Nehemiah 4:1-6 KJV But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. (2) And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? (3) Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall. (4) Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: (5) And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders. (6) So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
Chapters four through six of Nehemiah deal with the opposition that Nehemiah and the people faced as they rebuilt the walls and the gates of Jerusalem. By my count, there are 5 different forms of opposition that they faced. Some commentators and theologians break it down to as many as nine, but for the sake of our study, we are going to divide it into five different forms of opposition over the next couple of blog post. Why all of this opposition? Well, we must remember that there is an adversary, who makes like a roaring lion, seeking to devour those who give their life to the Lord. And even though Satan may not be mentioned by name, it does not take a CSI team to find his fingerprints all over the place here in chapter four. When the enemy sees progress is usually when they will speak up and do what they can to discourage the Christian from continuing on. But we must always remember that opposition is an opportunity for the Christian to grow.
By the way, not all criticism is evil. Constructive criticism is good; destructive criticism is evil. You have to be able to determine the motive, value, and hear to the criticism. Reminds me of a story I came across of a shipwrecked crew who had been drifting for days in a small boat off the coast of Brazil. They were suffering the horrors of thirst but they dare not drink the seawater because the salt would make it even worse. They saw a vessel coming towards them, and called out, "Water, water!" "Dip your bucket over the side" they were told. They thought they were being mocked. But no, the water was fresh. They had drifted into the flow of the mighty River Amazon bearing fresh water far out to sea. (http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/illustrations-about-mocking.asp)
The first form of opposition I want to deal with is Mockery, which we find in 4:1-6. Remember when you were a kid and someone would tease you or make fun of you? One of the first responses was usually the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But the truth of the matter is that words do hurt, and your spiritual enemy knows this. This attack is especially true when you take on the role of a leader. It was Chuck Swindoll who rightly stated, “Unpleasant though it may sound, you haven’t really led until you have become familiar with the stinging barbs of the critics (Hand…Brick, pg 65).”
This is why mockery is one of the forms of discouragement Satan throws at a Christian. You have to be prepared for the world to mock you for your faith.Jesus warned us in John 15:18, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” And Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” How well do you handle the mocking of others when you serve the Lord? We see from this portion of Scripture how to deal with mockery.
RESPONSE OF THE PERSECUTORS – 4:1-3
The first thing we notice about those who were persecuting Nehemiah and Israel was that they listen to what is happening, as we read in 4:1. You may not be paying attention to them, but your critics are paying attention to you. That is why we can never take a moment off as a Christian.
Now, who was it that they heard this information from? We covered this a bit in chapter 2, but maybe it was Eliashib, as you can read in 13:4,7-9. Maybe it was some folks from Judah, as you read later in the chapter in 4:10. Or maybe it was those who are mentioned in 6:17-18. The fact of the matter is there was lots of opposition. But who was telling them was not important to Nehemiah, which may be why their name is not specifically recorded. You can’t worry about trying to make everyone happy and pleasing everybody.
The second thing we notice is that they loathe and laugh at what is happening, as we see in 4:2-3. These types of people can be referred to as “sidewalk supervisors.” They are the ones who are doing nothing for God, yet are critical of those who do. Tobiah criticized and laughed at “their wall,” when it really was God’s wall. The critics often have the wrong view of a subject. These critics could not see or sense the source of Nehemiah’s spiritual strength – God. When people look at problems and projects through the eyes of humanity, they become critical of ideas and projects that require great faith to be accomplished. Sanballat and Tobiah both tried to use their words to cause despair. By the way, mark this down - Critics run with critics.
The world does the same today by trying to make the Christian feel inferior and silly for practicing their faith and living for the Lord. The world is pressuring the Christian to conform to their way of thinking. But if you conform, the world considers you a hypocrite and you lose your testimony; if you do not conform, you are a fanatic. Either way, there is no pleasing the world so we should not even try or worry about it. Remember this about those who mock and ridicule – it is often a sign of bitterness and or anger issues. Warren Wiersbe has a good though when it comes to this issue – Ridicule is a device used by ignorant people who are filled with jealousy. (Outlines…pg 390)
REPLY BY PRAYER – 4:4-5
Facing criticism while living by faith is a form of spiritual warfare. This is a warfare that is won on your knees. A Christian who is constantly on their knees will not be a Christian who retreats. When Nehemiah was faced with this problem, he did not turn and run. Turning and running from a problem never solves it, but often makes it worse in the long run. Sometimes, the hardest part in dealing with a problem is just getting up the courage to face it. You do this through prayer. And we see that Nehemiah prayed.
It can be said that while Nehemiah’s enemies talked about him amongst themselves, Nehemiah talked about them to God. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 15:28-29, “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things. (29) The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.” Many Christians need to retrain how they react to negative words and situations. The less you say to your enemies, the more you allow the Lord to speak to them. And remember this - it is hard to talk bad and gossip about someone you are earnestly praying for. Instead of worrying about what others are saying, Nehemiah prayed about it. Worry leads to panic, and panic leads us to try to fix a problem on our own and that is usually when it goes wrong.
Notice with me who he prayed to. Nehemiah’s prayer was directed towards God – the one who could do something about it. He responded to God first because that was who he always carried is troubles and trials to. The one we go to first in times of trouble is a reflection of who we trust the most.
You also notice what he prayed about. Nehemiah prayed privately what he wanted to say publically about and to his enemies.
RETURN TO THE PRIORITY – 4:6
After praying to God, we notice the response of the workers. Nehemiah and the people ignored the mocking and just kept working. Many times, the best response is often no response. The people continued to work as they prayed because prayer is no substitute for work. Every Christians must continue to not only pray, but work and serve the Lord persistently. A critic is one who demoralizes; a leader is one who encourages. Remember, Satan does not create, he only destroys. Don’t allow the heartless, fact-less critics get you off track.
Satan sent ridicule because he wanted to get Nehemiah and the people to leave the work and engage in a back in forth with him. If Nehemiah and the people had stopped the work to answer and argue their critics, their enemies would have said, “See, told you.” The best answer you can often give is no answer. Don’t let the critics bother you, just keep working and serving the Lord.
Secondly, we read about the rise of the wall. They got the building up completely in circumference and halfway up in height. It is often at this point in a large project that you become a little discouraged. The children of Israel did not notice the half that they finished; they noticed the half that remained. You could say they were a “glass is half empty” personality. Let’s determine to focus on what God has done, and that will encourage us to see that God will finish it, as well.
Finally, we notice the reason for the workmanship. This may be one of the most important verses in the book. They had a mind to work because their heart was in the work. When serving God, leading your family, or whatever the challenge is before you, if you are not motivated by love then your mind will give out and you will eventually give up. But too far often today, many Christians have a mind to quit, a mind to turn back, and a mind to do just enough to get by. We would do good to remember what the Bible tells us in Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
If you live by faith every day, especially in public, you will be mocked just as Nehemiah and the children of Israel. The question is not if it will come, the question is how will we respond? Do you respond with prayer and persistence? Continue to pray, and continue to serve. The work is not finished.