NEHEMIAH 4:1 – 6:19 and ACTS 22:1–30
The battle intensifies as Sanballat comes to know of the walls being rebuilt. Prior to Nehemiah he had free reign throughout the city. The secured walls now keep him at bay and he is enraged. I am reminded of the account Jesus gave when a house is swept and cleaned:
Mat 12:43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
Mat 12:44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Mat 12:45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
This is what Nehemiah is now about to face. We must appreciate the fact that the enemy does not give up easily. The walls have been rebuilt and secured. The secured gates (beams, locks and bar from chapter 3) make it very difficult for the enemy to penetrate. He will seek to come against them in different ways. In verse 2-4 the taunting and mocking of Sanballat, Tobiah and the others continues to grow. They know that the people of God had made strong stands before in Israel’s history but eventually weakened in varied areas. Their voices of intimidation resonated strongly and no doubt struck fear into some of the workers. What about Nehemiah; what was his reaction? This is a most important truth in how to handle such attacks from the enemy. He took the matter to God but more than that he directed their attacks as coming against God (vs 4-5).
Remember, Nehemiah knew his identity, he knew what he was called to do. He also knew that the work they were involved in was a work that God had authorized. Nehemiah understood that they were not attacking him but attacking God. He could make that statement because he was fully doing the Lord’s work. He did not take the attacks personally but brought it to the Lord by saying, “hear what they are saying against you.” This is why identity is so important. We must know who we are, what we are called to do and be sure we are doing what the Lord has designed for us to do. If we have that sense and are affirmed in it then we can have full confidence in going forward. This is what Nehemiah does in continuing the work. He also had the ability to instil a strong work ethic in the midst of the enemy’s threats (vs 6).
Did this halt the attacks of Sanballat and his friends? No, they only became angrier. Can we see the pattern of warfare in this scenario? Once again it is important to call to mind the components of the Lord’s Prayer (Math 6:9-13). “Thy kingdom come Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” The greatest spiritual battles take place where the Lord looks to establish His kingdom upon the earth as He has decreed it in heaven. The work of Restoration in Jerusalem was God’s plan and He prepared an instrument, a man through whom this work would be done named Nehemiah. The enemy who hates the message of Restoration opposes this effort. It is Satan who motivates the likes of Sanballat and others to seek to frustrate their progress. It is God’s agenda coming against an enemy stronghold. This battle is playing out through mortal men (Nehemiah and Sanballat) which are reflecting a spiritual battle in the heavenly realm. Nehemiah understands this and is able to bring their attacks and threats to God and say to the Lord, listen to what they are saying about you. This is a tremendous window into the kind of battle that awaits the church of the last days. The enemy has already been defeated when Jesus died upon the Cross yet He is giving the church (you and I) the opportunity to be engaged in this end time battle as we learn to appropriate the finished work of the Cross in our lives. We too have the opportunity to put Satan and his devices under our feet (Psa 149:9, Rom 16:20).
In verses 7-12 we do see the enemy continue to press their attacks against the workers. They conspire in unity against God and His work (vs 8). As before the people of God under Nehemiah make their appeal to God as they carry on with the work. We now see another added element that Nehemiah employs which is an essential for our day; The need for vigilance. They set a watch upon the walls while they worked. How many times did Jesus warn about being watchful? Today, we live in an anesthetized world. It’s as if the entire planet has been injected with novocaine. The pain and decay is all around us yet we are desensitized to it. We worry about our sports teams, entertainment and so many other frivolous pursuits that we become oblivious to the realities around us. Day by day we are being beaten into a melodic drumbeat of conformity into a foreign world system. In short, we are a programmed people and we hardly know it. We speak of our individuality yet walk in lockstep down a dangerous path. I am not just referring to the world but it’s in the church. The adversary knows this and will look for opportunities to exploit chinks in our armour. If his initial brazen verbal attacks do not work he will seek out weaknesses elsewhere. The enemy speaks of what he will do in the following verse:
Neh 4:11 And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.
The balance of chapter 4 speaks of the premium that Nehemiah put on vigilance as they sought to complete the work. Now was not the time for complacency or fear. The battle has intensified and it is all out warfare. The work had to go forward but it also had to be protected. This was a people who knew how to work, had a strong work ethic and were able to carry through a burden. They had this drive and determination due to the leader who was at the forefront. This is the measure of leadership that is desperately needed today. The next chapter will take an interesting diversion and it is a message we must take note of.
This chapter seems to be a standalone in light of the general message of Nehemiah. The matters that are addressed here are internal as opposed to external. It is an issue of great importance and there are many leadership lessons that can be gleaned from Nehemiah in how he handled a potentially dangerous situation. What is the problem?
In verses 1-5 we have a situation where the poorer amongst the Jews were being exploited by their richer brethren. The pressures of rebuilding the wall during turbulent times were taking a toll on many of the people. High prices were being paid for food to feed the many mouths of the poorer Jewish households. Some of them had to mortgage their lands just to be able to feed their families and make ends meet. Many others had to go into debt just so they could pay tax to the Persian government (vs 4). This mortgaging and exploitation was being done by their own Jewish brethren. The situation got so bad that many of their lands were sold off to other people; they had no power or ability to redeem them (vs 5).
What a sad testimony in the midst of a rebuilding effort taking place in Jerusalem. If the enemy cannot destroy from the outside he will seek ways to do it inwardly. I have found through the years that some of the greatest battles are often internal ones that the enemy seeks to exploit. Satan is a divider, God is one who unites. Satan is strong when he can invade a home or church and divide it. He also seeks to bring division to the heart. What a reproach this scene is to God and to those who are able to observe. If this matter is not properly remedied it will stymie the Restoration effort. The message of Restoration is all about taking something that is broken and bringing it back together (Mal 4:4-6). The work of restoring the walls around Jerusalem and bringing Restoration to the city had to be put aside for the moment so that this issue could be settled. David could not take the stronghold of Zion until the Jebusites were destroyed (2 Sam 5:1-7). David had defeated all other enemies but this group was the last to go. The Jebusites speak of disunity amongst the brethren. We see that the disciples of the Lord strove with one another at the time of the Last Supper (Luke 22:24). This matter was one of great concern to Jesus seeing that he interceded for unity when He prayed to His Father in John 17. The fruit of His intercessory prayer was a unity in the upper room in Acts 2 which paved the way for the Holy Spirit to come. So what did Nehemiah do to handle this potentially explosive matter?
In anger, he rebuked the nobles and rulers involved in these acts. He spoke as to how he and others paid a great price in redeeming all of the Jews. He then went on to add that perhaps then they should be redeemed to him seeing that they paid the price that allowed them to be in that position (vs 8). He then put it to them that they should be walking in the Fear of the Lord. Obviously, this was not the case since they were very self-serving in their attitude. Why was this taking place? It allowed the richer Jews to exact control on the others. They were able to dictate terms and pretty much determine how they were to live. This is the world’s system of administration and it is contrary to the ways of God. Nehemiah was not about to let this carry on any longer. Why was he effective in being able to deal with this? It is not enough to just say the right things and demand that restoration of homes, livestock and goods be returned. Where did his authority come from? I feel the key is found in the following verse:
Neh 5:15 But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.
Nehemiah walked in the Fear of the Lord. He had a conscious awareness of God’s presence and knew of His heart in this matter. Sadly, we have lost that sense of the Fear of the Lord. Secondly, he denied himself the privileges and rights that could have been his. Do you recall how he was given the opportunity to ask God for what he needed for the work (Neh 2:4)? He did not abuse his privilege; the reason why was that he feared God. The very things that the richer Jews were doing against their brethren Nehemiah could have been done on a much larger scale. He was proven to be a man of great integrity and as a result could speak into this situation. This is true authority and this is one of the primary reasons why the people made immediate restitution. If Nehemiah was someone who had measures of corruption in his own life his words would have rung hollow. We must be men and women of integrity and uprightness in these pivotal days. Nehemiah could inject himself into this problem and bring quick and sudden healing. It allowed for the workers to get back to the work of the wall in short order (vs 16). In verse 17-18 we see a similar picture of what Daniel and his three friends were able to do in Babylon. They intentionally chose to not allow themselves to be defiled with the meat from the kings table. They sought God which enabled them to grow in wisdom, understanding and knowledge at a rate 10 times greater than all the kings’ wise men. God highly notes these qualities and we need to seek for them to be established in our lives. Nehemiah was able to bring about a restoration of healing and relationship amongst the Jews. It is a picture of Psa 133:1-3.
As the work of rebuilding the walls has come to a completion the enemies of God now enter into a new phase of warfare. It is subtle, dangerous and one we need to be on guard against. The vigilance the restorers employed in the work must now be continued as the enemy seeks to undermine the restorer’s efforts in a different way. It reminds me of a phrase echoed during police riots in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s. “Can’t we all just get along?” Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? It also reminds me of another term we hear quite a bit today, particularly in American politics. “spirit of bi-partisanship” Once again it sounds reasonable but the question that must be asked is this: Who defines bi-partisanship? It is a subtle trap that seeks to secure a temporary truce with a longer term objective in mind. If you want to really understand this concept look up the “Treaty of Hudaybiyah” that was enacted back in around the year 628 BC. This will answer many questions regarding the tactics that can be employed. This is the tactic that Sanballat is looking to secure with Nehemiah in chapter 6.
Sanballat and Geshom seek to arrange a meeting with Nehemiah on neutral ground. (Can’t we just be friends?”) Interestingly, the appointed place for this meeting was in a place called Ono. That is an indicator in of itself. Nehemiah immediately discerned that this was not being conceived with the right motives. This is one the primary gifts that will be required in the last days; the ability to discern. Jesus did say that if it were possible that even the very elect would be deceived (Math 24:24). There is a danger after a prolonged battle to make nice with an enemy. It is imperative that we know the heart of God at such times. King Saul probably thought he did enough against the Amalekites so he made nice with the King by sparing his life. He sought to justify his disobedience by offering the best of their flocks (1 Sam 15:15). The problem is that it was God’s will for all of the Amalekites to be destroyed, including the king. This is a familiar Bible story but the lesson must not be lost.
Nehemiah did not flat out ignore their overture but he did send messengers to them to say he would not meet with them. One answer was not enough since they tried to convince him on three other occasions (vs 4). Nehemiah passed the test that Eve and Balaam failed on. In both cases Eve and Balaam answered the enemy properly when they were first approached. In both cases they failed on the 2nd attempt. We must understand that Satan is persistent and does not give up easily. The Lord was approached on three different occasions by Satan and each time he answered “It is written” (Math 4:1-10).
Sanballat then attempted another approach. He tried to intimidate them by saying that what they were doing was in fact rebellion against the king. He goes on to say that you (Nehemiah) have appointed prophets that are declaring that there is a king in Judah and this is being reported to the King in Persia. You can hear Sanballat say something to the effect that “this may cause you some problems; I can help you in this”. I have a very real example that can be shared to help shed light on this approach by Sanballat.
Several years ago while in India we were going through very difficult times with outside militants who were not happy about our work with the children and Bible Schools. A local police official who had opposed us on several other occasions seemingly took up our cause by extending a helping hand to us. He acknowledged the good work we were doing and said he wants the blessing to continue to those who have benefitted from our work. He then went on to say that he could help us with our problem. It all sounded good, looked good and helped to give hope that the work could continue unhindered. The problem was that it came at a price or better defined as a “bribe”. The sad thing was that some other Christian organizations paid the “price” so that their work could continue. We refused his help and it did cost us our ability to function in our capacity. It did eventually cause the work to cease but now with the advantage of almost 15 years we can see the fruit of not compromising to the enemy’s subtle tactics. These battles and tactics are real and we must be prepared to stand for what is right. We must be able to discern the wiles and devices of the devil. If there is any untowardness in our heart we then are vulnerable; no matter how strong or secure we think we are. We must also be very careful in not compromising on doctrine. This is where it begins.
The threats of Nehemiah did put fear into the hearts of the workers seeing that this did happen before (Ezra 4). The tactics from Sanballat now become even more sinister. Sanballat and Tobiah now hired a false prophet to try and get them to come into a place of “so called” safety from danger. The problem is that it was Sanballat who set this all up. Think about it; think of the prophetic approach and flow that could have come from the mouth of Shemaiah. “Thus saith the Lord, there is an enemy in thy midst; the Lord is providing you an ark of safety and provision within the house of the Lord; come and take refuge there for the slayers are about to slay thee.” Doesn’t it sound spiritual; does it not sound like good counsel in the midst of all that was taking place? Once again Nehemiah stood firm; he was not afraid and he was able to discern the situation. Nehemiah brought all of this to the Lord and pleaded that he would consider what they were doing. He also cited a certain prophetess by the name of Noadiah who was complicit in this evil plot.
Nehemiah continued with the work and completed it in 52 days. What an amazing achievement in the midst of great destruction and opposition. It was at this time when the enemies of the work became discouraged and downcast admitting that this was a work of God. Nehemiah is a picture of a true leader. He was a man who prepared himself and paid a price, a man who was under the burden of the Lord, a man who knew the Word of God and the history of God’s dealings with Israel, a man who found favor with a heathen king, a man who could communicate a vision effectively resulting in people coming alongside him, a man who could stand against the taunts and mocking of the enemy, a man who could discern his tactics, a man who had a strong work ethic and a man who could resolve internal disputes due to his character and integrity. Are there any better examples of overall leadership that you can think of other than the Lord Himself? Oh Lord, help us to be like a Nehemiah.
Paul now makes his defense before the chief captain and all of those who had gathered there to hear him. He spoke to them in the Hebrew tongue which drew their attention all the more. He addresses them respectfully even after the threats and beatings that they had administered to him. In verses 3-5 he gives his credentials making reference as at one time being one of them; in other words he knew where these people were coming from. He used to persecute and accuse the Christian sympathizers. This is another quality of Paul in being able to identify with his audience. He does not overdo his past but he says enough to make it known that he too was a one-time persecutor. This requires a balance. In our desire to identify with a hostile audience we can go too far in trying to find common links. Paul does it quickly and then goes into his conversion experience beginning in verse 6. In verses 6-21 Paul recounts his Damascus Road encounter with the Lord which is covered in Acts 9. He recounts how he was blinded while hearing the voice of the Lord Jesus (vs 7-8). He mentions how providence brought him to Damascus and to a man named Ananias who was of good reputation amongst the Jews. Soon thereafter he received back his sight and was instructed through Ananias that he was chosen by God to know His will and to be a witness far and wide.
The Lord also made clear that his testimony would not be received in Jerusalem and that he was to quickly depart unto the Gentiles. This was more than the gathered audience could handle. First, they denied the resurrection of Jesus of whom he was attesting. Second, the fact that someone like Paul would be called as a witness to the Gentiles was absolute absurdity to them. Paul was indeed a threat because he was known to have been one of the prominent persecutors of early church believers. He had a reputation, he was at one time like them so his conversion and testimony can prove quite damaging to their cause. Paul was at one time one of them in leading the charge against the church; he now becomes public enemy number one because of the great damage he brings to their cause.
If it was not for the Roman officer Paul would have met the same fate as Stephen. Paul again uses an opportunity to assert his Roman privileges. The ones who were holding Paul had to be careful in how this matter would be managed. The continual narrative will be picked up in chapter 23.