Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
When we are insulted and mocked, what should we do?
Nehemiah could have tried to engage his opponents and debate with them as to why the building project would succeed. He knows well, however, that this would be a waste of time. It would not change their hearts or their destructive plans. Instead, he chooses an exemplary response-he prays. As one who knows God personally, he speaks into His ear, ″Hear us, our God . . .″ (Nehemiah 4:4). There is no attempt to speak into the ears of men (whether Persian king, Jewish leader, or potential ally), for it is enough to let God know the situation.
Nehemiah is grieved that the people of God are despised (v. 4). When God's people are mocked, it means God is mocked. What Nehemiah prays next (vv. 4-5) has to be read in the context of how imprecatory psalms (e.g., Psalms 83 and 137) are understood. Here, words that may seem harsh or vindictive are used against the enemies to express how those who love God feel when He is insulted. They are born out of a deep sensitivity towards God's honour and justice.
The sentiments Nehemiah expresses in his prayer are never acted out; rather, he leaves the matter to God to deal with. Such sentiments of moral outrage against evil are not incompatible with Jesus' command to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). The Lord Jesus condemned His opponents as ″snakes″ and a ″brood of vipers″ (Matthew 23:33), but He also prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors (Luke 23:34). If we understand this, then we will understand Nehemiah's prayer.
Nehemiah refuses to be sidetracked or distracted by the scathing insults of Sanballat and Tobiah. He prays, hands the problem over to God, then continues the work God has given him. As he writes: ″So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height″ (Nehemiah 4:6). He also notes that the people ″worked with all their heart″, putting in their best efforts. The more the enemy insults them, the more determinedly the people work. The enemy's taunts only serve to fan the flames in their hearts for doing God's work.
We need God's wisdom to handle unfair or even hostile criticism. There is a time for engaging in dialogue to create better understanding. But there is also a time for staying focused on the work God gives us, so as to avoid being distracted by meaningless or unproductive argument. We can bring all situations to God in prayer, asking for discernment. We should avoid taking insults personally and becoming emotional in our reactions. Remember that Satan is often behind hurtful and insulting words.
How can Satan attack us and make us lose our focus? Why is praying to God and leaving the opposition in His hands almost always the best policy?
How can we pray against evil and yet pray for the salvation of those who cause us trouble? Reflect on how we can follow Jesus' example in this.