6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: Nehemiah, Pt. 4


I went into a small post office in Pasadena that had only two workers on duty. Taped to the side of the sales window was a smiley face minus the smile. In its place was a glum, flat, expressionless line of a smile, with words on top of the round face that read “I can only please one person at a day and today ain’t your day.” At the bottom of the full size paper was a message in parenthesis: “Tomorrow ain’t looking too good either!”

Mark Galli tells this story about Francis of Assisi who had commanded his friars not to touch money. One day a worshipper left a coin offering in the church, and one of the friars, for whatever reason, saw the money and immediately tossed it over a window sill. When Francis learned he had touch money, Francis rebuked him, commanded him to use his lips to pick up the coin, and place the coin in a pile of ass’s dung with his lips (“Saint Nasty” Mark Galli, Christianity Today 6/17/96).

Some people have the mistaken notion that a Christian should be nothing but sweet, mild and nice. Nice guys do not have to finish last. They do not have to be like doormats, wallflower or tofu.

In Nehemiah chapter four, Sanballat and Tobiah, the Ammonite official of chapter two (2:19), returned with more trouble. This time, Sanballat laughed at the Jews in their face and ridiculed their rebuilding project before it reached the halfway stage, returning later with more trouble when the wall was near completion.

Israel’s enemies labeled them feeble, called the city a dump and described their work as inferior – even a fox can break it. How did Nehemiah respond? Nehemiah was still nice but never to a fault. He never allowed people to walk all over him and he did not back down when he and others with him were at risk, in danger or being threatened. Note also that Nehemiah did not pick a fight, worsen the situation or start a shouting match either. He immediately brought the matter before God, quickly organized the Israelites to take action and aggressively overcame the threat of their enemies.

What healthy, active and positive steps can we take to discourage others from taking advantage of us, our faith and our politeness?

Dignify Yourself and Defer to God

4:1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble-burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building-if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” 4 Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. (Neh 4:1-5)

A company sent me a Christmas catalogue one year, and in it was an Old Gaelic Blessing plaque that humored me. It says, “May those who love us, love us. And those that don’t love us, May God turn their hearts. And if He doesn’t turn heir hearts, May He turn their ankles So we’ll know them by their limping.”

The Jews have their prayers for those who opposed them, too:

“May all your teeth fall out but one - and may that one ache.”

“May you win the lottery - and spend it all on hospital charges.”

“May you sell candles for a living - and then may the sun never set.”

“May you be like a chandelier - hang by day and burn by night.”

“May you become world famous - in medical records.”

Nehemiah’s prayer when he was despised and insulted was not nice; it was controversial but it was honest. Before you agree or disagree with Nehemiah’s prayer, consider the facts. He was not on the offensive but on the defensive; he did not invite insults on his enemies, but returned insults to their owners; he did not ask for himself, but for people whose lives were endangered; and he didn’t say it to his enemies but made it known to God.

Note that the words “greatly incensed” (v 1), “feeble” (v 2) and “despised” (v 4) occur for the first time and the only time, even though another form of the word occur elsewhere in the Bible. The enemies used a rare word - “feeble” - to describe the Jews in verse 2. It means weak, languid. Nehemiah dignified himself by bringing his prayer before God. When he was provoked, despised and insulted, he requested God be his defender, aggressor and vindicator.

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