Someone once said that the real test of a leader is how that person faces crisis and reacts to opposition.
What was your reaction when you were leading a work that God had led you to do and you were opposed? I’m not talking about being passively opposed but actively opposed. How did you react? Could you have done better? I know I could have done better any number of times. We’ll discover in today’s section how Nehemiah reacted to the opposition he faced and how we can apply that to our lives.
Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:4-8 NASB
The opposition to what Nehemiah was doing was coming fast and furiously. Tobiah and Sanballat were trying to discourage, insult, and intimidate the workers by any means necessary. These folks used used ridicule (vv. 1-6) as well as armed resistance (v.8) to oppose the work. Another translation of the Hebrew word rendered “wealthy” (v. 2) is “army.” I like that better considering the context. It is in this context we need to consider the intent and content of Nehemiah’s prayer.
Nehemiah’sprayer is considered an imprecatory prayer. By imprecatory it is meant that Nehemiah is asking God to intervene and do something about the situation as only He can do. Have you ever prayed this way? Nehemiah’s imprecatory prayer was more than likely based on God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis added):
Now the Lord said to Abram,“Go forth from your country,and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 NASB
Nehemiah’s first action after the opposition reared it’s ugly head was to pray.
This should be our first response to opposition to God’s work. The Church should always look to prayer as a first response rather than a last resort. But what about the content of Nehemiah’s prayer. Lets take a look at his prayer and learn from him. Nehemiah prays that God would return their reproach on them and would not forgive their sins. Sounds pretty harsh, huh! The next phrase gives insight to what Nehemiah was referring: for they demoralized the builders. Nehemiah was requesting that their particular sin of opposing God’s work not be forgiven. Their sin was opposing God’s ordained work in Jerusalem.
Next, notice that Nehemiah doesn’t ask that God uses him for this task.
How often do we do that? How often do we pray instead, “God I know that vengeance is yours. I submit myself to you. I do request O Father, that though vengeance is Yours, that you will use your humble servant as your agent. I am more than willing!” The earlier harsh language can be best understood if we understand that the work was divinely appointed. The opposition that Nehemiah experienced wasn’t against him and his workers. No, the opposition was against God Himself. This is why Nehemiah reacted the way He did.
My final observation here is that Nehemiah was seeking for God to take action, not for God’s people to take action.
God had already pronounced judgement against their enemies in Joshua 1. Essentially Nehemiah was praying for God to deliver His people from His enemies. There is nothing wrong with that type of prayer. We should never forget that.
Warren Wiersbe once said “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.”
In verses 7-8 we see the opposition resolved to defeat Nehemiah and his workers. The Ashdodites were added to the opposing army that now surrounded Jerusalem. Please understand this important point: the workers were surrounded on all points of the compass. This had to be intimidating to them. Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, Ashdod on the west, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the east, and Geshem and the Arabs to the south. The workers were surrounded and lived in constant fear of being ambushed. This, naturally taken, is intimidating. But, in v. 6 we learn that despite the insults and intimidation, the workers joined together and built the wall to half its height.
Their heart was still in the work God had called them to perform.
So what are we to do? When God’s work is opposed by others in our society, our government, our friends, are we justified to pray “God I need a lightening bolt over there now. Go!”? I don’t think so. We know opposition will come. We need to be prudent in our response always relying on God’s promises. The workers had good reasons to fear for their safety and for the works God was doing. But what is interesting is Nehemiah’s response.
We have reason to fear for our safety and the future of our children. However we should not give in to these fears. God’s promises are not negated by the opposition of man.
Faith always trumps fear.