Study Notes

Nehemiah 4:1-23


The first three chapters of the book of Nehemiah informed us about Nehemiah's prayerful devotion, forming of vision, and initiating action to rebuild the gates and walls around Jerusalem.

The construction has now begun, and so has the opposition. From the very moment that Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem with an escort of officials and horsemen from the Persian Army, there were enemies.

Neh. 2:10 ...when San-bal-LAT the Kho-RON-ite and To-bee-YAW the Ammonite official heard {about it,} it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.

When the work began shortly thereafter, the opposition became more active.

Neh. 2:19-20 But when San-bal-LAT the Kho-RON-ite, and To-bee-YAW the Ammonite official, and GHEH-shem the Arab heard {it,} they mocked us and despised us and said, "What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?" So I answered them and said to them, "The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right, or memorial in Jerusalem."

Now we come to chapter four, where Nehemiah documents more details about this opposition.

4:1-3 Mocking

The enemies of the Jews belittled their work, their craftsmanship, their motivation, and their vision.

Being mocked seems to be one of our greatest fears. The sting of ridicule is felt by most at a very early age. When the kids at school or on the playground decided that you would be the recipient of the day. And doing God's work and will does not prevent this abuse - it actually intensifies it.

Jesus was mocked as He hung on the cross (Luke 23:36); Jeremiah was mocked as a laughingstock (Jer. 20:7), and Job was mocked in his affliction by young people (Job 30:1).

In these last days, mockers of the godly are even more prevalent:

Jude 17-18 ...remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, "In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts."

Our flesh's natural tendency is to lay low, not drawing attention to ourselves, hoping to avoid the verbal jabs. And yet, this is such a terrible compromise of Christianity. The simple fact is that...

2Tim. 3:12 ...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

So instead of learning to avoid mocking, we should learn how to respond to it. Nehemiah's response is found in these next two verses...

4:4-5 Nehemiah's Response

These are the kind of retaliatory prayers that sometimes I'd like permission to pray! "Come on, Lord! Nehemiah got to pray it! And David prayed, 'O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth' (Psalm 58:6)!" And yet, the only part of Nehemiah's example we should be following here is the fact that he prayed. In reality, we should follow Jesus' instruction:

Matt. 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you

Praying for them, not against them - that was Jesus' teaching. And this wasn't all talk. He lived it as well, leaving us an example to follow. You remember that as He was being mocked on the cross, He prayed,

Luke 23:34 ..."Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing"...

4:6 Halfway Done

After so many people exerted so much effort, and applied so much labor, the wall was connected all the way around. But it was still only halfway done. The halfway point is always so difficult in any undertaking. You're not far enough along to say, "I'm nearly done," but you're too far into it to turn around and go back. Added to the problem was that the mockery from their enemies had demoralized them. However, they continued on, for the people had a mind to work.

4:7-8 Conspiring To Fight

When the enemies heard that the mocking hadn't put a stop to the work, they decided to up the ante from words to violence. And the original dastardly duo of San-bal-LAT and To-bee-YAW had gone from three with the addition of GHEH-shem, to a huge group, including the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites. They decided to cause a major disruption of the work by attacking Jerusalem.

4:9 We Prayed And Set A Guard

I think this is one of the most clear sentences in the Bible regarding God's sovereignty and our responsibility: "We prayed to God, and we set up a guard." This is so great, and translates into countless situations:

"I asked God for a job, then I filled out a bunch of applications."

"I prayed for provision, then I worked overtime."

"I prayed for safety on the trip, and then I made sure our seat belts were all buckled."

We always need to pray, but we can't be ignorant. God gave us common sense so that we might occasionally use it! Don't expect success if you don't pray, but don't expect your prayers to be answered unless you're doing your part.

4:10 Discouragement In The Ranks

With the demoralizing mocking, the job only halfway done, and now under the threat of attack, the people became weary and doubtful. "We are running out of strength, and there is too much to do. We can't accomplish this task. We're thinking of quitting."

This is where the Jews had gotten, and to make matters worse, their enemies were saying...

4:11-13 Fear Of The Enemy

There are times when everything just seems too overwhelming. I don't know about you, but I am under attack a lot. Maybe it's because of my sparkling personality, great looks, and lack of any faults, but it's more likely that the devil wants to silence the teaching of God's Word. And to be perfectly honest, I become weary a lot. I become doubtful that I will have the strength to finish. And the devil is always such a master of attack, that he will orchestrate threats from the enemies at the time when I am the most weary and vulnerable.

But God is faithful, who never allows me to be tempted above that which I am able to bear. And the longer I walk with the Lord, the easier it becomes to overcome these kinds of attacks. The defeat and depression is gone more quickly, self-control is more evident, and my response to the enemies becomes a little more godly each time.

Each time, I see evidence of Paul's belief:

Phil. 1:6 {For I am} confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

4:14-15 How To Discourage The Enemy

The people were afraid of their enemies. However, Nehemiah knew that...

Prov. 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.

When you put your trust in the Lord, you have no fear of your enemies, and they will be discouraged and frustrated. They are just like their leader the devil. When we know what he is doing, then...

2Cor. 2:11 in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

Again, as James said,

James 4:7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Busy yourself about being obedient to the Lord, and He will make your enemies run away in frustration.

4:16-18 Walking In Readiness

Once they knew that an enemy was out to get them, the Jews were always ready for anything. This is how I can identify Christians who take the Word of God seriously - they are the ones who are prepared for an attack, or for the Lord to return. Jesus said,

Luke 12:35-40 "Be dressed in readiness, and {keep} your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open {the door} to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself {to serve,} and have them recline {at the table,} and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds {them} so, blessed are those {slaves.} And be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect."

Being dressed in readiness is being prepared for the Lord's return or the devil's attack. Those who worked on the wall carried their loads in one hand, and their weapons in the other.

4:19-20 Rally To Us There

Nehemiah knew that the wall was spread out, and that the workers were divided into individuals and very small groups apart from the others. He also knew that this is, strategically speaking, a terrible position of defense. And so he said, "When you hear the trumpet, run to that area, rally to us there." The battle must be waged with an army, with comrades in arms fighting together, side by side.

It is like Solomon said,

Eccl. 4:10 ...woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

Eccl. 4:12 ...if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.

How important it is that we have a support system, a family, an army, of Christians, on which to depend. Those who will run to our sides in a battle, rather than who will run away.

4:21-23 Dressed And Armed

Their weapons were always at hand, 24 hours a day. They would not let down their guard, nor would they fall into a false sense of security. We too, must...

1Pet. 5:8 Be of sober {spirit,} be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Keep your weapon with you: the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Hide it in your heart, and carry it with you. Even bringing it to the water, because you never know if the devil is going to come after you at the pool or the lake!

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