From Mission Impossible to Mission Accomplished
There is something about attempting and accomplishing what is considered impossible that captures our imagination. Whether it is scaling Mount Everest, traveling across Antarctica to the South Pole, searching for and finding the Titanic, or walking on the moon, people are fascinated by the accounts of those who attempt and accomplish the impossible.
The popular and recently revised television program Mission Impossible appeals to our fascination with the impossible. It is always interesting to see what new impossible mission will be assigned to Mr. Phelps and to watch him undertake that mission with the full knowledge that if he or any of his Impossible Mission Force companions are captured or killed, “the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” The appeal of the program lies in watching a “mission impossible” become a “mission accomplished.”
In the first chapter of Nehemiah we learned of Nehemiah and how God put upon his heart what seemed like a “mission impossible.” We have seen Nehemiah working toward the completion of his God-appointed mission in spite of great opposition, problems, and pressures. In our lesson today we will study how that “mission impossible” became a “mission accomplished.”
Intrigue: An Invitation to a Summit Conference
Thus far in our study, we have seen Nehemiah and the Jews experience and deal with problems and threats from both without and within. The opposition made yet additional efforts to frustrate the work as the completion of the project drew near. These new renewed efforts from without were aimed at Nehemiah. The enemies of the Jews knew that their only hope of success lay in eliminating the man at the top. When all else fails, shoot the leader! Nehemiah 6 records three attempts to destroy, defame, and discredit Nehemiah.
According to Nehemiah 6:1-4, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem resorted to intrigue in an effort to destroy Nehemiah. These men put their villainous plot into action the moment they heard that Nehemiah “had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it.” These men sent an invitation to Nehemiah to attend a summit conference at a place called Ono, about twenty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem. Nehemiah turned down their invitation on the basis of his priorities, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Furthermore, Nehemiah perceived that these men were trying to lure him away from the safety of Jerusalem, perhaps for the purpose of either kidnapping or assassinating him. Not satisfied with Nehemiah’s reply, they sent Nehemiah the same invitation four times only to be turned down four times.
Innuendo: An Implication of Treason
Having failed in their efforts to destroy Nehemiah through intrigue, his enemies resorted to innuendo. According to Nehemiah 6:5, Sanballat sent Nehemiah an open letter stating that it was reported that Nehemiah’s real purpose for rebuilding the wall was to put himself in a position to become king of Judah and to rebel against Artaxerxes. Sanballat threatened to send this false report to Artaxerxes unless Nehemiah agreed to meet with him. Nehemiah responded by telling Sanballat that the report was not true, but simply a fabrication of his overactive imagination. Nehemiah then prayed for God to strengthen him.
Intimidation: An Intent to Discredit
Having failed once again in their attempts to destroy Nehemiah, his ever-resourceful enemies turned to intimidation in the hope of discrediting Nehemiah before the people. They hired a prophet to tell Nehemiah that there was a plot to assassinate him and to advise him to seek refuge in the Temple (within the Holy Place). This was a clear violation of God’s Word (Numbers 18:7). Nehemiah thus perceived that this advice was not from God and that Tobias and Sanballat had hired the phony prophet to frighten him and cause him to sin that they might have grounds for calling his leadership into question.
Inspiration: An Impossible Task Accomplished
In spite of pernicious and persistent opposition, Nehemiah and the people completed the wall in fifty-two days. This was a remarkable accomplishment (the wall was about one and one-half to two and one-half miles in extent). The completion of the work had an impact on the enemies of the Jews: “they lost their confidence.” The enemies of the Jews recognized that the work had been accomplished with the help of God. The Jews did a remarkable work in just fifty-two days. There are fifty-two weeks in one year. It is worth considering what contribution we have made to God’s work in the past fifty-two weeks? Have we helped to further the work of the Gospel?
As the work on the wall neared completion, the opposition to the work intensified. Nehemiah teaches us how to properly respond to problems and pressures.
Nehemiah did not allow problems and pressures to keep him from his priorities. He was able to avoid potential danger to his own life by refusing to abandon his priorities. Rather than question the motives of his enemies, he simply refused their invitation to meet with them on the basis of a higher priority: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
When Nehemiah’s motives for rebuilding the wall were impugned, he did not respond with a publicity campaign to address the rumors or file suit against the rumormongers. Nehemiah simply denied the rumors and resorted to prayer: “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah set a consistent example of praying in and through every difficulty.
When the phony prophet Shemaiah warned Nehemiah about a plot to assassinate him and suggested that Nehemiah seek refuge in the Temple, Nehemiah was perceptive enough to see that “God had not sent [Shemaiah].” His ability to perceive the subtle evil in Shemaiah’s suggestion came about as a result of Nehemiah’s knowledge of the Word of God. Psalm 119:98 states; “Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine [with me].”
Nehemiah did not expend precious time and energy in defending himself from the intrigue, innuendo, and intimidation of his enemies. He simply persisted in the work, steadily moving toward the realization of his God-given goal. He did not allow his enemies to either distract or delay him. As a result of his persistence, “the wall was completed…in fifty-two days.”
Nehemiah did not rest after the completion of the work. Knowing the character and nature of his enemies, he consolidated the work by appointing gatekeepers and mobilizing the citizens of Jerusalem into a “Neighborhood Watch” team. By so doing, he insured that the people would be ready to deal with any further problems and pressures from their enemies.