Summary: What to do when opposition increases.
Tonight I want to start by just jumping right into the text for this evening. Grab your Bible and open to Nehemiah 4:7-23. Instead of just reading through the whole text at once, keep your Bibles open as we will be walking through it piece by piece.
If you can remember where we left off last week in verse 6, we read that the Israelites, despite being verbally attacked by these two guys named Sanballat and Tobiah, had completed building half of the wall. Verse 6 tells us that it was because “the people had worked with enthusiasm.” They were able to ignore the harmful words from their enemies, take their feelings to God and were persistent in their work. This was a great accomplishment for the Israelites and one would think that the rest of the wall would not prove too difficult. I can imagine the cries from the city that may have been yelled out. “We are half way there!” “We can surely do it!” “We have the foundation set.” “We just need to add on to it.”
As this may have been the case as they finished the first half of the wall, our text will show that it didn’t last long at all. As we begin in verse 7 we will quickly see that more opposition was on the way and unlike the harmful words they faced earlier, they would be unable to ignore it and instead be pushed to the brink of giving up.
In verse 7 we read, “But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall were being repaired, they became furious.” Even though they had prayed and asked God for help with handling the opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah, God apparently had a different way of dealing with it than what one would assume.
Most of us have this idea that when we pray to God for help, He should fix it right away. But, that is not always the case as sometimes God allows things to get worse before they get better. As a reminder from a few weeks back, He does this not to be mean or a jerk, but to build our character, maturity, and our relationship with Him. This is definitely what happened with the Israelites.
Not only did they still have to worry about Sanballat the Samaritan and Tobiah the Ammonite, but now they had to deal with two other cities, the Arabs and the Ashdodites. What was even worse than the fact that there were two new cities was the fact of where all four of the cities were located. As I briefly mentioned last week, Sanballat and the Samaritans were located just north of Jerusalem. Tobiah and the Ammonites were located to the east. The Arabs were to the south and the Ashdodites were to the west. The Israelite people were completely surrounded by opposition.
The situation became even worse though as the form of opposition changed from harmful words to plots and threats of physical attack. In verses 8 and 9 we read, “They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and to bring about confusion there. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” And then in verse 11, “Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, ‘Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.’”
Dealing with hurtful words is difficult enough, but now the people were looking death in the face! These changes in the situation, the fact that God didn’t answer the way they wanted, the fact that more surrounding cities joined in, and the threat now of a physical war proved too much for a lot of the Israelite people. In verse 10, we read that, “the people of Judah began to complain, ‘The workers are getting tired and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the walls by ourselves.’” Furthermore, the people were terrified of the threat on their homes, families, and selves. Verse 12 tells us that, “The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, ‘They will come from all directions and attack us!’” In other words, “We are going to die!!!” Discouragement was setting in and the people were ready to give up.
Everyone here in this room has been in a similar place before whether it has been trying to make a difference in the world around you as a Christian, whether it has been trying to figure out who you are, or simply just dealing with a difficult situation at school, at home, or somewhere else. Opposition is building and getting more difficult instead of going away. We feel like God isn’t paying attention to us. We feel surrounded and alone and we feel that at any minute we will be attacked so badly that it will be the end of us. All we want to do is give up!