Summary: Prayer, preparation, and a passion for the cause of God are the keys to Israel's defense under Nehemiah.
We’re skipping over chapter 3, which consists of a roster of those engaged in the work effort. Nehemiah has his workers carefully organized to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for “rebuild” was also used for the healing of a wound. Nehemiah divides the work into manageable sections, assigning teams to each part. Chapter 4 describes the effort and opposition to this project to restore Israel’s national defense and heal their dignity. We catch here their passion for the cause of God.
Meanwhile, the enemies of Israel, four neighboring provinces, join together in a coalition to devise a plan of attack. They begin with a “cold war”, a war of nerves, by an attempt to dishearten the Jews with a demoralizing propaganda campaign, filled with contempt; and it was having an effect on morale. Criticism drains us; it steals our energy. The enemies mock, wondering if these fanatics were going to pray the wall up? This psychological warfare was nothing less than an attack on Israel’s faith and of God’s purpose. This verbal attack causes an internal crisis. Some of the workers on the wall become discouraged…yet Nehemiah remains confident, able to place matters in God’s capable hands. He’s not about to give up.
Israel continues to face opposition today, and my prayer is that America will continue to support this Holy Land. Israel has few friends, and I pray we continue to befriend them.
What does all this mean to us? When we make an effort to strengthen our walk with God, we can expect opposition; it’s inevitable. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our struggle is not merely against “flesh and blood” but against “spiritual wickedness” (Ephesians 6:10-18). We’re engaged in a spiritual battle and we must equip ourselves with the armor of God and stand our ground!
Nehemiah was severely criticized. How do we respond to criticism? There’s constructive criticism, meant to help us; and destructive, intended to hurt us. We need to consider the source. Is it someone who’s walking with God? If so, we should take seriously their words. The Book of Proverbs speaks to this…
• 12:18, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”
• 15:31, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”
• 19:20, “Get all the advice and instruction you can, and be wise the rest of your life.”
• 27:6, “Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (NLT).
Nehemiah doesn’t criticize back; he goes to God in prayer, verses 4-5, appealing to God to frustrate the plans of the enemy, to turn their insults back on their own heads. He even asks God not to forgive their sins. This sounds harsh, yet it was similar to the psalms that call for the destruction of God’s enemies. The Scriptures promise blessing for God’s people and calamity upon their enemies. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” For God to be victorious, evil must be overcome. Nehemiah is not praying to God out of malice or vindictiveness. Likewise, when we’re attacked, we need to take it to God.
It soon becomes evident that the repairs are proceeding as planned, because--verse 6: “the people had a mind to work.” They were persistent. The progress had reached the halfway mark, for a wall (according to archeological excavations) that was 9-feet thick. The surrounding band of enemies are caught off guard, so they plot a more aggressive campaign against the city--an act of audacity, considering that Nehemiah has the imperial sanction and support of the Persian empire. Nehemiah sees the opposition as an attack on God and everything good.
Because the work was sanctioned by the king of Persia, it was unlikely that this axis of evil would mount a full-scale attack; the threat was probably mere “saber-rattling”, yet piecemeal raids and terrorist incidents remained a strong possibility and had to be taken seriously.
So Nehemiah reminds his workers that they are doing God’s work and can expect His protection--verse 14, which we should read as a battle-cry: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!” This rousing call put matters into perspective. Don’t back down; God will defeat the foes; He will break up their plans. The enemy will not gain the advantage. Nehemiah is drawing attention to the real strength of the nation. Their response must be trust and action. They’re fighting for a noble cause, with help from Above.
Nehemiah does all this in a very public way. He wants the enemy, who were watching and listening, to take notice and fully understand what is happening. Nehemiah preferred to deter the enemy, but was prepared to fight, and he makes this crystal clear. Nehemiah responds with prayer and preparedness. He prays to God and posts a guard. His precautions sound like Oliver Cromwell, who told his army to “put trust in God and keep your powder dry.”