Summary: What to do when we face verbal opposition.
Intro: In a group of three or four, brainstorm and make a list on the back of your outline of the meanest things you have heard said. After a couple minutes, have them share what they came up with. Make a list on the white board.
A popular phrase that was said all the time when I was growing up was, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I have never understood why people say this because it can’t be any further from the truth. Even as I was growing up and being made fun of by peers, I would throw this line back at them. When, at the same time that I said it, my heart felt like it was tearing apart. Inside, my peer’s words pierced deeply and at times I thought they were right.
As we look over this list of mean and hurtful things that we have heard said, many of them resonate within us as we recall when those words were spoken in our direction. Everyone in this room, whether you are popular or not or whether you have a lot of friends or a few, have been hurt by someone’s words more than once in their life. Sticks and stones can indeed break our bones, but words can break our souls.
When we find ourselves going against the norms of our culture, hurtful and discouraging words are almost always the first thing to oppose us. This ranges from everything in our lives, from responding to God’s call to go and change the world around us and living out our relationship with Christ in public, to what clothes we are wearing, to what activities we participate in after school, etcetera. There are so many things in our lives that we are made fun of, ridiculed, and discouraged for. This doesn’t just come from our peers either. It comes from our teachers, parents, grandparents, family friends, and dare I say, pastors, youth leaders, and adult role models. We all have cuts, bruises, and wounds in our souls from people’s words.
Tonight, I want to take a look at Nehemiah again and a situation where he found himself facing verbal opposition and ridicule from people around him. Hopefully it will leave us with some wisdom for handling similar situations and give us some hope for our own lives. Let’s open our Bibles to Nehemiah 4:1-6.
***Read Nehemiah 4:1-6***
As Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem begin to rebuild the walls around their city they are immediately meet with opposition from a guy named Sanballat, who was governor of Samaria, which was just north of Jerusalem. Verse one says that he became “very angry” at the fact that the walls were beginning to be rebuilt. This is because he no doubt wanted Jerusalem under his own jurisdiction. If the walls were successfully rebuilt, the city would become a threat to him and the land of Samaria. So what was his response? “He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews” with a series of comments that would have discouraged and pierced the souls of Nehemiah and the people.
“What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they are doing?” This is very blunt and to the point. The Jews were a poor group having been in and out of slavery in years earlier. They were feeble, which means weak, frail, or delicate. “You are weak and poor! There is no way that you people will be able to rebuild these walls?!”
“Do they think they can build the wall in a day if they offer enough sacrifices?” With a sense of sarcasm and ridicule, Sanballat reminds the people that there is a lot of work ahead of them. “You weak and poor people are going rebuild this 2 mile wall?! The walls were built earlier by larger numbers and more powerful people! There is no way you will pull this off!”
“And, oh yea, have you thought through how long it is going to take you to build these walls? This is too big a task, for too weak and small a people! This wall will not be rebuilt by you people!”
Then, adding an insult to their faith in God, he basically says, “Why don’t you just pray it up. Offer, your sacrifices, there isn’t any other way you are going to get this wall built!”
“Look at those charred stones they are pulling out of the rubbish and using again!” If you can remember way back, when we first stated looking at Nehemiah, the whole thing that got Nehemiah motivated was a report from his brother about Jerusalem. “The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” Sanballat is reminding the people of this fact. “You are working with rubble! You don’t have the materials or the knowledge to rebuild this wall after it has been so destroyed! What fools! This wall will not be rebuilt!”