were giving up.  There minds as well were being overcome, not only by their enemies, but by the enormousness of the task at hand.


Verse 10 begins with the word "meanwhile."  This connects verse 10 back to verse 9.  In verse 9 we saw Nehemiah praying along with others.  Yet in verse 10 we see that the people were losing heart and strength.  So it would appear to me that while Nehemiah and other leaders were praying, the people under them were struggling to hold on to the vision.  This is where the pressure comes on leadership.  How does leadership keep the vision alive?  That's always the question we struggle with, even to this very day.


Another thing that bothered the people of Israel is what they heard from their enemies.  They must have been beginning to think about what their enemies were saying.  They feared, as their enemies said, that they would come in among the Jews and end up killing them. And that is what happens when the enemies of God infiltrate God's people.  They end up killing the vision of godly people and the work of God ends.  This has been the case with Old Testament Israel as well as the New Testament church.


In verse 12 we see dissention in the ranks of the Jews.  This is where the enemy usually gets the people of God.  When God's people are divided, as we are today, God's enemies have the upper hand.   Jesus Himself spoke of this when He said that a house divided cannot stand.  Why can't we take Jesus' words seriously. This principle doesn’t merely apply to the devil's kingdom, which is the context of Jesus' words.  It applies to God's people as well.


In verse 13 we see the response of Nehemiah to his own people. He now had two groups of people to contend with, his own and his enemies. He had to do something to relieve his people's fear.  He could not just sit back and do nothing.  He had men stationed in the low parts of the wall nearby where they lived.  This would give them more reason to protect the wall at their position because their families were close by.  They got their weapons ready.  This was a defensive position.  It was not an offensive position.  Still a good defense was better than a good offense in this case.


Once everyone was in place, we see in verse 14 that Nehemiah tried to inspire the people by telling them that God would fight for them and protect their wives and children.  This was God's battle because this was God's city.  No matter what, these people had to clearly understand that their final strength did not rest in them, but in God.


In verse 15 we learn that God had frustrated the plans of Israel's enemies.  I don't know how He did this.  The text doesn't say, but obviously He did.  God can work on behalf of His people in what we would see as being supernatural ways.  He did such a thing at this critical point in time for Israel.  He did it because they were obedient to His call, even though they were beginning to weaken.


In verses 16 through 18 we see the next phase of Nehemiah's plan.  He divided the men into two groups.  One group would work while the other group stood watch.  The workers had tools in one hand and weapons in the other hand.  Those who were on guard were provided weapons as well.  Part of those who kept guard were trumpet blowers.  When the enemy would come, they'd blow their trumpets to sound the warning to fight.  These men stayed close to Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was now a general in an army.  He was not only a contractor but a general.  He had come a long way from being a cup bearer to the king. 


The trumpet was always used in those days as a means to announce the call to fight.  This is clearly seen in the book of Revelation, when the last trumpet will sound, and the General over all generals will return and fight the last battle for God's people.


In verse 19 and 20 Nehemiah tells the men working on the wall that their work is extensive and is over a long distance, with gaps in between the workers.  If the workers heard the sound of the trumpet they needed to be ready for the fight.  They needed to be always on guard.  As Jesus tells us.  We are to both watch and pray.  We are to be ready for the attack of the enemy.  Yet many of us don't realize that our enemy is watching us.  He has disabled us without an attack.  Our mere neglect to understand the battle we are in has given our enemy the upper hand.  He has defeated us without a shot.


In verse 21 we see just how many hours these workers put in during the day.  From first break of dawn to the last bit of sunlight in the evening, they worked hard on the wall.  They worked through their fears.  They worked through their weaknesses. 


Even beyond working hard all day long, these same workers became watchmen by night.  I'm sure they must have taken turns watching.  They did need to sleep, but you see the commitment this people had to their cause.  A heart felt commitment to the cause is always the foundation for any success.  You also see here the reason why the people got so weary.  


In verse 23 we see that Nehemiah himself was armed.  We also see that he and his men didn't take off their clothes.  They were always dressed with their weapons by their sides.  They were ready to fight at any given time, at the shortest of notice. 


So this was Nehemiah's strategy.  He was clearly a very good leader.  He first of all had the ability to point out the problem and convince the people that things needed to change.  He then had the plans in hand.  He was able to gather the people together and inspire them to both work and fight for their cause.  He also was able to encourage them when their hearts and bodies began to fail.  And through all of this, he was able to trust God for himself, his people, and the task at hand.  The cup bearer, an ordinary man was certainly used in a most unordinary way.

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