Nehemiah 4:1-23 | Don’t Be Afraid Of Them

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Don’t Be Afraid Of Them

Nehemiah 4:1-23

Key Verse 4:14

“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’”

Nehemiah was commissioned by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, a tedious and almost impossible task for a man who didn’t know anything about wall building. Why did God chose such man for such a mission. As we read the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah himself and unintentionally tells us much about himself, attributes and virtues he held which tell us in turn about the kind of man he was. He didn’t have to know anything about wall building. But he did have to be the kind of person God can work through. If you do not know how to work with others, and others find you difficult to work with, it is likely that you don’t know how to work with God, and God also finds you difficult to work with. But not Nehemiah. Granted, God chose him by his one sided grace. But it should not escape us that Nehemiah was the kind of person who can work with others, and whom others can work with. He also knew how to work with God, and he knew how to let God work in and through him. He tell us that, not directly though but indirectly. He begins his book by showing us what was on his heart. He had it made in the palace of the king in a top position. But his heart was not consumed by the ease and comfort of life as many who let their jobs and material possessions dictate their lives. His heart was with God and with God’s people. His heart was especially with those who had decided to leave the comforts of the Persian empire, and ventured back to Jerusalem, the city God loved. He wept bitterly when he heard they were suffering. His heart went out to them, and he longed to help them. He does not tell us this in his story. But here is a true shepherd after God’s own heart. When few cared about what was happening in God’s house, he deeply cared. So he was truly a compassionate man whom the compassionate God could work with.

In his anguish he did not know what to do. It was truly a situation beyond human resolution. And he tells us what he did. He prayed. He just prayed. He brought the aching in his heart to God in prayer. And not only that, but he poured himself out before God in prayer. In other words, he prayed with all his heart. His anguish was serious. It required serious prayer. This was a man who deeply believed in God, so he deeply believed in prayer. It wasn’t easy though. It required some sacrifices. He needed to sacrifice time and effort, and the some of the daily comforts and conveniences he was accustomed to. Many people pray, But how many are ready to sacrifice a few things in order to bring their anguish to God! And yet everyone has some anguish or another in his or her life. Nehemiah prayed because he believed that God hears his people’s prayers. He prayed because he knew that no one can solve his problem expect Almighty God. Nehemiah prayed because he did not know what to do, but that God surely does. He doesn’t tell us what kind of man he was. But we can tell that he was a man of prayer, the kind of man who knows how to depend on God and whom God can work with.

When he prayed not knowing what to do, God laid it on his heart to take the responsibility of these suffering people on himself. He laid it on his heart to help them in their disgrace to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Who knows how to help God’s people more than God? They were a people so deeply oppressed by 70 years of exile— not only from the promised land, but worse yet, exiled from God. Their sins had robbed them of dignity and honor and had stripped them of their identity as God’s holy people. They had no self esteem. No self confidence. Their return to Jerusalem was a step of faith in coming back to God. But it was not enough to raise their spirits and to stand them as a people of God. Who knows how to help such people? Only God does. And he put it on Nehemiah’s heart to go to Jerusalem and to rebuild its walls. Only God knew that in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, a people and a nation of God would be rebuilt. In rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, their hearts and their spirits would be rebuilt and they would stand again as a people of faith— a people belonging to God. So. God laid it on his heart to do this. But it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to require some sacrifices. Whether a man is willing to make sacrifices for God or not, determines whether God is going to work through him. And Nehemiah was that kind of a man. He had an awesome job, a job no man in his right mind would give up for anything in the world. Likely he had a family he dearly loved. He had friends, and associates. Nehemiah doesn’t tell us anything about the sacrifices he had to make, nor of the struggle that raged within him— struggles to embrace such an enormous responsibility— struggles to believe he could meet God’s enormous expectations— struggles to give up everything in order to do what God wanted him to do. He only tells us that he went to the king to get permission to go to Jerusalem. Through that we see the kind of man he was. He was a man willing to give up the world— anything— in order to fulfill the will of God. He was a man of sacrifices— a man with no worldly attachments— the kind of man whom God can work through.

Who is the man or woman whom God could work through? Nehemiah was that kind of a man. A man of prayer, of compassion and of sacrifice. A man willing to do as the Lord wills whatever the need many be, whatever the cost may be. So, after securing the king’s blessing, against all hope, and armed with determination, Nehemiah set out for Jerusalem. When he arrived he surveyed the enormous task ahead of him. It was a difficult mission because the walls were miles and miles of rubble and broken stones. But he had a more difficult task ahead of him than rebuilding the walls. How could he get these people who were dispirited and despaired and disgraced to work with him? How could he get them to work with each other to rebuild the walls? Who would oppose him? Who would complain? Who would mock? Nehemiah was not a foolish man. He knew that what he was about to propose to them was outrageous. But it was God who wanted this work done. Nehemiah could have prepared speeches and arguments to persuade them. But unsurprisingly he didn’t! This was also a revelation about what kind of a person he was. He was a man who knew how to work with God. He did not calculate what’s possible and what’s impossible. He did not rely on human ingenuity or persuasion powers. Nor did he doubt the power of God to accomplish God’s will. Nehemiah understood that to work with God one thing is required. Reveal the will of God to the people, then stand back and let God work his purpose. In chapter 2:17-18 we read the simple words he spoke to the people which bound them together in one heart and mind and sealed them as one man ready to serve God’s purpose. He writes: “I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work.”

“So they began this good work”! It was a marvel that people from every walk of life put their heart to the work. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, those in positions of leadership and the common folk, men and even women lined up side by side, one next to the other and labored along the miles’ long wall. They all worked together along that great and broken wall. How could a people so diverse and so different one from the other unite towards that common goal? It was none other than the hand of God that bound them as one and set them to fulfill his great will to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. We are confident that God cares little for shifting lands and crumbling walls here on earth, as compared with the Kingdom of God. But it was urgent that they rebuild those walls together, and in doing so, to be restored in heart and spirit as the people of God. Those who are oppressed by their own sins seldom recognize the love of God and his desire to build and rebuild their shattered hearts and lives. They seldom recognize God’s wisdom to restore them— not miraculously— but through simple things such as an effort to work together, to do a menial job of laying a stone upon a stone. And there are so many who would continue and wallow in their sins rather than to humble themselves to serve a menial task. These people were crushed by years of exile, years of a pronounced distance from the God whom they once worshiped and served. Nothing could revive their hearts. Nothing could strengthen their spirits. But God had a plan. Work together to rebuild the walls, and you will no longer remain in disgrace. You would rise once again to be a people proud and fearsome to fulfill God’s purpose in your lives. And so they did. Chapter 3 is the story of how they worked together to rebuild the walls. The walls slowly rose from the dust and rubble of ruin. Nehemiah had almost accomplished the mission God set upon him.

Nehemiah almost accomplished his purpose but not fully. To work together rebuilding the walls certainly was a glorious accomplishment. But it was not the end of his mission as God’s instrument. In the work of God, whether in building or rebuilding, there are always forces working against it in an effort to stop it, or at least to hinder it. Satan’s work has always stood against God’s work. Wherever there is faith, Satan sows doubt and fear. Wherever there is hope, he sows hopelessness and despair. Wherever there is love Satan sows division and hate. Whenever God is building something, Satan is quick to wreck it. For this reason the people of God have always found themselves engaged in battles on all fronts. Especially battles within. The battles within are the fiercest of all battles because they require the man or woman of God to stand and fight against the human realities around them. The human realities around us— our circumstances, our situations— have a strong influence on us because they always seem to be the most practical and logical and the right thing to do in the world. And ever since God worked in history, he has taught his people the urgency of looking beyond the realities around them, and fighting with faith. In history when the people of God were surrounded by enemies more numerous and more powerful than they, who stood to be absolutely defeated, God had Isaiah the prophet tell them these words: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Is.7:9) It was a remarkable strategy considering the situation they were in. But this has been the strategy God would have his people implement— always.

Nehemiah’s was in a similar situation. Chapter 4 is the story of the battle that took place at the walls of Jerusalem. It was not a battle of arms. It was a battle of faith. And that was the hardest part of Nehemiah’s mission. The situation was bleak. The reality was overwhelming. What would he do in the face of this overwhelming situation? What else does Nehemiah unintentionally tell us about himself? In this chapter we see the warrior in him— God’s warrior— the soldier of Jesus Christ— who is not intimidated by the situation, but is rather armed with weapons that the enemy cannot possibly overcome. They had all the human means to crush the workers and to stop the work. But Nehemiah had his unwavering faith in God. And now he needed to convey that upon the people. The battle was not going to be easy at all. But he was ready for it. What kind of man could work with God whom God could work through? The kind of man who is not swayed by the human circumstances and realities, but stands by his faith in God— and for that faith he would fight to the end.

Read verses 1-3. “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and 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?” Tobiah 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!” Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, and his reasons for despising Nehemiah and the Jews may vary. He may have wanted to rule Jerusalem as well, and the arrival of Nehemiah by the approval of the king may have spoiled his chances. He was a foreigner whose interests in Jerusalem was certainly not spiritual. Together with another foreigner, Tobiah the Ammonite, he paraded the armies of Samaria outside the walls of Jerusalem in a show of power. He wanted to stop the Jews from rebuilding the walls. It was his first attempt to stop the work. And his strategy was to discourage the people. Indeed the workers were feeble and their work was an impossible work. They looked ridiculous. Their hope to rebuild looked hopeless. The strategy to discourage them and to ridicule them and the work of God is a long time favorite of the devil. Most work of God in history looked similar to this work, weak and hopeless, a waste of time. The manger of Jesus looked as weak and feeble as this work on the wall. But Jesus’ manger was mightier than the throne and empire of Roman Caesar.

Did their strategy to discourage the workers work? Read verses 4-5. “Hear 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. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.” Nehemiah was a man of God, who knew how to work with God. He knew the work of the devil when he saw it. He also knew that the devil is too powerful for feeble men, even as strong as Nehemiah himself, to overcome. So Nehemiah did the only thing he or anyone in his situation could do. He prayed to God. His words “hear us” tell us that Nehemiah did not come to God alone. He came with all the people working on the wall. “Hear us” tells us that Nehemiah taught the people to come to God in times of discouragement. It was a battle that was much harder than if those enemies ransacked Jerusalem and the workers with swords and arrows. It was difficult because in times of trouble, men first want to seek a practical resolution to their problems, and then afterwards pray. But Nehemiah brought the people to God in prayer. He was a man of authority. His pride could have caused him to retaliate insult for insult, spite for spite. But he was a humble man who knew how to pray and leave matters in God’s capable hands. And when they had done praying, verse 6 tells us what they did. “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.”

Look at verses 7-9. “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” These people were sure that their strategy of discouragement would greatly work to stop the people from finishing the work on the wall. But they saw that the repairs were going along well with no sign of stopping. That angered them greatly and moved to a different strategy. Nehemiah tells us that they began to plot together to come and fight against Jerusalem and the people who were working on the wall. To ridicule the work of God and the workers is one thing, but to plot to fight them and harm them in order to physically stop the work on the wall was a new and dangerous thing. As a result of this deadly plot look at how the people round about Jerusalem were reacting. Look at verses 10-12. “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work. Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” The strategy of fear was very effective. Even the people of God who lived outside Jerusalem who saw the armies gathering for attack were greatly fearful. They also reported as to the condition of the people who were working on the wall. Nehemiah had prayed again when he had heard of the new plot for attack. But he could not stop the people from falling into fear. Fear is a worse enemy than all the armies of Samaria gathered outside Jerusalem to stop the work. Fear not only stops the work on the wall, it threatened to stop the very work God was doing to rebuild these peoples hearts and spirits and lives. Fear is the worst enemy man could ever have. It destroys his confidence, his hopes and dreams, and replaces them with a sense of despair that turns him away from God and back to his sins for comfort. Nehemiah was facing a dangerous enemy in the hearts of the people. What would he do?

Read verses 13-14. “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” How could he fight against their fears and insecurities? He did two things. First, He planted faith in their hearts. And second, he made soldiers out of them. It was a remarkable strategy of Nehemiah that saw the enemies disperse, and the work on the wall completed to the end. “Don’t be afraid of them.” These are words of wisdom for anyone who knows God and God’s love and power to sustain and to defend and to bless his people. “Remember the Lord” Nehemiah tells them— “the Lord who is great and awesome”— the Lord who routed armies and who built a people out of nothing, who gave victory to the people of God numerous times in history, who works and is working this very day and will continue to work to the end till the coming of his kingdom. Our Lord Jesus had a mission far greater than Nehemiah’s or even Moses’ mission. Jesus’ mission was to die on the cross, and to rise again from the dead, and to offer forgiveness of sin and eternal life to those who would believe.

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