Nehemiah has a burden to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. He has secured permission from the king and rallied the workers. Things started well so it is not a surprise that they encountered significant opposition. Warren Wiersbe noted: “When things are going well, get ready for trouble, because the enemy doesn’t want to see the work of the Lord make progress.” In today’s sermon, we will see the three phases of opposition and notice how Nehemiah responded. In this, we pray that God would strengthen us in our good work when we encounter opposition.
Phase 1: Ridicule & Anger
The first work of opposition usually comes through ridicule and/or mockery. We learned earlier in chapter 2 verse 10: “When Sanballat…Tobiah…heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” Later, in 2:19, “when Sanballat…Tobiah…, and Geshem…heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’” In chapter 4, Sanballat mocked the workers; calling them “these feeble Jews” (4:2) and Tobiah mocked the work: “Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down’” (4:3).
Phase 2: Intimidation & Fear
If ridicule and anger does not work, the enemy will escalate the attacks to intimidation. “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. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it” (4:7-8). Sanballat, Tobiah, and others realized that they needed to escalate their attacks. This was concerning to Nehemiah and the Jews because Sanballat was a Horonite from the north of Jerusalem. Tobiah was an Ammonite from the east of Jerusalem. Geshem was an Arab from the south of Jerusalem. The Ashdodites were from the west of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies.
Phase 3: Deception & Harassment
If ridicule and intimidation do not work, our enemies will escalate the attacks by adding deception and slander. Nehemiah and the people were blessed by God to rebuild the wall in 52 days. “Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were planning to harm me” (6:1-2). They pretended to meet with Nehemiah peacefully (maybe deceive him into letting them “help” (e.g., sabotage) in the work.
Phase 4: Slander
If none of the above works, the next phase is to specifically target the leader with slander. If Sanballat and the others couldn’t get the people to stop following Nehemah’s leadership through ridicule and intimidation, they figured they needed to try to disqualify Nehemiah from leadership through slander. Sanballat wrote an open letter saying, “It is reported…that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together” (6:5-7). The opposition continued to threaten and intimidate. People tried to kill Nehemiah (6:10) and “Tobiah sent letters to frighten me” (6:19).
Responding with Grace and Truth
In spite of such tremendous persecution and opposition, how did Nehemiah respond? He responded with grace and truth. Let’s look closer at how Nehemiah responded:
- Ignore Ridicule (if you can) – Nehemiah heard the reports about Sanballat’s mockery and chose to ignore it (2:10). Warren Weirsbe wisely said, “When the enemy laughs at what God’s people are doing, it is usually a sign that God is going to bless His people in a wonderful way.” Nehemiah chose to not reply to his enemies but instead took his concerns to God in prayer.
- Refute (with facts) – Nehemiah responded to the lies of Sanballat when accused of rebelling against the King. At first he responded by praising “the God of heaven” who “will give us success” (2:20) and rebuking Sanballat by telling him (my paraphrase) “this is none of your business so stay out of it.”
- Pray (without ceasing) – When Sanballat and Tobiah mocked their work, Nehemiah prayed for God to hear their cries for help and to judge their enemies.
- Work (with confidence) – While praying, Nehemiah and the people kept working. They were not to stop the work in order to dwell on their problems. They devoted themselves to the good work. He said, “We prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night” (4:9). In other words, pray for God’s protection and lock your doors!
- Encourage (with wisdom) – They were struggling to continue but saw Nehemiah was wise in the work and made preparation for the protection of the workers.
- Rebuke (with grace and truth) – Nehemiah not only kept his eyes on the problems outside of Jerusalem, but also on the problems within. He called them to treat one another justly. The rulers and nobles were exploiting the people by lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest. Nehemiah stopped this practice among the rulers and refused to do it himself.
- Stand (in faith) – Nehemiah responded to the slander of his enemies by seeing through their deception and refusing to “take the bait.” Nehemiah responded by refuting the lies of Sanballat. “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind” (6:8). Nehemiah prayed, “O God, strengthen my hands” (6:9).
As we begin a great work of God, let us stand firm. Remember Jesus! He was full of “grace and truth” (John 1:17). Let us have wisdom to know when to respond and when to ignore. Refuse to back down or compromise when you are obeying God. Pray always. Stop reading hate mail. Devote your time to God and His mission. Fix your eyes upon Jesus! If God’s enemies are opposing you, it’s probably because you are doing something they don’t like.
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