Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 19 2019 - Nehemiah 4 – Opposition

The walls of Jerusalem are going up but, as they grow, so also does the opposition. Before the Jews returned to Jerusalem, Sanballat, as governor of Samaria to the north had got used to thinking that Judah and Jerusalem were territories under his oversight. He views Nehemiah, who had been appointed governor of Judah (see 5:14), as a threat to his power. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem suggests it will soon become a centre of fortified opposition to his rule. So he, along with his associate Tobias, seek to do all that they can to prevent the completion of the work.

Sanballat starts with a campaign of ridicule, suggesting that the Jews really have not understood the scale of the task and that they do not have the strength and manpower to complete it. Tobiah joins in by suggesting that their feeble efforts would be destroyed if so much as a fox were to jump up on the walls. Nehemiah's answer to such mockery is renewed prayer (vv. 4-5). He calls on the Lord to turn back the insults aimed at the builders on their own heads. Then, having committed their work to God in prayer, they carried on and, "rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart" (v. 6).

Seeing that their campaign of mockery had not succeeded, Sanballat and Tobiah now stirred up opposition among the nations surrounding Jerusalem – the Ammonites to the east, the Arabs to the south and the Philistines from Ashdod to the west: "They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it" (v. 8). Once again, Nehemiah's first response is to turn to prayer and then he organised guards to keep watch day and night to warn of trouble.

Nehemiah has faced threats from others, but had now to deal with an internal threat. The people of Judah began to grow weary of the task and of the amount of work that still needed doing. It would seem that some of the mockery has gone home for their complaint in verse ten seems to echo the earlier mockery of Sanballat and Tobiah. Nehemiah faces fears within and threats from without. How can the work carry on under such circumstances?

Nehemiah redoubled the guards around the city walls and then assembled the people together. He told them, "Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes" (v. 14). Nehemiah wants them to understand that they do not stand alone against the opposition of all around them; the Lord is on their side and will enable them to succeed in the task that he has laid upon their hearts. So they returned to their building work with fresh zeal and with renewed determination.

As Christians, we may often feel that we are surrounded by those who mock our faith and seek to undermine what we believe and destroy the credibility of our mission to make Christ known. We also may sometimes grow tired in the work of the kingdom and overwhelmed by the scale of our task. We need to remember that we have a spiritual enemy who is seeking to discourage us and to destroy the work of Christ. We need to be aware of his schemes and to keep watch against his attacks. We need to defend ourselves by putting on the full armour of God. We also need to go on the offensive with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God – ensuring always that we are equipped with the gospel of peace. And above all, we need to give ourselves to prayer in the confidence that the Lord whom we serve is great and awesome and that the Saviour who has called us to follow him will not abandon us but will go before us and remain with us in all we seek to do for him. We need to be "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Father God, guard us against arrogance and self-righteousness, but help us also to stand firm against all opposition to your work. Enable us to encourage one another and particularly those who have grown weary in the work of the gospel. Keep us persistent in prayer, especially for those of your people who face physical opposition and threats to themselves and their families; Lord, protect them and keep them strong in you. Give us each the strength we need to be effective in the work of building your kingdom until that day when the task shall be complete and Jesus returns in glory.

Peter Misselbrook