Summary: This sermon was part of a series I preached on Nehemiah’s one holy passion, the glory of God.
One Holy Passion
March 11, 2001
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and to love our enemies,” said G.K. Chesterton, “probably because they are generally the same people!” In the case of the Jews rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, this was certainly true. In the course of this chapter, we come to find out that the people of Jerusalem are surrounded by hostile enemies on all four sides coming at them from all four directions—it is their neighbors who do their dead-level best to discourage them from continuing the work that God has called them to.
As we read this chapter in a moment, one thing that jumps out at us is the fact that, once again, the Bible doesn’t gloss over the reality of the situation. Hey, these were real flesh-and-blood people here who experienced the same range of emotions and physical sensations that we do. They were people who could praise God and get excited about His working in and through them, and the next day could fall into discouragement. They could eagerly volunteer to be a part of a tremendous project, but then when the project got going they’d come home and nurse muscles and joints as sore as ours get when we tackle a building project.
Let’s read the account together, through verse 14 for now:
How we deal with adversity says more about our character than most anything else. You want to know what a person is really like? Watch them when things go wrong; when they are imposed upon; when they are made to wait; when someone cuts them off in traffic; when they are tired and achy. Some people whine while other people shine. Some people learn from their situation, while others burn with resentment. We can learn a whole lot from Nehemiah about how to deal with discouragement in the work of God.
Sources of Discouragement:
1. Ridicule :1-3
Sanballat is ticked off. He, remember, is a governor of a nearby territory who no doubt feared the potential of a strong Jerusalem emerging as a threat to his territory. Now it is obvious that these Jews are serious about the project, and Sanballat is steamed about it. And so he resorts to the tool of a loser: ridicule! Thomas Carlyle said, “Ridicule is the language of the devil”; indeed, the Bible indicates that Satan is a liar and an accuser of the brethren. It is his business to deceive and discourage, and make no mistake about it: while Sanballat and Tobiah might have been the mouthpieces, Satan was the one who was behind this whole deal! And sometimes ridicule works! Let me read to you briefly from an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on January 7 of this year. It is written by a fellow who will remain nameless but who is a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas; he had previously spent twenty years in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Science Center. What has him all worked up is the proposal to change science teaching standards in Pennsylvania public schools to allow for the possibility that naturalistic, Darwinian explanations cannot account for the creation of life on earth.
Now, before I quote from the article, what would you expect from a scientist? Wouldn’t you expect some reasoning which would defend his position? Wouldn’t you think that a learned man such as this would take at least a portion of the article to reinforce his belief? You’d be disappointed, I’m afraid. His lengthy essay amounts to little more than ridicule and name-calling—which, if you think about it, ought to be encouraging to those of us who believe that “in the beginning, God created!” He warns us of “mockery raining down from the four corners of the Earth”. We will be seen as “dense, dumb, and dim-witted” if we change the standards—obviously because we who doubt macro-evolution are just that! He equates a belief in creation with what he calls “The Stork Theory of Sex”. And what some in Pennsylvania want to promote is the “mental hijacking of an entire state’s schoolchildren by sectarian zealots.” I guess when one fears losing the argument, one attacks the opponent!
Ridicule can be effective, though. Some people who will stand bravely when shot at will cower meekly when laughed at, and that is what we see these enemies of God doing, all within earshot of the workers on the wall:
A. Belittled their Qualities
“”What are those feeble Jews doing?”
Sanballat, who was a thoroughly worldly man, had no concept of work which would be done with the glory of God being the primary motive. He pontificates to his buds, no doubt, that these Jews are attempting something foolish with the aim in mind of power or profit—for power, profit, and pleasure are the motivations of worldly people; they can hardly understand any other motive.