Nehemiah 4:1–5:19, 1 John 4:16–21, Psalm 109:1–15
The OT is a source of encouragement and hope, also instruction. Nehemiah tells the story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but his experiences point also to spiritual warfare. As I read the passage for today, I marvel at how much the enemies of Nehemiah sound like my spiritual enemy — with his lies in an effort to stop me from obeying God.
One of Satan’s primary attacks is to make me feel useless and unable to serve God. When Sanballat heard Nehemiah was building the wall, he was greatly enraged and jeered saying, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” (Nehemiah 4:1–3)
When I got up this morning, those same voices had me feeble, useless, overwhelmed by even the small things, and thinking that no matter what I did, it would have no value.
Nehemiah’s enemies also plotted together to fight against Jerusalem and cause confusion. (Nehemiah 4:8) This is how I was feeling too — confused and helpless. However, Nehemiah gives good instruction. He said to the nobles, 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 homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14) This reminds me that what God wants me to do is seldom about me, but loving action toward others. Besides, He is great. Nothing is too hard for Him. He is with me in my work and my battles.
A bit later, Nehemiah’s enemy would return, but the people were spread out. Nehemiah said, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” They labored with half of them holding spears while the others built the wall. (Nehemiah 4:19–21) This reminds me of my own need to focus, as well as the need for God’s people to be united and watching out for one another in prayer. Those spears are weapons, just as the spiritual armor described in the NT (Ephesians 6) and the instruction concerning spiritual warfare.
The enemies of God’s people do not easily give up. The next strategy involved getting the Jews to fight each other. While the text does not say Sanballat caused this, the evil one who motivated him no doubt was behind what happened. “Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.” (Nehemiah 5:1)
The reasons for their strife are given, but the issues are not important. We can always find reasons to oppose our Christian brothers and sisters. Nehemiah’s admonishment to them is what I need to hear when I feel at odds with others. He said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” (Nehemiah 5:9)
For Christians, our greatest strength and most powerful witness to the grace of God is our love for one another. Nehemiah knew it as did other OT believers. Jesus said it many times and the NT writers repeated it over and over. John was adamant: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20–21)
Love is evidence of being saved, of loving God. As Jesus said, it gives the world reason to believe that we belong to Him. Lack of love is not part of walking with Christ. Besides, it makes life painful, makes me turn inward and makes loving others more difficult. The psalmist knew this pain . . .
“Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.” (Psalm 109:1–5)
This psalmist discovered the way to overcome such horrid responses to his love for others. He prayed. This restored his sense of God’s love. In my experience, this is a great truth. I cannot hate anyone if I am sincerely praying for them, even if they hate me.
When my heart is overwhelmed, God gives me steps to take. I need to turn from ‘poor, helpless me’ to Almighty God, remembering His love and power, but also thinking about others who are in need for my prayers. When I obey and do this work God that has given me, He will protect me from the taunts of Satan and give me whatever is needed to do as He asks.