Summary: Nehemiah demonstrates how to deal with discouragement in our walk with Jesus.
In general, I really enjoy doing projects around our house – especially those projects that give a sense of accomplishment once they are completed. Over the years Mary and I have taken on some pretty big projects. We’ve done significant landscaping work on at least 4 different houses we’ve owned. At our last house I laid several hundred square feet of Saltillo tile. We’ve painted more walls and ceilings than I can count.
But I’ll have to admit that on most of those projects, it was a lot easier to get the project started than it was to finish it up – especially some of the larger, long-term ones. And the reason for that is that somewhere along the way, discouragement started to creep in. Maybe the project took a lot longer than expected or we ran into some unforeseen problem that added to the costs and the time required to complete the project.
So I guess it’s not really surprising that in a lifelong project like becoming a mature disciple of Jesus, that there are those times when discouragement finds its way into our lives tends to become a roadblock in that process.
That was certainly true for Nehemiah and his fellow Jews as they worked on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Last week in chapter 3, we saw how the whole community worked together as that building project got started. But it wasn’t too long until the people began to be discouraged. Some of that discouragement was a result of attacks from the outside, but most of it, as we’ll see, was really more internal.
But the good news, as we’ll see more fully as we go through chapter 4 this morning, is that God does provide us with the resources that we need to overcome discouragement and finish the work He has given us to do.
So once again this morning, I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Nehemiah chapter 4 so that you can follow along as I read the passage and as we work our way through that chapter.
The chapter begins with another appearance of the villains we first saw in chapter 2:
Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
(Nehemiah 4:1-3 ESV)
In chapter 2, Sanballat and Tobiah had despised what Nehemiah had planned to do and they jeered at the Jews. But now that the construction project was actually underway and good progress had been made, their hold on their power was even more threatened than it had been earlier. So now they are angry and greatly enraged. So their jeering takes on an even more nasty and sarcastic tone. It’s not hard to imagine the men in the Samarian army who accompanied Sanballat laughing and making fun of the Jews as Sanballat taunted them with his sarcastic comments. And then when Tobiah joined in with some taunts of his own, the level of ridicule increased even more.
We are reminded here of a principle that we discovered a couple weeks ago – when we participate in God’s work we should expect that we are going face opposition.
And by now, we shouldn't be surprised at the way Nehemiah leads the people to respond to the opposition:
Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
(Nehemiah 4:4-5 ESV)
Nehemiah does as he has consistently done throughout the book so far – he makes prayer his first response. But you’ll notice a difference from his earlier prayers. He is now praying corporately rather than just individually. Notice the 1st person plural pronouns – “our” and “we” – at the beginning of the prayer.
Although we are not surprised at the fact that Nehemiah prays, the content of his prayer is certainly shocking. This is what is known as an imprecatory prayer – a prayer that calls down God’s wrath on the enemies of God. There are a number of these kinds of prayers in the Scriptures, particularly in the Psalms. To us this prayer may seem harsh and cruel, but to Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, Sanballat and Tobiah were not just their enemies, they were the enemies of God and therefore they deserved to suffer God’s judgment. This is not a prayer that seeks personal vengeance, but rather a prayer that arises out of a zeal for the glory of God and the success of His ways.