Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2 He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” 3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!”
4 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! 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. 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.
7 Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.
9 But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. 10 Thus in Judah it was said, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.” 11 Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” 13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “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 houses.”
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, orally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.
In the middle of Nehemiah doing what God has opened the door for him to do, he meets people who don’t want to permit the work to continue. I think the biggest problem with opposition is that Satan is the Master at getting us to look at the messenger rather than the source. Our enemy when we face obstacles to ministry is – at the source – it is Evil Prince of this world. Can you think of other names given in the Bible to our Enemy?
What are the Tools of the Enemy? Discouragement, messing with our sense of personal value of the pursuits, getting us to question the authority of Scripture,
What (or Who) is he using to attempt to stop or delay the work of God through Nehemiah? Actually it is a series of questions, but let’s look at the root of the question.
- What are these feeble Jews doing? I think this question has two parts to it that could drive you nuts. First is the question about what strength do you have in and of yourself? It is an indication that you (Jews) are all alone. Or course there is no indication that this person sees any of God in this work. Why would someone who wants to discourage you assume that God was in your camp and in your work? He is questioning both the tenancy and the fortitude of the people who have been called to complete a task. But the second part of this question is a shaming question. By the time this question is asked, the work is already half done. Have you ever tried to put something together and someone asks, what in the world is that? And the implication is that hideous thing you are making?
- Are they going to restore it for themselves? Some think this is pointing at a question to ask the Jews if they knew the size of the task before them. It could have also been a veiled threat that these people will not live long enough to enjoy the fruit of their hard work. It could be read to state, you are restoring it for someone who will come in and live in the city in your place. Even if you do manage to build this wall, you’ll never be able to enjoy the safety you believe it gives you because you’ll be dead or gone. Remember Nehemiah probably was not the only one who had obligations to the Babylonians.
- Can they offer sacrifices? Davey believed this might be a mockery of the God of Israel, in that in other religions, people might have been prone to offer sacrifices to get their God to do something. Israel on the other hand, gave sacrifices for sin but not for God to miraculously move earth.
- Can they finish in a day? This might have been another slap in the face of the vision of the project, saying that the people who were there could maybe work a day, and then they were done. No doubt they knew the kinds of people that had been called to work here, goldsmiths, perfumers, nobles, priests, and young women. This is an attack on their commitment. Ever had an attack that made you want to quit something?
- Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? This is plain mockery of the working knowledge this set of builders had about building walls. Telling them they were just stupid about this process. Some sort of effort to make the work look that much harder and that much more impossible than they might have already felt it was.
Would Nehemiah take the bait? Would he engage in this wrestling match with Sanballat? His name means “Sin has begotten.” His name was a nod to the Sumerian moon god Sīn, so it’s not “sin” in the sense of meaning separated from God, but more like the name of the Moon god, whose name was “Sin”.
So Nehemiah prays – 4 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! 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. – and then he gets back to work — So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
So Nehemiah doesn’t argue with this Moonchild (Son of the Moon) but instead he prays. Another example of what it looks like to be a godly person and a godly leader. He uses the insults to call upon the mercy of God – God of the despised.
Looks at the way discouragement was arriving – in this little “jingle”.
- In Judah – they are saying: “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.” Not sure if these are just real observations or taunting, but see how there is a spirit that is different than the first half of the project – in verse 6. Even in verse 7, we get an update on the progress of the work. Solomon said: The beginning of a thing is better than the end (Ecc 7:8closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'). He knew that a project didn’t get easier as it moves forward, but harder. It is much easier to begin things than to end them well. People are tired and there is still a lot of work to do. There is a sense of hopelessness in this verse, ever worked beside this person?
- The enemies are saying: “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” Now look what the enemies of the people are promising. This is an attempt to bully the building of the wall and no doubt some might have said, what good is the wall going to do me if I’m dead?
- The Jews around the country are saying: “When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, they will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” Those who would attack are coming from the country all around Jerusalem. So the people who lived in the surrounding areas were hearing about a gathering army who would attempt to stop this rebuilding of the wall.
Then a leader shows why he’s a leader. He reminds them of the important principles when faced with opposition: When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “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 houses.”
This section (vs 9 – 23) are summed up in: (1) They prayed; (2) They prepared for battle; (3) They continued the building; and (4) They committed to defending one another. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if when the church was under attack that we would at least commit to defending one another?
Illustrations this week
Being Prepared for the Task
In 1845, John Franklin left England to discover a northwest passageway – a seaway for ships through the Canadian Arctic that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. According to Kent Hughes’ commentary on James, he took, with him on this expedition, one hundred thirty-eight specially chosen men from the Royal Navy. No one knew what lay ahead. In fact, they did not even seem to be aware of the severe weather conditions that they would encounter in and around the North Pole. Nevertheless, 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 twelve day supply of coal, should steam power ever be needed during the voyage.
They were confident in their quest, as the ships sailed 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 of northern 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 twelve years retracing the path of the Franklin expedition to, eventually, piece 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 a haunting sight at Simpson Straight. They saw the three wooden masts of one of the ships protruding through the ice.
Amid all their findings, the most devastating 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 thirty frozen bodies in a tent near the water’s edge. The officers were dressed in their overcoats, with their silk scarves still in place. They were confident and their hopes were high, but they were not prepared for the challenges of that expedition.
Also – Facing the Enemy prepared for the Enemy
It was many years ago, at the beginning of a major conflict in Europe, that Germany mounted an invasion of Poland. Poland was fairly unconcerned. They had a history of repelling enemy attacks from the barbarians of warring neighbors. The Polish army was renowned for its skilled horsemanship – their Calvary was well trained and their horses were among Europe’s finest. When they learned that German forces were advancing, they prepared twelve brigades of their finest warriors. With swords flashing in the sunlight, the Calvary officers sounded the charge and their horses surged forward with powerful strides. The trouble was, this was not a war fought a thousand years ago, this was World War II. Manchester, in his biography of Winston Churchill, wrote that this Calvary galloped their horses proudly right into the path of newly designed German panzer tanks. The outcome was predictable – total devastation.
One More: In 1950, during the Korean War, the 1st Marine Division was holed up in the Chosin mountain reservoir. This group of only 15,000 men was waged up against an encroaching Chinese force of 120,000. The conditions in the area were unbearable, with temperatures dipping nearly 30 degrees below zero, and their rations froze. At some point a call was put out for “Tootsie Rolls,” the codename for mortar shells. However, the person who filled the order took the request literally, so crate upon crate of Tootsie Rolls were airdropped to the division. Though it wasn’t artillery, the frozen candies were able to be melted with just body heat, so they became a replacement for the frozen rations. This strange mistake ultimately helped keep the group alive.