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Nehemiah 2:1920; 4:114comment (0)

March 12, 2009

By Thomas Fuller

Related Scripture: Nehemiah 2:1920; 4:114

Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Nehemiah 2:19–20; 4:1–14

As if dealing with the enemies of our own complacency and lack of vision were not enough, we also often have to contend with the opposition of others when stepping up to serve God and neighbor. Such opposition can take many forms: We may be outwardly opposed, criticized or even attacked by those who do not share our faith commitments; we may encounter disagreements with those we are in fellowship with as they discourage or undermine our efforts; or it may be any combination of these and other forms of opposition. Whatever the particulars, we must be prepared to encounter difficulties on the path of following the Lord’s leadership, such as Nehemiah experienced, and remain steadfast in our resolve.

Maintain Confidence in God (2:19–20)

Verse 18 ends on the high note of the people saying, “Let us rise up and build.” Verse 19 then begins with that ominous word “but,” which points to an exception or qualification. In Nehemiah’s case, it meant everyone was not in agreement. Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem are identified as the dissenters. Sanballat was a representative of the Persian government in Samaria, Tobiah was a deputy governor in neighboring Ammon and Geshem was a vassal ruler over a vast territory. Their disagreement was disheartening enough, but more than that, they publicly ridiculed Nehemiah and his proposal and leveled the accusation of rebellion against the king. This was potentially problematic, considering the account in Ezra 4:11–23, in which King Artaxerxes had previously been persuaded to end rebuilding efforts in Jerusalem for fear of the city’s resurgence to power.

Nehemiah’s response is interesting in that he made no claims to be acting on the king’s authority to refute the charges of rebellion. Regardless of his reasons, Nehemiah’s response is exemplary in the fact that he asserted his authority not in the endorsement of an earthly king but in the blessing of “[t]he God of heaven.” We need not despise or discount the role of earthly authorities (Rom. 13:1–7) or reject all arguments based in human reason, yet the ultimate authority and wisdom of the Christian life is the Word of God made alive in us by the power of faith through the Holy Spirit.

Ask God for Help (4:1–6)
The details of Chapter 3 reflect the rebuilding work on Jerusalem’s walls did proceed. The first three verses of Chapter 4 reveal the opposition to the work also continued and probably intensified. It is noteworthy that the people pressed on with the work in the face of opposition. Too often, in such circumstances, we wring our hands and waste valuable time agonizing over such a dilemma, while the work itself can give us a much-needed focus for our physical and emotional energies. Nehemiah and the Jews, however, did more than just “work it out” with sweat. They turned to God. The prayer of verses 4–5 certainly doesn’t reflect Jesus’ admonition to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but it does reveal a healthy sense of this being God’s work that is being opposed. When dealing with adversity in the service of the Lord, we do well to frame our efforts in the acknowledgment that God superintends His work and is active in that work in a way that transcends our abilities or understanding.

Take Reasonable Precautions (4:7–14)

In the United States today, we live with the awareness of the “threat level” of a terrorist attack. When the threat level is raised, a new level of intensity is given to our watchfulness and steps are taken to strengthen defenses. In the face of such dangers, reasonable precautions are in order. Nehemiah took precautions when it appeared the situation had changed. Commenting on this passage, author Emmett Willard Hamrick wrote, “Nehemiah was a man of prayer and a man of great faith. But he was also a practical administrator. He did not believe prayer was a substitute for a maximum effort on his own part.” Times may come when we, too, must take reasonable steps to ensure the important work of God’s Kingdom continues in the face of serious opposition.

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