Stay the Course - Nehemiah 4

Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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How do I lead when I face obstacles? This Bible study is partially based on the Leader Guide by LifeWay - "You" - Summer 2016.

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Stay the Course: Nehemiah 4

Have you ever stepped up to take the lead on something - a group, a ministry, a project - but seemed to face obstacles at every turn?
Boxer: Like a boxer who fights back at the last minute, that's how we often feel when we are in positions of leadership. We ARE going to face opposition.
Someone will challenge our ideas.
We'll get questioned about every single detail of the plan.
We'll have some just standing back waiting on it to blow up!
Leadership will always open us to rejection and challenges.
Transition: As we return to our study of Nehemiah today, we are going to see him facing constant opposition. Sure, he had a great plan and the support of the king, but that didn't mean that everything from that point forward would be easy. In fact, we are going to see the very opposite!

Be Prepared for Setbacks: Nehemiah 4:1-6

When you resolve to do what's right in your daily lives, you can be certain that you will face challenges. Paul described it as the "good fight" of faith in 1 Timothy 6:12
1 Timothy 6:12 HCSB
Fight the good fight for the faith; take hold of eternal life that you were called to and have made a good confession about in the presence of many witnesses.
Point: So Paul made it clear to young Timothy that a life of faith would not be an easy choice. It would be tough - a "good fight".
So let's look at how Nehemiah is going to stand firm in the face of challenges.
Read Nehemiah 4:1-6
Nehemiah 4:1–6 HCSB
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious. He mocked the Jews before his colleagues and the powerful men of Samaria, and said, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore it by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?” Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was beside him, said, “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!” Listen, our God, for we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land of captivity. Do not cover their guilt or let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have provoked the builders. So we rebuilt the wall until the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had the will to keep working.
Transition: Alright, let's try to discover what's going on here.
1. Who is Sanballat?
Answer: Sanballat was (according to sources outside of the Bible) governor of Samaria in the latter half of the fifth century b.c. and one of the chief opponents of Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild Jerusalem.
2. Why was he so against the rebuilding of Jerusalem?
If Jerusalem rebuilt, it would mean that Jerusalem would begin thriving again. And with that renewed life, it would mean that Sanballat's region would diminish in importance.
Key: So at the heart of Sanballat's issue is essentially JEALOUSY. He fears that Nehemiah will succeed and it will mean the spotlight will turn off of Sanballat.
Discussion Question: How do we react when someone does NOT want us to succeed? How do we handle ongoing opposition like that? How do we not allow that to discourage us in going forward?
Transition: So let's look at a few of the attacks of Sanballat...
Attack One: Not the Leaders for the Task
Feeble Jews: He called them "feeble Jews". That was a rather fitting title at this point because they were JUST returning from captivity. Like a football team coming off a 0-12 season, the Jews did not have an air of confidence about them. They were still in the reality of that shameful defeat. So Sanballat began there - "feeble Jews".
Attack Two: The Task is Too Big
Restore the Wall: We don't know exactly what the wall looked like at this point, but there's no doubt that this was an enormous task without the benefit of modern day tools. So it was an impossible task to outsiders looking in.
Attack Three: Your Past Failures are Too Great
Will they Offer Sacrifices: I titled this one "Your Past Failures are Too Great" because Sanballat now turns to their spiritual condition.
Here are the Israelites attempting to rebuild.
They were rebuilding due to the disobedience of their own family.
God's judgment on Israel is what set up this predicament.
So we might could say that their past failures were just too great. They didn't qualify for this rebuilding job.
Here he is mocking their dependence on God. This would have been an easy attack because this is what got them in the predicament in the first place. Their disobedience led to the walls beyond destroyed by the ones that God allowed to attack them. So it is as if Sanballat is saying, "Oh, now you are going to worship the Lord?!"
Attack Four: The Resources are Inadequate
Stones back to Life: The last attack relates to the stones. He is trying to convince them that the materials they have can't do the job! But we know this wasn't true because they use those very stones to build an impressive wall in the end. So these were empty attacks - but even those can often discourage us.
Application to Us: So let's bring this home for a moment...
What are some of the attacks that Satan uses to discourage you?
Let's continue surveying the attacks of Sanballat...(look at vs. 3b)...
Nehemiah 4:3 HCSB
Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was beside him, said, “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”
The Accusation & Reality: Have you ever been challenged by an accusation when you knew that it didn't match reality?
Teachers: You constantly have to defend yourselves against what parents are suggesting or accusing you of.
Contractors: You have to explain what your workers have done - even when the accusation is completely unfounded.
Sanballat makes an accusation here - that the wall is so weak that a fox walking on it would cause it to fall over. How does that accusation compare with reality? The answer is that it was a complete stretch! The wall was 9ft thick when Nehemiah finished building it. That's not exactly a WEAK wall!
In the face of constant ridicule, what did Nehemiah do? He did what he has done with each big step. He stopped and he prayed.
Nehemiah 4:4–6 HCSB
Listen, our God, for we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land of captivity. Do not cover their guilt or let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have provoked the builders. So we rebuilt the wall until the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had the will to keep working.
Reaction to Prayer: Let's be honest - this is not the kind of prayer we would expect to hear from God's leader. It sounds pretty harsh. I'm rather grateful that people have not prayed this kind of prayer in our services here at BFBC.
So what is going on with Nehemiah's prayer??
Observations on the Prayer of Nehemiah
1. Nehemiah asked for God's judgment. He didn't ask God for permission to judge his accusors himself.
2. Nehemiah prayed this because he truly believed that rebuilding the wall was God's work (not Nehemiah's), so the people were rejecting God - not Nehemiah. So he's not arrograntly thinking that God will act just because He likes Nehemiah that much.
Key: Nehemiah knew that he was carrying out the work of God and so as he faced opposition, he boldly prayed that God would take care of the roadblocks.
God's Answer: God honored the prayer of Nehemiah as the work began.
Nehemiah 4:6 HCSB
So we rebuilt the wall until the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had the will to keep working.
Listen to these words from our Leader Guide...
Many Christians have stepped out to lead only to have well-meaning friends and family tell them the task can't be done. Expect that and guard yourself against it in yourself. And don't be a Sanballat in the lives of other believers.
Application to Berea First Baptist Church: Leading a church of this size is a challenging endeavor because everyone has both good and bad ideas regarding the direction of the church.
I don't want this point to be focused on me. Instead, I want us to think about all who lead in the various ministries of our church - women's ministry, men's ministry, outreach programs like the Reaching Center or Berea House). So what do we do? Well, we start by not being a Sanballat (discouraging the work of the Lord). Instead, we try to find ways to encourage those who are serving.
Back to the Text: Nehemiah refused to be discouraged by Sanballat's accusations.
What led Nehemiah to have such determination in the task of rebuilding the wall?
Keyword: FOCUS - an adjustment for distinct (clear) vision.
Proverbs 4:25 HCSB
Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead.
Philippians 4:8 HCSB
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.
Colossians 3:2 HCSB
Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.
Summary: The idea in each of these passages is FOCUS. We stay focused on the Lord - fixing our eyes on Him. That's what Nehemiah did - he kept his eyes on God and refused to be deterred by the distractions and discouragement all around him. We ALL need that word this morning. When we get so discouraged by all that is happening around us, we need to fix our eyes on the Lord and all Him to direct our steps.
Transition: So let's look quickly at the reaction of Sanballat to the determination of Nehemiah.

Sanballat and his friends react to Nehemiah's determination.

Nehemiah 4:7–8 HCSB
When Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the repair to the walls of Jerusalem was progressing and that the gaps were being closed, they became furious. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw it into confusion.
Sanballat and his friends realized that their ridicule was not successful in stopping the work on the wall. Their anger increased and their plans escalated.
Notice how the scene is escalating...
Sanballat was building a core group to oppose the work of Nehemiah.
Samaritans in the north, Ammonites in the east, Arabians in the south, men of Ashdod on the west.
Nehemiah is surrounded by those opposing this work of rebuilding.
So the situation is looking rather grim for Nehemiah.

Refine and Refocus: Nehemiah 4

Nehemiah 4:13–14 HCSB
So I stationed people behind the lowest sections of the wall, at the vulnerable areas. I stationed them by families with their swords, spears, and bows. After I made an inspection, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord, and fight for your countrymen, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes.”
The situation: The people were getting discouraged. In vs. 10, we read that they were wearing down. Their strength was giving out. The materials were not adequate to rebuild the wall (so much rubble that we cannot rebuild). So Nehemiah now has to respond to the PEOPLE of Israel. The focus is now internal.
Nehemiah took definite action to address the real issues facing Jerusalem.
Nehemiah called the people together.
Sometimes that is the first and most important thing for us to remember when we are facing a challenging time - we are not in it alone.
The people were discouraged and convinced the task was too big. So Nehemiah called them together. They WEREN'T in this battle alone.
The effect: Now take a look at the effect of that leadership from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 4:15 HCSB
When our enemies heard that we knew their scheme and that God had frustrated it, every one of us returned to his own work on the wall.
Key: God had frustrated the plans of those who opposed Nehemiah.
Listen to this commentary from the New American Commentary...
The New American Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (3) Internal Opposition: Discouragement and Fear (4:10–15)

Verse 15 shows the results of Nehemiah’s prayer and action. When the enemies realized they could not surprise the Jews, their plot withered away because “God had frustrated it.” Again, Nehemiah gave God the credit. God used Nehemiah’s faith and leadership, but it was God who brought success (Phil 2:13). So they “all returned to the wall.” It was necessary to sacrifice some time and effort to confront the crisis, but Nehemiah never took his eyes off the goal.

So What? How does this apply to me? Adversity is a part of life. Nehemiah's experience demonstrates that reality.
Where do you find strength to hang in there when facing obstacles, ridicule, or insults?
What steps can you take to strengthen your mind and improve your response?
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