Grace For The Journey
We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD. We are learning about God’s rebuilding the walls and learning how God rebuilds our lives. God’s man is Nehemiah and he is leading the massive rebuilding project – leading the people to rebuild the broken down wall that encircles Jerusalem. That is where we left the people on Wednesday – all gathered in groups around various sections of the gates, rebuilding the walls in chapter 3. One of the recurring points we have noted is that God’s will often includes opposition. That opposition comes in the likeness of two characters, two bad guys named Sanballat and Tobiah. We have been introduced to them twice already and now in chapter 4 we get to know them a little better.
Some of you will remember a popular book some years ago entitled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? It was written by Rabbi Kushner. It was not the best book because it suggested there were some things over which God had no control. God has control over everything though His ways are often shrouded in mystery. I like what RC Sproul said when someone asked him about it. RC Sproul passed away a little over a year ago. Someone said, “RC, why do bad things happen to good people?” He said, “I don’t know, I haven’t met any good people yet.” One thing is certain:
When bad things do happen,
God is not absent.
He is there in the mystery of the chaos, the hurt, and the pain. The Bible teaches that sometimes God allows tribulation to come our way in order to shape us into Christlikeness. Tribulation is expected. Tribulation comes to Nehemiah and the people in this passage in the form of opposition, criticism, and discouragement. I want to share with you two main headings that really surface from the text. We will go through this passage one verse at a time, and gather our thoughts under these two imperatives. First, we learn from this passage . . .
1) The Importance Of Prayer – Verses 1-9.
The hymn-writer asks, “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.” This is precisely what Nehemiah does when facing opposition. Let’s read about these two bad guys again, the notorious miscreants Sanballat and Tobiah.
Verse 1 says, “But it so happened, when Sanballat (everyone say, “Boo!”) heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.” Sanballat is seething. His power is threatened. He is furious and indignant. He does not want these Jews to succeed in rebuilding the wall because that robs him of his own glory and prestige as a pagan leader in the land. So, he mocked the Jews. Teased them, made fun of them.
Verse 2 states, “And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices(literally “offer” means “pray up” the wall up)? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned?’” The answer is, “Yes, they will!” Sanballat is mocking, ridiculing, and criticizing all in the hopes of discouraging the workers. Then Sanballat’s sidekick appears.
Verse 3 says, “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.’” What a snide comment! Tobiah snarls and scoffs: Tobiah is being facetious or, in today’s vernacular he was, “talking smack.”
There is an old proverb that says: “Birds of a feather flock together.” Critics run with other critics. Critics run in pairs and often in packs. Critics huddle together and point out what is wrong with all the folks who are not in their huddle. This can happen in churches. Critics are often the ones who start their own little group, leaving the others and starting their own special gathering.
Notice how Nehemiah responds to the mocking. In verse 4 he prays, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!” His prayer is not so much that God wipe out these guys as it is to turn them over to others. It is a prayer for justice. He goes on in verse 5 and says, “Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.” The gist of this verse is that Sanballat and Tobiah have dared to dishonor God by discouraging the builders. God’s name is at stake, so Nehemiah prays that God deal with their iniquity. The sense is, “Do not let them get away with this! They have brought shame to Your name! Defend Your honor, God!”
Nehemiah says in verse 6, “So we built the wall(we just kept at it!), and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” They have gotten the entire circle of the wall built up half-way! It is joined together up to half its height. Nehemiah says the reason is, “for the people had a mind to work.” Put another way, “They were committed. They gave it their all. They put their heart and soul into it.”
But the critics are still lingering. Verse 7 says, “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry.” Critics run with other critics. There is a whole pack of them now. The people called the Ashdodites come from the west, joining up Sanballat from the north (Samaria), Tobiah from the east (the Ammonites), and the Arabs from the south. They are doing their best to close in on them.
Verse 8 says, “And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.” So again, God’s people turn to prayer. Verse 9 states, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.” We will read more about that “watch” that they set against them in a minute. For now, note again that the people pray. We must pray. God’s will often includes opposition. So pray. We must pray.
Secondly . . .
2. We Must Persevere – Verses 10-14.
Things get worse for Nehemiah and the builders. Verse 10 says, “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’” The tribe of Judah is starting to get discouraged. They are like feeling that they are losing it and their strength is failing them. There is so much rubbish lying around! They just cannot do it!
Ever feel like you just cannot do it?! There is so much rubbish lying around. Your strength fails you. I cannot help but hear the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we will reap, if we faint not.” Stick with the work! Do not stop. Do not grow weary in well-doing.
You might be waiting for things to get better. But verse 11 speaks about more discouragement that the people faced, “And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.’” The Hebrew here is kind of tricky to translate. The sense of verse 11 is the enemies saying, “Before they know it, we will be right there in their midst, we will catch them off guard. We will kill them and cause the work to stop!”
Verse 12 continues, “So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, ‘From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.’” The people are even more discouraged. They are ready to give up! They see that no matter what they do, Sanballat, Tobiah, and all of their villainous horde will ruin then!
Notice what Nehemiah does in verse 13, “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” We will read more about this next time, but Nehemiah comes up with a plan . . .
They will look up in pray and
Look to God’s protection;
And they will build
And defend themselves.
They will have tools of rebuilding
In one hand and tools of
Defending in the other hand!
I love what it says in verse 14, “And I looked(and the sense is, “I looked at the discouragement in the faces of the people”), and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” This has all the markings of an epic battle speech with all of the heroic valor and glory! If you have even an ounce of chivalry within you, you cannot help but feel Nehemiah’s speech in a deeply, visceral way! Here is Nehemiah rallying the people to stand firm and fight for the cause.
Nehemiah is rallying the troops. He is calling them not to quit and remember the Lord, Who is Great and Awesome! He is calling them to fight for their brethren, their sons, their daughters, their wives, and their houses. He is calling them to fight, remembering the Lord, the One who fights the fight through you. Nehemiah will say later in verse 20, “Our God will fight for us.”
Here is what we can take away from our study this morning. When I am criticized or discouraged . . .
1. Take it to the Lord.
Simply put – we are to pray. Twice in this passage we find Nehemiah talking about prayer. When folks criticize you – and they will – remember: God’s will often includes opposition – when folks criticize you or seek to discourage you like Sanballat and Tobiah take it to the Lord.
Jesus did the same. When he was threatened, when he was mocked, the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:23 that Jesus did return evil for evil but, “but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He took it to God. Turned it over to God.
Do not take the matter
In your own hands,
Take it to the Lord!
When criticized or discouraged take it to the Lord. Remember that God’s people are often despised and hated just as God’s Son was despised and hated. Just take it to the Lord. Commit yourself to Him who judges righteously. Trust God to do the right thing even as you pray for your critics, praying for your enemies (Matthew 5:44). Take it to the Lord.
Second action, when criticized or discouraged:
2. Keep Your Eye on the Goal.
The wall was halfway built when discouragement set in. Halfway! Their strength was failing. Nehemiah could have become discouraged himself. He could have been like, “Well, maybe the wall can wait.” No! He stirs the people up. Remember from last time? Leaders see what others do not? Nehemiah sees the finished wall. He helps the people see it, too. Nehemiah says, “Fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” He is giving vision to see the future, helping them see the goal, the finished product.
When you are discouraged by your sin you say, “Ah, there’s so much rubble!” And you want to give up. You have failed God time and time again. But listen . . .
God is doing a work
In you and through you.
The Bible teaches in Philippians 1:6 that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus. God is working through your rubble to rebuild you in the image of Christ! That is the goal! Remember it. Keep your eye on the goal. Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.
M. R. DeHaan, in his book, Broken Things give this illustration: A bar of steel is worth $5; when made into ordinary horseshoes, is then worth $10. If this same $5 bar is manufactured into needles, the value rises to $350. Yet if it is made into delicate springs for expensive watches, it is worth more than $250,000. The same bar of steel is made more valuable by being cut . . . passed through one furnace blast after another, again, and again, hammered and manipulated, beaten and pounded, finished and polished until it is ready for those delicate tasks.
I hear a young single mother in the monotony of day-to-day living cry, “But there’s so much rubble! Look at all these dishes! There is too many diapers! Rubble everywhere! Toys strewn across the living room floor!” Keep your eye on the goal! Have the vision to see that little boy, that little girl, grown up into a godly man, or a godly woman. Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.
Take it to the Lord.
Keep your eye on the goal.
Number three, when criticized or discouraged . . .
3. Find Your Security in the Lord.
Nehemiah said, “Do not be afraid…remember the Lord, great and awesome …!”
Rest in the security of
The great name of God.
Trust God to overcome the enemy. Trust God to overcome the enemies of discouragement you face this week – doubts, setbacks, sin, and failure – God has overcome all enemies through Jesus Christ our Lord. Find your security in the Lord.
- Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your job will get you through the job loss.
- Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your house and stuff and friends, will get you through the sudden relocation to a strange new home in a strange new land.
I pray this chorus of “Amazing Grace” is always on your heart . . .
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Finding your security in the Lord, and not your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, will get you through the hard times when the hard times hit.
Find your security in the Lord.
You have got to be “in” the Lord
To have security in the Lord.
You have got to turn from sin and turn to Him. Repent. Let go of other gods you have been turning to for false security. Turn away from those things. You know what they are. Break free from them and turn to Christ. Find your security in Him.
Find your security in the Lord, not your performance. God accepts us, we have security in Him; He accepts us and secures us not on the basis of our religious performance yesterday, or tomorrow, or today. God accepts us and we are secure in Him on the basis of Christ’s performance for us – His perfect performance, His perfect record of righteousness credited freely to us through faith. Find your security in the Lord.
Bottom line . . .
Remember the Lord
Great and awesome!
And you can sing . . .
Lost are saved, find their way, at the sound of Your great name
All condemned, feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name
Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name
The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name
Pray: “Jesus, worthy are You, the Lamb that was slain for us, son of God and man. You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise Your great name”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”