In The Face of Opposition
In chapter 3, there was a significant progress in the rebuilding of the walls. We learned that ministry is community (see my blog on Nehemiah 3). Chapter 4 begins with Sanballat mad. He was angry and greatly incensed (v.1). So he unleashed a series of verbal onslaught:
1…He ridiculed the Jews, 2and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
And Tobiah joined him in ridiculing:
3Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”
This was an insult to the people. A fox is a small animal. To claim that a fox can tumble a huge wall questions the strength of it.
Responding with an Imprecatory Prayer
But Nehemiah, always ready to retaliate with spiritual weapons, responded with a prayer:
4Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.5Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
This may seem for a plea of revenge. Did not the apostle Paul exhort us not to seek revenge (Romans 12:19)? Did not our Lord Jesus command us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36)?
This prayer is called an imprecatory prayer. It is not a prayer seeking for revenge. Rather, it’s a call to God’s holiness and justice and that His will be done. I also learned from a pastor that when such prayer is said, the one praying submits himself to God’s justice. So be careful. It’s not an easy prayer after all.
Despite the discouragements from the Nehemiah’s enemies, they continued working, for the worked with all their heart (v.6). They weren’t bothered. They just kept on working.
Not Yet Done
But their enemies (the men of Ashdod were added to the list, v.7) weren’t done with them. When they learned that verbal attacks did not work, they turned into a more devastating option—threats of physical attack (v.8). But Nehemiah again prayed and was confident in God, that he only posted a guard to meet the threats (v.9).
Now, due to the huge task, the people were losing energy (v.10). There was so much rubble, which literally means dust. This was due to the prior destruction of the wall. They have to clear these out first before they can rebuild the wall.
In verse 11 and 12, news of threat continued to surge in. The Jews living near their enemies were really worried, as seen in the frequency (ten times) of the reports. They were really worried simple because they were surrounded by the enemies—“Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Samaria is in the north, Ammon in the east, Ashdod in the west, and the Arabs are from the south. These really caused them great anxiety.
In response to this, Nehemiah devised a plan. He organized the people into families (v.13). This was a public declaration of unity. This implies that the people within the family will support one another and will fight with one accord as lead by the family head. He was strategic. He was brilliant!
Then he motivated the people to remember the Lord (v.14). He urged them to dwell in His character—His greatness and awesomeness. Moreover, he urged them to fight for their families and properties (v.14)—things that are of value to them.
In verse 15, God thwarted the plans of their enemies. And Nehemiah and the rest of the people resumed their work.
Nehemiah faced opposition—in the form of verbal attacks and physical threats—and handled it well. He trusted in God. In leadership, we will always deal with opposition. And they will not easily cease. But let us place our confidence in the Lord, who is great and awesome.