ReBUILD: BUILDING WALLS
Standing Strong When Trouble Comes
By Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
October 20, 2019
TEXT: Nehemiah 4
Pray: Come Holy Spirit, move in us as we continue our worship by the hearing of Your Word. Open our hearts to understanding and our ears to hear You speaking. Protect us and deliver us from any distraction or evil. May we hear and claim your word and build upon it as we go from this place. To You we give all glory! In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN
Earlier this Spring, I let our two dogs out in our backyard. It was a beautiful day and I let them stay out a little longer, just so they could have time to play and run and explore. But when I went to bring them in, I discovered that only one of my dogs in the backyard. Where was Neeka? We have a really big yard – she could be anywhere. I kept calling her name – and pretty soon I saw her. She was over in the empty lot next door, beyond our fence. How in the world? There had to be some way she got over there – but how. Thankfully, I was able to go out the front door and get her inside. But we had to figure out how she got out. When Greg got home and did an inspection on the fence, he saw that there was a gap on our old decaying fence, just big enough for Neeka to get out. So, Greg’s project this Spring was to build a new section of fence right there, so he could close the gap and protect our dogs from getting out and getting lost. I am so thankful that I have a handyman for a husband, who can do tasks like that.
But then this summer, I thought we were all safe and secure, so I let the dogs out again for an extended time to romp and to play. And guess what? They were both gone this time, when I went to call them in. This time, they had found a gap in the fence on the other side of the house. I called and called and finally found them in the other empty lot. Thankfully, there were safe and not lost. But Greg had to do some more looking for that gap – and while he has not had the time to build another new fence, he has at least covered up the gap, so the dogs won’t end up going where they shouldn’t go. So now, I start to wonder – are they going to find another gap in the fence? I probably shouldn’t let my guard down but keep an eye out for them until we get that fence completely built.
You know, when we get serious about repairing and building up our church and our lives, I think that we all face gaps in our lives that will tempt us away from the way we should be going. We face conflict or opposition that hits us from without or within – externally or internally - and we are tempted to give up, which is exactly what our enemy wants to have happen. But we are called to stand firm when trouble comes and keep building and closing those gaps.
This is really what happened to Nehemiah and the Israelites in our continuing story of the building of the wall around Jerusalem. Let’s turn to Nehemiah 4 in our Bibles and read how they handled those who were opposed to them building the wall. Remember Nehemiah is close to the middle of the Bible, right before the book of Esther – and before the book of Psalms. And be sure and put a bookmark there, as we will be returning to the book of Nehemiah for a few more weeks.
You know what is interesting about the story of Nehemiah is that it is kind of a parable about our spiritual life. The name Nehemiah means, “Yahweh comforts”. We know that it is the Holy Spirit who comforts us in our life and guides and directs. And that is indeed the role Nehemiah plays in this story. And today we are going to meet the opponents and enemies of the whole building process, all instigated by the governor of Samaria, a person by the name of Sanballat. And here’s what’s interesting. Sanballat’s name means “the enemy in secret”. Truly Sanballat was the enemy – but he can also represent for us the enemy of our souls, the very devil himself. In a way, we can see this story as an example of the spiritual warfare we face as we try to repair and rebuild our own lives.
The first time we met Sanballat and his friends, was back in chapter 2 when they mocked and ridiculed the Jewish people right as the began build the wall. This wall was a threat to their power and status – and they didn’t want the Jewish people to succeed. Well, now as we get to chapter 4, the people have been working side by and side and doing well. The wall is built halfway to the top! But all of this make the enemy angry. Let’s see what tactics they use to stop them from building the wall. As we read, think about how our enemy, Satan, can come in and try to do the same to us.
Let’s begin reading at Nehemiah 4:1.
1Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 2 saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
What was the Enemy doing? Sanballat was angry about the building of the wall and he and the others did everything they could to shame and discourage the workers. They were questioning their lack of strength and know-how. They questioned their lack of faith and their ability to persevere. These Israelites were trying to plow through over a century’s worth of rubble. There would just be no way they could do it, their accusers say. It was just impossible. And whatever they built would just be so inferior it could easily be toppled over. Again, and again, these enemies tried everything they could think of to stop the building.
Have you ever heard voices like that? I know I have – voices in my head that say, “You’re not smart enough” or “You’re not good enough”. Or maybe when trying to change things for the better in your relationships with others, you hear “Well, that will never work, he will never change.” Or when you try to get your finances in order and reduce your debt, you hear “You will never be able to do that. You just don’t have the know-how and it’s just too big of a problem.” “You don’t have the strength or the power.”. Or how about the times when we as a church have thought of doing something great in ministry for the Lord and we hear those voices, “It will never work” – “You don’t have enough people or enough money” – “just forget that idea, it’s just impossible.”
Some of those voices can come from within – voices that come from the enemy through your mind. But those voices can also come from a spouse or a parent or a friend. And they are hard to hear. And they can discourage and defeat us.
But how did Nehemiah respond to these attacks? How did he stand firm in the midst of trouble? Look at verse 4:
4 Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! 5 Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.” 6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm.
Nehemiah’s first response was to pray. He turned to God and asked for His help in dealing with his opponents. Now obviously he had some pretty strong opinions on what should happen to his enemies – but he left all that action up to God. He basically left it all in God’s hands and then did what he could to encourage his people to keep working with enthusiasm. He didn’t let the enemy’s words change his focus and determination to finish building the wall.
When we face opposition, we have several options. We can run away and hide – or we can retaliate, fighting fire with fire. Or we can do as Nehemiah did and turn to our source of help and pray honestly and passionately about our needs. It is so important that we listen for God’s voice and leading in whatever struggles we are going through. And then keep doing what God has directed us to do and not give up.
But the opposition and the attacks of the Evil One don’t stop so easily. In fact, when we are trying to live God’s way and start closing those gaps in our lives that have been causing us trouble, it will make our enemy even angrier. Look at verse 7:
7]But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. 8 They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion.
Sanballat, Tobiah and many others now, were furious when they heard that the wall was now half its height and they were closing in the gaps in the wall. Those gaps were weak spots in the wall that would make the wall less secure – and thus easier to attack. But closing the gaps made it stronger and safer – much like when Greg closed the gaps in our fence to keep our dogs safe.
What are those gaps in our lives? Maybe it is a gap where you are struggling with a strained relationship that is filling you with resentment and anger. Those hard feelings are leaving a gap where Satan can come in and try to destroy you. Or maybe it is a past sin you haven’t dealt with or a thought you keep entertaining in your mind - taking you to places or doing things you know are against God’s desire for your life. Ron Hutchcraft says, “Wherever the gaps are, you can be sure your enemy has identified where you’re vulnerable and he’s planning to use those gaps to get into the very core of your life.” 1 We have to be diligent and close those gaps and guard our hearts.
Look what Nehemiah does – in verse 9:
9 But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.
Again, Nehemiah seeks the Lord in prayer. This is always Nehemiah’s first response to opposition and trouble. He knows that God is their Protector and Guide, on whom he can trust. And then, he took action and posted a guard day and night to meet the threat.
We need to do the same in our lives. We need to pray to God and claim the promise of II Thessalonians 3:3 – “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” And then we need to make sure we are actively doing what we can to close the gaps and guard our hearts from any threats.
But you know the opposition isn’t always just from outside people, it can also be from within ourselves. Especially if we are tired and weary and we’ve lost our sense of perspective and confidence – the opposition can come from within our own spirits. That’s what happened to the people working on the wall. Look at verses 10-13:
10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.” 11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.” 12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”
People were tired and frustrated and because they were listening to their opponents, they were filled with fear. All of that together made them turn their focus away from God and onto the enemy and their inability to do anything.
But Nehemiah was not discouraged. He continued with the plan of building the wall and set up more armed guards. In fact, it says later that the people took shifts – some working on the wall and the others standing guard. But one of the most important things he did was encourage the people to look to God and not the enemy!
Nehemiah gathered all the people together and said these great words – words that you really need to underline and remember – look at verse 14. Nehemiah says: “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your homes!” And then in verse 20, after he gave some further instructions, he ended with the powerful words, “Our God shall fight for us.” Men working on the wall remained ready to rally together and help a brother or sister in danger and their confidence was focused on one hope: the battle belongs to the Lord.
We must be ready to rally together for a sister or brother under attack and always trust that our God will fight for us.
These words really could be a motto for our day to day life. Remember the Lord! What a difference it would make. When we find ourselves facing enemies and difficulties, we need to look away from them and remember the Lord. For He has said, “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid; do not be discouraged for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) God will fight for you. When you feel fearful and anxious and unsure of what the future holds, “remember the Lord”. For “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1), and He will go ahead of us and protect us as a rear guard (Isaiah 52:12) When you are feeling weary and weak, “Remember the Lord”. For He said in Isaiah 41 – “Fear not, for I am with you…I will strengthen you, I will help you and hold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
When trouble comes and we face opposition, REMEMBER THE LORD! Remember the Lord who is great and glorious and fight for your families! He will carry you through and show you the way!
Oh God, we are so grateful that we never have to fight our battles alone. You have promised to always be there, fighting for us – shielding and protecting and strengthening us
for whatever comes our way. Help us, dear Lord, to remember You. Help us to put on Your armor daily, for You give us all that we need to stand firm when trouble comes. We thank You that You are far greater than anything we face here in this life, and that we are more than conquerors through You. We stand together in Your great and powerful Name – believer You are with us. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN
1Ron Hutcraft, “Closing the Gap” - #3760, A Word With You Devotional. https://hutchcraft.com/a-word-with-you/your-personal-power/closing-the-gap-3760