THE GREAT AND AWESOME GOD CAN PROTECT AND PROSPER A FEEBLE FEW WHO DON’T QUIT PRAYING AND DON’T QUIT WORKING DESPITE ANGRY OPPOSITION
Once we commit ourselves to God’s work it is very easy to become discouraged and lost heart. Nehemiah has been a great leader for God’s little flock amidst the rubble of Jerusalem.
– His heart has been burdened with the sad state of affairs – the walls of Jerusalem lie in ruins and the people need to be rebuilt spiritually as well.
– He has humbly set the example of confessing national sin and seeking revival.
– He has allowed God to build his vision for what work needs to be accomplished.
– His Vision has translated into commitment to do the work.
– He has motivated partnership in mutual ministry so that everyone pulls their weight.
Now he must lead the people through the pitfalls of discouragement as they face angry opposition. The enemy will attack on every front and try to get God’s people to pull back and quit. The enemy always wants us to focus on our weakness – we are too few; too poor; too weak.
Discouragement is much more of an epidemic type threat than the swine flu (Brian Bill) —
– It’s universal. None of us are immune to discouragement. Everyone you have ever known has been discouraged at one time or another.
– It’s recurring. Being discouraged once does not give you an immunity to the disease. You can be discouraged over and over again. In fact, you can even be discouraged by the fact that you are discouraged a lot.
– It’s highly contagious. Discouragement spreads by even casual contact. People can become disheartened because you are discouraged. You can be bummed out because other people are discouraged.
But God can enable us to overcome and defeat Discouragement. God’s strategy throughout history has been to display His power through our weakness. We need to come to grips with that strategy and embrace it for our own lives. If we fight against that principle we will be constantly frustrated.
God does not want to share His glory with anyone. “How about with me?” you say. If our focus is on our enemies or on our own weakness, we will become discouraged. But when our focus is on our Great and Awesome God and His kingdom program, we will be victorious.
Wiersbe: Opposition is not only an evidence that God is blessing, but it is also an opportunity for us to grow. The difficulties that came to the work brought out the best in Nehemiah and his people.
THE GREAT AND AWESOME GOD CAN PROTECT AND PROSPER A FEEBLE FEW WHO DON’T QUIT PRAYING AND DON’T QUIT WORKING DESPITE ANGRY OPPOSITION
Two fold Attack – The Enemy Wants us to Focus on our Weakness, Discourage Us, and Cause us to Quit the Priority Work of God / Sandwiched in between these two attacks we will see a Two Fold Response – but will focus more on that in the next sermon after taking a break for our Christmas message next Sunday
I. (:1-3) ATTACK #1 – INSULTING FAITHFUL WORKERS – MOCKING, RIDICULE
A. What makes God’s enemies really angry?
“when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry”
4 things make God’s enemies really angry:
1. When they are Exposed as evil men who oppose God’s kingdom program – look at what made the Pharisees angry –
– anything that exalted Jesus Christ as the Son of God
– anything that emphasized inner righteousness and exposed their hypocrisy
2. When Progress is made in areas that are critical to kingdom program success
– threatened by change and by progress; they want the status quo where they are building an empire for themselves – not concerned with God’s kingdom program; react with jealousy and spirit of rivalry
– evangelizing new people groups – remember the story of Jim Elliott
– underground churches thriving in areas like China
– trying to recover critical aspects of church age truth and practice
– Reformation doctrines – emphasis on sovereignty of God
– Believer Baptism – look at attacks on the AnaBaptists
– Priesthood of all believers – religious hierarchy wants to protect their status
– Plurality of elder leadership
3. When Spiritual growth and fervency increase
– high view of the Scriptures – The Battle for the Bible – by Hal Lindsey
– importance of prayer
– aggressive pursuit of the Great Commission
– emphasis on holiness and church discipline
4. When they feel powerless to intervene – hands somewhat tied by decree of Artaxerxes
B. Tactics of Insulting / Mocking / Ridicule:
“and mocked the Jews” – Picked the wrong people to mock
Psalm 2: “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed …”
Psalm 74:18 “Remember this, O Lord, that the enemy has reviled, and a foolish people has spurned Your name.”
1. Addressing the insults to a receptive audience:
a. his brothers
b. wealthy men of Samaria – very comfortable and complacent; not concerned with the devastated condition of God’s holy city
2. Highlighting the weakness and inadequacy of the workers and their resources –
5 Mocking Questions:
a. Mocking their Power = overall weakness and inadequacy
“What are these feeble Jews doing?” frail, miserable, powerless
You don’t have adequate personnel to get the job done – you are pathetic and helpless
Fensham: “The Hebrew root ‘mll is occasionally used in the OT to denote the fading or withering of a plant (Isa. 16:8; 24:7; etc.). It is also used of people without any hope (Isa. 19:8; Hos. 4:3). It is employed here in Nehemiah [translated “feeble,” v. 2] to ridicule the Jews.”
Jesus Christ is not building His church today by some impressive multi media campaign with a lot of glitz and famous personalities and huge budgets and sophisticated marketing techniques – He wants to rely on the power of secret prayer; on the faithfulness of daily one-to-one witnessing; on each of us using our own spiritual gift to build one another up
Such mocking and scorn is very hurtful
b. Mocking their Goal = claim of divine favor
“Are they going to restore it for themselves?”
c. Mocking their Faith = nothing but religious futility
“Can they offer sacrifices?”
Wiersbe: It will take more than prayer and worship to rebuild the city!
Redpath: Even if you do start out, God isn’t going to take any notice of
you and He won’t help you.
d. Mocking their Plans = unrealistic timeframe
“Can they finish in a day?”
Your task is impossible; do you have any idea of the magnitude of what you are attempting?
e. Mocking their Resources = totally inadequate
“Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”
God loves this type of challenge – because it is our very weakness that presents the perfect backdrop for the display of His awesome power and glory – He wants it known that He brings victory by His grace – not by our numbers or might
How does God undertake for us to support our Power, Goal, Faith, Plans, Resources
Remember the story of Gideon and his soldiers – Judges 7:2 “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’”
1 Sam. 14:6 Jonathan’s great victory “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” He took the bold step of faith … but trusted in God giving the victory
2 Chron. 14:11 godly king Asa – removed the high places, fortified the cities, commanded Judah to seek the Lord and obey Him (vs. 4); was attacked by the powerful Ethiopians: “an army of a million men and 300 chariots … Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You. So the Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah”
2 Chron. 32:7-8 Sennachereib invading Judah; prayer of Hezekiah and his words to his trembling people – “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
God knocks down the walls of Jericho in a surprising way
God slays the giant Goliath with the small stone from the slingshot of young David
Psalms 20:7 “some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God”
Apostle Paul learned this lesson in his ministry as he was under severe challenge and ridicule:
2 Cor. 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves”
Swindoll: There is no power or tenacity in a clay pot. It is fragile and plain. It often leaks. The passing of time only makes the vessel weaker. Paul was saying that any manifestation of power comes not from the pot, but rather from what the pot contains.
2 Cor. 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
3. (:3) Judging the end result of their efforts to be Futile
“Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, ‘Even what they are building – if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!’”
Nothing more demoralizing than to think that all of your hard work and sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears will result in blowing in the wind; your wall will be so flimsy that the light footsteps of a fox would dislodge the stones
Satan wants us to believe in the humanistic message of Ecclesiastes – that men are destined for vanity – all of your efforts won’t amount to anything in the end – but the power of Jesus Christ makes for a far different ending – one that is satisfying; a wall that is indestructible; a church that cannot be defeated – not even the gates of hell can prevail against what Christ sets out to accomplish
II. (:4-6) TWO FOLD RESPONSE
A. (:4-5) Response of Prayer – Lord, Blow them up – Imprecatory Prayers
“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.”
What about loving your enemies?? Father, forgive them …. Turning the other cheek . . .
Yamauchi: Nehemiah did not personally take action against his opponents but called down the vengeance of God. Ackroyd: “To understand such violent language, we need to appreciate fully the sense of the divine purpose at work, so that opposition is not seen in human terms but as opposition to God himself.” Nehemiah’s prayer borrows from the language of Jeremiah (Jer 12:3; 17:18; 18:21-23).
Wiersbe: 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 against God.
Breneman: Christians are under the new covenant and are admonished to love our enemies and to make it our primary concern to lead a wicked world to faith and forgiveness through the message of the cross. Nevertheless, God’s people can ask him to judge injustice and to thwart the plans of those who would hinder God’s work.
Matthew Henry: Therefore we should be angry at the malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God will appear against it. Ps. lxxiv. 18, 22
Don’t be Demoralized
We need to strengthen ourselves in the Lord; allow Him to constantly encourage us; we need strong spiritual leaders that will set the example in this area of encouragement
B. (:6) Response of Hard Work – Staying on Task – Keep working hard
“So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.”
Kidner: the sturdy simplicity of that statement, and of the behaviour it records, makes Sanballat and his friends suddenly appear rather small and shrill, dwarfed by the faith, unity and energy of the weak. The builders’ method, too, was sound in that it gave priority to closing the ring, at however modest a level, rather than to completing a number of separate sections in succession.
Christ did not answer back; Apostle Paul did not debate his detractors. “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” 1 Cor. 15:10
Jason Freeman: Circle the phrase, “half its height.”
Isn’t that the way it always happens? Right when you come to the halfway point discouragement sets in. When we start something new our excitement and enthusiasm for a project/ for a relationship/ for our faith carries us forward. But then we come to the point of no return, we reach the mid-way point and negative thoughts begin. We begin to examine our progress. What once seemed possible now looks impossible, the results that at first encouraged us now appear small and insignificant, the help we had in the beginning has started to fade and the finish line seems more distant then when we began.
Discouragement loves the mid-point. It loves the point of no return – the place where you can’t start over and you can’t quit (because the cost of failure is too great). The point where your accomplishments don’t seem to match the energy or resources you have spent.
Keep Your Focus
Staying on task solves a multitude of attitude problems.
Will look at the same two fold response next week –
Kidner: The partnership of heaven and earth, of trust and good management, is taken for granted as something normal and harmonious; and the order of precedence between them is no formality”
III. (:7-8) ATTACK #2: INTIMIDATING FAITHFUL WORKERS – MILITARY ATTACK
A. (:7) God’s Enemies Respond in Anger When God’s Kingdom Program Advances
1. Powerful Alliance – Understandable that the people would be fearful
“Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites”
Samaritans were led by Sanballat; Arabs were led by Geshem; and the Ammonites by Tobiah (2:19)
MacArthur: the Ashdodites – Added to the list of enemies already given are the dwellers of Ashdod, one of the former Philistine cities to the West of Jerusalem. Apparently they came to the point where they were at least contemplating a full-scale attack on Jerusalem because of the rapid progress of the wall.
Wiersbe: The city was now completely surrounded by enemies! To the north were Sanballat and the Samaritans; to the east, Tobiah and the Ammonites; to the south, Geshem and the Arabs; and to the west, the Ashdodites. Ashdod was perhaps the most important city in Philistia at that time, and the Philistines did not want to see a strong community in Jerusalem.
2. Progressive Accomplishments – repairs were being made successfully
“heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed,”
Matthew Henry: They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work would soon stand still of itself; but, when they hear that it went on and prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the work forward, and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it.
3. Passionate Anger
“they were very angry.”
Redpath: The world will always be angry at any message which exposes sin. If a preacher dares to emphasize the truth that the New Testament demands repentance, that behind all saving faith there must be a deliberate turning from sin before there can be any blessing, that the gospel ruthlessly exposes our tragic condition and our utter bankruptcy before it applies the balm of Gilead – I’m telling you, the world will always be angry at a message like that.
B. (:8) God’s Enemies Conspire to Fight Against God’s Faithful Workers and God’s Kingdom Program
1. Unity is no problem for God’s Enemies
“All of them conspired together”
Might make for strange bedfellows …
“You can’t beat collusion” . . . but we can with God’s help
Secret conspiracy involved because of the blessing of Artaxerxes
Wiersbe: 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.
2. Persecution Should be Expected – directed against God’s vital interests
“to come and fight against Jerusalem”
3. Goal is to Demoralize God’s Faithful Workers
“and to cause a disturbance in it.”
Kidner: How much of this was mere sabre-rattling it is hard to be sure. The failure of this impressive group to strike a single blow suggests that “the king’s letters” (2:9) gave them pause. But their plotting, however half-hearted, clearly included potential raids and harassments (8), and had to be taken seriously.
“Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”
Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.