Summary: 1) One Voice in Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-3), 2) One Voice in Response (Nehemiah 4:4-6), & 3) One Voice in Reaction (Nehemiah 4:7-14)
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences. Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The 95 Theses, which were posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He saw his disputation as an objection to church practices. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformation_Day)
When facing opposition, how do you respond. Do you run in fear, respond in likeminded hostility or become paralyzed in fear or apathy. In Nehemiah 3, Nehemiah lead the people of God to stand firm against the opposition from without, the fear and lethargy from within, and even from naive people of faith.
The Book of Nehemiah continues the story of the Jewish exiles who returned to their homeland after the Babylonian Captivity. As told in the Book of Ezra, a group of about 50,000 returned to Judah in the first year of Cyrus, conquerer of Babylon (538 B.C.). Ezra himself led about 1,500 more back some 80 years later (458 B.C.). It was only 12 years after Ezra’s return that Nehemiah came to Judah. Nehemiah was a high official at the Persian court who, out of concern for Jerusalem, asked for and was given permission to serve as governor of that minor district. He served in Jerusalem 12 years, returned to Persia, and then came to Judah a second time to govern there. Unlike Ezra the priest, Nehemiah exercised political power. Yet his colorful and decisive leadership dealt with more than restoring respectability to Jerusalem by rebuilding its walls. Nehemiah also committed himself to purifying the lifestyle of God’s people and bringing them into conformity with God’s Law. The events recorded by Nehemiah took place some 12 years later (446 B.C.). Nehemiah came as a governor appointed to lead his people, with the express purpose of rebuilding the walls of the Holy City (Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (306). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.).
What we can learn from Nehemiah 4:1-14 is that in the face of internal, communal and external opposition, focus on the task at hand is critical for success. For God’s people we see their focus with 1) One Voice in Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-3), 2) One Voice in Response (Nehemiah 4:4-6), and finally: 3) One Voice in Reaction (Nehemiah 4:7-15)
1) One Voice in Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-3),
Nehemiah 4:1–6; in the Hebrew Bible is 3:33–38, and chap. 4 begins with our 4:7, for the reaction of the enemies is directly connected to the building activities. There is a kind of progression in the reaction of the enemies (Fensham, F. C. (1982). The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (179). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Sanballat was called the Horonite because he came from the town of Beth Horon, about eight miles northwest of Jerusalem.
He was now governor of the fortified city of Samaria to the north and no doubt wanted to have Jerusalem within his jurisdiction. Sanballat is mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri (discovered in Egypt, dating from 408–407 BC), where he is said to have been the governor of Samaria and to have had two sons (James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), 492.).
When Sanballat and his friends first heard that the wall was actually being restored, the working parties formed, and the work taken in hand, they could scarcely bring themselves to believe it. At the end of chapter. 2 it looked as though the ridicule is from a position of contemptuous superiority and confidence that Nehemiah’s plans are a mere pipedream. Here, by contrast, the emphasis on his extreme anger indicates the start of desperation on his part that Nehemiah may, after all, succeed (Willamson, H. G. M. (2002). Vol. 16: Word Biblical Commentary : Ezra-Nehemiah. Word Biblical Commentary (216). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.).
Sanballat knew that a restored Jerusalem would lessen his influence in the area. Thus he was angry/greatly angered and intent on discouraging Nehemiah’s project, even though he knew that it had the approval of the Persian court.
• Anger will often be the world’s response to God’s work because it challenges worldviews and values. Much of the opposition to the project consisted of psychological warfare. The first opposition came in the form of ridicule, often sufficient to stifle the spirit and work of anyone (Breneman, M. (2001). Vol. 10: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (193). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).