Nehemiah
Introduction 1 Sanballat Becomes Furious 2 Mocking Questions 3 The Mockery of Tobiah 4-5 Prayer of Nehemiah 6 A Mind to Work 7-8 The Enemies Conspire 9 Pray and Watch 10 The Strength Is Failing 11-12 A Trick of the Opponents 13 People Stationed 14 Nehemiah Encourages the People 15 All Go Back to Work 16-18 Working and Watching 19-20 The Signal to Rally 21-23 Always in the Work of the Lord
Introduction

With each revival there is opposition. Ezra has experienced this (Ezra 4-5;10) and Nehemiah experiences this. Satan is always out to blur the distinction between the church and the world and if possible take it away. Wherever he succeeds, the truths of Christendom are partly or completely lost.

In Nehemiah 4 there is open opposition from outside and we see the enemy as “a roaring lion” (1Pet 5:88Be of sober [spirit], be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.). In Nehemiah 6 the opposition also comes from outside, but in veiled form and directed at Nehemiah personally. There the enemy appears as “an angel of light” (2Cor 11:1414No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.). In Nehemiah 5 there is no overt or veiled enmity from the outside, but there is internal struggle. There the people are the enemy of themselves.

Nehemiah overcomes all hostilities in Nehemiah 4-6 because he knows God and involves Him in everything. Without God every opposition is too powerful for us, with God we overcome the greatest enemy.


Sanballat Becomes Furious

1Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.

The opposition becomes fiercer. The enemy gets angrier as the building of the wall progresses. This is how it is with our separation. As long as we fulfill our religious duties, the enemy will not show himself. But as soon as sanctification of life is worked out in our practical lives, he becomes furious. The devil doesn’t care if someone converts to Christendom, as long as he is not living according to it.

Sanballat expresses his anger in the use of mockery. His fearful suspicions about which we read Nehemiah 2 are getting more and more ground (Neh 2:1010When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard [about it], it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.). In Nehemiah 2 he and his allies have already made themselves heard in the same, mocking way (Neh 2:1919But 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?”). The hatred of his heart always seeks and finds ways to express itself. At first it is ‘only’ a mockery of the work. As the wall around Jerusalem closes, the enemy becomes furious. At first it is a frivolous mockery, now the mockery takes on a grim character.

In the face of the increasing enmity which he and his companions display, Nehemiah’s courage and determination are also becoming more and more evident. We see his full trust in God and his great, passionate commitment to the service of the LORD. Today, men of the caliber of a Nehemiah are needed in the Lord’s service. Whoever wants to dedicate himself to the Lord and His people must count on opposition. The greater the determination of the servant, the fiercer the opposition. Satan knows on whom he is aiming: on everyone who is determined to obey the Lord and live for Him.


Mocking Questions

2He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy [men] of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore [it] for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”

The opposition has different forms and comes from all sides. There is mockery by the enemy and later also threats of violence and trickery. We will see later that besides the opposition from the outside, there also appears to be opposition from the inside (verse 1010Thus in Judah it was said,
“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”
; Neh 5:1-151Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.2For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.”3There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.”4Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax [on] our fields and our vineyards.5Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage [already], and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”6Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.7I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them.8I said to them, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word [to say].9Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?10And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury.11Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth [part] of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.”12Then they said, “We will give [it] back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.13I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.14Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, [for] twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food [allowance].15But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.) in the form of discouragement.

Opposition from the outside first manifests itself in mockery. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls mockery a trial of faith: “And others underwent [the] trial of mockery” (Heb 11:3636and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.). To the first mockery (Neh 2:1919But 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?”) is attached the (unfounded) accusation that the building is a proof of rebellion against the king. Here it is mockery for the second time. This mockery manifests itself in the firing of five questions. All questions are meant to ridicule the work. The questions are not asked to the builders. The enemies ask the questions to each other. The questions have a dual purpose. On the one hand, the enemies encourage each other through these challenging questions. On the other hand, the questions are meant to discourage the Jews who hear this talk.

The first question is about strength. According to the opponents, the Jews are completely lacking in strength. They are called “weak Jews”. The enemy wants to tell himself and the Jews that the Jews are ‘miserable’, ‘withered’, ‘powerless’, ‘brittle’, all meanings that are locked up in the word ‘weak’. To be portrayed in this way is not directly an incentive to continue a work. What do these weak Christians do? What do they propose in comparison to mass gatherings around them? Are they able to remove the rubble? If such criticism applies to us, we feel that it does not leave us unmoved.

The second question involves a threat. The enemy is suggesting that this work must be stopped. They will not stand idly by as the city continues to escape their grasp with the progress of the rebuilding of the wall.

The third question has to do with the sacrificial service of the Jews. It is a thorn in the side of the enemy that God is honored. Partly for this reason he will focus all his efforts on keeping the city open, accessible to their pernicious influence. This middle of the five questions strikes God in the heart. The sacrifice, the image of God’s Son Who died on the cross, by which God is honored, is also included in the mockery.

The fourth question focuses on their perseverance. There is still so much work to be done. It really isn’t finished tonight. It will be a long time before it is. The limit of endurance has been reached. The enemy senses that the people are running out (verse 1010Thus in Judah it was said,
“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”
) and responds. Pointing out to someone the long distance he still has to travel while he is at the end of his strength is an effective way to paralyze him completely. A young believer who wants to live for the Lord can be blocked by constantly telling him that he is not going to be able to persevere.

The fifth question is about the soundness of the material. Even if they were to finish the work, it will turn out that all effort has been in vain. The stones they worked with will not give the protection they expected. Such a remark is of course completely frustrating, well suited to throw in the towel.


The Mockery of Tobiah

3Now 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!”

In his mockery, Sanballat is joined by Tobiah. A circle of spotters is forming. Unholy mockers stir each other up. Tobiah goes even further by giving the answer to the last question, and by doing so he draws attention to the weakness of the work. Wanting to be a church according to God’s thoughts puts the religious, natural man out of action. The enemy does not want that. That is why he begins to point out the worthlessness and unreliability of the work. Do you want to claim that you are the church of God? Do you imagine that you are doing everything in accordance with God’s Word?

But if it really is as weak as the opponent claims, why does he put so much energy into his opposition? It is precisely the constant and ever-increasing attack on the work of faith that proves that it is a work of God. The stronger the faith, the fiercer the opposition. The degree of opposition is equal to the degree of the work of faith. In opposition to the work of God, parties who are otherwise enemies of one another unite (cf. Lk 23:1212Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.).

A fox is a cunning predator that goes out at night and alone. He is mentioned several times in the Bible (Jdg 15:44Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned [the foxes] tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.; Psa 63:1111But the king will rejoice in God;
Everyone who swears by Him will glory,
For the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped.
; Song 2:1515“Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
While our vineyards are in blossom.”
; Lam 5:1818Because of Mount Zion which lies desolate,
Foxes prowl in it.
; Eze 13:44O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins.; Mt 8:2020Jesus *said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air [have] nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”; Lk 9:5858And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air [have] nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”; 13:3232And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third [day] I reach My goal.’). Except for Matthew 8:20 (and the parallel text in Luke 9:58), the fox is indicated negatively everywhere. He is light-footed and very adept at catching his prey. At first sight he doesn’t seem dangerous, but he is. The light jump of a fox against a wall would of course has absolutely no effect. But the enemy wants to make believe that the wall is so weak, that his light jump will bring down the whole wall.

This tactic of the enemy, to point out the weakness of the work, is meant to discourage the worker. If the enemy manages to persuade the worker that his work will not hold up anyway, he has succeeded. The worker will see its uselessness and stop his work.

Anyone who wants to live for the Lord will have to deal with this tactic of the enemy. One’s own husband or wife or children may come up with remarks that certainly do not motivate to live a life of surrender to the Lord. You are too extreme, or too inconsistent, they point to all kinds of character flaws or character weaknesses, you do not keep it up, you are outside yourself and blind to reality. The Lord knows this opposition from His own experience (Mk 3:2121When His own people heard [of this], they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”).

If a Christian gives his testimony, the enemy will point out to him the discord between Christians. He may even point out that wars are being waged in the Name of God. Or he may point out the poor prayers. Or he may point out the lack of organization, the lack of money, the lack of influential people. The world judges everything by size and numbers, by impressive methods, by appealing advertising. As soon as this thinking takes root in the church or the Christian, their service is over. If the Christian thinks he has to prove to the world that he is capable of leading a great enterprise, God can no longer be with him.


Prayer of Nehemiah

4Hear, 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. 5Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.

In this chapter we see how Nehemiah responds to opposition and aggression:
1. he prays (verses 4-54Hear, 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.5Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.),
2. continues his work (verses 6,156So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its [height], for the people had a mind to work.15When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.),
3. encourages his co-workers (verse 1414When I saw [their fear], I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “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.”),
4. takes precautions (verses 13,16-2313then I stationed [men] in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.16From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains [were] behind the whole house of Judah.17Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took [their] load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.18As for the builders, each [wore] his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter [stood] near me.19I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.20At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.21So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared.22At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.”23So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each [took] his weapon [even to] the water.).

If we encounter resistance personally or as a community of faith – and that is what we get when we are in the Lord’s way! –, we have here important clues for our response to those attacks.

Nehemiah does not go against them. He doesn’t revile in return. Nor does he suggest the enemy consult with each other to find a solution. He turns to God (verse 44Hear, 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.; verse 99But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.). He approaches the power of the enemy with the much greater power of prayer. Nehemiah is a man of prayer. This is the basis of his work (Neh 1:44When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.; 2:44Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.). This forms his strength during his work. Each time he takes refuge in God in between activities.

It is good to retreat regularly during busy activities to seek God in prayer. The nature of our work does not matter. Whether we are engaged in spiritual work, work in the church, or our earthly activities, we need to involve God in everything. Especially when we are busy, it often comes down to it. All kinds of problems that occur at the most unforeseen moments can be seen as an invitation from God to come to him.

Nehemiah points out to God the opposition, the scorn. God hears the scorn that is being poured out on His workers and sympathizes with it. Nehemiah also mentions what God should do with them. The words he uses show little mercy. From Jeremiah we hear the same kind of utterances (Jer 12:33But You know me, O LORD;
You see me;
And You examine my heart’s [attitude] toward You.
Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter
And set them apart for a day of carnage!
; 17:1818Let those who persecute me be put to shame, but as for me, let me not be put to shame;
Let them be dismayed, but let me not be dismayed.
Bring on them a day of disaster,
And crush them with twofold destruction!
; 18:21-2321Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.
22May an outcry be heard from their houses,
When You suddenly bring raiders upon them;
For they have dug a pit to capture me
And hidden snares for my feet.
23Yet You, O LORD, know
All their deadly designs against me;
Do not forgive their iniquity
Or blot out their sin from Your sight.
But may they be overthrown before You;
Deal with them in the time of Your anger!
).

In order to understand this, we need to remember the time in which Nehemiah lives and what he has in mind, the task he wants to fulfill. He lives in a time when it is normal for the Jews to destroy their enemies. This is even a commission from God, where God gives the example (Deu 9:33Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.; Jos 8:1-21Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.2You shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves. Set an ambush for the city behind it.”; 10:5-105So the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, [and] the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they with all their armies, and camped by Gibeon and fought against it.6Then the men of Gibeon sent [word] to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us.”7So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him and all the valiant warriors.8The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.”9So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal.10And the LORD confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah.).

Because of their unfaithfulness, they are no longer in a position to do so themselves. That is why it is right that he asks God to do this. The reason he asks this is that the enemies are in reality opponents of God. He is doing a work for God. Whoever wants to prevent that, enters into battle with God.

For us Christians, a prayer like Nehemiah prays here does not fit. We live in the time of grace. If enemies bother us, we will answer with the love of the Lord. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, as it is in the case of Israel. It is said to us that we will pray for those who persecute us and do evil and bless them (Acts 7:6060Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.; Rom 12:1414Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.; 1Cor 4:12-1312and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, [even] until now.).


A Mind to Work

6So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its [height], for the people had a mind to work.

After Nehemiah poured out his heart before God, he and the people continued to build as if there were no opposition. They do not allow themselves to be tempted to talk or complain about things. The people want to work. They don’t work because they have to, because the whip is blowing. They put their hearts into it.  That works a lot more pleasantly. There’s no need to encourage someone who has his heart set on work. He not only sees the necessity and is therefore convinced of the importance of the work, but also the work itself has its heart, there is love for the work.

There are exceptions (Neh 3:55Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters.). There is a kind of people who stand by and comment from the sidelines, but disappear when there is opposition. Some also want to contribute in an easy way, so they avoid effort. They send money – and insist on getting proof of payment in order to be able to use the gift as a tax-deductible item – and in doing so they think they can redeem their service in the kingdom of God. But they do not have a heart to work.

Work in and for the church is not regulated by a collective labor agreement. Yet there is a danger that work for the church will increasingly become a ‘job’. The church is becoming a company with a management and a strategy, with objectives and adjustments. There is talk about a product and a market share. Everyone is assigned a task and the hours they have put into it are counted. A reward is expected for performance. Perhaps not so much in the sense of money, but still in the form of appreciation.

This attitude is strange to the Lord Jesus. He says: My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (Jn 5:1717But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”). His heart is ready to work, every second. He is the example for every Christian. We can only selflessly dedicate ourselves to the other with a heart full of love if we look at Him. Then a workload becomes a work pleasure.


The Enemies Conspire

7Now 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. 8All of them conspired together to come [and] fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.

The feelings of the enemy keep pace with those of the people, but in the opposite direction. The more desire the people have to work, the more desire the enemy has to disturb the work. In verse 11Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. it is Sanballat. In verse 33Now 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!” Tobiah has joined him. Now whole groups join them (verse 77Now 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.). The enemy forms a strong coalition that can attack Jerusalem from all sides. This will happen in the future, and on a much larger scale (Zec 14:22For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city.; Lk 21:2424and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.).

Not only the number of enemies is increasing, but also the anger that animates them. The anger of verse 22He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy [men] of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore [it] for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” has swelled here to “very anger”. The determination of the people of God increases the opposition. The enemy groups itself together. They cannot watch with sorrow that the work of God continues. They cannot bear to be shut out more and more.

If the wall rises steadily and the breaches are closed, they will no longer have access to the city of God. That thought is unacceptable to them. If the mockery and ridicule expressed do not have the desired effect, the enemy begins to threaten with violence. In a ‘unity makes power’ feeling they make a conspiracy. While they are otherwise often in conflict with each other, they now close ranks in their hatred of God’s work. Their plan is to launch a frontal attack on Jerusalem with the aim of creating confusion there.

The creation of confusion is a method which Satan has often used in the church with success. Just look at the church in Corinth. All kinds of groups have arisen there, although there is only one church. In the first chapter of the first letter to that church you hear them call out to each other. One calls out “I am of Paul”, while another calls out “I am of Apollos” (1Cor 1:1212Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”). Because of the division or confusion in the church in Corinth the unity is lost. Then the enemy has won his battle.

Where he succeeds in opposing the believers against each other, he breaks the power of the testimony. At the same time he gains access to cause even more mischief: where “jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (Jam 3:1616For where jealousy and elfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.). The church in Corinth is an example of this.

The enemy did not only win his battle at that time. We hear that sound today as well. One calls out ‘I am of Luther’ and another one calls out ‘I am of Darby’. The enemy has succeeded in sowing discord and confusion in the church. The origin of all those different groups, each with their own characteristics, with which they separate themselves from others, all with their favorite teachings or teachers, has never been God’s intention. Because of the confusion, the enemy has succeeded in bringing all kinds of erroneous teachings into the church. This further diminishes the strength of the testimony that the church should give in the world.

“For God is not [a God] of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1Cor 14:3333for God is not [a God] of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.). God gives peace when the church keeps its ranks closed and does not allow the enemy to go his way. When there is a desire to be assertive, when people want to hear themselves, when responsibilities are wrongly fulfilled, when what God says in His Word is not listened to, confusion arises and peace is gone. God is the God of peace for all local churches. That peace is our part if we submit to His will which He has revealed in His Word.


Pray and Watch

9But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

When Nehemiah learns of their plans, he does not panic. He will not deliberate feverishly in order to come to a conclusive answer. His attitude radiates calm when we read his reaction. He and his associates start praying. That is a wonderful testimony of trust in God. For him it is not an emergency brake, not a last resort. Praying is his daily work. He has a confidential relationship with God. He can always turn to Him.

But Nehemiah is not the hovering kind who is blind to his own responsibility. Besides prayer, there is also sober vigilance (Mt 26:4141Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”; Eph 6:1818With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,). He stands with both feet on the ground. He sets up a guard. And not for a moment, but constantly, “day and night”. He will have instructed the guards very impressively not to slacken or fall asleep for a moment. They mustn’t let themselves be distracted. The lives of all the workers depend on their vigilance.


The Strength Is Failing

10Thus in Judah it was said,
“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”

Despite Nehemiah’s steadfastness, determination, and trust in God, the enemy’s attacks are not without result. The people are becoming restless. Especially Judah has come under the influence of the opponents. Not that they have become afraid of the opposition. The influence reveals itself in a different way. They measure the amount of work that remains to be done against the rest of their forces and draw the conclusion that the balance between them is lost. There will always be people who have an apology for the ruins. They want to leave everything as it always has been.

That they have little strength is true. That there is a lot of rubble is also true. But the conclusion that therefore it makes no sense to continue to build comes from unbelief. Unbelief is the result of looking at the problems without God. Separation must be maintained, no matter how great the weakness, and no matter how much in Christianity corruption has penetrated. A question like ‘does it make sense, because the decay is too great?’ is a breeding ground for discouragement. Questions with this content will become all the more pressing as opposition increases. Faith, however, calculates with God. It is not about the power of the people, but about the power of God.

It is the very Judah who gives up courage. The royal tribe, called by Jacob in his prophecy “lion’s welp … lion … lioness” (Gen 49:99“Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
), the elite of the workers, no longer sees the sense in it. This is a great test for Nehemiah. But he does not know the word “give up”, convinced as he is of his Godly mission. Of course there is a lot of rubble. Nebuchadnezzar has done his work thoroughly. He left no stone on the other. But before building can be done, rubble must be cleared and the original foundations uncovered. Walls cannot be built on rubble. First into the depths, then upwards.

Clearing rubble is not a rewarding job. You are constantly confronted with failure. And as long as you can’t build, there doesn’t seem to be any progress. Much has come to light in Christianity that does not belong to God. False teachings, sectarianism, sinful ways of living must be removed before healthy doctrine can take root.

There is still a lesson to be learned from the moment when the men of Judah weaken their sigh and threaten to give up their courage. This difficult moment has come when the wall is half finished, when the work is half done. Such a moment can be recognized in the life of the Christian, when the first days of his conversion are over, as well as the first experiences with God in the miracle of salvation. The initial enthusiasm wanes, the momentum is lost, you get tired, while there is still a long way to go.

You could say that the ‘midlife crisis’ has arrived. You get the feeling that what has already happened is not finished, and that the road that still has to be taken is too long. What has already happened is becoming more and more in the background. You look ahead, at all the work that still has to be done, but you feel your powerlessness. What lies behind you has asked too much of your powers. You want to leave it at that, it’s been enough. You are no longer up for a new challenge, that is too much to ask. Then listen to the encouragement from God’s Word: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal 6:99Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.).


A Trick of the Opponents

11Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 12When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,”

It’s as if the enemy smells that the builders are losing momentum. In spite of the guards Nehemiah set up, they discuss how to get into the midst of the Jews unseen. When the courage is given up, this is the moment for another attack by the enemy. He sees his chance to strike the final blow. They do not shy away from violence and murder. The end justifies the means. Whoever is killed is no longer a danger.

Violence and murder do not only take place with hands and literal weapons. We can also kill with our words: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Pro 12:18a18There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
). If we have unsubstantiated criticism of workers of God, putting them in a bad light, we can deprive them of the courage to continue. When God has given blessing and prosperity to a work for Him, the enemy is immediately there to speak evil and bring the work to a standstill.

The enemy finds willing accomplices in Jews living with them to get their message across. These Jews are completely influenced by the enemy. Every day they undergo the brainwashing of the enemy’s vision. That is why these Jews are also the messengers par excellence to manipulate their fellow citizens with their poisonous words. What’s happening here looks like a propaganda war. The message is repeated over and over again. It’s like advertising: the power and effectiveness is in repetition. As long as the point of view is said often enough, the public will eventually believe in it. A persistent alarming message has a paralyzing effect.

These Jews live in the vicinity of the enemy and always hear their propaganda. But they have no connection with the ardent spirit of Nehemiah. As a result, they are beyond the power and strength that emanates from him. They see only the power of the enemy.

Christians who are led by fear of man can easily become a stumbling block in the work done for the Lord. They often demand a lot of attention and require time and energy. If their demands are met, the enemy has also won a victory. If weakness is at stake, God wants us to stand up for such Christians. If, however, fear is at work, if we do not clearly associate ourselves with the Lord’s work, we should not get involved. In such a case, feelings of pity are misplaced.

Christians who live in the midst of the enemies and hear and see what they have to offer every day are affected by this. They are not in close contact with the work of God. They are guided more by the thinking of the world than by the Spirit and the Word of God. There is hardly any fellowship with God and the Lord Jesus. They have their own thoughts about the Lord’s work and judge it by worldly standards. Opening up to them also means falling under their negative influence.

Satan will try everything to make God’s children believe that his power is greater than the power of the Lord Jesus. Those who mingle with the world outwardly, even though they do not enter it inwardly, behave like Lot. They are visibly impressed by the power of satan and unable to detach themselves from it. Like Lot, they must be torn from it on the day the judgment comes.


People Stationed

13then I stationed [men] in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

Tirelessly Nehemiah is at work. He does not let himself be discouraged. Again he sees through this action of the enemy and gives him the right answer. With conviction he creates order among the people. He does so by grouping them into their generations. All of the same “blood group” he brings together. They can understand each other well. The family feeling gives extra energy to an enterprise, also to an army. In this way, he undoes the confusion that has arisen. In the lowest places, which are the most vulnerable, he reinforces. Armed with swords, spears and bows, they are ready to repel the enemy’s attack.

For a local church the ‘family feeling’ is important. With your family you have something you don’t have with those who are not in that position. There is a bond of fellowship because of common ancestors. In the church that family bond is there through the new life, the life out of God. The enemy is out to break through that feeling of togetherness. He tries to let each member take his own course. He doesn’t mind that they come together from time to time. As long as everyone sits there for themselves, without attaching too much importance to being ‘together’ and as long as everyone, when the ‘together’ meeting is over, goes his own way again, without worrying about the order and unity of God’s people.

Paul says to the church in Colossae that he rejoices “in seeing your good order [as it also can be translated] and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Col 2:55For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.). The Corinthians, on the other hand, are admonished by him that with them “all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1Cor 14:4040But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.). Order in the church cannot be obtained by creating structures, but by allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely in the church and let Him use whom He wills.

We can say with the words of Nehemiah that with the Corinthians there are “the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places”. In their lives there are areas where the world has easy access because of the lowest lusts of their flesh. Additional guard posts have to be set up there. This is what Paul does in his letter to them, when he admonishes them about all kinds of wrongs. He writes his letter to help them bring up the wall of separation in their minds.

The life of the church does not follow an externally imposed organizational model. If things don’t run the way you would like them to, you can’t hire an organizational agency to reorganize. If certain members of the church do not fulfil their task, they need education, encouragement or correction. To this end, the Holy Spirit uses believers who place the Lord Jesus at the center of their lives and who want to be guided by God’s Word. In this way a ‘reorganization’ in the church comes about, or rather the church will function as God intended.


Nehemiah Encourages the People

14When I saw [their fear], I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “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.”

Nehemiah sees it all sharply. He comes into action. Full of courage and determined, he rises up and speaks to the people. The nobles and the officials, the middle management so to speak, are mentioned separately. They must certainly take his message to heart, for they in turn must encourage the people. But the rest of the people are also among his listeners.

Nehemiah holds his umpteenth ‘pep talk’. He sees that the enemy’s message has done its work through his representatives among the people. The people threaten to stop building. But he encourages them to continue (cf. Heb 12:1212Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,), convinced that God is with him (Neh 2:2020So 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.”). In opposition to the enemy, he places “the Lord who is great and awesome” (cf. Neh 1:55I said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,). Compared to Him, the enemy disappears into nothingness! They do not have to fear that enemy. “The fear of man [m]brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Pro 29:2525Fear of man [someone] lays a trap,
But those who rely on the LORD are put in a safe fortress.
).

He calls them to turn their minds to the LORD (cf. 2Tim 2:88Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,). They must think of Him, Who He is and what He has done. If we think about what we all owe to Him, we will be filled with confidence that He will continue in making it well. We will confidently place the consequences of the work in His hands.

It is also a task for us to consciously focus our thinking on Him to Whom all powers are subject. The enemy wants us to think of him and be impressed by who he is. The Lord wants us to think of Him and be impressed by Who He is. It is our responsibility to focus on who we think (Col 3:22Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.; Phil 4:88Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.). Seeing the Lord Jesus gives us strength to fight for what is dear to us.

After grouping them together into their families, Nehemiah now appeals to the family feeling. He emphasizes its value to bring them to full commitment in the battle. They must fight for
1. all their brothers,
2. their children, to give them their future,
3. their wives whom they have received as help, and with whom they are one, to enjoy with them the land of God,
4. their homes, their home area.

Let us remember that our struggle is
1. for all God’s children,
2. for all those who are entrusted to our care and who will soon have to continue God’s testimony on earth,
3. for all who have a caring task in the church of God,
4. for their living environment, the atmosphere in which their family is formed.

If we want a passable way for our (natural or spiritual) children, we have to go this way ahead of them. If we leave that way because it takes too much effort, our children will not learn to go that way.


All Go Back to Work

15When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.

The enemy is dripping off. He ran his propaganda machine, but without result. God has His own way of making His work known. He lets the enemy know that their plan no longer has a chance of success. Nehemiah attributes all this to God and not to his own clever actions.

He has an eye for the fact that God has paved the way so that they can all return to the wall, each to his own work. Here we see that beautiful balance again: on the one hand, building together on the wall, that one common project; on the other hand, each has his own place in that work that cannot be taken by another (Mk 13:3434[It is] like a man away on a journey, [who] upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, [assigning] to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.; 1Cor 12:1111But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.). It is a work that is not done by just one or two, but by all together.


Working and Watching

16From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains [were] behind the whole house of Judah. 17Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took [their] load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18As for the builders, each [wore] his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter [stood] near me.

The danger is gone, but Nehemiah does not slacken. He knows the enemy will not give up. The tasks are redistributed. Half the men are working on the wall. That means the work continues at half strength. It progresses slower, but no less certain. The other half of the men are supplied with weapons and assigned to ensure safety. The safety measures are being tightened.

In yet another way, work continues at half strength. Those who help with the building as burden bearers, who bring stones to the builders, also become fighters. In one hand they carry the stone, in the other the spear. So they only have one hand available for the actual work. As a result, progress is even slower, because in addition to the building work, they also have to defend themselves.

Those who build on the wall can use both hands. However, they have the sword within reach, at the hip. In his daily life, a believer must pay attention to his separation and must always be able to use the sword of the Word against attacks. True servants of God have had to spend a considerable portion of their time and energy defending the truth. From the beginning, the apostles have not only preached the gospel and taught the truth. The letters teach that they have also had to defend themselves against the attacks of the enemy. The truth is worth fighting for. If we lose the truth, we lose everything.

The Word is brought to our attention in yet another way, like a horn or trumpet. The trumpeter is with Nehemiah. The blowing of the trumpet, i.e. the ministry of the Word, must be done under the authority of the Lord. If God’s Word is to be spoken, it may only be done at His command.


The Signal to Rally

19I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.

Besides sword and trowel there is also the trumpet. The workers do work far away from one another, but they do not work as individuals who have nothing to do with one another. The danger for one means the danger for all the others. The unity in the work must be preserved. This is done with the help of the trumpet, the Word of God that calls together. Workers engaged in obedience to the Word are linked in a powerful way and able to withstand the enemy.

The work is done by each in his or her own workplace. In case of battle, they must gather together and form a closed front. Both aspects are also important in the life of the church. Everyone has his or her own task in the church, his or her own work in his or her own place. But in the spiritual battle it is important to keep the ranks closed. By fighting in the prayers we can stand shoulder to shoulder while we are far away from each other in a service for the Lord.

The trumpet speaks both of the word God addressed to us and of the prayer in which we turn to God. In Numbers 10 the trumpets are blown to call the people together (Num 10:77When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm.) and to come to God’s remembrance when faced with the enemy (Num 10:99When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.).

When the enemy threatens us, we gather to pray to the sound of the trumpet. This gathering has no power in itself. Though there are thousands of us together, the enemy is much more powerful. However, if we are together in the awareness of Who God is as the Help in distress, we may pray in the confidence that He will fight for us (Exo 14:1414The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”). In Acts 4 we have a beautiful example of such a prayer in distress that is done in confidence (Acts 4:23-3123When they had been released, they went to their own [companions] and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.24And when they heard [this], they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM,25who by the Holy Spirit, [through] the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE,
AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS?
26‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND,
AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER
AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’
27For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.29And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence,30while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”31And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and [began] to speak the word of God with boldness.
).

Nehemiah again speaks of “our God. God is the God of His people, the God who stands up for His people.


Always in the Work of the Lord

Our God will fight for us.” 21So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each [took] his weapon [even to] the water.

During the day work is done, and in the night watch is done. Anyone who takes the service for the Lord seriously is constantly doing so. This does not mean that we must not sleep, or never have to wash ourselves, or put on clean clothes. Nor does Nehemiah mean to say that. What it says is that the work must go on and that vigilance must not slacken.

Someone who is engaged in a work for the Lord can therefore be so seized that he forgets to be vigilant. A worker for the Lord must remain attentive to the actions of the enemy. The enemy does not sleep, which is why the worker is not allowed to sleep. The spear must be held in the right hand, ready for use.

It is necessary to have the whole armor of God on at all times to “be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:1111Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.). We must be aware that God has given us His armor. Therefore, it says: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph 6:1313Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.). In practice, this means taking up the posture of someone who is fully equipped with weapons. Then there is no reason to be frightened by the enemy. Whoever has the whole armor on is untouchable.

Nehemiah knows that victory does not mean the enemy is eliminated. He is for the moment, but he will come back with new tricks. It is a deadly danger for the Christian to believe that he has definitively conquered a certain evil. It may be a certain slavery, or something in which he is weak. You may have arranged your separation well, but never think that you no longer have a weak spot.

In the world it’s night. Christians live in the night. The world can occupy us with nothing but the “unfruitful deeds of darkness”. Scripture calls us not to participate in them (Eph 5:1111Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;). We must denounce these works, reveal them in their true nature, expose them, and thus eliminate the efficacy of the enemy.

In addition to a spear, everyone has water. Water is also a picture of the Word of God. Water serves to refresh and purify. We need both to be able to fight the battle well.


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