One of the most challenging issues to deal with as Christians is responding to opposition. How do we respond to people who ridicule us and oppose us for doing what God has called us to do? In the midst of that how do you initiate or continue doing something that God has called you to do?
Wouldn’t you agree? The question seems simple but all of us agree that it isn’t so simple. So we’ll attempt to answer this question and some others as we look into the text today.
(Read Nehemiah chapter 2)
It’s been a joy reading through Nehemiah, right? I’ve seen how Nehemiah’s prayer life and devotion to God has impacted my own prayer life. It’s an amazing story of how God restores the hearts of the people to Himself. The physical condition of the wall pointed to the spiritual condition of the hearts of the people. It was in ruins! And God chose a man disconnected from the people and from the situation in Jerusalem to come and lead the people out of misery. When you think about it, it’s astonishing how God operates. He doesn’t nominate and select the people we think are the best fit but God selects people who are willing to humbly submit to His leading. Nehemiah, cup-bearer to the king was chosen by the King of Kings for a much greater calling…redeeming God’s people!
Let’s jump into the text.
1. The unstoppable might of God’s plan
v8 And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
v9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
In V8, Nehemiah makes a statement saying that God’s hand was upon him and therefore the king responded to his requests favorably. V9 is now a description of that favor.
Nehemiah doesn’t land up in his home town all alone. He arrives with an entourage! Who all are there in his company? Officers of the army and horsemen. This shows the authority that backed this decision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Not only did he have letters for the governors of the province but he was also accompanied by the officials of the palace to add credibility to the whole order. It’s pretty clear that this was a work of God. It wasn’t Nehemiah’s convincing ability or friendship to the king that made this possible. God worked in the heart of the king to not only show favor but also fully support the initiative. How Sovereign and awesome is our God?
On the other hand in v10 we also see the tension and the opposition that Nehemiah faces. Sanballat was a governor of the Samaria region and Tobiah was probably his secretary. It says that it “displeased them greatly”. The Hebrew words for that actually describe it as a strong emotion that actually makes a person tremble or shake with rapid motion. Just shows how angry they were by this decision. Now why would they have a problem with “someone who came to seek the welfare of the people of Israel”?
These men concluded that the elevation of Jerusalem virtually meant the depression of Samaria; that, indirectly, Nehemiah had come to lower the dignity if not to lessen the prosperity of their state, and they counted him an enemy.
That’s how dangerous envy and jealously can be. It’s not just a trivial feeling that can be overlooked. It will result in disastrous end.
James 3:16 says “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
These two characters will be mentioned a lot in the course of this book as they try various deceptive means to thwart this whole plan. The truth is they weren’t fighting against Nehemiah, they were fighting against God Himself. And that’s a scary position to be in because if you’re fighting against God, there’s only going to be one victor! God.
Shouldn’t that encourage you and I today? God’s plan is glorious and unstoppable! He is redeeming people and drawing people to Himself from every corner of the earth. Nobody or nothing can stop his plan. Why? Because God Himself is the one working in hearts and creating circumstances for people to respond to him. People who oppose this plan do not fight against man but against God! That should encourage us as we step out and share our faith every day. The question isn’t if God’s plan will work or not….God’s plan is unstoppable! The question is “are you on God’s side today”?
2. The significance of Waiting before Acting
V11: So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose….
It seems like a short statement but it’s loaded with implications for our faith. Nehemiah got the approval, letters and even officials from the Persian King. What would you and I do if we were in his shoes? We would go to Jerusalem…convene a meeting with all the elders. Tell them that we need to start building and just do it, right?
I find it intriguing that Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and waits there for 3 days. What do you think he did in those 3 days? He prayed. Even though it’s not explicitly mentioned in the text, but I think it’s quite possible that he spent those 3 days praying and asking God to act.
I think that’s the case because:
1) In chapter 1 when Hanani comes to him and shares the sad state of affairs of his people and the city, he responds with prayer and fasting for months.
2) In chapter 2, just before he makes a request to the king, he prays and asks God for help.
So there’s every reason to think that this might have been the purpose of the wait in Jerusalem before he went ahead and did something.
And it’s got huge implications for us today. The reason why waiting on the Lord and praying is tough for many of us is not just because we are impatient. I think it’s because we struggle to believe that it’s God who actually acts and works through us! We want to hold on to every ounce of control so that in the end if it works out, we’d be able to take the credit/glory for making an active contribution.
Let’s try and apply it to our own lives:
1. How much of waiting on the Lord in prayer goes into the important decisions of your life? Where to live? Where to move to? Which job to take? Which school to go to? Whom to marry? What kind of lifestyle to have?
2. When you think about reaching the city and planning strategies, are you really asking the Lord for direction and guidance or are you trying to work things out with your own intellect and ability?
I’m not saying that having a plan is wrong. It’s important and in fact as you even see in Nehemiah’s story…he had a plan. He knew what he wanted even before he made a request to the king. In v12-16, we learnt that he inspected the walls, formulated a plan and then spoke to the people of Judah. It’s good to have a plan but what I’m saying here is often we make decisions and plans expecting God to bless it but neglecting the need to seek God before we make those decisions and plans. And sometimes we make our plans sound so Christianized and spiritual, but we need to ask ourselves: is God really in all of this?
Proverbs 16:1-3 offers us some help:
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.
Jesus being the Son of God would often retire to quiet places to meditate. Obviously he had plans and knew exactly what he was doing on the earth. But still he understood the significance of waiting before acting. How does that speak to our hearts today?
3. The faithful response while facing opposition
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim[a] in Jerusalem.” [ V17-20]
We see Sanballat, Tobiah come into the picture once again. This time along with an Arab named Geshem. What they did this time is accuse Nehemiah of rebelling against the king. Defying the king’s orders. What they’re probably referring to is Ezra 4 when the Persian King commanded the Jews to stop rebuilding the walls. This time however, as we’ve seen Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem with the blessing of the king.
What I find interesting is that Nehemiah doesn’t respond to their taunts by showing them the king’s letter or retaliating with more insults, he responds by a declaration of trust in what God would do. And that’s remarkable. He realized that this whole plan and mission wasn’t his own agenda. It wasn’t his own random decision to come to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. God awakened his heart to the situation in Jerusalem, God gave him favour in the sight of the king…all he did was respond in obedience. Even in v12, he makes that very clear.
And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.
Therefore, he knew that it would be God who would also finish and complete the whole rebuilding task. “God initiates, God sustains and God completes what He plans to do”: A clear understanding and faith in the person and plan of God enabled Nehemiah to respond in that way.
Often the reason why we react in retaliation or frustration to insults is because we fail to believe in the character and promises of God. Because we don’t believe in some aspect of the character and promises of God, we want to take matters into our own hands and we retaliate.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17-20)
What this means is that our God is just and that He will bring about judgment on those who act wickedly towards us but let God be the one who judges. In this case, trusting in the Justice of God enables us to
not take revenge and show love and concern to our enemies.
The fact is that all of us deserved the wrath and judgment of God because of our sins. God is Holy and He tolerates no evil and no sin. We on the other hand are sinful not only in our actions but are sinful by nature. Therefore, by nature you and I are enemies of a Holy God. But God showed His great love and mercy on us by sending His one and only Son Jesus to die for your sins and mine. All your sins were paid for on the cross and God’s judgment was poured on Jesus instead of you and I. Christ showed grace when we didn’t deserve, so now we show grace even to our enemies.
How do you respond when faced with insults for your faith? How do you respond when people mock you and ridicule you for doing what God has called you to do?
As God calls us to be obedient to Him, as He draws us into more areas where we’ll need to trust Him, we’ll often face opposition. This is going to happen to us personally as we look to obey God’s call on our lives and even corporately as we seek to honor him together as a family. In both cases, we know that God’s plans are unstoppable: Nobody or nothing can stop Him. We’re called to wait on Him in prayer before we act so that we know that it’s God who acts and works through us. And this helps us respond graciously to our enemies as we trust in God’s character and His promises.