Prescription for Problems and Pressures
Who among us is exempt from problems and pressures?
Problems and pressures do not discriminate. They have no respect for rank, race, or riches. Problems and pressures do not care whether you are an honorable person in pursuit of noble ends or a troubled person longing for relief.
Problems and pressures have no respect for your privacy, person, or property. They keep no hours and respect no barriers. They will visit you in public or in private, in your work place or in your home. They do not wait for an invitation but are always ready to take the initiative.
In addition, problems and pressures are thieves. They will rob you of sleep, they will rob you of peace, and they will keep happiness at bay. Our lesson today will address how Nehemiah dealt with the problems and pressures that he and the people encountered when they were doing a great work for God.
Problems and Pressures
We have noted several times in our study of Ezra and Nehemiah that God’s work will not go unchallenged by God’s enemies. We read in Nehemiah 2:10 that Sanballat and Tobiah were displeased that Nehemiah had come to seek the welfare of the Jews. We read in Nehemiah 2:19 that after Nehemiah announced his plans for the rebuilding of the walls, Sanballat tried to discourage the people from any thought of initiating the work by hurling gibes and insults at them. We read in Nehemiah 4:1 that when Sanballat learned that the Jews were rebuilding the walls, his displeasure turned to raging anger. It was one thing for the people to talk about rebuilding and quite another to rebuild. It was the actual initiation of the work that incited Sanballat to wrath.
According to Nehemiah 4:2, Sanballat’s opposition was vocal. He assembled his cronies and mocked the people (“feeble Jews”), the plan (“will they finish in a day”), and the materials (“stones and rubbish”). As usual, his friend Tobiah was with him and threw in his two cents by sarcastically calling into question the strength of the wall (Nehemiah 4:3). Neither Sanballat nor Tobiah ever stopped to consider that they were not only criticizing God’s people, but they were also criticizing God’s project. Nehemiah 4:5 informs us that the caustic words of these critics had a demoralizing impact upon the people.
Prayer and Persistence
Nehemiah’s response to the rotten rhetoric of his critics is recorded in Nehemiah 4:4-6. Notice that Nehemiah did not engage his critics in debate, nor did he try to responded to their sarcastic remarks point for point, nor did he retaliate. Nehemiah took the matter to the Lord in prayer.
As we have already noted in our study of Nehemiah, prayer was a key element of Nehemiah’s problem-solving strategy. At first glance his prayer is rather shocking. It is shocking because it is an imprecatory prayer, that is a prayer calling God’s judgment down upon His enemies.
Notice also that Nehemiah did more than pray, he also persevered. He kept the people working. He knew that the best way to deal with the problems and pressures of the opposition was through prayer and perseverance. The people continued to work and built the wall to half its height.
Prayer and Preparedness
When the enemies of the Jews learned that their tactics had failed and that the Jews had progressed to the half-way point in the project, they intensified their opposition to the work. According to Nehemiah 4:7, the Ashdodites (the ancient Philistines) joined forces with Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These disgruntled men then conspired together to fight against Jerusalem.
Once again we see Nehemiah’s response to these problems and pressures: “But we prayed to our God.” Notice that this time the people (“we”) joined Nehemiah in prayer. But not only did they pray, they also “set up a guard against them day and night (Nehemiah 4:8).” Nehemiah and the people met this new crisis with prayer and preparedness.
According to Nehemiah 4:10-11, the people finally grew weary. They had been working long hours without any rest or relaxation, while under the threat of attack. According to these verses, four things happened.
First, the people lost their strength. They were simply physically exhausted.
Second, they lost their vision: “Yet there is much rubbish.” They were so tired that they began to see things as bigger than they really were. Molehills looked like mountains.
Third, they lost their confidence: “And we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.”
Fourth, they lost their security: “And our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them, and put a stop to the work.”
The people were tired and became fearful because of a persistent rumor that their enemies were going to launch an attack on the city when least expected.
Nehemiah responded to this new set of problems and pressures in a practical way. He organized the people into military contingents and stationed them around the city. He further exhorted the people to stand ready to fight and to be willing to die in defense of their families and city. He told the people to remember the Lord and be ready to fight. This was an exhortation to “Trust God and keep your powder dry!” Through this effort, Nehemiah and the people sent a strong message to Sanballat and his colleagues that they were ready to battle to insure the success of the work.
Precaution and Progress
Nehemiah 4:16-20 records a change of strategy for the duration of the project. Nehemiah adopted a new organizational strategy to prevent another crisis and another threat to morale. He organized the people into workers, warriors, and watchmen. He had the people work with either a weapon in their hand or at their side. He appointed others to stand guard. As an additional precaution, he appointed buglers to stand guard around the city and to sound an alarm at the first sign of trouble.
Nehemiah 4:21-23 is a summary of the events of the problem and pressure-filled days of chapter 4. Notice that the people worked from “dawn until the stars appeared (Nehemiah 4:21).” Notice also that Nehemiah asked the “commuters” to stay within the walls of the city to help guard the city and finish the walls (Nehemiah 4:22).
Finally, notice that the problems and pressures of those days were so great that Nehemiah and his men slept in their clothes with their weapons at their side. They lived in a constant state of readiness. The people thus dealt with the problems and pressures they encountered by having faith in God (“Our God will fight for us,” 4:20), and by working hard (“So we carried on the work,” 4:21).
Listening to the enemy can lead to discouragement.
The words of a children’s song caution, “Be careful little ears what you hear!” We learn from Nehemiah 4 that listening to the words of the enemy can lead to discouragement. The opposition to the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was loud and cruel. Every word was filled with venom and spoken to the end that the Jews would become discouraged, demoralized, and debilitated. We must be careful what we listen to lest we be rendered ineffective in God’s work.
Prayer puts problems and pressures into perspective.
Nehemiah was successful in dealing with problems and pressures because he was a man of prayer. Prayer always puts things into proper perspective. Problems never seem quite as ominous before our omnipotent and awesome God. We should follow Nehemiah’s example and pray, rather than panic, in the face of problems and pressures.
We should not lose heart in doing good.
Nehemiah dealt with problems and pressures not only through praying alone, but through persistent work as well. By so doing he modeled Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). We too, should keep at the task even in the face of opposition.
We should never do things just “half-way” in God’s work.
When the Jews reached the half-way point in the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they were ready to stop the work because of fatigue and fear. We must guard against the tendency to do things half-way in God’s work. We should look to God when we are weary that He may renew our strength. We should look to God when we are fearful that He may remind us of His presence and protection. And, we should look to God when we are discouraged that He may bolster our resolve.
Fatigue can cause us to lose our vision.
The Jews began the rebuilding of the walls with great enthusiasm and energy. As they continued the work however, they became both physically and emotionally exhausted as they daily contended with the rubble of the walls and the rumors of their enemies. This relentless pressure finally took its toll as the people lost sight of their progress and became discouraged at the thought of the remainder of the work. We must learn the value of rest and relaxation and learn to schedule such moments into our busy days lest we too, lose sight of the bigger picture.