“People hear what they are listening for.”
November 2, 1982 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my natural life. That was the day that I graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp aboard MCRD Parris Island, SC. “I made it” I thought as we marched around the parade deck. I was part of First Battalion, B Company, Platoon 1071. We were the worst platoon in the history of Parris Island. I arrived on the Island on August 10, 1982, mere months after graduating high school. “I’m almost done. Almost done” I silently exclaimed as we formed up for the final order. We were last in the series of platoons to be dismissed. The entire group would have to wait on old platoon 1071. Heh heh heh….
Our Company Commander yelled “Senior Drill Instructors, dismiss your platooooooons!” Everything was silent – at least it seemed to be silent to me. The only thing I wanted to hear was my Senior Drill Instructor’s voice. My ears strained to hear his voice. Then my ears heard that which they wanted o hear. Staff Sergeant Hodges, my Senior Drill Instructor barked his order: “Plaaaaatoon ten sevumty one, DISMISSED!” Then silence.
The band broke the silence. An explosion of yells ensued from recruits – former recruits, now Marines – in jubilation. I shook the hand of the Marine to my left and my right. I hunted down my drill instructors to thank them. Yes, I thanked them. Then I left the Grinder (the not-so-fond nickname given to the parade deck). I saw my dad, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corps, standing and smiling. I approached him and he stuck out his hand and said “Congratulations, Marine.” TO hear my dad say that to me was like pouring water on a dying plant. As I walked over to grab my junk (my seabag and uniform bag) I thought “It’s over!” “I’m done. I’m finally done. It is finished!”
But I was wrong. So very wrong. My journey in the Marine Corps had just begun. I would need to remember the lessons learned in the swampland of Parris Island many times over the next few years. I had graduated boot camp. But I was far from being done.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me. Nehemiah 6:15-19 NASB
The End in Sight
Fifty-two days to build a thick wall around the city of Jerusalem. Fifty-two days. That was really quick. Sometimes I wonder why it takes the department of highway two months to pave a highway when it took under two months for Nehemiah and his crew to build a wall. But I digress…
Lets take a look at a few notable things here in chapter six.
The wall was finished in the month of Elul, which corresponds to the month of August. Now that is a hot month. These guys built the wall around Jerusalem during the hottest time of the year. Yikes! Imagine the sweat that was pouring off the workers. Now look at the effect this had on the enemies of Nehemiah in v. 16
When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
The Enemies Lose
They lost their confidence because they recognized God’s hand on Nehemiah and the workers. Isn’t that amazing! Here are angry folks surrounding Jerusalem. Some are Jews others are not. Regardless of their ethnicity, they were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the workers from completing their task. But when the task was completed in rather quick fashion, the enemies recognized it was God who was with the workers and they (the detractors) lost their confidence. Thats pretty cool in my book. Even the enemies of God can recognize God’s hand of blessing.
But this recognition wasn’t just an “A ha!” moment. I think it had been realized over the course of the rebuilding project. In v. 17 we are reminded of one of Tobiah’s methods of intimidation: letters. Tobiah had been writing letters to discourage the builders. He also had threatened in other ways. But these letters, it seems, were the constant thing. Imagine getting a letter (or in our day an email) on a routine basis that blasts you and your service. Has that ever happened to you? What has been your response?
Nehemiah responded by not listening to the lies of the enemy. He knew he had a job to do. He rallied the workers around the knowledge that what was being accomplished had God’s blessing and indeed was God’s will. This paid off in the end because the wall was completed and the enemies recognized that God was behind it all.
So what are you listening for today? Whose voice dominates your ears? If you are listening to your Tobiah, stop. Tune your ears to the voice of God and listen to Him.
The Character Tobiah
We also get a glimpse of this Tobiah character here in v. 18. He evidently was part Jewish, having intermarried to a Jewish family. People were “bound by oath to him” and spied on Nehemiah and reported back to Tobiah what Nehemiah had said and presumably done. The result of all this spying and gossip was that Tobiah would send letters to frighten Nehemiah. But that didn’t work. Nehemiah led his workers to accomplish the task in spite of opposition.
So what does this mean to us? Well first lets commit to practicing saying “yes” to the priorities of God rather than the priorities of man. Too often we get sidetracked by what we think is urgent only later to recognize it was a distraction from what God has for us.
So, take time to discern what God would have you do and then do that thing, whatever that thing is.
Hearing what We Need to Hear
I remember hearing a story once of a Native American named Running Bear visiting a city with his friend Bob. As Running Bear and Bob were walking down a busy street Running Bear stopped and said “I hear a cricket.” Bob, amazed by this because all he could hear was the traffic, said “No way”. Running Bear looked around for a moment, stooped down and picked up a cricket.
“That’s amazing” exclaimed Bob. “You must have really sensitive hearing!”
Running Bear smiled and asked Bob for some coins. He obliged and gave Running Bear a couple of quarters and a dime. Running Bear smiled at Bob and then dropped them on the sidewalk. Although the sound of the coins hitting the concrete were no louder than the chirping of the cricket, a number of people stopped their walking and tried to pick up the dropped coins. Bob cocked his head to one side and said “Wha…”
Before he could finish, Running Bear said “People hear what they are listening for.”
So what are you listening for today? Whose voice dominates your ears? If you are listening to your Tobiah, stop. Don’t listen to the voice of the enemy. If you are listening to the shouts of praise from man, stop. You’re not all that. Tune your ears to the voice of God and listen to Him.
While the other voices may be louder, there is no voice as valuable as God’s voice.
Go build your wall.