OPPOSITION TO REBUILDING Nehemiah 4–7“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ’Their hands will get too weak for the work and it will not be completed’ “ (Neh. 6:9).Nehemiah faced serious opposition. The way he met various challenges serves as a model for us today.
Nehemiah faced ridicule (4:1–5) and the threat of attack from Judah’s neighbors (vv. 6–23). He also found injustices in Judah that delayed the work (5:1–19). Nehemiah avoided traps set by enemies (6:1–14) and completed the wall (vv. 15–19). After checking genealogies, he repopulated Jerusalem (7:1–73).
Understanding the Text
“Can they bring the stones back to life?” Neh. 4:1–5 The stone in Judah is a soft limestone. When fired, all moisture evaporates and even massive stones crumble into dust. The very idea that Nehemiah might “bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble” amused the surrounding peoples. They openly ridiculed the Jews, and joked about their efforts. Ridicule can be discouraging, especially when we undertake a difficult task. Nehemiah’s response serves us as a guide for dealing with ridicule. He prayed that God would “turn their insults back on their own heads.” Nehemiah did not argue or defend his calling. He knew that God could bring success, and that success alone can silence ridicule. “We rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height” Neh. 4:6–23. As the wall gradually rose, the ridicule of the Jews’ enemies turned to angry hostility. No one likes to be proven wrong! Hostility soon turned to open opposition, as the neighboring peoples plotted an attack on Nehemiah’s work force. Nehemiah met the threat by showing determination, and by preparedness. He showed determination by arming his men. This evidence that the Jews were ready to defend themselves frustrated the enemy, who had planned a sneak attack on defenseless people. A show of determination in the face of an enemy often avoids conflict. Nehemiah did not rest on that initial bloodless victory. From that time on half the people stood guard while the other half worked. Trumpet signals were established so the whole group could respond to an attack on any section of the wall. When we know enemies surround us, we need to plan in advance how to meet any attacks. “A great outcry against their Jewish brothers” Neh. 5:1–19. The work was also threatened by injustice in Judah’s society. The wealthy oppressed the poor, and rather than follow God’s laws, they loaned money at high interest, then claimed lands and forced families into servitude in payment of the debt. Nehemiah confronted the practice, and won agreement by the whole congregation to stop the usury and to return seized lands. Note that Nehemiah was able to confront this internal sin because he himself was blameless. Unlike other governors, who lived by taxing their subjects, Nehemiah had paid all the expenses of his office himself! Leaders need to be blameless if they are to exhort others with integrity. Parents too must be sure when correcting children that they are setting a good example. Nehemiah was able to accomplish all that he did not because he had secular authority, but because of the moral force of his example of full commitment to God. “He had been hired to intimidate me” Neh. 6:1–14. Three more attempts were made by the Jews’ enemies to halt work on the wall. They attempted to isolate Nehemiah so they could harm him (vv. 1–4). Nehemiah refused to abandon his mission even for a brief time. We need to concentrate on the task God has given us, and resist those who would harm the work by distracting us. They attempted to frighten Nehemiah by accusing the Jews of rebellion (vv. 5–9). It’s not unusual for Christians to be misrepresented and falsely accused. All they can do in such cases is to assert, as Nehemiah did, that the accusations are not true, and to continue their work. They attempted to intimidate Nehemiah into an act of unbelief (vv. 10–14). Nehemiah rejected the so-called prophecy of one Jew, who wanted Nehemiah to lock himself up inside the temple for self-protection. If Nehemiah had fallen into this trap, he would have displayed a lack of that faith in God that he was exhorting, and forfeited the confidence of his people. If we are calling on others to trust the Lord, we must surely display trust in Him ourselves. Each effort of the enemy failed to distract Nehemiah from his mission. The result of Nehemiah’s faithfulness was successful completion of his mission. “So the wall was completed” Neh. 6:15–19. The impossible task was accomplished! The enemies of God’s people “lost their self-confidence,” and God was glorified. Even the enemies realized that the work had been done with the help of the Lord.” When you and I are called to any ministry we can approach it as Nehemiah did—with steadfast faith, and the knowledge that when we succeed, it will all be to the glory of God. “The city was large and spacious” Neh. 7:1–73. Most of those who had resettled Judah lived in smaller towns, where there were fields to cultivate. Jerusalem had been largely unpopulated. Nehemiah, after carefully consulting the genealogical records to ensure each family’s claim, settled 1/10th of the people in the city (cf. 11:1–2). Once again the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not only lived on lands promised them by God, but also occupied the city God chose as a resting place for His name.
Danger! Danger! Danger! (Neh. 5)
A favorite TV show of mine, long even off reruns, was “Space Family Robinson.” One of the characters was a rotund robot, who each show would sense some approaching threat and cry out, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” The danger might be a meteor storm or a space pirate or the breakup of a planet. But it was always a threat that the family met and overcame together. Reading Nehemiah 5 reminds us that the greatest dangers to God’s family aren’t from without, but from within. Nehemiah easily met outsiders’ ridicule, their threats, and their attempts at intimidation. What really threatened his mission was injustice in Judah itself! Wealthy Jews took advantage of their neighbors’ poverty to defraud them. These injustices created more poverty, hunger, and despair. How could the people of Judah unite to build Jerusalem’s walls when so many were distracted by their deep personal needs? It’s the same today in Christ’s church. The greatest hindrance to accomplishing the mission Christ has set for us is sin. When we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters, when we put money ahead of ministry, when we are insensitive to others’ hurts, we defraud our brothers and sisters of the love that can meet their needs and bind the body together in unity. Only when we cleanse ourselves of sin, and practice Christian love within our fellowships, will the church be ready for mission.
Sins of Christians must be addressed if we are to have an impact on our world.