Pray and Do Something: Nehemiah’s Response as Opposition Rises

Read: Nehemiah 4-5

Sanballat and Tobiah move beyond their initial reaction where “they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites” (Nehemiah 2:10). They’re now actively promoting dissent among those working on the walls while planting the seed for insurrection with their cohorts. It’s a battle of words as even Sanballat and Tobiah must remember that Nehemiah has letters from the King, but words can be so effective, can’t they?

  • What are those feeble Jews doing?
  • Will they restore their wall?
  • Will they offer sacrifices?
  • Will they finish in a day?
  • Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?
  • What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!

How many personal insults does it take for you to stop doing what you were called to do? It didn’t take long for the taunting of Sanballat and his friends to infect the Israelites. Nehemiah prayed for strength and progress was evident so the opposition began to develop a more aggressive plan,

Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work. Nehemiah 4:11

Nehemiah heard the people, the virus was beginning to spread:

“The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
“…ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Nehemiah 4:10,12

Do Something

His first response was to pray and ask God “turn their insults back on their own heads.” As they got more aggressive, prayer was backed with action, they prayed and posted guards. This is an interesting point. Did they not trust that God would protect them? Not at all. I would argue that the answer to prayer often requires action on our part. Posting guards was not some admission that God couldn’t protect them, part of God’s answer was for them to do something.

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. Nehemiah 4:14-15

Don’t sit there and pray that the hole in your roof will be fixed, get material and patch your roof and have confidence that God will bless the effort, sometimes in ways we can never imagine or understand.

I don’t think it was Nehemiah’s Plan A to have half his people working while the other half were posted as guards, but he didn’t just sit and watch as the threat increased.

Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. Nehemiah 4:23

Don’t Lose Site of Your Mission

Chapter 5 reminds us that we must not lose site of our mission in our response to squelch opposition. Nehemiah learns that among the Jews, there are those who are taking advantage of their own people.

Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” Nehemiah 5:5

Nehemiah was very angry when he learned about this and called a large meeting of nobles and officials. When he revealed the accusations, their response was significant: “They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say” (Nehemiah 5:8).

Not only is Nehemiah in town to fix the wall, but he’s on mission to set the Israelites back on a trajectory for success. He made the nobles and officials take an oath to change their ways and treat their own people with dignity and respect, to give them back their property and interest. He was not happy and they knew it!

I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” Nehemiah 5:13

Nehemiah backed his words with actions in his own house. The previous governors demanded much from the people to support their administration, but Nehemiah was adamant about supporting himself within his own means–he would not be a burden to the people.

In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Nehemiah 5:18

Instead, he relied on the Lord to provide: “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people” (Nehemiah 5:19).

How can we work within the church without being a burden on the church? Lord, I don’t have the answer to this question, but Nehemiah compels me to ask the question. I’m pretty sure there is no easy, one size fits all answer, but I’m also sure that we must each ask the question, listen for your answer and do something that shows we truly care while trusting you to remember us with favor.

It’s messy and complicated–that’s why we were chosen to love the Lord and love our neighbors.

Pray and Do Something.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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