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Sword and Trowel

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Sermon shared by Robert Leroe

February 2013
Summary: Prayer, preparation, and a passion for the cause of God are the keys to Israel's defense under Nehemiah.
Denomination: Congregational
Audience: Believer adults
Sermon:
We’re skipping over chapter 3, which consists of a roster of those engaged in the work effort. Nehemiah has his workers carefully organized to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for “rebuild” was also used for the healing of a wound. Nehemiah divides the work into manageable sections, assigning teams to each part. Chapter 4 describes the effort and opposition to this project to restore Israel’s national defense and heal their dignity. We catch here their passion for the cause of God.

Meanwhile, the enemies of Israel, four neighboring provinces, join together in a coalition to devise a plan of attack. They begin with a “cold war”, a war of nerves, by an attempt to dishearten the Jews with a demoralizing propaganda campaign, filled with contempt; and it was having an effect on morale. Criticism drains us; it steals our energy. The enemies mock, wondering if these fanatics were going to pray the wall up? This psychological warfare was nothing less than an attack on Israel’s faith and of God’s purpose. This verbal attack causes an internal crisis. Some of the workers on the wall become discouraged…yet Nehemiah remains confident, able to place matters in God’s capable hands. He’s not about to give up.

Israel continues to face opposition today, and my prayer is that America will continue to support this Holy Land. Israel has few friends, and I pray we continue to befriend them.

What does all this mean to us? When we make an effort to strengthen our walk with God, we can expect opposition; it’s inevitable. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our struggle is not merely against “flesh and blood” but against “spiritual wickedness” (Ephesians 6:10-18). We’re engaged in a spiritual battle and we must equip ourselves with the armor of God and stand our ground!

Nehemiah was severely criticized. How do we respond to criticism? There’s constructive criticism, meant to help us; and destructive, intended to hurt us. We need to consider the source. Is it someone who’s walking with God? If so, we should take seriously their words. The Book of Proverbs speaks to this…

• 12:18, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”
• 15:31, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”
• 19:20, “Get all the advice and instruction you can, and be wise the rest of your life.”
• 27:6, “Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (NLT).

Nehemiah doesn’t criticize back; he goes to God in prayer, verses 4-5, appealing to God to frustrate the plans of the enemy, to turn their insults back on their own heads. He even asks God not to forgive their sins. This sounds harsh, yet it was similar to the psalms that call for the destruction of God’s enemies. The Scriptures promise blessing for God’s people and calamity upon their enemies. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” For God to be victorious, evil must be overcome. Nehemiah is not praying to God out of malice or vindictiveness. Likewise, when we’re attacked, we need to take it to God.

It soon becomes
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