When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Nehemiah 6:16 (NIV)
Read: Nehemiah 6:1-19
Consider: The work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was continuing, despite the opposition of Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem (Nehemiah 6:1). When Sanballat and Geshem heard the the wall had been rebuilt, we read that: Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono’ (6:2). Nehemiah saw through their request to be ‘friends’ and realised that they were scheming to harm him. Think about it for a moment: If you were receiving opposition from someone in your Christian witness and the person asked that you meet together, you might think they are genuinely interested in being reconciled to you. Nehemiah, however, was not willing to be distracted from the work he was doing. His reply to Sanballat and Geshem was: I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave and go down to you (6:3). As Nehemiah knew he was doing God’s work in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he could respond boldly to those who opposed him. We know Sanballat and Geshem were not content with Nehemiah’s reply to their request. They sent it four times and Nehemiah gave them the same answer each time.
At this point Sanballat changed tactic from trying to entice Nehemiah to be ‘friends’ and resorted to slander and lies. Of course, if Sanballat sent his accusations to the King, it could be that the King would believe his lies and the work on the wall might stop and even Nehemiah’s life could be in danger. The pressure was on for Nehemiah to concede to their request: ‘… so come, let us meet together’ (6:7). Nehemiah could see through Sanballat’s subterfuge. We read: They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’. But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands’ (6:9).
The next tactic was for Shemaiah to tell Nehemiah that his enemies were going to kill him and that he should seek sanctuary in the temple. Nehemiah could decide to save himself, but by doing what Shemaiah suggested he knew he would be sinning (Numbers 18:7). If Nehemiah had entered the temple, he knew that this would be contrary to God’s Law and by doing so he would be discredited among the people. I particularly like Nehemiah’s response to Shemaiah: ‘Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!’ (Nehemiah 6:11).
Having stood his ground and not being willing to be distracted from the work God had called him to do, we are told: So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days (6:15). This, however, was not the end of the opposition Nehemiah was to face. Even amongst the Israelites themselves he would receive opposition, all with the intent to intimidate him (6:17-19).
What can we learn from this passage? Opposition to what God has called us to do can take various forms. It can be subtle in nature, such as the requests from the world to be ‘friends’, so as to water down the Christian gospel to make it palatable to society. Opposition can also take the form of slander and lies. Perhaps by people calling us ‘narrow-minded’, or ‘homophobic’, or ‘unloving’. Again the intention is to weaken the Christian message so as to make it ineffective. Perhaps worst of all is the opposition from within. Church leaders and pastors know that some of the hardest opposition to take comes from within their own congregations, or denomination. If you can identify with any of this, you need to pray as Nehemiah prayed: ‘Now strengthen my hands’ (6:9).
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Pray: Father, we thank you for Nehemiah’s determination and perseverance to finish the work you called him to do. May we be unwavering in our commitment to you, not letting opposition distract us from the ‘great work’ of sharing the good news of the gospel with others. We pray for the strength that can only come from you. Amen