Nehemiah 6:1–16comment (0)
March 26, 2009
By Thomas Fuller
Related Scripture: Nehemiah 6:1–16
Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
HANG IN THERE
I have never run a marathon, but I admire those who train for many months and succeed in completing that grueling 26.2-mile course. Many marathon runners speak of a point in the race when they seemingly hit a wall, physically and mentally. Feeling utter exhaustion, it is hard to press on to the finish line. It is then that the cheers of bystanders, calling out, “You can do it! Hang in there!,” mean the most. A good start is very important, but finishing well is the true measure of success. Serving God and neighbor is a lot like running a marathon: We will almost certainly run into our own “walls” and experience any number of distractions and discouragements. Nehemiah and the Jews had more than their share of challenges while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This week’s lesson drives home the importance of perseverance in Christian service.
Avoid Distraction (1–9)
As Chapter 6 begins, the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and gates is nearing completion; all that is left is the setting of the gates. Under such circumstances, one might assume, “Nothing can stop us from finishing the work now!” The sad truth, however, is this may be one of the most vulnerable phases of any good work. The landscape of our lives is too often littered with almost-finished projects. The final quarter is a time for increased vigilance and determination to avoid distractions.
Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem changed their tactics from threats of violence (Chapter 4) to political mischief. Their repeated invitations to Nehemiah to meet with them were, at least, an attempt to delay the work and, at most, part of a plot to do him harm. From his response, we should learn the value of staying focused on the task at hand. Even as Nehemiah’s enemies made accusations against him and threatened to forward their claims to King Artaxerxes, he stayed the course, trusting God to strengthen his resolve. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that a previous rebuilding effort in Jerusalem was halted by similar means (Ezra 4:8–16).
Ignore Naysayers (10–14)
In our efforts to serve God and neighbor, there will almost always be someone who cautions us about the course we are taking. Most often, such individuals are genuinely concerned for us and, possibly, for the work itself. Godly counsel is something we all need (Prov. 15:22). However, we also need discretion in equal measure. Following the call of God requires a discerning spirit and the courage to set aside others’ opinions and cautions when the Lord has clearly impressed upon us His will. Shemaiah counseled Nehemiah to flee to the temple for refuge from the threat of violence against him. Nehemiah asked, “Should a man such as I flee?” Who was he? Nehemiah was a leader and his self-preserving flight would have stalled progress on the project and sent a discouraging message to the workers. He was neither a priest nor a Levite, thus he was forbidden from entering the temple building (Num. 18:7). He was a eunuch, as were all royal cupbearers of that era, and Jewish law categorically denied admission to the temple for all such people (Lev. 21:17–24; Deut. 23:1). What Shemaiah suggested was wrong in several respects. Nehemiah understood this and rejected his counsel, recognizing that a word from the Lord would never present him with such an objectionable course of action.
See the Work to Completion (15–16)
It is a great feeling to cross the finish line in a difficult race, to pen the last line of a lengthy piece, to put the finishing touches on a work that has required our significant investment. Nehemiah’s words in verses 15–16 reflect that joy. Even greater, though, was the joy of seeing God glorified in the work. The remarkable feat of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls in only 52 days — during which time they also kept watch for attacks from enemies and addressed matters of justice within the community — was a testimony to God’s strong hand of provision. Completing the work was an act of great faith, as well as an act of witness and worship. Our work today, whatever it may be, is likewise done unto God (1 Cor. 10:31). Let us see it through to completion to His glory.