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Basic Bible: Nehemiah Combats Derision and Danger

Nehemiah 4:1-9

The text before us is an account told by Nehemiah about the difficulties that he encountered in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah had not been assigned to the position of project manager for rebuilding the walls by anyone. When Nehemiah learned of the condition of the city of Jerusalem and its walls he was distressed and went to the Lord in prayer (Neh. 1:4). Nehemiah prayed to God asking that God would restore the remnant of the children of Israel to Himself and would remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut. 4:31). Nehemiah asked God to grant him mercy in the sight of Artaxerxes, king of the Persian Empire. God granted Nehemiah’s request and Nehemiah was fully convinced that his mission and the restoration of the remnant was in full accord with the will of God.

The favor that Nehemiah requested of the king was that he be given leave to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and given the resources needed to do the job. The resources that he requested and received included letters of authority bearing the king’s seal. When Sanballat (governor of Samaria) learned of Nehemiah’s mission, he was distressed that one had come to “seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (ch. 2, v. 10).

Speaking before the army of Samaria, Sanballat mocked Nehemiah. Sanballat suggested that the Jews were foolish because they sought to fortify themselves with burnt stones buried in heaps of rubbish; they sought to offer sacrifices to their God; and they sought to do in a day that which would require months and maybe years. Tobiah the Ammonite joined Sanballat in chorus saying that any wall that the Jews would build would be so weak that a fox brushing against it would cause it to fall.

When Nehemiah learned of their words, he went to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). Nehemiah did not ask the Lord for help in rebuilding the wall. He asked God to bring His wrath upon Sanballat and his allies because they stood in opposition to that which God would have him do — rebuild Jerusalem.

“So built we the wall; and all the wall joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (v. 6). Building the wall was more than building the wall of a city. It was an expression of a changed heart. They were returning, as a people, to the Lord their God. Their mission was to lift up the Lord God of their fathers. The ridicule of Sanballat and Tobiah would be of no effect.

Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s words of ridicule were directed at the builders of the wall who were the heirs of Abraham according to the flesh. Their belittlement of the builders was directed at Abraham to whom the Lord said: “. . . I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Gen. 12:3). The words of Sanballat and Tobiah were spoken against the Lord God of all creation.

When Sanballat and his allies heard that the walls were being restored and the gaps were being closed, they were angry and conspired to fight against Jerusalem. This was no small conspiracy. They knew that Nehemiah had come in the full authority of the king of the Persian Empire. Nehemiah had presented them with letters from the king stating that which Nehemiah was to do. While not explicitly stated in scripture, it would seem that Sanballat intended to use small bands of raiders to disrupt the building such that he might portray the attacks as that of renegades.

The alliance against Nehemiah consisted of Sanballat of Samaria (north of Jerusalem), the Arabians (south of Jerusalem), the Ammonites (east of Jerusalem), and Ashdodites (west of Jerusalem). Jerusalem was opposed on every side.

When Nehemiah learned of their conspiracy, he and Jerusalem with him prayed. Nehemiah set a watch against the would be attackers day and night (v. 9). Nehemiah assigned half of his workforce to defensive positions on the wall. Using a divided workforce, he was able to complete the wall in a period of 52 days (see Neh. 6:15).

The building of the wall was accomplished because the hearts of the people were turned to God and they sought to do His will. God strengthened Nehemiah and the remnant in Jerusalem to do the impossible. Nehemiah prayed and the impossible followed.

New Testament believers, likewise, are strengthened to do the impossible by the Lord. Our Lord and Savior has given us the sure promise: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn. 14:13). Let us love one another as He loves us.

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