I. The opposition intensifies (1-6)
Title: When you face adversity, don’t give up! (Galatians 6:9)
- What do you think was the purpose of Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s “speech” to their buddies in verses 3-4?
- How does Nehemiah respond when he hears about it?
- What is his prayer? What do you think of his prayer?
- Why could they make such quick progress on the wall (verse 6)?
Verse by Verse Commentary
Opposition continued – In verses 1-3 we see that the opposition the builders faced didn’t crumble away. Instead it intensified. Many times this type of opposition is not short term. Being victorious once doesn’t guarantee you won’t face it again. It also doesn’t guarantee you will be victorious the next time. God wanted them to rebuild the wall, but he did not remove the opposition. Why?
Sanballat was angry – Believers doing right things serving the Lord sometimes stirs up an unnatural hatred in the unbelievers around us. There is not a good logical reason for this hatred. We have to understand that we are a in a spiritual war (see Ephesians 6). Understand that Satan uses people as pawns in his war against all things good and holy will help us to understand the source of this anger or hatred. I have had many friends who have faced angry parents or bosses because of their decision to serve the Lord. One’s father threatened to get a gang together and break his leg and then ransack his house. I met this father and he was so angry you could visibly see it on his face. It looked like the veins in his head were going to burst. His whole body was visibly shaking. Another’s father yelled him the entire day for the entire spring festival vacation (and then the next visit back did the same thing again.) Satan is angry when we choose God. People under his dominion (he is called the god of this world in the Bible) may be angry as well. Don’t be surprised and don’t let it discourage you.
Sanballat and Tobiah’s speech – In chapter 2 we see Nehemiah’s speech which was meant to inspire the people to work. Here we see the counterpart to that speech. Only this speech is not given to inspire people to work. It is given to inspire people to destroy (4:7-8). See John 10:10. The thrust of their mocking was “You can’t do it.” This is a lie from Satan. If God wants us to do something, He will give us the strength and resources to accomplish it.
II. Nehemiah responds and reacts (7-23)
- What groups of people were opposing the rebuilding project?
- What did they decide to do?
- How did Nehemiah hear about this threat?
- How did Nehemiah respond to this new threat?
- Besides praying, what else did he do?
- Where did this saying come from in verse 10? Why does Nehemiah reference it here?
- How did Nehemiah encourage the people?
- What changes did Nehemiah make to prevent future attacks?
- What lessons can we lean from Nehemiah? About leadership? About planning? About responding to opposition?
- When we work for the Lord, what kind of adversity or opposition may we face?
- How can we persevere and not give up?
Verse by Verse Commentary
Nehemiah prays against his enemies – What do you think of his prayer? First we see that Nehemiah turned to the right place with his concerns. He didn’t take revenge. He didn’t return insults. He simply prayed. He prayed to ask for God’s help. Basically he a similar prayer to the principle in Romans 12:19 “I won’t take revenge, but God please avenge us against them!” In the Old Testament the concept of grace was not as prevalent as in the New Testament. Justice was emphasized more. Basically this is a prayer for justice rather than a prayer for mercy or grace. Should we pray like this? I would answer, “no” because we have been given a specific command by Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Nehemiah had not been given this command since it is a New Testament command. The good aspect of Nehemiah’s prayer is that he puts the judgment of his enemies in God’s hands. He is not willing to take action against Sanballat and his gang, but asks God to intervene on their behalf. Application: When we are suffering injustice (perhaps from a boss, school, or government) we should turn to the Lord and ask Him to intervene on our behalf. It is right to ask God to intervene for us to give us justice (see: the persevering widow in Luke 18).
Verse 6 – Nehemiah didn’t just pray. That was their first reaction to the adversity. Then they started working. The text says that they “had a mind to work.” In last week’s passage we learned that working, if doing it with the right motivation for the Lord, is a good thing. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing whole-heartedly. See Collossians 3:23-24. When God gives us a task to do, we should do it to the best of our ability. We should obey joyfully, quickly, and completely. They were able to make rapid progress on the wall because they were unified and worked hard. When we join hands together to zealously serve the Lord, He could also use us to accomplish great things. Ren duo li liang da (This is a Chinese idiom that means many hands make light work.)
Verses 7-8 – We see that the adversity the Jews faced intensified. Sanballat and Tobiah went from irritated talking and mocking to angry threats and a conspiracy to attack the city. Once the walls were finished it would be too late to mount a successful attack against the city without a much stronger force than they had. Also it is likely that they were not expecting a lot of opposition. They likely thought that the Jews’ fortitude would melt away as soon as they faced some actual loss. Sanballat and his friends are like the school bully who expects people to cower and run away and give him whatever he wants just because he scowls at them. Principle: Just because you successfully stand up to temptation or adversity the first time, doesn’t mean that is the end of it. In the Bible Satan described as an adversary and he is sometimes very persistent.
Verse 9 – Here we see Nehemiah and the people’s response to this new threat. They pray and they prepare. They were vigilant and alert. They followed the command from Peter in 1 Peter 5:8 to be alert against the attacks of the devil more than 500 years before it was even written.
Fear and discouragement – Were the threats of Sanballat and his friends successful? Initially the threats were partially successful. In verse 10 we see that people began to be disheartened. They started muttering. Hope began to fade. Before the people were optimistic. They believed that by working together and relying on the Lord they could finish the task. But now their eyes were starting to turn away from God and instead focus on the sheer size of the task before them. They focused on their own weakness and the sorry state of the walls. Doubt began to creep in. Once the doubt began to creep in, the enemy stepped up their verbal attacks even more, threatening surprise attacks and promising to kill the workers. The workers were not expert wall builders. The project was immense. And the opposition was intense. Jews who lived near Sanballat and his buddies starting coming in with reports. They didn’t bring one or two or three reports about the possible attack, but ten! How could a worker keep building the wall when several times a day his neighbors rushed into the city warning that the enemy was going to come and attack and kill them all? Those kinds of threats made it extremely difficult to focus on the job in front of them. God wants us to have faith. But Satan wants us to doubt. Can you think of any other examples in the Bible where Satan tempted people to doubt God? (See Exodus 32:1 where the people doubted if Moses would come down again from the mountain.)
Nehemiah addresses the people (verse 14) – The people were afraid. This is a normal reaction. Nehemiah himself was afraid back in chapter 1 when the king asked why he was sad. But he didn’t allow the fear to control him. Here he doesn’t want fear to control the people’s response either. He reminds them that God is great and awesome. God will be with them. At the same time they have to prepare themselves to fight. Remembering their family can motivate them to get ready to fight and to fight bravely. Application: When we face adversity, we may be afraid. But do not allow fear to control you. Remember that God is great and awesome. He is with you. Remember too that God gives us spiritual armor (see Ephesians 6). He gives us armor because He intends to use it. There is not guarantee that believers will not face adversity or persecution. In fact, just the opposite. See 2 Timothy 3:12. We will face persecution if we are living godly lives. How can you be ready when that persecution comes?
- Nehemiah’s plan – Nehemiah prayed. Nehemiah addressed the people. Nehemiah knew God was with them. At the same time, Nehemiah prepared the people to defend themselves. Trusting in God is not an excuse for laziness. Let us look at Nehemiah’s defense plan:
- He focused defense near the weakest parts of the wall (13)
- Half of the people stood guard while the other half worked (16)
- Those who worked carried their weapon at the same time (17-18)
- He assigned some people as lookouts with trumpets to rally support to any place which might be attacked (19-20)
- He made the people stay in the city at night instead of returning back to their homes outside the wall (22)
- He had all the people be on alert at all times with their weapons always ready (23)
Resist the devil and he will flee from you – See verse 15. See James 4:7. When their enemies saw all the measures taken against them they gave up their plan of attack and the Jews were able to focus again on building the wall.
Satan wants to stop us from doing God’s work. What obstacles are you facing against serving God? Are you facing obstacles at work? At home? In your family? In your ministry? Will you allow Satan to stop you from doing the work God has prepared for you?
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – Afflicted, but not crushed…
- 1 Peter 5:10 – After you have suffered God will strengthen you.
- Proverbs 24:10 – If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
- Psalms 34:19 – Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
- 2 Timothy 3:12 – All who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted.
- John 15:18 – If the world hates you it hated me first.
- 1 Peter 3:14-17 – Suffer for doing good rather than evil
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