Nehemiah: Facing Opposition in the Kingdom's Work



I would like for us to begin this morning by first thinking a bit about the city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, that had once been a beacon of hope and faith
The Lord had told Solomon when the temple was built,
2 Chronicles 7:16 ESV
16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
But he also gave him a warning.
2 Chronicles 7:19–20 ESV
19 “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
The people failed to call upon the Lord’s name and humble themselves.
They did not pray and seek the Lord’s face.
They did not turn from their wicked ways.
The city, and the temple were destroyed.
The walls that once protected it were shattered, its temple reduced to ashes, and its people languished in captivity.
This city symbolizes not only a historical event but also serves as a powerful metaphor for our lives today.
God does not dwell in a single place today.
Because he has sent his son Jesus, the Lord dwells in those who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Which is truly amazing!
That is also part of the command we have to gather.
When we gather, we are further magnifying the Lord in a way that we cannot do alone.
The gathered church brings greater glory than the city of Jerusalem ever did.
Which is another reason that it is so significant that we be actively building the kingdom of God.
Nehemiah, the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, had received permission to return to the city of Jerusalem with a company of workers.
It had been destroyed some 70 years before. Its wall lay in ruins, the temple in ashes, while Judah pined away in captivity.
In answer to prayer, Nehemiah was allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem.
Upon his arrival, Nehemiah encountered a disheartening sight.
A rubble and debris ridden city.
There was so much destruction that he had to leave his mount to continue surveying the city when he arrived.
Nehemiah is not just included in the Bible to provide us a historical account of a man and a people rebuilding a city.
There is a connection to be made in Nehemiah to us as well.
We are not building a physical wall.
We are building lives, impacting souls, and glorifying God.
I hope you truly understand and grasp the significance of that statement.
We too are builders.
We are building the kingdom of God, by His mandate.
By His orders.
You are called to do work.
A work that is truly greater than anything else you could possibly do with your life.
Nehemiah's mission to rebuild Jerusalem serves as a powerful metaphor for our responsibility to build the kingdom of God
In this chapter, we see that building happens in the face of adversity.
We must build by addressing the sin and obstacles in our lives.
It emphasizes the importance of intentional effort, humility, and community support in overcoming opposition and fulfilling this spiritual endeavor.
We pick up in chapter four and see the opposition once again.
Some familiar names - Saballat, Tobiah.
These men begin their opposition in an interesting way.
They don’t just send in the army.
They knew already that Nehemiah had the kings support.
So instead of beginning with physical conflict, they begin with ridicule.
Be Determined (Chapter Four: Workers and Warriors (Nehemiah 4))
British critic and author Thomas Carlyle called ridicule “the language of the devil.”
Some people who can stand bravely when they are shot at will collapse when they are laughed at.
Shakespeare called ridicule “paper bullets of the brain,” but those bullets have slain many a warrior.
Can you think of a time when you have been ridiculed?
A time when you have been put down?
A time you felt personally attacked?
In the context of our spiritual lives,
It is not unusual for the enemy to insult the servants of God.
Goliath ridiculed David when the shepherd boy met the giant with only a sling in his hand (1 Sam. 17:43
1 Samuel 17:43 ESV
43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
Jesus was mocked by the soldiers during His trial
Luke 22:63–65 ESV
63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. 64 They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65 And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
When he was hanging on the cross.
Luke 23:35–37 ESV
35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
Hebrews 11 tells us that others in the listed Hall of Faith as it is often referred to, as the chapter contains a list of faithful people in the OT
Hebrews 11:36 ESV
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
These men sought to discourage Nehemiah and the people building the wall.
When the enemy laughs at what God’s people are doing, it is usually a sign that God is going to bless His people in a wonderful way.
If you have ben ridiculed for your faith, it is likely true that you are on the right path.
When we look at chapter 3, along through chapter 6, there is a series of advances listed, followed by trials and setbacks.
Chapter 3, the work has begun.
Then 4.
Nehemiah 4:1–3 ESV
1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
Verses 4-6 show again Nehemiah’s response.
Nehemiah 4:4–5 ESV
4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
Nehemiah 4:6 ESV
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
But again in verse 7, opposition returns.
There is an ebb and flow of conflict arising, and depending upon the Lord.
If we equate this to our own building project, building lives, building families, building the kingdom of God.
This cycle shows that the Christian life is a conflict.
There will always be opposition.
The enemy will try to get you sidetracked or to give up completely.
This is especially prevalent among leaders and the church is certainly not immune.
A Duke University study found that 85% of seminary graduates entering the ministry leave within five years and 90% of all pastors will not stay to retirement.
Lifeway research did a study that around 250 pastors leave the ministry each month for reasons other than retirement.
Nehemiah had a target on his back.
Church leaders as well have a target on their backs.
But God uses trials.
Even though it was God’s will for the wall to be rebuilt, He did not remove the opposition.
Even though it is God’s will for you to grow strong in faith and to labor to advance His kingdom, God does not remove the opposition.
If you respond properly, the opposition will drive you to greater dependence on the Lord
and to greater determination to do what He has called you to do.
If you yield to the opposition, you will quit the race in discouragement or settle in for a mediocre Christian existence.
This chapter shows us different kinds of opposition.
The first is ridicule.
In his ridicule, Sanballat made fun of the workers by calling them “feeble Jews” (4:2).
The word feeble means “withered, miserable.”
The picture of what he is saying that they are like cut flowers that were fading away.
This of course was not true.
And if they are feeble, it is in fact better for them.
The world glories in its wealth and power, but God’s people glory in their poverty and weakness.
When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:1–10).
We often forget that God delights in using feeble instruments to get His work accomplished (1 Cor. 1:18–31).
Sanballat ridiculed the work itself by asking three taunting questions.
We might picture him sitting around a table, or perhaps he came to the outskirts of the city with a group of soldiers as a show of force.
Verse 2
“Will they restore it for themselves?” was meant to be a silly statement.
How could a remnant of feeble Jews hope to build a wall strong enough to protect the city from the army?
“Will they sacrifice?” implies, “It will take more than prayer and worship to rebuild the city!”
This question was blasphemy against God, for Sanballat was denying that God would help His people.
“Will they finish in a day?” suggests that the Jews didn’t know how difficult the task was and would soon call it quits.
In his final question, Sanballat ridiculed the materials they were using.
The stones were taken out of the rubbish heaps and probably were so old and damaged that they would never last when set into the wall.
In spite of what Sanballat said, there was still plenty of good material for the builders to use.
Parts of Nehemiah’s wall still stand today.
Tobiah ridiculed the finished product (4:3).
You wouldn’t need an army to knock down the wall; a solitary fox could do it!
Of course, much that Sanballat and Tobiah said was true from a human point of view;
the Jewish remnant was weak and poor, and the work was too great for them.
But they had great faith in a great God, and that’s what made the difference
Satan frequently uses ridicule against those who take a stand for the Lord.
If you become a Christian and let it be known, non-Christians around you will mock you and call you a holy roller!
They will question your motives, your need for God.
They will be waiting for you to fall into some sin, so that they can laugh about it:
“We knew you were no different. Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!”
Your commitment to Christ threatens their godless lifestyle.
If anger and ridicule don’t work, the enemy gets more aggressive.
In verses 7-9 this is exactly what we see.
Escalation of the opposition.
A common enemy and a common cause brought four different groups together to stop the work on the walls of Jerusalem.
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.
The pressures were not only external though.
We see from the text that there was a spirit of discouragement that came amongst the people.
Nehemiah 4:10 ESV
10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”
The people were wearing out and the piles of rubbish didn’t seem to be diminishing.
They had lost their earlier heart for the work that had resulted in the wall rapidly being built to the halfway mark
The wall was approaching half its height.
Satan knows that the halfway point in any work is the most effective time to strike.
When a new project begins, there is plenty of enthusiasm. “Let’s arise and build! Let’s do it!”
If you get over the midway hump and see the completion drawing near, there is another surge of enthusiasm.
“We’re almost there! Let’s get it done!”
But right in the middle of things, exhaustion and discouragement set in.
People have lost the initial zeal and all they can see are the piles of rubble still waiting to be removed.
They feel like quitting.
The same thing is true in your walk with God.
When you first trust in the Lord, you are normally on fire for the Lord, it’s exciting.
We are going to live our lives for Jesus!
We are going to conquer sin in our lives.
We’re going to win the world for Christ!”
Every Bible study you go to seems fresh and challenging.
Your times in the Word and in prayer are rich with new discoveries.
You just can’t get enough of it.
But somewhere down the line, the newness wears off.
You begin to notice the piles of rubble in your own life and in the church,
problems and sins that just don’t seem to go away.
You begin to grow weary, wondering if all your efforts are making any difference for the cause of Christ.
Your weariness leads you to discouragement.
It can begin to feel as if our strength is failing.
Satan doesn’t end there.
It is normally at that point that other influences arise.
Nehemiah 4:12 ESV
12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”
These people were not involved in the work of rebuilding the wall.
That is significant!
They lived near the enemy, and thus were constantly exposed to his negative attacks on the work.
And, they weren’t involved personally in the work.
So they were hearing negative reports and threats and they didn’t know firsthand what God was doing in Jerusalem.
They came repeatedly (“ten times” is a Hebrew expression meaning “over and over”) to warn Nehemiah and those working on the wall, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn.”
All of this brings in a spirit of fear.
Fear is the cumulative effect of all of the above factors (4:14).
Nehemiah’s message to the people in verse 14 was do not be afraid!
The people had seen the enemy’s anger and had heard their mockery and threats.
They were wearing down through exhaustion.
Then they repeatedly heard gloom and doom from their fellow Jews who lived near the enemy.
Nehemiah saw their fear and exhorted them not to be afraid.
Satan uses fear to paralyze God’s people and keep them from attempting anything significant for the Lord.
Maybe it’s a fear of failure.
In building lives, impacting souls, and glorifying God, there is much for us to do an learn.
Perhaps when it comes to bible study, you’ve never done it before, and you don’t know if you can do it.
So you dong’t join with other believers because you don’t want to feel embarrassed.
Maybe it’s a fear of rejection.
If you try it, others will think you’re a fanatic and stand off from you.
It may be a fear of conflict.
If you do what God wants you to do, you know that you’ll catch flak.
So, you back off.
These are some of the tactics that Satan uses to oppose God’s work both in projects that people undertake in advancing the Lord’s work
and in individual hearts that want to advance spiritually.
How should we respond to such opposition?
Nehemiah’s response to this is consistent with his other responses.
Prayer and planning.
Nehemiah 4:9 ESV
9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
Nehemiah 4:13–14 ESV
13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to 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 homes.”
Nehemiah had people working with their family groups, then they would know if a stranger was among them.
He set up rotating guard shifts.
Those working, also carried their weapons with them.
When the work resumed, the people were armed and ready.
But most importantly they knew as we see in verse 20

Our God will fight for us.

Whenever we encounter opposition, we have several options.
You can run from it;
you can try to dodge it or go around it;
you can try to work out a compromise;
or, you can meet it head on and work through it.
The last approach is usually the only biblical way.
Be Determined Chapter Four: Workers and Warriors (Nehemiah 4)

When we face a situation that creates fear in our hearts, we must remind ourselves of the greatness of God. If we walk by sight and view God through the problems, we will fail

But if we look at the problem through the greatness of God, we will have confidence and succeed.
That was the approach David took when he faced Goliath 1 Sam. 17:45–47
1 Samuel 17:45–47 ESV
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
That was the approach Nehemiah took.
Faith first and foremost.
Nehemiah had many good traits, and he was a great leader even by worldly standards.
But what made him really great was his faith in God and his assurance that the God who had given him the task of rebuilding the wall would stand by him until the job was done.
The apostle Paul wrote that God keeps at his work until the job is done:
Philippians 1:6 ESV
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
We should know that he will enable us to carry our work to its completion as well.
If you know Christ and try to accomplish anything for Him, you will experience opposition.
That opposition will come from outside, but it will also come from within.
We live in a fallen world and must battle our sinful flesh each and every day.
We must be vigilant, we must set guards.
As we see in this chapter, there are many different trials and obstacles along the way though.
Sin has caused the ruin and devastation we see around us.
Broken relationships, broken families, hurting people.
Sin permeates every part of our world.
We have the remedy for this lost world
in the Word of the gospel.
Jesus Christ, came to earth, lived a perfect life, went to the cross, died a criminals death, to make the payment that we owe for sin.
So that we might have a relationship with God for eternity if we place our faith and trust in Christ.
The remedy for each of us individually, and our ability to apply it often gets lost though.
Lost in the rubbish in our own lives.
The rubbish of indifference,
spiritual apathy,
sinful pleasure,
questionable habits,
doubt and worry,
and lack of prayer and Bible study.
It takes time, but we are called to clear away this rubbish in our lives.
With the help of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to build!
To build our own lives, to build the kingdom of God!
It takes focused intentional effort.
It takes putting to death the pride in our lives.
This is especially difficult for us guys, I know women struggle as well.
But for men, we must put aside the pride that we know it all, especially when it comes to God and His word.
And be open, honest, and willing to put in the work to build.
And this building MUST be done in community.
Taking Nehemiah for example, had he tried to build the wall by himself, it would still be a pile of rubble.
None of us can afford to be an island unto ourselves.
Especially in the face of opposition.
It is easy for us to get together on physical building projects because we see fast results.
We see something tangible.
But I implore you to see the importance of building the things we cannot see as quickly.
Individual godliness, holiness, knowledge of God through his word.
Set those things as important in your life.
Make it a priority to grow together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Respond as Nehemiah did, with prayer, keeping on with the work, vigilance against the enemy, and keeping your focus on the great and awesome God whom we serve.
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