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Nehemiah 3-4: Facing Opposition with Faith Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 May 2016

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Handling opposition is a challenge we must all face. In particular, the life of the Christian is filled with ‘opportunities’ to respond with faith in the face of opposition. It will come in various forms. It’s the co-worker who thinks you are too concerned with religion to do a good job or be a good friend. It’s the family member who thinks you give way too much time to the church and not nearly enough for family activities and events. Sometimes it is even the ‘Christian’ neighbor who scoffs at your conservative views and calls you unloving and insensitive. We face opposition as a Body of believers as well. Those of differing religions want to convince Christians that they are wrong or that they too are right (pluralism). Others oppose Christians for seeking to win others to Christ. ‘Just live and let live,’ is their slogan. Again, some ‘Christians’ mock those who still believe the Bible is true and right. We could go on, but all of these are opponents that we may face as followers of Jesus. So how do we face them with faith?

Nehemiah was facing serious opposition to the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem. As we saw last week, the first thing that he encounters when he returns to the city is opposition. The governors around Jerusalem did not want him to seek the welfare of the people of Israel (2:10). We noted that Nehemiah believed that God’s favor would continue to give them success and we get to see that play out in chapters 3-4. In walking through this story, we can also learn some steps to take to fight for perseverance in the face of opposition. So then, what should we do?

When facing opposition, we commit to do our part (ch. 3)

Nehemiah 3 is another list of names. We have already seen a couple of these in the book of Ezra. So what is the purpose of this list? These names give us a record of the people who helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah. They are recorded in geographical order, moving counterclockwise around the city. The list starts with the Sheep Gate. Look at verse 1. And ends with the Sheep Gate. Look at verse 32. The list mentions priests and rulers, sons and daughters, goldsmiths and perfumers. Just so you get a feel for this, look at verses 6-12. All different types of people from different places and different walks of life were coming together to do the work. There were those who refused. Look at verse 5. We are not given an exact reason why these men would not serve, but the wording seems to indicate that they had too much pride to spend their time rebuilding walls. But thankfully, they were in the minority. The rest of the people came together to do their part. As we will see, the circumstances were not ideal. The work was hard and the opposition was fierce. But when people unite together to work for the Lord and commit themselves to doing their part, then the work will get done. As a church, a group of believers, we should learn from this the importance of unity. We might not all have the same tasks, but we serve the same Lord. And when we face opposition, we should face it together and do our part to fight for perseverance.

When facing opposition, we pray for justice (4:1-9)

Prayer has played a major role in the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is obvious from the text that these men believed in the power of prayer and were committed to bringing their needs before the Lord. We see this again in the life of Nehemiah.

Yet, before we look at his prayer, which could be a bit shocking to us, we need to consider the opposition that he faces. Look at 4:1-3. Aww, nothing like some good old-fashioned mockery. If you are ever tempted to believe that you are the first person to get made fun of for your faith in God, then just go back and read the Bible. You will discover that the enemies of God are regularly mocking the faithful. The Israelites had determined to follow Nehemiah’s lead and rebuild the wall. And the opposition ridicules their efforts. They call them names: feeble Jews. They point out the difficulties: Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that? And they crack jokes about their work: if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall. These men are laughing at the Jews.

Even so, Nehemiah knows that this is serious business. Look at his prayer in verses 4-5. This is what we call an ‘imprecatory prayer.’ It is prayer asking God to bring justice upon a person’s enemies. These men are mocking the people and by doing so they are provoking the Lord to anger. They are not just opposing the Jews, they are opposing their God. And Nehemiah prays that God would thwart their plans and bring justice to those who live in opposition to God. Although, we should always exercise great caution in praying such prayers (because we are often filled with pride and ungodly anger), I do think it is right for us to pray for justice. That will happen in one of two ways for our opponents. One, they will refuse to repent, live their lives in rebellion to God, and pay justly for their sins throughout eternity. Although we do not want this for anyone individually, we do know that God will be just in punishing those who live in rebellion to Him. Second, they will turn from their sins, believe in Jesus, and their sins will be justly forgiven due to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They will abandon their opposition and actually join the ranks of those they formerly opposed. Either way, we pray for justice to be done and trust God to bring that about in His good will.

In this case, God’s justice does not come immediately, but even so, the people keep working. Look at verses 6-9. Prayer should not lead to less effort but more. As we pray more and more for the salvation of our friends and neighbors, it should lead us to the good work of sharing the gospel more and more. But don’t be surprised when the opposition increases. The threat facing Nehemiah and the people is real. They are surrounded on every side. The enemies are plotting to take them out. But the people just prayed for justice and kept on working.

When facing opposition, we plan for protection (4:10-23)

Did you notice at the end of verse 9, that they set a guard as protection against them day and night. Some might accuse them of lacking faith: ‘Why set a guard? Just trust the Lord to take care of you.’ But setting a guard is not a lack of faith but an act of faith. We do not pray for protection and then leave ourselves vulnerable. We don’t ask the Lord to help us overcome lust and then have no accountability. We don’t pray for deliverance from addiction to alcohol and keep beer in the fridge. Our prayers do not mean that we refuse protection. On the contrary, we pray and then we act in faith.

The rest of chapter 4 deals with the different ways that Nehemiah planned to protect the people as they built the wall. Look at verses 10-14. The people are working but the morale is getting low. The enemies attacks are starting to work on them psychologically. Their strength is failing. There is too much rubble. Things do not look good. Not only that, but the opposition is growing and they continue to utter threats. So much so that the other Jews living outside the city and beginning to ask them to stop. Nehemiah needs to act. He needs to encourage the people to continue the work. So he sets up measures to provide for their protection. He equips them with physical and spiritual weapons. He gives them swords and spears and bows for the threatening armies and the truth of God’s Word for their fears and doubts. This is his plan of protection.

We see more of it in verses 15-20. They will not give up the work but they must not ignore the need for protection. So they find a way to do both. Half the people continue the work while the other half keep guard. Some carried their loads in one hand and carried their sword in the other. Each stayed ready for a fight. Not only that, but Nehemiah kept watch and told them all to flock to him if they heard the trumpet call. It would seem easy for the enemy to attack since they are all spread out along the walls, but if they all gathered at the sound of the trumpet, then they could turn the enemy away. It is a good plan for protection. And they had a plan for both day and night. Look at verses 21-23. They had a guard from dawn until dusk and they had provisions for spending the night in the city as well. Nehemiah notes that they even slept ready to fight, keeping their swords with them at all times. They had a good plan for protection. Do you have such a plan? Are you ready to fight the opposition as necessary? Is your guard up both day and night?

When facing opposition, we remember our God (4:4, 9, 14-15, 20)

Does having a plan mean that we do not trust in the Lord? No, in fact, part of our plan should always include remembering the God that we serve. When the opposition mocked, Nehemiah prayed. Look at verse 4. When they plotted together, they prayed and set up a guard. Look at verse 9. When the morale got low, Nehemiah reminded them of God. Look at verse 14-15. And when the trumpet sounded, they rallied to the fight knowing that God would fight for them. Look at verse 20. Nehemiah believed in the sovereign Lord of the universe. He knew that He is great and awesome. He knew that God would fight for Israel. His theology served to encourage him in the face of opposition. People who do not know the Lord, and I mean really know the truth of God that the Bible reveals, will not be ready to face opposition. You cannot remember what you do not know. In the face of fierce enemies, Nehemiah cries: ‘Remember the Lord!’

Nehemiah gives us some good lessons for having faith when we face opposition. We should come together and do our part. We should pray for justice and plan for protection. And we should always remember the Lord. As we face the opposition in our lives, we should remember the gospel. In Christ, through His perfect life and death on the cross, we have victory over all of our enemies. If you have never trusted in Him, then you should do so today and know the victory of the Lord. And it is in Christ that we can come together to do our part in the great task of taking the gospel to everyone who has not heard. We must do our part in the Great Commission. The gospel informs our prayers for justice and empowers our plans for protection. And by coming to the table each week and laboring in study and prayer every day, we remember what our God has done for us at the cross. The only hope that our opposition has is bowing the knee to King Jesus and joining our ranks, which they can do through the gospel. Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters. Remember the Lord. And face all your opposition with faith in Him. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 May 2016 )

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