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.).