If Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem had occurred today, this third and final post of the current series would begin during the part of the narrative where the people would be sending text messages to one another as the wall was being raised saying, “PTL!” and “Can U believe how gr8 things R going?” The cause for celebration would have been because the building project had barely begun and yet it was already proving to be a huge success. You can read Nehemiah 3 as it ends with an extensive list of all the repairs that were swiftly underway, minus the texting.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch of a really mean dude named Sanballat, this villain from the nearby town of Samaria was gearing up to rain on Jerusalem’s wall-building parade. You see, if God’s people would be able to get back on their feet and take care of themselves, Sanballat would lose a lot of power and control he had so enjoyed.
Leaders like Sanballat are very different than leaders like Nehemiah. We’ve seen that Nehemiah’s heart was completely in tune to doing things God’s way. He was building God’s Kingdom, not his own. Sanballat, on the other hand, was building his own kingdom and placed his security in his ability to maintain control over others, even if it robbed them of the freedom to protect themselves and better their circumstances. Let’s read what Nehemiah noted about this oppressive leader:
“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, NIV).
Remember from the last post that one sign of a good leader is the level of care given to observation before implementation? Well, here we see a contrasting sign of a bad leader as someone who is easily angered when he senses he is losing control and is ready to cut down others with his words. Sanballat wasn’t concerned with what God wanted. It was all about him.
I am reminded of a time when I listened to a few individuals discussing how angry they were upon learning a new piece of information, and as I quietly observed, it surprised me that not even one of them inquired about the details of the situation to gain understanding. They were simply content to air their anger with limited contextual understanding.
Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (NIV).
Did you notice that Sanballat wasn’t just an angry man, but he was also a mocker (4:1)? He ridiculed the Jews for trying to rebuild the walls. Being the object of mockery is not easy to overcome because it’s hurtful, but Nehemiah and the people pressed forward with their building. Perhaps as they heard reports of Sanballat’s ridicule, they were quick to remember God’s heart on this matter:
“[God] mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Proverbs 3:34, NIV).
Remembering this can be a great comfort when you are dealing with a mocker. God will give us the favor of His grace when we are humble and choose to be wise with how we respond (or choose not to respond at all) to ridicule.
Proverbs 26:4 warns, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself” (NIV).
Have you ever had someone make fun of you or someone you love? This verse tells us not to return an insult for their insult or we’ll be just as foolish. I recall a situation where I was caught off guard by a person who specifically described how their family members regularly mocked someone I cared about, and it wasn’t kind or appropriate at all. At the time, I don’t think the above Proverb necessarily popped into my mind, so I wouldn’t call my silence “wisdom.” I think I was just dumbfounded enough not to return the folly. Later, I was so thankful that I did not answer foolishly, even if it was simply because I was in a state of shock over the insensitivity. It was a wonderful lesson to me to know that sometimes we are better off not even to respond.
To add to Sanballat’s folly of being quick tempered and a mocker of God’s people, he did what a typical angry person does when losing control is at stake. He began to line up others who were also building their own kingdoms and would likely feel threatened by the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the walls. Therefore, the list of oppressors grew to include Sanballat, plus a smarty-aleck named Tobiah, as well as a selection of cronies from three other regions surrounding Jerusalem. Yeah, that’s right. He recruited opposition from every region surrounding Jerusalem! Really, Sanballat? Really? You had to go form a posse surrounding the entire city?! I guess when oppressors are losing control, they resort to desperately excessive measures.
It was what happened next that the people of Jerusalem began to become fearful and discouraged. Sanballat and Team Oppression began scheming. They schemed of ways to attack the building project.
What does a wise person do under the threat of attack? First, Nehemiah took the threat seriously and took action by taking precautions against the attack of the enemy. He didn’t lose his cool and launch a pre-emptive strike on God’s enemies, but he did post a guard and prepared the people for the possibility of doing battle in the midst of their building.
Today, you and I must be prepared to battle as we build God’s Kingdom, because we too have an enemy. He is also a schemer and chooses to do his work through individuals like Sanballat. Don’t give your enemy the benefit of a surprise attack. Be ready! With the resource of the New Testament, we are able to know who our enemy really is and how to deal with him. Ephesians 6:11-12 says (but I also recommend reading this passage through verse 20):
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (NIV).
So, as we take threats seriously, we should know that we are completely free to protect ourselves from attack, as long as we are not launching an attack of our own, because our flesh and blood enemy is ultimately not the person who is causing us trouble. In fact, a spiritual battle is the only kind where you actually end up fighting for your opponent when you declare war on your enemy.
But even when we handle ourselves rightly by focusing on protection rather than evil scheming, it can still be easy to become discouraged by the enemy’s tactics. The people may have been struggling with discouragement, but God was not.
Proverbs 15:26 says, “God can’t stand evil scheming, but He puts words of grace and beauty on display” (MSG).
So, let’s find out what words of grace and beauty God put on display in this particular case of His people being hit in the face with the threat of propagators of evil scheming. Get ready! This is awesome because you and I can apply these same words today when we meet opposition and are tempted to become fearful and discouraged. Seriously! We may all need to write this down on a note card. It’s that good. In the words of our man, Nehemiah . . .
“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes’” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV).
Let’s break that down into a three step plan for defeating the monster of discouragement in the face of opposition:
1. Don’t be afraid of the enemy.
“Okay,” you say, “but my enemy is one scary person, and I am afraid of him/her.” This is where we benefit by reviewing our Ephesians 6 passage from above. Our struggle is not ultimately against people. It’s against evil forces. And yeah, it may be even scarier to compare yourself to an evil force, but this is where step two becomes crucial.
2. Remember that your God is great and awesome!
Don’t compare yourself to evil forces that are working through the circumstances and people that are affecting your life. Compare all of the bad stuff to your great and awesome God. Since I have struggled with fear in my past, I have learned that I must constantly remind myself that “greater is He who is in [me] than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4b). That’s right! When we remember God is in us and He is greater than all the evil around us, we will be able to check step one off of our list as we continuously check off step two. So, here’s the key with step two: repeat, repeat, repeat.
3. Fight for your family.
Do you ever just feel like you need something to focus on to get your attention away from the junk that’s going on all around you? The reality of the situation is that many times you can’t stop the evil activity of others, so to fight discouragement, we need something to focus on to keep us productive in a good way. So, here’s one for ya . . . focus on fighting for your family. Make it your goal to protect your precious family from the schemes of the devil. This is one of the most fundamental ways we can build God’s Kingdom today. We need to make the strength of our families a priority. This means becoming familiar with Satan’s dirty tricks through Scripture study and learning from our own past, and then doing what is good for our families at all times. If you fight for your family the way God wants you to, you can enjoy the peace of being in a right relationship with the Lord even in the midst of the chaos of opposition surrounding you, even if some of the chaos originates from within your family unit. Fight for your family.
This is just one of the many times Nehemiah handled opposition in a God-honoring way. I highly recommend reading the rest of his amazing story picking up where we are leaving off in the middle of chapter 4.