Book of Nehemiah Chapter Four Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Prepare For Work And Battle
Have you tried to do the right thing and then were ridiculed for it? That was the situation for Nehemiah and his compatriots in this chapter. And remember, the "right thing" is to trust in and do God's will as He leads. Other choices will ultimately be revealed as mistakes that led nowhere. Verses 1-2: "Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2 He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, 'What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?'" Ridicule is a powerful, hurtful tool that has been used to harm innumerable people through the centuries. We saw this "Sanballat" in Nehemiah 2:10, where it was revealed that he was angry about the return of the Jews to the land called Israel. In Nehemiah 2:19, we saw Sanballat once more, who, with his buddy, Tobiah the Ammonite, mocked Nehemiah and accused him of rebelling against the King of Persia by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Tobiah opened his mouth again here in Verse 3, making fun of the sons of Israel: "Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, 'Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!'"
It's dangerous to mock the work that God has ordained, and dangerous to mock people of faith who understand the power and wonder of prayer. Here is faithful Nehemiah in Verses 4-5, calling out to God, asking Him to protect the men of Israel and inspire them once more: "Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders." The words of his prayer sound harsh, but remember that God deliberately created the nation Israel as a message to the world and as a vehicle for the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ, into humanity. Their history tells a story of what to do in life and what not to do, and God will continue to unfold His narrative, His parable, until Jesus Christ, the Son of God, returns to this earth to triumph over unbelieving, faithless men like Sanballat and Tobiah, and rescue those who have faith in the Lord. To laugh at God's work and His people is foolishness!
Notice in Verse 6 God's quick answer to the prayer of Verse 5: "So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work." The Lord changed the hearts of these builders from embarrassed demoralization into a heart's desire to work once more. Are you afraid? Are you discouraged? Go to the Lord in prayer. He will come alongside your fears and calm you, providing the courage and will to continue.
Scorn and mockery is based in jealousy and anger, which we can see in the men of Verses 7-8: "Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it." Expressions of anger and decisions to fight can seem brave, but all too often humanity's fight has been against God and His will. These local tribesmen should have prayed, and if they had, it would have been discovered that the repairs they hated were actually God's intention for the people of Jerusalem. All too many in this world have been against something, when they should have prayed instead of acting in anger.
Nehemiah and his men did pray, as seen in Verse 9: "But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night." Prayer is essential to anything we might set out to accomplish. God's will was clear that the walls would be restored, but isn't it incredible and wonderful that He who does not need us, invites us to seek Him in prayer for the very work He has ordained. And then, after and during prayer, He takes the risk of our failure by asking us to do the work. Verse 10: "Thus in Judah it was said, 'The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable To rebuild the wall.'" Many of the workmen were no longer able to work because they were instead assigned as guards, watching over those who continued to build the walls. The people of Judah saw that less people were involved in the work and feared that the rubble might never be cleared and the walls never would be restored.
The nation Israel is God's parable. We can look at historical Israel, or Judah as the reduced nation became, and grasp God's intention for all who are willing to have faith in the Lord. We will have dangerous enemies, as seen in Verse 11: "Our enemies said, 'They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.'" There is a work that God intends to accomplish through ordinary people like you and me, but there is also an enemy who wants to stop what we are doing. Don't be afraid, for God is with His faithful ones.
Have you ever been terrified because it seemed that something horrible was about to happen? Fear was the emotion that was paramount in Verses 12-14: "When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, 'They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,' 13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: 'Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.'" Notice Nehemiah's journal entry in Verse 12 that the Jews fearfully ran up to him "ten times" and shouted at him that BIG trouble was coming. It could have been one or two more or less than ten times, but it seemed to him that they were ALWAYS running up and stating the obvious—there were holes in the Jewish defenses on the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah again made a good decision—he placed the defenders into family groups and armed them, knowing that they would defend their families even if they were too afraid to defend Jerusalem. His citizen-soldiers would not run.
When word got around that Jerusalem was well defended, their enemies were the ones who became discouraged, and the work continued in Verses 15-18: "When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me." Even if our enemies have withdrawn, it doesn't mean they are gone for good. Nehemiah knew that, and he kept the city's defenses intact as the work continued. Some did the work, others brought materials to the site, and still more were well armed, watching out for the workers and their families at all times. Long distance communication was not unknown then, for if the man next to Nehemiah sounded his rams horn, all knew that an attack was underway and everyone would run to the sound of the trumpet with swords drawn and arrows ready to fire, as seen in Verses 19-20: "I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, 'The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.'" Especially notice in your own life the truth of Verse 20—"Our God will fight for us."
In Verses 21-23, Nehemiah's journal, as transcribed into this book by Ezra, reflects a people ready for work who were also ready for war as the need arose: "So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, 'Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.' 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water." They never relaxed for a moment. It's important to note that a great supernatural war has waged on this planet since the beginning of time. In Genesis 3, we see the enemy coercing our earliest ancestors into a war against God Himself. At just the right time, God the Father sent God the Son, declaring His peace to mankind. It was not that He in any way was losing the war; instead His peace is a reflection of His love for you and me. We accept His peace by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He will then assign a work to us that may be obvious or might be beneath the radar of our understanding, but we take up our tools for the work and are armed for supernatural battle, as demonstrated in Ephesians 6:10-18. Don't be afraid—prepare for war and peace by trusting in the Lord.
Father, I accept Your offer of peace in Jesus Christ, and I am willing to take up both tools and armaments, as You reveal the need to me. I have failed in the past, but I trust in You now, Lord. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.