One of the great lessons we get from the book of Nehemiah is that opposition is not a one time event. It would be nice if we could just deal with opposition once and be done with it, wouldn’t it? But we can’t. Because as long as we are doing the work that God calls us to do, we will have to face opposition. Our passage tonight is the second time that Nehemiah has to face opposition. But notice that it’s only the first time that the people are facing it with Nehemiah as their leader. I would say that nothing will discourage people quicker than when their leader deals with opposition the wrong way. If a leader becomes frustrated and worried by opposition, the people will lose heart. If a leader blows up and rants and raves about the opposition, the people lose respect. If a leader backs down and gives in to opposition, the people lose their leader. Now, I want you to remember what kind of leader Nehemiah is. Because we get confused about leadership these days, it’s important to remember where we’ve been. Where did Nehemiah’s burden for leadership come from? It came from God. He was living a comfortable life with a cushy job, hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem. But the fact that the wall was down bothered him. He didn’t get an angelic message from God. He didn’t see a burning bush. He didn’t hear a voice from heaven. He just was bothered by the fact that Jerusalem was in bad shape. He was so bothered that he sent his brother with a team of people in to investigate. When they brought back the report, it was worse than Nehemiah thought. Our impression of leadership would be for Nehemiah to immediately ride into Jerusalem to take charge and fix it. Get rid of all the riff raff in town, lay down the law, take charge and get something done. But not Nehemiah. Remember that he prayed and fasted about the burden to make sure that it was what God would have him to do. And after four months of focused, concentrated prayer, God opened up a door for him to walk through. That was confirmation, right? It was—but it was only partial confirmation. He knew that he was supposed to walk through the door of opportunity and head to Jerusalem. He knew that he was supposed to fully develop the plans for how to fix the problem. He knew that he was supposed to communicate the plan to the people. At that point, he was not supposed to jump right in and start barking orders to the people. He wasn’t riding into town like Patton or Sherman or MacArthur would have. He still had to make sure the people were on board. If they weren’t on board, he couldn’t have done anything except go back to praying. That’s why he had to effectively communicate the plan to them. And, like we talked about last week, he did. And when he effectively communicated the plan to them, he had complete confidence that he was completely in God’s will because the people responded to him. They agreed with him that they needed to rebuild the wall. They said, “Let us rise up and build.” And they did. “They strengthened their hands for this good work.” So what is Nehemiah’s mindset at this point? He felt the burden. He prayed about the burden. The circumstances he experienced were favorable to get started fixing the burden. He made a detailed plan about how to fix the burden. And finally, the people agreed with him and initially rallied around his leadership. Do you think that was confirmation that his plan was of God? Do you think that he had peace that his plan was in God’s will? Of course he did. He had complete confidence that he and the people were in line with what God wanted them to do. Don’t underestimate that. Because that is what determines how we react to opposition when it comes. If Nehemiah hadn’t gone through each of those steps, he might not have known for sure that he was doing the right thing. And if he didn’t know that he was doing what God wanted him to do, how do you think he would have reacted to opposition when it came? “Well, since we’re facing difficulties, it must mean that God’s not really in it.” “Since we’re facing difficulties, I might not be the man for this job.” “Since we’re facing difficulties, maybe we’d just better quit till things cool down a bit.” But if Nehemiah would have reacted any of those ways, he would have been out of God’s will. God’s will was for His name to be glorified. And it was His will to be glorified by his children, the Jews. And the only way His name would be glorified through them is if they were no longer a reproach to Him. And the only way they would no longer be a reproach to Him would be if they would get Jerusalem fixed. Nehemiah understood that more than anyone. He understood that because he had laid the proper ground work. Or should I say that he laid the proper knee work. It had taken him nearly a year of preparation and prayer to get to this point. Because of that he knew that he was doing the right thing. And because of that confidence, he was able to face the opposition head on.
We’ve met two of these guys in verse 19 before. We’ve met Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite before. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria and Tobiah was the governor of Ammon. They didn’t like the fact that there was a new governor in town. They liked Jerusalem exactly the way it was. No wall meant no threat to them. No threat to their power or their standing before the king. They didn’t want to have to share their toys with anybody. But now we see one more person—Geshem the Arabian. In all of the Medo-Persian empire, Sanballat and Tobiah were a couple of small players. But Geshem was a different story. Geshem was the governor of the very large and powerful territory we know of as northern Saudi Arabia. His territory technically belonged to the king, but he was so large and powerful that he pretty much acted as an ally instead of a vassal state. He freely governed over most of the Arab tribes including Edom and even the southern part of Judah. He was the big boy at the table. As a matter of fact, one commentator says that his name means bulky or stout. If a group of governors met with the king, Geshem would be sitting at the king’s right hand. That’s how powerful he was. When Nehemiah refused to back down from Sanballat and Tobiah the first time he met them… it seems that they went for some reinforcements. Now, these three men probably didn’t just show up by themselves in Jerusalem. Governors didn’t travel that way—especially very important governors like Geshem. They probably had very large delegations with them. They were probably decked out in their full regalia. All of these huge delegations in their full diplomatic dress lined up on the outskirts of burnt out, broken down Jerusalem. What a sight it must have been. Here was the ragtag remnant staring out from behind the rubble. Nehemiah had just convinced them of the importance of the job they had before them. Do you think that as they looked out over the rubble and saw those powerful envoys in front of them… do you think they might have started to see their job as impossible? When they heard all of those fine and fancy and powerful people laughing at them, do you think they began to look down at their feet? When they hurled insults and made fun of them, do you think their hearts began to melt? Of course it did. But that’s when leadership steps up. And that’s when Nehemiah stepped up. Leadership that is fully prayed up and knows that the task at hand is truly God’s will is bold. It is bold enough to stand in the face of the enemy. It is bold enough to stand in the face of opposition. It is bold enough to encourage the faithful and stand strong against the faithless. It is bold enough to defend the plan and that’s what Nehemiah did here. If, as a leader you know that you are in God’s will, you will defend your plan. First, you will defend your plan by defending your commission from God.
You will defend your commission from God. What was the first response Nehemiah had to his opposition? In verse 20 he said, “The God of heaven, He will prosper us.” Do you see how easy that is? When you know that your burden is from God… and you’ve confirmed it through prayer… and God’s people are initially behind you… then you know that God is in charge. If you step out in leadership to accomplish a burden that God has given you, don’t you think He’s going to see you through? He’s not going to get you out on a limb just so that He can saw it off. When you are obedient and faithful in leading God’s people to accomplish God’s work, He will prosper you. He certainly prospered Nehemiah. Remember that we’re not talking about a big named blue blood leader here. We’re talking about a food taster. He wasn’t a military champion that could wow the people with his accomplishments. Sanballat and Tobiah weren’t scared of him. Much less Geshem. Nobody could have blamed Nehemiah for completely withering and kowtowing before this opposition. Nobody except God could have. Because God had given Nehemiah the burden. He had given him the opportunity. He had given him the resources. He had given him the plan. And He had given him the people. Just like He will give you all of those things when you step out in leadership over the burden that He has given you. Are you sufficient for the task? I doubt it. I’m certainly not. But do you know what? God is. The God of heaven is. And if it’s His will, then He will prosper us. God’s ability and desire to prosper us in doing His will is never in question. What is in question is the next part of verse 20. Do you see the very next word after “he will prosper us?” The very next word is “therefore”. God’s desire to prosper us in doing His will is never in doubt. He is God and will prosper us. The only thing in question is our obedience. And that’s the second part of defending your plan. You will defend your plan by defending your submission to God.
You will defend your submission to God. Because Nehemiah knew that it was God’s will for them to rebuild the wall according to the plans that he had made… he knew that God would prosper them. But he knew that God would only prosper them if they were obedient in doing the work. Right in the middle of verse 20, he said, “Therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Did Nehemiah know how Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem were going to react? They probably had enough in their envoys to crush the Jews. Later on they would call the Jews feeble. They were probably not too far off in their description. But it didn’t matter to Nehemiah how they were going to react. He had the same attitude that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had when they stood before another Middle Eastern king a few generations before. Nebuchadnezzar had set up an idol and commanded that everyone bow before it. But the three Hebrew children refused. When Nebuchadnezzar told them that he was going to throw them into the fiery furnace, they stood their ground. They knew they were in God’s will, so they had nothing to fear. This is what they told Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Nehemiah didn’t know what those governors’ reaction would be. They could have immediately taken up arms and crushed the Jews. That wasn’t what was important. What was important was that the people obeyed what God wanted them to do. God would prosper them—they just didn’t know how. All that they knew was that they were supposed to obey. They were supposed to arise and build the wall in the face of overwhelming obstacles. They weren’t supposed to worry about the obstacles or the opposition. They were supposed to arise and build. Therefore… that’s what they did. When somebody steps up in leadership here for a burden that God has given them, are you ready to do the same? No matter what the obstacles or the opposition? If we agree that it is God’s will for us to accomplish the task God has burdened someone with… are we ready to arise and do it? Nehemiah defended his plan by defending his commission from God and defending his submission to God. But there’s one more part that can be the most difficult of all. That is when you have to defend your plan by defending your distinction under God.
You will defend your distinction under God. It’s a good thing that the UN wasn’t running this operation. Because if they were, they would have set up a peace negotiation council. And that peace negotiation council would have built a peace treaty by compromising between all of the groups. Nehemiah wasn’t interested in compromise. Neither were the three Hebrew children. They didn’t ask Nebuchadnezzar if they could just talk things over a little bit. Their obedience to God was never in question. The only thing in question was what Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction was going to be and how God was going to come through for them. Either He was going to come through and prosper them through the fire on this side or reward them as martyrs on the other. Like the gospel song says, “I’m a winner either way, if I go or if I stay.” Paul put it this way, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Whatever the result, whatever the response—it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because God’s will is going to be accomplished as long as we take care of the “therefore”. As long as we are obedient to doing the work that God calls us to, the opposition can do what they want. But, just like Nehemiah, when someone stands in opposition to God’s clear will for us, we cannot compromise with them. How did Nehemiah respond to Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem? In the last part of verse 20, he told them, “You have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.” Do you know what that meant? It meant that they had no past claim to any portion of what was going on there. They had no current right to have any say in what would happen there. And they would have no future part of any memorial celebrations that would go on there when they were finished. Past, present, future—they were not included in God’s work. Since the work was so clearly in God’s will… anyone that stood in opposition to it was in opposition to God. And anybody that was in opposition to God was anathema. Do you see why it’s so important to make sure that our burdens are truly from God? Because when they are, if somebody stands in opposition to them, they are opposing God’s will.
When God gives you a burden for Brushfork Baptist Church, don’t take it lightly. Take it prayerfully. Take it reverently. Take it willingly. Take it under His authority. Because when you step out in leadership, you’re going to have to plan it. You’re going to have to communicate it. You’re going to have to defend it. That shouldn’t scare you away from accepting the burden. It should embolden you. It should embolden you because God is in control. He is in control and when you are obedient to Him, He will prosper you. That is where we want to be. We want to be in the place where God will prosper us. Let’s make sure we’re not with those who will have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in what God wants us to accomplish here.