174 - Opportunity Meets Opposition (Nehemiah 3–4)
Success in serving the Lord requires careful planning. Part of that planning should be preparing to respond properly to the opposition that will inevitably come. Nehemiah offers us a great example of godly leadership and wisdom in dealing with opposition.
Nehemiah is now launching a major project to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Here in chapter 3 we’re given a long list of people who join him in this great work. This list proves that Nehemiah is a careful and strategic administrator and planner; otherwise, it would have looked like a three-ring circus rather than a construction project.
Now we don’t have time to read all the names here, but I wanna highlight some of the attitudes demonstrated by these faithful workers – and let me tell you, we oughtta have these same attitudes in the church today.
First, the people work willingly.
Some of ‘em are assigned to repair the walls; others work on different gates in the city; other people pick up the rubble and cart all the trash away. Every willing person is involved in some way.
In fact, verse 1 says, “Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate.” I love that – even the high priest rolls up his sleeves and probably gets some splinters in his hands.
Many of these workers are unskilled—they didn’t get a degree in engineering or an apprenticeship with a brick mason. They never built walls or gates before. Listen here to verse 8:
Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired … Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired.
What’s a goldsmith, a perfume maker and a politician have in common? They’re all willing to learn how to do something they’ve never done before.
And let me tell you, beloved, anyone today who wants to serve the Lord will be willing to do whatever needs to be done – and maybe learn how to do something they’ve never done before. Nehemiah’s people are simply willing to work.
My father was a missionary leader for 65 years. One day a young man came to interview for a key position at the headquarters, and my father was mopping the floor to clean up a spill. When this young man introduced himself and said he was there for an appointment with the executive director, my dad leaned on his mop and said, “Well, that would be me.” This young man was shocked. He said, “If I were in your position, I’d never do that; I’d get somebody else to mop it for me.” Well, that young man wasn’t hired after all.
The people worked willingly.
Secondly, they worked zealously. Verse 20 mentions a man named Baruch. Some Bible versions translate the Hebrew here as saying he worked “zealously,” or “eagerly,” repairing a section of the wall. It’s one thing to do a job, half-heartedly; it’s another thing to put your whole heart into it.
A man named Meremoth repaired two different sections of the wall, here in verse 4 and again in verse 21. The Tekoites (from the village of Tekoa) repaired two sections as well (verses 5, 27), even though their town leaders refused to help. Many young women also got involved in the work, as verse 12 reveals.
Now Nehemiah strategically assigns people to repair the wall near their own houses. That is a brilliant idea. Verse 10, for example, says, “Jediah … repaired opposite his house.” This strategy encouraged good work.
Thirdly, the workers can be characterized as working harmoniously. They work side by side restoring the walls.
Well, you can be sure that when God’s people are diligently, willingly working in unity and with great zeal – well, the devil is gonna start working overtime. In chapter 3 you have people embracing the opportunity. But now in chapter 4, the people are going to experience the opposition.
Keep in mind, Jerusalem wasn’t just any ole’ building project – it represented the very center of God’s plans for the nations – and the worship of the true and living God. So, the restoration of the city would be a terrible blow to the unbelieving and idolatrous enemies living around them.
Once again, Sanballat and Tobiah lead the opposition. And they use a variety of methods to oppose this project.
Their first method is verbal ridicule. Verse 1 tells us that in anger Sanballat “jeered at the Jews.” He mocks them here in verse 2, saying, “What are these feeble Jews doing? … Will they revive the stones out of the … rubbish?” Tobiah chimes in here in verse 3, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
In other words, this wall is so flimsy that a little fox could make it fall over. Well, that stung, I’m sure. No one likes to be ridiculed. But Nehemiah doesn’t respond to their mocking – he doesn’t get a bullhorn and holler insults back at them.
Instead, Nehemiah prays. He takes it to the Lord. He wisely recognizes that these people don’t hate only him – they hate God. So he prays here in verse 5 that God will be vindicated by His judgment of these enemies. Nehemiah is more concerned about God’s reputation than his own.
But in a way, Nehemiah does respond to his enemies; and here’s how – verse 6 records, “So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height.” This is the best way to respond to your critics – just keep on praying and keep on working.
Now the second method of opposition here isn’t just verbal insults, but physical threats. Verse 8 says, “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem.” We don’t know the details of their plot, but it is life-threatening. And when the Jewish builders become aware of it, instead of quitting, we’re told here in verse 9, they “set a guard … day and night.”
The Jewish people have faced verbal ridicule and physical threats. Now, thirdly, the opposition comes in the form of emotional discouragement. The enemies of the Jews plant seeds of discouragement among the people, and those seeds take root. Listen to what the people begin to say here in verse 10:
“The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”
In other words, “We’re not gonna make it!”
Discouragement is one of the devil’s most successful weapons against believers, to this day. It has a way of growing and spreading to others. And if it’s not dealt with, it can stop some important work for the Lord.
So Nehemiah takes it seriously; he calls the people together and gives them an inspired pep talk here in verse 14:
“Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
He’s saying, “God is bigger than our enemies. So, let’s trust Him, get better prepared, and keep building the walls.”
Here in verse 16, Nehemiah sees that the workers are armed with weapons in case they’re attacked; he establishes an alarm system in verse 18, where the blowing of a trumpet will signal where an attack is coming from, so that everyone can help. Finally, here in verse 22, Nehemiah instructs all the people to stay inside Jerusalem each night, where guards are stationed around the clock.
The wall is half-way built; the enemies are ramping up their threats; and the Jewish people are refusing to quit. What happens next? Well, we’ll get to that in our next Wisdom Journey.
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.
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