Nehemiah—Building & Battling
The Book of Nehemiah is full of significant lessons for us all to learn. It offers us hope after times of captivity and oppression. It gives us a new hope and future to look forward to. Nehemiah teaches us about prayer and tears, confession and courage, and the leadership that is needed to facilitate the processes of rebuilding. One of the lessons we discovered last week was the importance of team work; arm to arm workers dedicated to the rebuilding and repairing of the gates and walls surrounding Jerusalem. We might think that once Nehemiah had carefully assigned everyone to a particular gate or section of the wall, that everything would go smoothly. However, God’s work seldom goes forward without opposition, whether from the outside and from within. And yet, in all of this Nehemiah was committed to seeing the Glory of God restored over his land and the city of Jerusalem.
As we begin to look at Nehemiah Chapters 4-6 we discover many instances of the enemy attacking the work of the people. I believe that whenever you begin to step out in a visionary work that is divinely inspired you will encounter opposition. As you begin to build you will find yourself battling against the schemes and strategies of Satan. Today, let’s begin to gain some understanding about how to build and withstand the attacks of the enemies as we look at the Book of Nehemiah. These chapters present several points highlighting the opposing of Nehemiah’s work. As well, there are specific responses from God’s people that help them to become courageous and defeat the enemy. We know that the battle is not against flesh and blood. Referring to Satan, Paul wrote, “For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Let’s now discover how to build and battle together for God’s glory.
Neh 4-6 - Building and Battling
The people of God always have enemies. This is most true in Nehemiah’s day as he rebuilt the gates and repaired the walls of Jerusalem. We can learn important lessons to put into practice personally and as a church family as we seek to move forward in the good work God has placed before us. As we seek to “Apprehend God’s Heart and Fulfill His Dreams” there will be opposition. “Becominga grace-full, loving, accepting and forgiving community of believers from all nations that celebrate each other and who are committed to bringing souls into God’s kingdom” will be resisted by the enemy of God. We must be careful to make sure we are part of the solution and not the problem when opposition arises. We must learn the lessons from Scripture and from history in order to become victorious followers of Christ.
Here are the specific strategies used against Nehemiah and his work:
- They attacked the Jewish people with insults (Neh 4:1–6)
Nothing infuriates the enemies of God more than the people of God being busy with the work of the Kingdom of God. In Nehemiah’s day the enemy was infuriated and throws all kinds of evil insults towards the Jewish people re-building the city. Sanballat calls them names - feeble Jews, he questions their ability to work, he blasphemes by insinuating they will not be able to sacrifice in the Temple. He sees the rubble from which the city was being rebuilt and implies it is an impossible task. Tobiah pokes even more insult towards the workers by saying a fox walking on the wall would break it down… We must remember that the enemy does not play fair. His insults and ridicules are very real and can have devastating effects on our lives.
So how does Nehemiah respond to this ridicule? He prays and asks God to fight against the enemy for him. This is the third time you find Nehemiah praying and it will not be the last time. Nehemiah did not give the insults of the enemy any attention but he did pray a very strong prayer against their enemies as seen in Neh 4:4-5. As a result of patiently enduring the insults of the enemy and coming into agreement in prayer they “rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (Neh 4:6).
- Threats of war (Neh 4:7–9).
God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together in unity, but the enemies of God have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord. We now see the enemies of God angry and conspiring to attack the city. One of the weapons the enemy uses against God’s people is intimidation. Threats, fear and intimidation are the fingerprints of the enemy.
Nehemiah suspects something is wrong and engages in another prayer to God. However, he does not stop with prayer this time but sets up a guard day and night to watch over the city. Prayer is good but it must be followed up in obedience to God’s direction and wisdom.
Let’s read on further - Neh 4:10-23. It is under this threat of war that the people continued to work, but we also see the effects of the strategy of the enemy. Neh 4:10 - “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
Nehemiah has cause to be concerned about all the intimidation of the enemy, but now we see the people getting tired of work and becoming discouraged. How does Nehemiah respond?
Nehemiah shows great wisdom. He places people in front of their homes and arms them to fight. He gives them words of encouragement forcing the enemy to turn away discouraged. Finally, Nehemiah gets the people back to work, this time with a weapon in one hand and a shovel in the other.
We are told to “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33; Mark14:38). The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour - therefore we must be alert at all times. We must not give in to fear but be filled with the Spirit of power, love and a sound mind.
- Selfishness as a result of the battle Neh 5:1-19.
Up to this point the attacks of the enemy had not been successful to stop the works of God. As a result of the opposition and threats the Jewish people became more and more self-preserving. Selfishness is a strategy of the enemy to take our attention off of the things of God and to get us thinking only about ourselves and what we want. Selfishness means putting myself first at the expense of others, it is exploiting others so I can be happy, it is pursing my ambitions first thereby taking advantage of others. Sadly there is no record of the rebuilding process in Neh 5.
Unfortunately that is what happens to the Jewish people in Neh 5. As a result of the challenges money became scarce and people were buying and selling for personal selfish reasons. Common people were hungry, the landowners were selling their land just to survive, and others complained about taxes paid to the King of Persia. Lastly, there were wealthy Jews who were exploiting their own people for selfish reasons.
How does Nehemiah respond? At first he was angry because of their selfishness and being so spiritually backslidden. He saw it not as an economic problem, but as a spiritual problem. Nehemiah took some time to think about the circumstances and then he brought rebuke to the people (Neh 5: 7–11), reminding them of their freedom from captivity only to put each other into financial bondage. The enemy must have enjoyed seeing the Jews so selfish towards one another.
Nehemiah then exhorts them to walk in the fear of the Lord and to follow his unselfish example as a leader. In the end the people committed to obey both God’s Word and Nehemiah’s. This would have been a troubling and sacrificial time for Nehemiah. Here we see his people prayer offered to the Lord - Remember me with favour, O my God, for all I have done for these people (Neh 5:19).
- They tried compromise (Neh 6:1–4)
In this passage we discover that the walls were repaired so that there were no gaps. The enemies of Nehemiah try a new strategy - they try to get Nehemiah to compromise by inviting him to a friendly meeting. We are told we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1). The enemies strategy was subtle - “if I can’t beat them, then join them” and then take over from the inside.
How does Nehemiah respond? He does not meet with them or enter into conversation. Why? He knew they were lying and would try to kill him. Secondly, Nehemiah was more focused on the greatness of God than the distractions of the enemy. Lastly, these enemies had nothing in common with God’s people.
- Slander (Neh 6:5–9)
This is the fifth time Nehemiah’s enemies directly approach him, this time with a letter of accusation and slander. They accuse him of planning a rebellion against King Artaxerxes and placing a new king on the throne in Jerusalem.
How does Nehemiah respond? By telling them that their report is false. And by praying once again - Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands (Neh 6:9).
- Deception (Neh 6:10–14; 17-19)
Deception is one of the greatest schemes of the enemy. Discernment is one of the most important gifts of the Spirit. Shemaiah had shut himself up in his house, pretending to be afraid of the enemy, but in reality he was a secret informer working with the enemy. Shemaiah lied to Nehemiah and tried to frighten him but Nehemiah perceived this scheme and openly refuted Shemaiah’s lies.
As well, in Neh 6:17-19 we see the noble of Judah continuing in their friendship with Tobiah a known enemy of Nehemiah. They sent letters back and forth furthering the intrigue behind Nehemiah’s back. The end result was to try to frighten Nehemiah and get him to stop the rebuilding and repairing work.
How does Nehemiah respond? Again, he prayed for God’s help and then went right back to work. There are times we need to be cautious around so-called Christians who always have advice, their own agenda or maybe they lie behind your back and they never seem to really help the work of God in the moment. Paul tells of his challenges and warned about false brethren in 2 Cor. 11:26.
First and foremost - the work was completed. We see how these various attacks of the enemy caused the people to become discouraged, fearful and selfish. Despite these struggles they learned how to build and battle side by side. None of the enemy’s tactics worked, from the outside or within, and Nehemiah was able to finish the work - “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Neh 6:15-16).
God is in the business of building his church and he tells us in Scripture that the “gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 16:18). Yes we will encounter various schemes and strategies of the enemy to keep us from God’s glorious work. However we have seen that the enemy can be overcome and that God’s people can rise up with their gifts and talents fulfilling his dreams. Nehemiah overcame the enemy by “directed prayer” and continuing the work. He didn't become distracted by the attacks of the enemy, he simply prayed and worked even more.
This work was completed with the help of God, with all the hard work of the people, and after all the battling side by side against the enemy - “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Nehemiah began in prayer “So I prayed” (Neh. 2:4). Then we read of his arrival in Jerusalem where he strengthens the hands of the people to build and battle together. Now we reach the end of this part of the story; the gates and walls have been rebuilt. This is now a new beginning. In the chapters ahead we see Nehemiah protecting what the people have accomplished with God’s help.
This reminds me of the life of church. One vision is fulfilled only to have another placed before us. This is the old and the new working side-by-side seeking to accomplish God’s dreams. We continue to work together side by side. We continue to battle against the enemy by drawing near to God in prayer. God is faithful and he will continue to lead us on.
As we consider how to apply these chapters from Nehemiah to our lives personally and as a church community, several things come to mind. It is without question that we need to be yielded and walking in obedience with God. The Lord has a desire for his church to walk together as we seek to “Apprehend God Heart and Fulfill His Dreams”. The title of the message today was Building and Battling… We all have a work to accomplish here at Courts of Praise. And we have an enemy who wants to disrupt and stop God’s purpose and vision here.
- We must stand our ground together, united, arm to arm, as we stand against the threats, fear, mocking and accusation from the enemy.
- Our gifts and talents are to be used for the common good of everyone and not held selfishly. In other words, when things get tough don’t withdraw or don't withhold. Give of your time, gifts and money for the sake of God’s work.
- The battle is not against flesh and blood. We must pray to our Great God as we stand against the enemy and stand with God and each other.