“Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 2 saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” 4 Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! 5 Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.” 6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm. 7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. 8 They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion.
It’s here in Nehemiah chapter 4 that the people are confronted with overwhelming opposition that comes both from outside as well as within and is designed to create doubt and discouragement. Discouragement can be deadly because it causes us to spend our energy on worrying instead of working. Instead of focusing on the purpose and building the people started focusing on the problems and got bogged down. Worry not only takes our focus away from building the wall but also from the One we worship. The devil wants to distract and discourage, but it’s here in how Nehemiah deals with the difficulty that we discover how to defeat doubt and discouragement in our lives. So that instead of getting bogged down in the problems we learn how to build in the battle. Chapter 4 reveals more than just a problem but a plague, the disease of doubt and discouragement. This is an epidemic that is destroying the church and there are several things that make it such a potent problem. First it’s universal, none of us are immune to doubt and discouragement. Second, it’s recurring. Being discouraged or dealing with doubt once doesn’t give you immunity to the disease. You can be discouraged and you can doubt over and over again. In fact, you can even be discouraged by the fact that you are discouraged a lot. Third, it’s highly contagious. Discouragement and doubt spread through something as simple as casual contact. People can become disheartened because you are discouraged. You can be having a great day and someone comes along who is discouraged and it’s not long before too are also down. Now what I love about the Word of God is that it doesn’t pretend that everything is perfect or try to paint a picture of a problem fee life. That’s what prosperity preachers are trying to paint, come to Jesus and you will have a problem free, pain-free life. That’s pagan theology, not proper theology because it’s not based on the bible, it’s based on our wants, not the word. We all want a problem free, pain-free life, but remember Nehemiah was “Building in the battle” not being “blessed in a bubble.” Now while the passage starts with the problem, it reveals both the cause and cure for doubt and discouragement. When it comes to the cause we discover that there are both external and internal causes:
- External Causes
The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. It says of them in verse 6 that the “people worked with all their heart.” the people had worked with enthusiasm. Things were going well, the people were excited, and the wall was going up. Then something happened. Getting the work started on the wall was a major achievement, but keeping the workers working proved to be a much tougher assignment why? Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. There is external opposition; we have an enemy who wants to:
- Ridicule vs 1-2
In verses 1 and 2 we see the enemy trying to use the tactic of ridicule to reduce God’s people. This is the third time in the book of Nehemiah that Sanballat has crossed paths with Nehemiah, in fact, he was his stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing in opposition against the work of God, rejecting and ridiculing everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. It’s the same tactic that the giant Goliath used to cause the Israelite army to react with fear. He also ridiculed David but instead of retreating, David ran toward him with only a sling and a stone (1 Samuel 17:41-47). Jesus was also mocked and ridiculed by the soldiers during his trial. This is not the first time Sanballat and his cronies had tried to belittle and bully God’s people. Back in chapter 2, they began to ridicule the workers even before the work had started. Now he belittles them before the Samaria army, calling them feeble. One thing you need to understand about bullies, they will always belittle people when they feel backed up by others. They are not real men but cowards who try to make everyone else afraid when really it’s just a cover for their own insecurities. Look it’s easy to be the big man when you have an army behind you, but real men don’t bully others they build them up. Bullies are not big men they are babies who hide behind hate so that they can feel good about themselves. The goal of belittling is to undermine their efforts and he ridicules their work by asking four taunting questions:
“Will they restore their wall?” undermine their ambitions and destroy their hope and dreams.
“Will they offer sacrifices?” undermine their belief – do they think that they can pray that wall up?
“Will they finish in a day?” undermine their enthusiasm
“Can they bring these stones back to life?” Undermined their Confidence
Ridicule lined the road to the cross and it will always revolve around the work of God. Don’t let ridicule run you over, expect it, face it and don’t stop working. When ridicule didn’t seem to work second they turned to:
- Repression vs 7-8
When God’s people refuse to back down to the bullies, the bullies move from threats of harassment to threats of harm. It says that they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem. It amazes me how Christians struggle to come together and work together but how the world doesn’t have any difficulty working together to come against the church. Now I want you to notice that the reference to each of the enemies in verse 7 is more than just information about their names. These actually reference points that point to all four points of the compass. Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, Ashdod on the west, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the east, and Geshem and the Arabs to the south. The workers were surrounded and lived in constant fear of being ambushed. It’s easy to deal with discouragement when it’s at a distance, but when it completely surrounds us it can feel crushing. But it’s here that we see God’s people putting their energy into working instead of into worry. Maybe right now you are surrounded on all sides by trouble, don’t give in to fear continue to walk by faith and follow God. He didn’t save you so that you could waste your life on worry but so that you could live your life as a warrior. Instead of being caught up in the problems start let God consumed you in His power and provision. What fears are you facing right now, give them to God and choose worship over the worry?