Life Lessons from Nehemiah, Pt. 4
Study Guide, February 16, 2020
Pastor Clay Olsen
One of the Missionaries that the Chapel had the privilege of supporting was a dear Sister named Olivia Branch. Many at the Chapel here remember her with great fondness. She served in a place that was, to say the least, not very open to the Gospel…Islamabad, Pakistan. But she had a burden for the Muslim people and had an amazing ministry for many years in Pakistan. And even when she retired and moved to Raleigh, she spent much of her time reaching out to international students from Pakistan and other Islamic countries. What a remarkable lady, who had an abundant entrance and an amazing homecoming celebration when she arrived in Heaven.
But I will always remember her reminder to us when she was visiting the Chapel. She reminded us to understand the reality of this world; that this world is hostile to the Gospel and to everything godly. And therefore, we should always remember that wherever there is building there will be battling. What an important truth to know and to keep in mind about whatever good thing, whatever godly thing, that you are trying to build up for God’s glory and the blessing of His Church. And we see that truth on display in the book of Nehemiah. So let’s return to our journey.
And we pick it up with a prayer of Nehemiah’s that may surprise you. Check it out: Neh 4:4-5- “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.” NIV You talk about tough praying! These mockers apparently didn’t realize who they were messing with: Nehemiah, a servant of God. Nor did they realize that in mocking the people of God they were also mocking God. And no one gets away with mocking God, the God of justice and righteousness! Do you remember what God said about that? Gal 6:7-8- “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” NLT
God will not be mocked without consequence. You cannot mock the justice of God without consequence. Nehemiah understood that, and so his prayer was not about personal revenge or anything like that, but Nehemiah was praying for God’s justice to be both honored and acted upon by God. Through prayer, he was placing these mockers into the hands of God. And for anyone who is mocking God, that’s a terrible place to be, as in: Heb 10:31- “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” NLT
As disturbing as it is to us, when we hear worldly people scoffing at truth and righteousness, or mocking the teachings of God and the people of God, or dishonoring the Gospel of God, like Nehemiah, we can’t let that stop us from doing the works of God. We need to keep on doing good works for God. But we discover here in Nehemiah, that there is also something we need to do about mockers and scoffers of God’s works and words and people. By prayer, we need to put them into the hands of the living God. And then, by faith, we need to not only see them as now in the hands of the living God, but to also see and realize that if they continue with their mocking and scoffing, God’s justice will be done, and their future days will not be days of rejoicing, but they will be days of regret, as they reap what they sowed against God and God’s people.
No doubt Nehemiah learned about this ‘justice praying’ from the recorded prayers of one who often prayed these types of ‘justice prayers’, the Psalmist. These types of prayers are called ‘Imprecatory Prayers’. One of the benefits of many Study Bibles is that they include a section in their introduction to the Psalms that identifies these ‘Imprecatory Psalms’. And they have the numbers of the chapters that are ‘Imprecatory Psalms’. The word ‘imprecatory’ refers to a ‘calling for justice and judgment’. And the purpose for this kind of praying is to demonstrate the justice and righteous judgment of God, to show the authority of God in all things on Earth, to remind others that they are accountable to the living God, and to move people to repent while there is still time.
Just one example of an imprecatory prayer is from Ps 35:1- “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; Fight against those who fight against me.” 5 – “Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on.” 8 – “Let destruction come upon him unawares, and let the net which he hid catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall.” NASU Both the Psalmist and Nehemiah were praying as servants of God concerned for the glory of God. Nehemiah’s enemies had blasphemously provoked God to the builders, who were building according to God’s will. And this was a terrible sin. This opposition of Sanballat and Tobiah and others against the Jews was, in reality, direct opposition against God.
And as far as what scoffers and mockers say against God’s people…against us, well, something we can remember here is that the things people say may hurt us, but they can never harm us, unless we let them get into our mind and spirit and let it poison us. If we spend time dwelling on the enemy’s words, we just give Satan a foothold from which he can discourage and keep us from doing the works God has for us to do. So the best thing to do is to pray and commit the whole thing to the Lord; and then get back to your work; just press on with the good works of worshipping and serving God!
But also, do be prepared to do battle. Let’s look. Neh 4:8-9- “All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.” 14 – “When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” NASU Two things to note here: One is to remember that ‘Prayer’ is a salve and a sword. Prayer is a salve for the soul, but it’s also a sword for the battle. Like when you do ‘imprecatory praying’ you are wielding the sword of justice. Yes, be sure and use it for the honor of God, but also be sure and use it to do justice and carry out righteousness. Don’t be afraid of praying like Nehemiah and King David. But do so out of fear of God and out of the desire to see God’s will be done.
Then a second thing to see here is that self-defense is a Biblical good work. The Scriptures have always instructed God’s people not to be the aggressors toward others, but God’s people are always to be the defenders of others. One of the most overlooked teachings of Jesus is His second set of instructions to the disciples after their initial mission. What do we mean? Take a look: Luke 22:35-36- “And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” NASU
On their first mission, Jesus sent them out to their countrymen. They were proclaiming the Kingdom of God and showing others that they were not the aggressors in any way. But now they were being sent into all the world to proclaim the Kingdom of God, where even though they were not to be the aggressors, still, they were certainly to be prepared for defense, and to be prepared to defend others from this dangerous world. Nehemiah’s call to defend against those who would do harm to brothers, sisters, wives, homes, and country is a timeless call for God’s people to do justice in this world. Again, God’s people are not to be the aggressors of battles, but God’s people are commanded to be the defenders of all who need defense against the attacks of the wicked. As the Scriptures remind us; ‘There is a time for war and a time for peace.’ And God’s people are to be prepared for both, and ready for whichever the time calls for.
Notice further how the people worked. Neh 4:15-18- “When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side.” NLT
When Charles Spurgeon started his church magazine in 1865, he borrowed the title from Nehemiah and called the publication The Sword and Trowel. He said it was “a record of combat with sin and labor for the Lord.” You see, It is not enough to build the wall; we must also be on guard against the attacks of the enemy against God’s works. Again, building and battling are both a normal part of the Christian life. Many times Christians get ready and they get enthused about doing building for the Lord, which is great, but they neglect getting ready to do battle against the enemies of the Lord, or against the enemies tactics and strategies. We all need to realize that, especially now in our country, we are living in a period of a cultural war going on. There are Sanballats and Tobiahs in every sector, every city, every community in our country, who are hostile to the Word of God and are against the works of God. Wherever they see and hear disciples of Jesus trying to please God by building His church, seeking to honor the authority of the inerrant Word of God, and seeking to save the lost and dying, they are going to do whatever they can to fight against that and to break down those walls of the church of Jesus Christ. But that does not change our commission to continue the work of building up God’s Church for His glory and the gain of Gods’ people. Building and battling are all part of the work of carrying out the Great Commission.
Another amazing lesson from Nehemiah is that, in this battle of righteousness against unrighteousness, we also have to remember that the battle is not only with the one that comes against us, but also with the one that comes from within us. That’s right! Remember that we fight not only the world and the devil, but also the flesh, or our old sin nature. And one of the central sins of the sin nature is ‘self-centeredness’. It’s like with Nehemiah; just when Nehemiah gets the people settled and centered to fight against the enemies outside the walls, he then finds that there’s another battle going in inside the walls. It was basically the battle of ‘self-centeredness’. Take a look: Neh 5:1-5- “About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.” Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.” And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.” NLT
How strange, that while the people rallied together to do battle against the enemy outside the walls, they ended up battling against each other inside the walls. There were people taking advantage of one another, instead of serving and helping one another…and all for just self-centered…selfish gains. Of course, whatever gain comes by being selfish sooner or later turns into a loss anyway. Plus, since self-centeredness, or selfishness is a hole that can never be filled, the selfish person is never really satisfied anyway, because it’s never enough.
D.L. Moody used to say that his biggest enemy was the one that looked back at him in the mirror every day. We need to realize that we are more occupied with ourselves than we can imagine. Since we each have a sin-nature that is bent toward being self-centered, that means that we are going to have to take action day by day in order to get re-centered; to get ‘Christ-centered’. As Bill Bright put it: ‘We have to daily move off the throne of our life and give Jesus His rightful place on the throne of our lives.’ We have to re-center on Christ and then take our rightful place as servants of our Lord Jesus; and then get on with serving others who need our service. Our focus is to be on building God’s church alongside of God’s people, all the while being ready to do battle against the mockers and scoffers and any who’s intention is to harm the work of God or the workers of God. We are simply called to follow the Nehemiah principle for building and for battling; and all to the glory of God and the blessing of others.