We live in a day and age in which Christianity seems to be on the decline, particularly in America. It seems that the persecution against Christians is constant and ever-increasing. The morality of our society and its institutions has and continues to suffer great decline. In the face of such an environment, many believers have given up - some having forsaken the faith altogether and others cowering in fear, too intimidated to live as bold and unyielding testimonies of Christ.
Statistics reveal that church membership and activity, along with the number of baptisms, are dropping year after year. Many churches have plateaued or are in decline, and most who do attend are aged. The younger generations appear more and more averse to the gospel. Thousands of churches, including some in our area, have been forced to close their doors in recent years. But for the grace of God, we at Calvary would have had to do the same.
But the LORD was not finished with us yet… and I believe that He wants to use us in a mighty way here in Seymour and beyond. Believing this, we have embarked upon a series through the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah called “Rebuilding the Church”. We have discovered God’s blueprint for resuscitating the struggling church - rebuild the facility, renew the worship and practice, and revive the city. Using this as our guide, we intend to rebuild our church that we might again become a brilliant lighthouse shining His glory for the lost and hurting around us to see.
In 445 BC Nehemiah led a third expedition of Jewish exiles to Jerusalem. Upon his arrival he inspected the fallen wall of the holy city, and devised a plan to rebuild it. Nehemiah recruited hundreds of volunteers, assigned them various positions of responsibility along the wall, and oversaw one of the largest construction projects recorded in Scripture. As you might expect, he encountered several problems that threatened the rebuilding.
This morning we will begin a 2-part sermon as we examine these difficulties. Our focus today will be upon the external issues that Nehemiah faced - next week we will look at the internal issues he dealt with. There are three major methods in which outside enemies sought to undermine Nehemiah and the work he was doing - through mocking and ridicule, through direct threats, and through lies, deception, and trickery.
I. MOCKING & RIDICULE (Nehemiah 4:1-6)
Sanballat and Tobiah attempted to discourage the Jews by publically belittling them and their efforts to rebuild. Sanballat taunted, “Do these poor, insignificant exiles actually believe that they’ll be able to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall? Haugh… that’s funny.” Tobiah echoed, “Even if they did, their wall wouldn’t be able to withstand anything!”
Have you ever been openly mocked or ridiculed? How does it feel to be made fun of in public? Did the verbal abuse cause you to quit or lead you to withdraw? The Devil is a master of discouragement, constantly mocking the people of God.
Nehemiah turns to God in prayer, asking the LORD to deal with their hateful behavior. Notice that the builders were demoralized, but they did not stop working. Nehemiah chose not to respond directly to these bullies, but rather he stayed focused on the task at hand and let their comments roll off his back.
II. DIRECT THREATS (Nehemiah 4:7-23)
When they realized that their taunting wasn’t enough stop the rebuilding of the wall, the enemies of the Jews turned to threats of physical violence. They conspired to ambush the builders when they were least expecting it. Whether this threat was genuine or not, rumors began to spread amongst the people and they became very afraid.
Again, Nehemiah’s first response is prayer. If only we consistently responded to our problems in this way! After seeking the LORD, Nehemiah temporarily halted the work in order to set-up a 24-hour security watch. He took the threat very seriously.
Recognizing their apparent fear, Nehemiah encouraged the people whom he had stationed by family to fight against the attack. He urged them not to fear, but to remember the LORD and to defend their loved ones.
The temporary stoppage ended, and the people went back to work. Half built while the other half protected them, and even those working kept weapons on them or nearby in case of an ambush. They would rotate in shifts back and forth, sometimes as builders and then as guards.
Nehemiah recognized that the people were spread out along the wall for a long distance. As such, they were vulnerable. So he devised a plan - “if your section of the wall is attacked, sound the trumpet and we will all rally to your aid”. There was a team mentality and everyone stood ready to defend everyone else.
Nehemiah requested that all of his volunteers, even those who lived elsewhere and “commuted to work” each day, spend every night inside Jerusalem until the reconstruction was complete. He knew that they would be safe there.
Nehemiah led by example. He did not sleep, except perhaps short naps here and there, staying awake day and night. He remained alert and prepared for battle at all times, setting the standard for the onlooking people.
III. LIES, DECEPTION, & TRICKERY (Nehemiah 6:1-14)
Their direct threats against the builders also failed, and the wall was now nearing completion. Sanballat, Tobiah, Geham, and the others devised a scheme seeking to harm Nehemiah by luring him into a trap. Despite their multiple attempts to trick him with their lies, Nehemiah knew they were up to no good. He refused to attend their “meeting”. He knew better than to place himself in a risky position.
Exasperated, now Sanballat began to accuse Nehemiah of intentions to rebel. This was an outright lie, which becomes almost laughable when you remember that Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king - his most trusted servant. Nehemiah dismissed Sanballat’s ridiculous comments, saying “You are just making this stuff up.” He knew what was going on, and Nehemiah wasn’t having any part of it. Notice that again he went to the Lord in prayer.
Sanballat and Tobiah hired Shemaiah to pose as Nehemiah’s friend and try to convince him to retreat into the temple. Perhaps they wanted to ambush him there, or more likely they just wanted to scare him, cause him to sin, and smear his reputation. Again Nehemiah evaded the trap, this time recognizing the deception and refusing to go into the temple. Remember, he was not a priest and was therefore not to enter the temple itself. Nehemiah basically said, “I am not a person who runs from my problems. I will not back down. Nor will I sin, even to protect myself.”
As we have already seen numerous times in this story, Nehemiah prayed once again. It is obvious that his incredible boldness and impeccable character can be attributed to God. His faith is truly remarkable.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and their buddies were nothing but bullies. They sought to intimate Nehemiah and his builders with mockery, threats, and lies. But, other than words, Scripture doesn’t record that they ever did anything physically to prevent the reconstruction of the walls. They were full of hot air - and, like most bullies, were themselves the cowards.
Nehemiah repeatedly responded to them with prayer. He did not ignore their words, but he disregarded what he could and chose to remain focused on doing God’s will. He made preparations to combat their more serious threats and was always on the alert. Nehemiah did not allow himself to be tricked, and avoided putting himself or his people in compromising situations.
Like Nehemiah, we need to be on guard against the enemy’s attacks. As we strive to do the Lord’s work, we must be ready to fend off the Devil and his demons who are constantly trying to thwart us. I pray that God will give us an awareness and a readiness to resist our enemies, so that we might advance His kingdom in our city and beyond.