If there’s one thing the life of Nehemiah shows us, it’s this: Following the Lord can create a lot of difficulty in your life. As we’ve said before, there’s no such thing as opportunity without opposition.
Now we know that opposition originates with Satan, who hates the church and opposes the gospel. And he’s always on the prowl to discourage anyone who seeks to honor the Lord.
Now so far here in chapters 1 through 4, the enemies of the Jewish people have been trying to stop the reconstruction of the walls around Jerusalem. And so far, they’ve been unsuccessful.
But the devil hasn’t run out of ideas – in fact, he’s about change his strategy.
And here in Nehemiah chapter 5, we find opposition to God’s work now coming from within the Jewish community. This time it’s not from the outside but from the inside. And you’ve probably witnessed it, beloved; internal strife can be more devastating than external attacks.
I’ve heard it said that Satan loves to cause division and fighting in a family or in a church, and then he refuses to take sides – he’s happy to provide ammunition to both sides.
No, ridicule couldn’t stop this building project; neither could physical threats. But internal selfishness and strife is about to bring this project to a halt.
Now the details of this internal strife are given to us here, beginning in verse 1:
There arose a great outcry of the people … against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said … “Let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax . . . we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves … for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
Without land to farm, many people are going hungry. And due to a famine, those who own land have had to mortgage their property to buy food. Many have had to borrow money to pay their taxes. And the wealthy among them are exploiting the poor, loaning money to the needy and charging interest; they’re putting young people into forced labor. This is tearing the nation apart.
They won’t need walls built around the city to protect them from outsiders, because at this point, the danger is inside the city.
Nehemiah is quick to step in here; he writes in verse 7, “I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, ‘You are exacting interest, each from his brother.’”
Now there was nothing wrong with loaning money to fellow Jews who were in need, but charging them interest was forbidden by God (Exodus 22:25). They had been physical slaves in Egypt, and God didn’t want them to become financially enslaved to each other.
These leaders, verse 8 says, “were silent and could not find a word to say.” They just hang their heads in shame. And with that, Nehemiah leads them to make some key changes.
Here in verse 12 they promise Nehemiah, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.”
By the way, Nehemiah isn’t telling these leaders to do something he hasn’t been willing to do. We’re told here in verse 14 and following that although he was the governor, he didn’t take advantage of his political office. He didn’t demand the usual food allowances, and he didn’t burden the people with financial charges to support a lavish lifestyle.
Unfortunately – and not always, by the way – a position of power can be used for personal benefit. Nehemiah isn’t gonna do that. What he does do is continue the work of rebuilding the wall.
Again, Satan just changes his strategy, and the opposition takes another form here in chapter 6; and here comes ole’ Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshum all over again. They hear the wall has reached a point where only the doors need to be set in the gates, and they realize if they’re gonna stop the work, now is their last chance.
First, they move in with an act of deception. Nehemiah writes here in his journal – at verse 2 – “Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come and let us meet together … in the plain of Ono.’” That happened to be a vacation resort; so, they’re tempting Nehemiah to take a break and come over for a little rest and relaxation. Now on the surface, this appears to be a polite invitation to talk things over and reach a compromise.
Nehemiah adds here in verse 2, “They intended to do me harm.” He knows this isn’t a two-week vacation; they’re gonna try to kill him. So he refuses. Verse 4 says that they repeat the invitation four times – and every time, Nehemiah says the same thing: no, no, no, no. That little word no kept him out of a lot of trouble, and beloved, we oughtta use it more often today.
Deceiving Nehemiah doesn’t work; so secondly, they try to discredit him. Here in verse 6 they write an open letter ascribing evil motives to him.
Sanballat publishes the letter, so to speak, in the Jerusalem newspaper, where he writes:
“It is reported among the nations … that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.”
This will start the rumor mill, won’t it? Nehemiah doesn’t care about Jerusalem! This could also get him in trouble with the Persian king.
Nehemiah replies in verse 8: “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” What a great response. He’s not writing a long letter back; there’s no self-vindication—he just sends a note back that says, “You’re making it all up.”
Now thirdly, and finally, they try to get Nehemiah to disobey the law. Shemaiah, a man secretly hired by the enemy, supposedly “prophesies” here in verse 10 that Nehemiah’s enemies are going to attack him that night, and he should hide out inside the temple – in the Holy Place – to save his life.
Well, only priests were allowed in there. So Nehemiah responds, here in verse 11, “I will not go in.” To “act in this way,” he says in verse 13, is to “sin.” If this prophecy were true and he was gonna be attacked that night – listen to this, beloved – Nehemiah would rather risk his life than lose his testimony by sinning against
And with that final failure on the part of these enemies, we read this wonderful statement here in verse 15: “So the wall was finished … in fifty-two days.” They hadn’t been able to do this over several years, and now they do it in less than two months.
How? Well, the people had worked together in unity, a dedicated leader had refused to quit, and the grace of God enabled them – in the face of impossibility and difficulty – to finish rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China in the 1800s often said that the work of God has three stages: impossible, difficult, done! And that’s exactly what’s happened here.
We’ll pick it up here in our next Wisdom Journey together; until then, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.