With a plan and a purpose, a vision and a hope, Nehemiah has challenged and exhorted the people living in Jerusalem to clear the rubble of their broken down city and begin to rebuild. The work area has been divided in sections and assignments given. The timber has been supplied by the favor of the king for whom Nehemiah had been a faithful cupbearer. It was not going to be easy, but now these people who had already lived within the shame and intimidation of their situation now face insults and shouts of contempt from two key individuals: Tobiah and Sanballat.
I can’t help but wonder if these two had not been bullies all along for the people living there. If that was true, the arrival of Nehemiah had been the first threat to the power structure that existed in that place after the majority of the Jews had been taken away into exile.
Bible scholars point to the likelihood that these were two men of the Samaritan community and Samaritans had always been at odds with the Jews. They would have come from what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were comprised of a mix of Jewish and pagan ancestry. Even though they worshipped Yahweh, their worship was not mainstream Judaism. Their temple was on Mt. Gerazim instead of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. Some authors suggest that Sanballat was a Moabite and Tobiah an Ammonite.
Whatever their origin, they had no desire to see Nehemiah’s plans prosper. Even though Nehemiah would certainly not have laid out his plans to them, they were aware of his purpose to rebuild. Tobiah’s wife had apparently been a Jewess and therefore he knew about the commitment of the Jews to their holy site and God’s covenant with them.
Imagine you are one of those tasked with and trying to rebuild the city walls. It’s hard work that will be done by hand. Then you hear the taunts, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” It wasn’t pretty!
Even so, they continued and each day the opposition to their efforts increased. So what does Nehemiah do in response? He prays. By now we have little doubt about the source of Nehemiah’s faith and confidence. In any and all situations, his first response is prayer. I wish I could say that is always my first response, my first step of an action plan.
It may not be unusual for a believer to decide to pray, but too often we can pray and then never consider if we may be called to also act as well. Nehemiah knew that. He consistently shows he is a man of prayer AND action.
As he considers the situation and the discouragement of the citizens of Jerusalem rebuilding, he also posts guards. He strategically has half the men working while the other half are equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor.
Talk about brothers having your back in a bad situation—Nehemiah had the right combination as he exhorted the people not to be afraid. He gave them unseen and seen support.How much stronger the body of Christ might be if we used the same principles and strategies Nehemiah used!
How do we support one another in challenging times? Do we say we will pray or even do so on the spot and then simply walk away or do we offer prayer and then some step of action as well? For the person in grief, do we pray and offer a meal or babysitting? For the person with a job loss, do we pray and also put gas in his or her car to be able to keep looking for work?
Nehemiah was an exemplary leader and when he stepped up his game, so did his opponents who had been insulting and discouraging the people of the city. This time the attacks were on him as they sought to slander and intimidate him.
The attacks of the enemy can and do hit at anyone and everyone, but the point of the spear will always be directed at the leader. If the leader can be discredited and manipulated, then the people will become disorganized, confused, and ineffective. When that happens, victory is assured for the enemy.
The apostle Paul understood that well as a leader. It is no wonder that in his second letter to Timothy, he offers this principle:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 2 Timothy 2:1-2
A quick check of Bible verses on this topic will point to other verses that set out the same principle. It can be so much easier to complain, condemn, and criticize a leader, whether he or she is a pastor or ministry leader, than it is to pray for him or her. And the passages on this topic don’t stop there. It includes those who govern us—mayors, governors, and the president. I don’t see that happening very often either.
Often it is only in the worst of times when tragedy has struck that we set aside our differences and come together to pray as we realize we are incapable of resolving the tragic. Should we not do so before a tragedy strikes? Opposition should not surprise us. Jesus suffered opposition and we are called to follow Him, represent Him until He returns.