Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
A person may be able to ignore insulting words, but the threat of violence is an entirely different matter. Furious that the work on the wall is progressing well, the enemies of the Jews—Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites—plot to “come and fight against Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 4:7–8).
Thus far, the Jews have responded well to the taunts of their enemies, but the imminent threat of violence makes some of them worry. Such negativism is often infectious, and soon, Nehemiah begins to hear excuses from within the ranks of his workers: “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall” (v. 10).
Discouragement is creeping in. The people are looking more at the rubble that has to be cleared rather than at the wall that needs to be rebuilt. They are looking at themselves more than at God who strengthens them. The Jews are beginning to believe the enemy propaganda spreading among them, that they will be easily attacked and killed (vv. 11–12). They are listening to enemy voices more than God’s Word or the words of their godly leader. This same attitude can often be seen in our spiritual lives. No one enjoys clearing rubbish and debris, but we have to clear what Bible teacher J. I. Packer calls “attitudinal rubble” such as “laziness, unbelief, procrastination, cynicism, self-absorption, in-fighting and fence-sitting” if we want to make spiritual progress.18
To allay their fears, Nehemiah leads the people to do the right thing: pray to God (v. 9). He also takes defensive action, posting family groups to guard vulnerable spots along the wall (v. 13). He then inspects the defences and gives a rousing speech to assure the people that God is with them, exhorting them to stand together to defend Jerusalem (v. 14). He then notes with satisfaction, “we all returned to the wall, each to our own work” (v. 15). Threats of violence cannot turn a man away from his God or his mission if he has such faith and resilience.
Today, most of us are spared the threat of physical violence arising from our faith in Christ. Sadly, however, there are places in the world where such dangers are a regular occurrence faced by the followers of Christ. It is important to remember these brothers and sisters in prayer. We may also find ourselves in similar situations if we are serving God in hostile places. Even if there is no threat of physical violence, we may face other kinds of overt or subtle persecution, which can deeply discourage us. At such times, we must seek comfort and refuge in the God who calls us and who is with us.
The threat of violence made some of the Jews hesitate in their work for God. What would it take for you to stop doing God’s work?
Nehemiah took practical steps to defend the people and the work, but carried on God’s work. What lessons can we learn from him on how we should handle threats and danger?