Workers And Warriors Nehemiah 4a
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Enthusiastic Soldiers of the Cross -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
When the Spartans marched into battle they advanced with cheerful songs, willing to fight. But when the Persians entered the conflict, you could hear, as the regiments came on, the crack of the whips by which the officers drove the cowards to the fray. You need not wonder that a few Spartans were more than a match for thousands of Persians, that in fact they were like lions in the midst of sheep. So let it be with the church. Never should she need to be forced to reluctant action, but full of irrepressible life, she should long for conflict against everything which is contrary to God. If we were enthusiastic soldiers of the cross we would be like lions in the midst of herds of enemies, and through God's help nothing would be able to stand against us.
Two Sundays ago we saw how the people responded to Nehemiah's challenge to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah recorded the work completed by different people. He described the completed wall in chapter 3. In chapter 4 he takes us back to look at the opposition they encountered along the way. The enemy was happy to leave them alone while the city was in ruins but as soon as Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the Jews he encountered opposition. Chapters 4 to 7 detail this for us. Today we will see 4 types of opposition:
I. Ridicule II. Force III.Discouragement IV.Fear
Nehemiah 4:1-3 But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned? Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.
a. Sanballat Ridicules
Sanballat and his cohorts had already laughed at them when they first decided to rebuild. This time he brought his brethren and the army of Samaria along too. This was to intimidate Israel. By having them present he also had extra people to laugh at the Jews when he scorned them. Sanballat asked five questions that were intended to make fun of the Jews and their work. Let's look at their ridicule.
1. The Workers - What are these feeble Jews doing? The word feeble means withered, miserable. The people were like cut flowers that were fading away. They had no human resources that people could see, but the enemy could not see their great spiritual resources. The people of the world don’t understand that God delights in using feeble instruments to get His work accomplished. 1 Corinthians 1:27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
2. The Work - Will they fortify themselves? This must have evoked gales of laughter from the Samaritan army. How could a remnant of feeble Jews hope to build a wall strong enough to protect the city from the army? This work was far too big for them to complete.
3. Their God - Will they offer sacrifices? implies, It will take more than prayer and worship to rebuild the city! This question was blasphemy against Jehovah God, for Sanballat was denying that God would help His people. Sanballat was ridiculing their faith in God.
4. Their Commitment - Will they finish in a day? suggests that the Jews didn’t know how difficult the task was and would soon call it quits. After all they had tried to rebuild once before and were forced to quit. They wouldn't finish this time either.
5. Their Materials - Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish - burned stones? In his final question, Sanballat ridiculed the materials they were using. The stones were taken out of the rubbish heaps and probably were so old and damaged that they would never last when set into the wall. While it is true that limestone is softened by fire, it is also true that the walls were broken down, while the gates were consumed with fire.
6. The Finished Product - a single fox could break this wall down Tobiah the Ammonite was one of the visiting dignitaries at the Samaritan army inspection; and when it was his turn to make a speech, he ridiculed the finished product. You wouldn’t need an army to knock down the wall; a solitary fox could do it! Of course, much that Sanballat and Tobiah said was true from a human point of view; for the Jewish remnant was weak and poor, and the work was too great for them. But they had great faith in a great God, and that made the difference.
b. Nehemiah's Response - Worked & Prayed
Nehemiah 4:4-6 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders. So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
How did Nehemiah respond to this ridicule? He prayed and asked God to fight the enemy for him. This is the third time you find Nehemiah praying, and it will not be the last time. Nehemiah didn’t allow himself to get detoured from his work by taking time to reply to their words. The Lord had heard the sneering taunts of Sanballat and Tobiah, and He would deal with them in His own way and in His own time. Nehemiah’s prayer resembles the imprecatory psalms, where the Psalmist asks God to punish the wicked. We must remember that Nehemiah was praying as a servant of God concerned for the glory of God. He was not requesting personal vengeance but official vindication for God’s people. The enemy had blasphemously provoked God before the builders, and this was a terrible sin. The opposition of Sanballat and Tobiah against the Jews was in reality opposition to God.
But, Nehemiah also got on with building the wall. He didn't allow the enemy's ridicule to distract him from his task. The people had a mind to work and completed the wall to half its height. Because God's work is so important we mustn't allow the enemy to distract us from it. Satan will always find men keen to scorn the Lord's servants. But we mustn't get into arguments with them or stop working. Firstly we must pray and then press on with the work.
The things people say may hurt us, but they can never harm us, unless we let them get into our system and poison us. If we spend time pondering the enemy’s words, we will give Satan a foothold from which he can launch another attack closer to home. How should we respond to ridicule? We should pray and allow God to fight for us while we get on with the wall. Anything that keeps you from doing what God has called you to do only helps the enemy. Are you listening to the enemy? Have you been drawn into arguments with him? Or do you trust the Lord to vindicate you and get on with building the wall? That's the best thing to do!
a. Sanballat Rallies His Armies
Nehemiah 4:7-8 Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.
When Sanballat saw that ridicule didn't work he changed his tactics. He conspired with his allies to attack Jerusalem and stop the work directly. A common enemy and a common cause brought four different groups together to stop the work on the walls of Jerusalem. The city was now completely surrounded by enemies! Israel faced opponents on every side. Sanballat and the Samaritan army from the north, Tobiah and the Ammonites from the east, Geshem and the Arabs from the south and the Philistines from the west.
God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together, but the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord. As the enemy saw the work progressing, they became angry and decided to plan a secret attack against Jerusalem. Since their words of ridicule didn't stop the work they believed that open warfare would succeed. Through battle the Jews would lose many of their workers. Even if they didn't kill all the Jews they would become afraid and stop working. The plan was devious and the threat very real. How would Nehemiah and the people respond to the challenge?
b. Nehemiah's Response - Watch & Pray
Nehemiah 4:9 Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.
Nehemiah suspected that his enemies would launch an attack, so he posted a guard and encouraged the people to pray. Watch and pray combines faith and works and is a good example for us to follow in our work and our warfare. Colossians 4:2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving. Believers need to be alert. We must watch the battle and be alert to the enemies movements and attacks. Then we can pray wisely. We can ask the Lord of hosts to send reinforcements in to the thick of battle. Mark 14:38 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. The Christian’s battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan and his demonic forces that use flesh and blood to oppose the Lord’s work.
If we hope to win the war and finish the work, we must be sober and prayerful. If we focus on the visible enemy alone and forget the invisible enemy, we are sure to start trusting our own resources; and this will lead to defeat. Paul took this approach too. Ephesians 6:18: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
The enemies attacks are real and well planned. Are you sober and alert? Do you watch out for him? Do you pray to the Lord for strength, wisdom and grace to stand? You need to!
Nehemiah 4:10 Then Judah said, The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.
Pressures from without often create problems from within. It isn’t easy to carry on your work when you are surrounded by danger and daily face the demands of a seemingly impossible task. If the Jews became discouraged, they would defeat themselves; and Sanballat and his allies would never have to wage war.
Discouragement is a key weapon in Satan’s arsenal. It was discouragement that kept Israel from entering the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea. We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than us. The ten unbelieving spies discouraged the heart of the children of Israel; and as a result, the nation wandered in the wilderness forty years until the new generation was ready to conquer the land. We are not able! is the rallying cry of all who take their eyes off the Lord and start looking at themselves and their problems. These discouraged Jewish workers were actually agreeing with the enemy who said they were feeble! Sanballat had openly declared that the work would stop, and it almost did through discouragement.
In the Lord's ministry you learn discouragers are often doubters and compromisers. There is usually something wrong in their spiritual walk. They frequently lack faith in God’s Word, for one thing; and they are primarily interested in their own plans and pursuits. A double minded person is unbelieving and unstable and hinders the work of the Lord. Nehemiah didn’t pay much attention to these complainers but went right on with the work. That’s the best thing to do. If you take time away from your work to listen to everybody who wants your attention, you will never get anything done. Nehemiah got his encouragement from prayer and the promises of God, and occasional complaints by some of the people didn’t upset him.
Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Brave Five Minutes Longer
Lord Wellington said this after his great victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Our men were not braver than the enemy. They were brave five minutes longer. They showed endurance!
How do we handle opposition and pressure from without? There are two ways. We can respond like the people of Judah who grumbled and complained. They believed the words of the enemy and spread them. They complained about their lack of strength and the working conditions. They wanted to quit! Their task hadn't changed, but their focus had. Instead of listening to the Lord they listened to the enemy. Or we can respond like Nehemiah did with faith in God. He got on with the wall. Do you grumble and complain? Or do you ask the Lord for extra strength? Do you strengthen or weaken the work with your words?
a. Sanballat's Rumors
Nehemiah 4:11-12 And our adversaries said, They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease. So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.
Sanballat didn't quit easily. He was a very cunning foe as can be seen by his many different forms of attack. This time he spread rumors amongst the Jews living outside the city that he would sneak in and attack the workers suddenly. These rumors were intended to frighten the workers so that they would stop building. If they stopped the work to fight the enemy he had succeeded. Sanballat wanted to divert their attention away from the work to warfare. How did Nehemiah respond?
b. Nehemiah's Response - Warfare & Work
Nehemiah 4:13 Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
Whether these Jews were merely spreading rumors or helping to promote a conspiracy, we don’t know; but they told the story repeatedly. Nehemiah didn’t respond immediately and probably was praying for God’s guidance. He himself was not afraid of the enemy; but when he saw that his people were starting to become afraid, he began to act.
Only Thing To Fear Is fear Itself
In his 1st Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to a nation in the grip of an economic depression, The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Why? Because fear paralyzes you, and fear is contagious and paralyzes others. Fear and faith cannot live together in the same heart. Why are you fearful, O you of little faith? Matthew 8:26 Frightened people discourage others and help bring defeat
1. Stationed Soldiers
Nehemiah countered these threats. Families fought together to encourage each other.
He stationed soldiers at strategic places around the city. By doing this the enemy couldn't spring a surprise attack. The enemy saw they were prepared for battle.
2. Strengthened Soldiers
Nehemiah 4:14-15 And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses. And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.
Secondly, Nehemiah encouraged the soldiers by reminding them of their great God. The Lord had helped Israel in the past to gain victory. He would help them again. They needed only to trust in Him and rely on His strength. Nehemiah also encouraged them to fight for their families and their homes. Their precious families deserved to be protected. They were worth fighting for. God brought this plot to nothing. When they saw that Jerusalem was armed they called off the attack and Israel got back to the wall. Paul encourages us to do the same thing. Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.
3. Serving Soldiers
Neh 4:16-18a So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built.
Thirdly, Nehemiah made a very strategic decision. He armed his workers. The builders were ready for battle. The workers were also warriors. This principle applies to the Christian life also. We must fight the enemy as we work for the Lord. The Christian life is not a choice between work or warfare, but both. God has provided armour to withstand the Adversary. Eph 6:13-17 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness; And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: We must arm ourselves for battle everyday.
4. Sober Soldiers
Nehemiah 4:18b-23 And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us. So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day. So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.
Fourthly, Nehemiah was sober. He placed soldiers on watch with spears. He had a man with a trumpet near him to rally the troops to battle should the enemy strike. He asked the workers from the villages to remain in Jerusalem overnight to provide extra soldiers. Nehemiah and the people were sober. They were ready to fight day or night. This was important because they never knew when the enemy would attack. 1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. Sober means not drunk, whilst vigilant means alert watchful.
Every believer is involved in a battle. If we want to be victorious we must not underestimate the enemy. Are you aware of the his attacks? Are you prepared for them? Do you strengthen yourself in the Lord? Are you using the armour that God has provided? Are you warring and working for the Lord? Both are required! Are you sober and alert night and day?
I. Ridicule - The enemy ridiculed the workers and the work. He also ridiculed their God. Nehemiah responded by praying and working. He trusted God to vindicate him.
II. Force - The enemy rallied an army against God's people. Satan never lacks helpers. Nehemiah responded by praying and watching. He trusted God to help and stayed alert.
III.Discouragement -This was an inside job. The tribe of Judah took their eyes off the Lord. They believed the enemies lies. Nehemiah responded by getting on with the wall.
IV.Fear - The enemy spread rumors to frighten the people. He wanted to distract them from the work. Nehemiah responded by stationing soldiers at strategic places. He also strengthened the people in the Lord. He provided armor for the workers. The workers became warriors too. And he made sure they were sober and alert night and day.
1 Peter 5:10-11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.