In the mid 1970’s my parents bought a house in my hometown. We had lived on our street for a number of years and in two different houses. The house we were renting at the time was a two-story house with a bit of land. The house my dad was interested in buying was also a two-story house with a bit more land than what we currently had. Sounds good, right? Well what I have yet to tell you is that the condition of the house and land. It was…well, it was in bad shape. And by bad shape I mean really not good shape. It was really old, the grounds had been overgrown with weeds, briars, and other such things. I thought my dad had lost his mind. But the problem was that I was seeing the present condition and my dad was seeing the finished product. My dad saw beyond the rubble. So did Nehemiah. So does God.
We see the present situation while God sees the finished product.
We see spiritual things much like I saw that old house. We see the present situation while God sees the finished product. We need more than ever to see the finished product in spite of the present condition. Nehemiah did this when he saw the walls. He was able to communicate his vision of the finished product to those around him. Lets take a look at Nehemiah, the wall, and the people.
Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.” – Nehemiah 2:17-20 NASB
Nehemiah was faced with a massive undertaking. The walls of Jerusalem had been toppled. The gates were burned. Complicating things was that Jerusalem was surrounded by folks who hated them. Nehemiah had to perform many tasks just to get to the point of beginning the rebuilding effort.
After replenishing his resources and assessing the need, Nehemiah now recruited workers in verse 17. In some way not mentioned in the narrative, Nehemiah gathered together a large group of prospective partners. Let’s look and see how he put his work force together:
First, he identifies with the workers: “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in.” Nehemiah is passionately involved in the city’s welfare and feels its need as acutely as though he had been living in the desolate city all his life.
Next, he presents spiritual perspectives. They are in trouble – and its not just because Jerusalem is in ruins. He sees their spiritual disgrace. The sight of those collapsed walls for well over a century has created the impression in the pagan mind that the God of Israel has abandoned his people. He recognizes that there are always spiritual issues involved – a building project is more than just brick and mortar. As His people, we have to be aware of the spiritual opportunities and challenges as they present themselves to us.
Then, he invites immediate action. Everybody knows exactly what is required, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” and everyone realizes that the task must begin without further delay. Nehemiah is asking a lot of the people. He’s not afraid to ask them to step up to the plate. The sacrifices will be huge. They will have to take time off from work in order to rebuild the walls. Who will protect their families? Before people can respond they need to know that there is someone greater than Nehemiah behind this project.
That leads to the next task – Nehemiah inspired confidence in the people in verse 18. While rebuilding the walls is an important job, the central theme in the book is the sufficiency of God. His mind dwells on the greatness of God and he wants his workers to do the same.
Our growth is important, but the central thrust must be the sufficiency of God.
Listen to Nehemiah’s testimony: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.” He didn’t reach Jerusalem because he was a skillful persuader, or because the queen was possibly a compliant helper, or because the king was a generous benefactor, but only because God was a sovereign provider. Since God had done all that, He would certainly help them to complete the task of rebuilding the walls.
By telling the people what God had already done, he was firing them up for what He was about to do. His appeal was positive as He focused on the glory and greatness of God. When you think about it, it’s amazing that the people said, “Let us start rebuilding.” Think about what they could have said. They could have been apathetic – they had been living in the rubble for a long time and could have just stayed there. They could have reminded Nehemiah that the Jews had “already tried that” before in Ezra 4 and were stopped by the authorities.
We often face those same two obstacles within the church. Either “we’re content with the way things are” or, “we tried that before and it didn’t work!”
Someone has defined leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it.” I want to do all I can to help us do the things we ought to do because we want to do them – because the gracious hand of our God is upon us.
The fifth task comes almost immediately after the decision to make an impact takes place: He Handled opposition. Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us. The first two enemies have already been identified in verse 10. Now Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite are joined by Geshem the Arab. In verse 10, the opponents are “very much disturbed,” now this troublesome trio becomes highly vocal in their attacks on Nehemiah and his work crew.
Let’s look at their tactics:
First, they derided the efforts of the workers. Verse 19 says that they “mocked and ridiculed” them. Verbal onslaughts have always been part of the enemy’s demoralizing tactics. They laughed at the workers and belittled both their resources and their plans.
Next, they suggested that they were rebelling against the king – that weapon had worked once before in Ezra 4: “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” This was a cutting allegation to the timid workers.
I love how Nehemiah deals with these bad guys. He doesn’t answer their lies or engage in a conversation with them. Nor does he just ignore them. He first exalts the God who called him to do the work in verse 20: “The God of heaven will give us success.” He wasn’t concerned about their fictitious insinuations – he was concerned that God would get the glory in the project.
Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us.
Nehemiah wanted his people to know that God had everything in control. Even though Geshem controlled the southern approach to the city, and the other two thugs patrolled the north and east, Nehemiah was not ruffled. In his reply, he made three things clear:
· Rebuilding the wall was God’s work
· The Jews were God’s servants
· Their opponents had no part in the matter.
The last part of verse 20 says it rather strongly: “We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Their opponents had no past right, not present prerogative to be there, and no future role in the city.
Let me just say that as believers we should expect spiritual opposition and even be thankful for it. It’s a sign that we’ve angered the enemy and encroached on some territory that He thinks is his. If there’s no conflict or opposition, then we’re probably not disturbing the enemy enough. Remember, Satan only shoots at moving targets!