Be Faithful in Adversity

Introduction and context – Nehemiah had to overcome the years of neglect and inertia of the people, the horrid condition of the city wall, and the enemies that sought every tactic they could conceive to stop the work. Chapter three describes how Nehemiah organized for the reconstruction of every part of the wall by putting specific clans in charge of one portion each. Chapter four records the ridicule cast forth by their enemies when they observed the work; but in spite of this attempt at discouragement, they “joined the wall together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” (4:6). The enemies then plotted a physical attack on the city and Jews living out of the city begged the city dwellers to leave and come live among them. In all of this, Nehemiah strategized for constant protection and readiness to fight and trusted in the purpose of God (“And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (4:9). They carried their work material and their spears at the same time; they never ceased their labor and they never dropped their guard (4:15-23). Chapter five gives a narrative of Nehemiah’s wisdom and conviction as the governor of the city (for twelve years) in instituting reforms and putting an end to abuses. Chapter 6 resumes with the conniving of Nehemiah’s enemies against him.

I. The enemies attempt to draw him out of the city – 6:1-4

A. These enemies seemed to despise the Jews and delight in the humiliated condition of the city. see 2:10, 19; 4:1, 7

B. When they heard that the wall was complete (except the installation of the doors to the gates), they sought to lure Nehemiah out of the city, perhaps under the pretense of establishing a treaty. Nehemiah knows that those with enmity in their hearts will not now be seeking his well-being or that of Jerusalem.

C. He refused to go meet with them for the work he had to do was superior to any supposed advantage of meeting with them.

D. They sought to wear him down by persistence, but Nehemiah’s vision was too clear to leave his work even for a while, and his awareness of their character too well established to trust them. They had opposed every step of the work and had planned an attack on the city. What possible good could come from capitulating to their request for a meeting?

II. The enemies attempt to misrepresent his purpose – Verses 5-9

A.  Sanballat fabricated a fantastic story, confirmed by Geshem, that a report was circulating that Nehemiah’s labors were all for the purpose of making himself king in Jerusalem and rebelling against the king of Persia. Sanballat does not assert that he believed the report, but that it would reach the king and, if that occurred, Nehemiah would need support. For this reason, he should come and meet with them. “Let us take counsel together.”

B. Nehemiah saw through this ploy. Sanballat fabricated the entire story, painted a scenario of imminent danger, and sought to prompt action out of fear.

C. Recognizing the relentless machinations of evil men against him, Nehemiah felt keenly his dependence on God and prayed, “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”

III. The enemies attempt to compromise his character. Again the enemies, using a resident of Jerusalem, seek to provoke a compromise in the character and trust of Nehemiah by inciting fear.

A. Nehemiah went to the house of Shemaiah who proposed to Nehemiah that they go the temple to hide from his enemies had determined that they would kill him at night.

B. Nehemiah resisted this with all his soul as a thing completely out of character for him. He had faced greater obstacles than this supposed plot, had looked at many dangers in the face and would not now begin to hide. God had been with him, had led him, and protected him and given him wisdom as to how to foil the various attempts at discouraging him. He would not abandon Nehemiah now. “Should such a man as I run away?”

C.  Without doubt Nehemiah was strengthened by the Psalms. “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you,” David wrote, and continued; “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3, 4)

D. This story and suggestion was so contrary to the knowledge that Nehemiah had of God’s ways with him, that he knew this was not a message that arose from God (“God had not sent him”). In fact, Shemaiah had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat to seek to discredit Nehemiah. If they could prove him a coward, then the taunts would destroy his esteem in the eyes of the people; This would compromise, if not end, the work that he was doing in order to salvage the glory of Jerusalem. When it appears that the leader loses his nerve in a work that calls for sacrifice and unfaltering courage, it becomes difficult to maintain a following.

IV. Nehemiah’s Prayer against them. Cf. 4:4, 5

A. In 4:4, 5 Nehemiah asked that God turn back their taunts on their own head, let them be taken into captivity and be plundered.

B. He asked that God “not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight,” for they had opposed God’s work and angered him.

C. Here (6:14) he prayed simply that God “remember” Tobiah and Sanballat, as well as others that sought to make Nehemiah afraid.

D. For a prayer that commits the enemies of God to divine vengeance see Psalm 69:22-28. It ends with this petition: “Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (27, 28)

V. A task accomplished and a remaining frustration – verses 15-19

A.  Verse 15 – At the end of fifty-two days of unceasing labor and watchfulness, the wall was completed. Nehemiah knew that God’s hand was upon him and that he would finish the task; but that confidence did not diminish the necessity of constant involvement and care.

B. When the various settlements and nations around Jerusalem, that opposed its restoration learned that the wall had been finished, they felt despair and lost confidence, for they saw that God had blessed the city and that it no longer was defenseless and ripe for plunder.

C. Tobiah had many connections in the city through official agreements and family connections, so he continued to be an opponent in the continued work of stabilizing Jerusalem.

VI.  Observations

A. Like Nehemiah, our discernment of the will of God for us depends on our grasp of the character of God and the purpose of God for his own glory. When we seek our own pleasure or our glory we cannot expect divine clarity in the direction of our lives.

B. Finding the will of God does  not mean that we will succeed without preparation and consistent attention to the task before us. Doing the will of God in the pursuit of his glory involves whole-souled commitment to the task.

C.  Finding and doing the will of God sometimes involves driving through the threats of lost favor, lost friendship, and even loss of life.

D.  Sometimes our prayers do not seem to have immediate answers (as that of Nehemiah concerning Tobiah) but we realize that final judgment always rests in the hands of God and all the prayers of his saints are gathered up together and one day will be cast upon the earth (Revelation 5:8; 6:10, 11; 8:1-5)

E. Prayer is of vital importance. We must be clear in our hearts as to how we should pray and on what authority we make certain petitions. The model prayer that Christ gave (Matthew 6:7-15) should always be a guide and the variety of prayers that Paul recorded for the various churches to whom he wrote (e.g. Philippians 1:9-11; Ephesians 3:14-19). We must be very clear in mind and spirit before we utter prayers like that of Nehemiah about Tobiah. Now that Christ has come, Israel’s purpose in providing the necessary matrix for the preparation of Messiah’s appearance has been fulfilled, and the completion of the atoning work, the words of Christ on the cross, “Father forgive them,” or those of Stephen, “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60), or Paul’s “May it not be charged against them” (2 Timothy 4:16) should be more frequently on our lips than the request for the abandonment of an enemy to wrath (Romans 12:14). We do this while we recognize that God himself is fully cognizant of all these things, has his own purposes in them and will execute his perfect justice at the proper time (Romans 12:19, 20).

F. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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