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(Nehemiah 4:1–6) Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones . . .

(Nehemiah 4:1–6) Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones . . .

by Stephen Davey Ref: Nehemiah 4:1–6

The old nursery rhyme goes, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' If only that were true! But the fact is, ridicule does hurt, and it can cripple a person's self-esteem. So how can we make that rhyme come true in our lives? Like Nehemiah, we have to rely on God's Word. No matter what the world tells you, keep listening to what God tells you.

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In 1845 John Franklin left England to discover a Northwest passageway.  A seaway for ships through the Canadian Arctic region that connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  He took with him on this expedition, 138 specially chosen men from the Royal Navy.  No one knew what lay ahead – they didn’t even seem aware of the severe weather conditions they would encounter in and around the North Pole.  Non the less, they sailed off in two state of the art ships.  Each ship was equipped with an auxiliary  steam engine and a huge storeroom that could hold a 12 day supply of coal, should steam power ever be needed during the voyage. 

They were confident in their quest as the ships sailed off amidst imperial pomp and glory.   But they were unprepared.  They had not planned thoroughly enough for what lay ahead in the ice filled waters off north Alaska.  In fact, the only clothing they took were their uniforms and overcoats provided by Her Majesty’s Navy.

Two months after their departure a British whaler made contact with the two ships off the coast of Canada.  He was the last European to see them alive.  Search parties would spend 12 years retracing the path of the Franklin expedition and they eventually pieced together some of the puzzle.  The expedition had evidently been stalled by icy water.  Eskimos reported seeing men pushing a wooden boat across the ice.  Then members of the search party saw the haunting sight at Simpson Straight.  They saw the 3 wooden masts of one of the ships protruding up through the ice.  Amid all their findings, the most devastating of all, was the discovery that neither ship had stocked their coal supply.  In fact, they had both turned that huge storeroom into a lounge filled with a 1,200-volume library, an organ, and even cupboard space for elegant place settings of china and silver for all the officers.   One historian said that the Franklin expedition was prepared for weather conditions inside the Royal Navy officer’s club, not the arctic ocean.   One search party found 30 frozen bodies in a tent near the waters edge.  The officers were dressed in their overcoats with their silk scarves still in place.                    Adapted from Kent Hughes commentary on James.  p 155, 156

They were confident – their hopes were high, but they were not prepared for the challenges of that expedition.

Jesus Christ said, “The world will hate you, because it hated me.” (John 15:18).  Are you prepared for that?

He also warned His disciples; “They will make you outcasts . . . an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God”  (John 16:2)  Are you ready for that?

Jesus said, “I came not to grant peace on earth but division; members in your family will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother (Luke 12:51-53).  Are you ready for that?

Persecution will arise because of the presence of the word. (Matthew 13:21) 

Our Lord throughout his life was mocked by the religious leaders.  The chief priests mocked Him.  Herod mocked Him.  And eventually the soldiers mocked him. 

The early church was ridiculed at Pentecost and the city  mocked the Apostles by saying, “These men are drunk.”  

Hebrews 11 records that many believers endured cruel mocking.  Are you ready for that?

Believers will be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12). 

The godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer tribulation (2 Timothy 3:12)

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:11-13“We are reviled . . . we are persecuted . . .we are slandered . . . we are roughly






treated . . . we are considered as the scum of the world, the filth of all things, even until now.”

Are you ready for that? 

For 100 years, the Jews had become acclimated to broken down walls.  They had become comfortable living with the reproach on the name of their holy city and their true and living God. 

But now, a man has arrived with tools for building; with supplies necessary for an expedition of faith.  He has counted the cost – he knows exactly what to expect.  He has brought along plenty of coal, if you please.

Now you need  to understand that during the Old Testament, the city of Jerusalem was the center of God’s earthly purpose – to restore the city would be a terrible blow to the enemies of God’s purpose and God’s people.

And so, in less than a week after Nehemiah sailed into town, the cold winds of adversity began to blow.

The enemy, the reviler, the slanderer, the hater of  God and the hater of God’s people has also arrived.

A battle is brewing.  A blizzard of conflict is about to begin.

You see, behind all opposition to the work of God is the chief opponent of God.  Any time heaven advances, hell opposes.  And any time you so live to see God glorified and his church enhanced, supported, supplied or defended, you will feel the wind of adversity in some form or another.

Whether Nehemiah knew it or not, the Adversary has moved his base of operations just outside the city of Jerusalem.

Before we watch his strategies against Nehemiah, let’s take a closer look at the Enemy himself.

He has a number of disguises and a number of names:

The first is Satan – this name refers to his role as the adversary of God and God’s people (Job 1)

He’s called, of course, the devil – this word means accuser and he constantly accuses God before the people and he accuses people before God.                        (Matt. 4:1)

Another name our Lord used for His arch enemy was Beelzebul which simply means Lord of the Flies, or Master of the Flies.  This refers to his masterminding of everything that is corrupt.                             (Matt. 12:27)

Other names that appear in the scriptures for this Master of Corruption are the following:

-The Ruler of this world              (John 12:31)

-Lucifer            - this was his original name and it refers to his aura of light in Isaiah 14:12.

            -He’s called the Father of lies – that is, the source, the originator of lying.  Lying is his native tongue, when he tells a lie he is speaking in his own language  (John 8:44)

            -He’s called the tempter              (1 Thess. 3:5)

            -The god of this world                 (2 Cor. 4:4)

            -The enemy                               (Matt. 13:39)

            -He’s referred to as the power of darkness              (Luke 22:53)

            -The prince of the power of the air            (Ephesians 2;2)

            -Jesus called him a murderer in John 8:44.

            -The Apostle John simply referred to him as the

evil one 1 John 2:13

            -In Revelation he’s called the old serpent 

It’s interesting in the first Book of the Bible he is introduced as the serpent and  in the last Book of the Bible he’s referred to as the old Serpent  (Rev. 12:9).

            -Peter called him the adversary in I Peter 5:8

            -He’s also the angel of light.  Listen to the warning Paul gave the church in Corinth and, I might add, the Church in Cary.  2 Cor. 11:13.  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  14.  No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  15.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of

righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

In other words, Satan and his teachers wrap themselves with the vocabulary of righteousness, but all the while they are attempting to deceive and manipulate and lead their followers into unrighteousness.  


-The final name of Satan is an interesting name.

It’s found in Revelation 12 and it calls Satan,  the Red Dragon.  The context of the passage reveals his desire to shed blood – his penchant for war – his lust for killing – his power to intimidate and deceive.     (Rev.12:3)

How Does The Enemy of God and God’s people operate?

            1)  With destructive purpose

He is the one who roams about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour or destroy (I Peter 5:8)

He is dedicated to destroying the worship of the One true living God, whose throne he coveted and fought for.  He failed and was cast to earth and ever since he has attempted to rob God’s throne of worship and glory.  And any Christian or church that is dedicated to bringing God worship and glory is an enemy of The Enemy.

When you align your purpose in life to bring glory and honor to God, then that one who opposes the glory of God will oppose you.

Satan operates with destructive purpose, he also operates with  2)  With remarkable proficiency

He is intelligent, discerning, and cunning.  His kingdom is connected through communication systems that would boggle our minds.

Now, in the course of taking a closer look at the Enemy, I don’t want you to forget several things:

His power is – limited (He is not omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent) 

His influence is – delegated.  He cannot do anything apart from our Sovereign God’s approval.  And what he intends for evil, God turns it around for good.  The serpent is a puppet on a string held by the hand of God.

His destruction is already – determined.  He knows what the end of this Book says.  He knows, but his hatred and his anger moves him against the throne of God while he still has time.

His success is constantly - hindered


Not only can he not lift one finger against God, he is limited in what he can accomplish against a believer.

The believer who dares by faith to mount an expedition into enemy territory for the advancement of the gospel has been given the proper clothing.  The disciple of Christ has been given the armor of the believer and Ephesians 6 describes for us every piece necessary to protect us against the Red Dragon’s fire.


The dragon not only operates with destructive purpose and remarkable proficiency, he also operates with enormous patience.

He is as patient as any fisherman who drops a lure into the pond and waits.  So this dragon and his kingdom drops his lures into the ponds of our lives and waits.  For weeks . . . for years . . . he is willing to wait a lifetime.

His lures are called several things in the New Testament:

  1. One word is the word – method.  Paul wrote in

Ephesians 6:11  Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the methodias of the devil.  The methodias, which gives us our transliterated word method, implies the craftiness of the devil.


  1. The second word is the word schemes found in

2 Corinthians 2:11.  “That no advantage would be taken of us



by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

Noema – a word that could be translated “designs”.  It actually refers to intellectual capacity.  In other words, Satan brilliantly designs ingenious tricks and snares to entrap the church and the believer.

And he lays those traps with great care and patience.

My wife recently came into my study and said, honey, you’ve got to read this.  It was a book she was reading by author Patsy Clairmont entitled Under His Wings.  While she left the book with me to read one page, I soon found myself reading several chapters.  She described Satan as a fisherman with very descriptive words. 

Listen – Read from Patsy Clairmont’s Book

The Red Dragon has had 2,000 years to hone his skills and fine tune his lures used against the church.  He can’t have our souls, but he can take away our song.  He can destroy our character, our witness, our effectiveness.   That is, if we take the bait . . . if we swallow his lure.

Nowhere do you find a list of Satan’s schemes and methods in such an obvious display than in Nehemiah chapters 4, 5 and 6.

That’s why I have entitled our series, “The Lure Of the Red Dragon.”    While the Adversary, The Tempter, The Deceiver, The Angel of Light, The Dragon, is never mentioned by name in Nehemiah 4, 5 and 6, if you look close enough, you’ll see the shadow of his scales, you’ll smell the fire from his nostrils; and you will almost hear the slip of his oars in the water as he glides toward Jerusalem.

Lucifer will design four lures – and drop them, one at a time, into the pond of Nehemiah’s life.  The first lure has been one of his most successful methods throughout generations of time. 

It’s simply called the lure of ridicule or mocking.

Nehemiah 4:1.  Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious

and very angry and mocked the Jews.

They laughed at the Jews.

The ridicule of Nehemiah and his fellow workers by Sanballat and his friends will eventually take the form of five questions.  Each question designed to intimidate and embarrass the Jews for what they are attempting to do,

Notice the first question in verse 2.  He [Sanballat]  spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing?


This is a question of the Jews strength

“What are these weak, lit. – withered, miserable Jews doing?”

In other words, “Who do you they think you are?!”

Goliath asked that same question when little David came running out to fight him, armed with a shepherd’s sling and 5 smooth stones.  One stone for Goliath and 4 more, should he need them, for each of Goliath’s four sons.

And the Israelite army held it’s breath thinking to themselves, Goliath is too big to kill.  But, as one author said, “David ran toward Goliath, thinking to himself, He’s too big to miss.”

And when Goliath saw David coming toward him, he disdained him – he mocked him – for he was but a lad.

Alan Redpath wrote,

The world judges everything be size, by headlines, by imposing plans, by vast advertisements, and it pours contempt upon the feeble little flock of the people of God.  “You, with your feeble prayer meetings.  You, with your silly little plan of getting people converted one by one.  How can you possibly stand alongside our great economic programs in which a whole world can be revolutionized in a few years?  You have no intellect, you are out of date, you have no money, you have no status.  You feeble little lot!”

Alan Redpath quoted in Donald K. Campbell;  Nehemiah: Man in Charge  Victor Books p. 36

Have you ever been laughed at for your faith?  Have you ever faced ridicule for your relationship with Christ?  Do you collapse at the sound of laughter?

Who do these feeble Jews think they are?

They go one to ask sarcastically in verse 2  “Are they going to restore it for themselves?”

In other words, “Do they really understand what their attempting to do?”   They don’t even have the foggiest idea what it takes to build a wall!  Look over there, that guy’s a perfume maker . . . and look up there, that guy makes jewelry . . . and look over here, some single women are mixing mortar.

Ha, they have no idea what you’re getting into!

This was a question of intelligence

You ever felt foolish before the wisdom of the world?  You ever wilted before the accusation of a sharp professor, a dignified relative, an educated friend.

Surely you’re too smart to need a religious crutch?!

Question #3 questioned their faith.  The text quotes them as saying, 2b. “Can they offer sacrifices?”

Derek Kidner is probably right when he rewords this question for our understanding by saying, “Are these Jews going to pray their wall up?  It’s their only hope!”

But what a clever lure.  “Hey, have you forgotten that the faith of your father’s wasn’t good enough to keep these walls up – and their faith hasn’t been able to rebuild these same walls over the last 100 years.  What do you think you’ve got – greater faith then them?  Do you think your sacrifices will do the trick?  We gonna see some kind of miracle? 

Then they sarcastically asked  the fourth question:   “Can they finish


in a day?”

This was a question of organization

It was like saying, “You’re going to need to finish this project in one day, because you don’t have a game plan that’ll last very long.” 

You won’t last out here in the cold very long – you’ll freeze to death.  You haven’t prepared for a long winter.

And the final question of ridicule,  “Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble?”

This was a question of skill.


“They don’t know have the skill to resurrect a wall out of the midst of a century of rubble.  It’ll never work – they’ll never make it.”

Then this guy named Tobiah who was standing nearby added his little barb – v. 3.  Yea, and even what they are building – if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down.”

They laughed and laughed and laughed.

The people of God were laughed at because of their:




            Skill and their 


Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Some people who can stand bravely when they are shot at will collapse whenever they are laughed at.”                   

         Warren Wiersbe, Be Determined  Victor Books, p. 50

And the Red Dragon just watched and waited.

You don’t have the skill to raise godly children.

You don’t have the strength to live for Christ

You don’t have the intelligence to stand up to the wisdom of the world.

You don’t have the faith to finish anything for God.

Who do you feeble people think you are?

Has the Red Dragon dropped the lure of ridicule into the waters of your life lately?

You can only imagine how powerful a lure this ridicule was to the people of Nehemiah – surely it would bring the work to a halt.  Surely someone would say, Nehemiah, they’re right, we’d just might as well admit it – we don’t know what we’re doing – we’re not wall builders – this is impossible!

How did Nehemiah avoid the Dragon’s Lure?

  1. What he did not do – retaliate!

“Is that right Tobiah?  A little fox could push this wall down.  Well, come on over here you little weasel and try to push it down yourself.”

None of that from Nehemiah.  Retaliating never builds walls.

  1. What he did do – was he prayed!

Would you notice his prayer.  4.  “Hear, O our God, how we are despised!”

Stop – don’t miss it.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  That’s not true is it?!  And Nehemiah prayed it this way, “Lord, sticks and stones may break my bones, and their words have really hurt me.”

“Hear, O our God”. . .in other words, “Have you been listening Lord.  Have you been hearing what they’ve been saying?”

Was Nehemiah caught by surprise?  No, but it hurt him none the less.

He’s not finished praying. 4b.  Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity.  5.  Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their

sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.”

You must understand this prayer as belonging to the dispensation of the Old Covenant.  We don’t pray this way in the New Covenant – or at least we shouldn’t pray that people won’t find forgiveness.   The Old Covenant was based upon the law and the law was based upon retaliation. 

To hate Jerusalem was to hate God.  And an enemy of Jerusalem was an enemy of  God.  And the Old Testament saint would pray that God would enact vengeance upon their enemies on behalf of God’s character and glory and holy city.

Nehemiah said nothing to his mockers – he said everything to his Master.  And he fully expected his Master to take care of his mockers, for vengeance belongs to God.

He didn’t retaliate.

He did pray.

Would you notice what he did next – he kept on working.

v. 6.  So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

Sticks and stones will break your bones, and words will always hurt you. . .they will always hurt you, but they don’t have to stop you.

Oh that you, like Nehemiah will avoid the powerful lure of the Red Dragon called ridicule and keep building the walls of life and service for the glory and honor of God.







Fishing is a good way to understand Satan’s agenda for us.  I come from a long line of fishermen, the kind who won’t let you move around in the boat lest you disturb the fish.  Some of my family have been known to sit in a rickety rowboat 24 hours at a time.  They sit and watch for activity in and on the water.  When the action is right, they cast out, hoping to snag a whopper.  When the fish takes the bait, he’s reeled in and soon becomes dinner.  In much the same way, Satan slips his rowboat into the waters of our lives.  Then he waits for our moments of weakness, watches for unmet needs, and lurks in the murky, unsettled issues of our lives.  He carefully checks his tackle box and selects just the right bait.  When he thinks the time is ideal, he casts his line and waits for as long as necessary for us to take the bait.  Then he reels us in.  Unlike the fishermen I’ve known, Satan never throws any back.  In fact, he seems to favor the little ones.

            Patsy Clairmont Under His Wings Focus on the Family Publishing p. 43


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