Men of Courage
A Study of Nehemiah
Dr. Jim Denison
Every day in America: 40 Americans turn 100; 5,800 become 65; and 8,000 try to forget their 40th birthdays. The U.S. government issues 50 more pages of regulations. 20,000 write letters to the president. 13,000 get married, while 6,300 get divorced. Dogs bite 11,000 people, including 20 mail carriers. We eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 75 million miles to burn it all off.
So it is in a “normal” day. But these days are anything but normal. Historians are already calling this financial crisis “the Great Recession.” Pre-owned home sales in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area fell 28% from a year ago; Southwest Airlines’ revenues declined in February and are doing the same in March; late mortgage payments are rising in Texas.
Things aren’t much better for pastors: Monday’s Dallas Morning News reported that “authorities charged a South Carolina pastor accused of setting fire to his own church with second-degree arson. Anderson County Fire Chief Billy Gibson said Christopher Daniels, 40, reported a fire at Blue Ridge Baptist Church in Belton when he opened the church for services Sunday morning.” Now it seems that he set the fire himself. Anything to get something moving in the church, I guess.
What makes it hard for you to follow and serve Jesus today? Is it temptation from the enemy? Hardships and fears with regard to the economy and your job? Struggles within your family?
Jesus warned us that in this world we would suffer tribulation (John 16:33). Paul said that we must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Following Jesus is always a matter of courage; taking up our cross, getting out of the boat; standing up to the authorities. If you don’t need courage to serve Jesus today, you’re not serving Jesus fully. Here’s what to do when you need such courage this week.
Expect to be ridiculed (vs. 1-6)
The text begins: “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble–burned as they are?” (vs. 1-2).
“Sanballat the Horonite” was probably from Beth-Horon, a town 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. A papyri written in 407 B.C., 37 years after the event, tells us that he was the “governor of Samaria,” the region just to the north. He wanted to consolidate his power, and rightly saw the reestablishment of Jerusalem as a significant threat to his agenda.
He ridiculed the Jews in the most public manner, before his ruling cabinet. He spoke before “the army of Samaria,” marshalling them in military maneuvers as a threat to Jerusalem. He called them “feeble,” a word which means to be “withered” or “miserable.”
He claimed that they would not be able to restore their wall or offer sacrifices. They think they can “finish in a day,” before their enemies attack them. Their stones are “burned” by the Babylonians, thus missing the iron which held them together and significantly weakened in their composition.
In short, their project was doomed before it began.
He was joined by “Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side,” meaning that they were partners in leadership. Tobiah added, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” (v. 3). A fox (more likely a “jackal”) weighs only a few pounds; one was likely to climb up and over any wall built in that part of the world. If even a fox could destroy their protective walls, what might an invading army do?
Nehemiah’s response was exactly the right thing to do: “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (v. 4-5).
Go to God, first. Do not try to solve your problem yourself, call on your advisors, or negotiate with your enemy. If he had attacked the Samaritan governor, he would have been in violation of the law and would have brought Persian reprisal.
Tell him your specific problem. Ask him for his specific answers, protection, and help.
With this result: “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (v. 6).
Nehemiah later wrote that the entire project was completed in 52 days (eight weeks of six days each); this part probably took four weeks to finish. The people knew that God would be their protector and provider. But only because Nehemiah went to God first.
Ridicule is one of the enemy’s tactics against the people of God. What did Goliath do when David came to fight him? “He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!'” (1 Samuel 17:42-44).
Jesus fared no better on the cross: “The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?’ And they said many other insulting things to him” (Luke 22:63-65).
So it has been for all the heroes of the faith: “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison” (Hebrews 11:36). When we face challenges, it is human nature to wonder if the fault is ours, if we are to blame. “I am not who I think I am, or who you think I am—I am who I think that you think I am.”