Nehemiah has come to Jerusalem to help repair and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was an important person in Persia being the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah inspected the situation in the city and then called the people of Jerusalem together to tell them his intentions to rebuild the city. He told them about how the good hand of God had brought them to this moment and that God would give them success for this project.
The Work Begins (3:1-32)
Nehemiah 3 records the will of the people to rise up and do the work. Scan your eyes through chapter 3 and you will read about all of the people. You will see the repetition of the word “repair” throughout the chapter. I counted the word 38 times in the chapter. It is a beautiful description of everyone doing the work. The heads of the family clans are repairing the walls. Various rulers are repairing the walls. Members of outlying communities like Jericho are helping repair the walls and gates. The high priest and other priests are doing the work to repair the walls (cf. 3:1). Craftsmen, goldsmiths, refiners, perfumers, and merchants are also described as participating in repairing the city. Shallum is a ruler of half of the district in Jerusalem. He and his daughters are repairing the city (3:12). Great and small, far and wide have come together to do the work. It is emblematic of what the church is supposed to look like.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians how we are all different parts with different abilities that are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. It is a beautiful picture of everyone coming together to do the work. In fact, I want you to notice the one sour note in Nehemiah 3. Look at verse 5. The Tekoites are making repairs to the city. But their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord (ESV). The NASB reads that the nobles did not support the work of their masters. The question is if the word “lord” should be uppercase to refer to the Lord or lowercase to refer to their lords and masters. Either way, the point is true. These chose not to support the work. They refused to serve their masters and, by doing so, ultimately were refusing to serve the Lord. This was God’s work and God’s good hand was over this work. But they refused to support it.
Friends, you are always going to have people who refuse to participate in the work. You are always going to have bystanders. It can be so frustrating. We have a saying that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. There is a reason for that saying. It is often very true. But the refusal of some to rise up and do the work did not slow down the rest of the people from participating in this great work for the Lord.
The Opposition Begins (4:1-6)
Chapter 4 spends its time recording the external opposition that the people faced. We read about Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem earlier. In Nehemiah 2:10 we read that they were greatly displeased that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel. In Nehemiah 2:19 we see that they were jeering the people and despising the people, proclaiming that they were rebelling against King Artaxerxes. These three men are not going to just go away because the work is happening. Rather, they are going to ramp up the intensity of their opposition. Look at what they do in Nehemiah 4.
Sanballat was angry and greatly enraged. It makes you wonder what he was so upset about. I often wonder this when it comes to doing God’s work. People just get so angry. So he resorts to verbal abuse. Listen to what he says in verse 2. He calls them feeble Jews who cannot do the work. He says that they can’t take these burned stones and make them useful again. You are trying to build out of a heap of trash. Tobiah jumps in with more discouraging words. In verse 3 he says that if a fox were climbing on the wall they are building, it would just fall down. Their work is being ridiculed. Their efforts are called useless and insufficient. What you are doing won’t work!
What does Nehemiah do? Nehemiah prays. Nehemiah prays that their insults will be turned back on their own heads and that they receive the righteous judgment that they deserve. Do not cover their sins because they have provoked you, Lord, to anger (ESV). Their insults of us as we do the work of the Lord are worthy of judgment. The response is to pray and to keep working. How could they endure this? Look at verse 6. “We built the wall…for the people had a mind to work.” Let the Lord take care of it and you continue to do the work. As the apostle Paul said, leave room for the wrath of God and do not avenge yourself (Romans 12:19). Pray and keep serving the Lord.
The Opposition Continues (4:7-14)
But this does not put an end to the opposition and resistance. As the repairs continue, more people are very angry at the success of the work (4:7). Listen to verse 8. “And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.” They move from verbal derision to planning to physically fight and stir up trouble in the city. So what do you think the people did? Verse 9 says that the people prayed. They first prayed again. Then they took action. They set a guard as protection for them as they did the work. So it is a frightening time. In verse 10 we see that the discouragement is beginning to take effect. The strength of the laborers is failing because the work looks like it is too much to do.
We hit these moments in life. We look at the work and we see so much to do that we become overwhelmed and discouraged. In fact, I think much of our discouragement comes from seeing that there is so much work to be done and feeling like we will never be able to do it. This is where the people are at right now. You likely have felt the same way. Listen to what they are thinking as recorded at the end of verse 10. “By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” It is too much for us to do. So this is what they are feeling while the opposition is attacking them. Verse 11 shows that they are plotting to kill the workers to put an end to the work. The people are being attacked on every side. Nehemiah has to post people with swords, spears, and bows to protect the workers. How can Nehemiah help and lead the people in this circumstance?
Look at verse 14. Nehemiah tells them to not be afraid of them. Why? How can we not be afraid? The work looks like it is too much. The opposition is attacking us on every side. They want to kill us. We need protection and have people standing watch for us. How can we not be afraid? Nehemiah gives an important speech to remind the people that they are not alone.
First, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” You are not alone. You have the great and awesome God who is with you. God is with us in this work. God’s good hand is with us. God will give us success (2:18, 20). If we think that we must do the work ourselves, then we can feel discouraged and overwhelmed. But when we remember that God brings the success and we cannot succeed without him, then we can have a mind to do the work.
Second, Nehemiah tells them to think about their families. We are all in this together. We are not alone because we are all working for the common goal. God gave us this spiritual family so that we could see that we are not alone. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying about not neglecting coming together in Hebrews 10:24. We need to see each other to stir each other up to love and good works. We need to be together so that we will not become discouraged and give up. So as the opposition increases, Nehemiah tells the people to remember God and fight for this work for your family.
Pressing On (4:15-23)
In verse 15 we see God coming through for his people. We are not told exactly what God did. But we are told that God had frustrated their plan. God is working invisibly for his people. The opposition had tried to stop the work but God stopped them from succeeding. Notice that this did not mean that the threat was over. In verses 16-18 we are told what it took for the people to continue repairing the walls of the city. Half of Nehemiah’s servants were carrying construction supplies while the other half were holding the weapons. For the people who were rebuilding the wall, one hand was doing the work while the other hand was holding a weapon. Further, all the builders needed to have a sword strapped to his waist as he built. What extraordinary and dangerous times! Nehemiah even had a person ready to sound a trumpet so that if there was a place at the wall where an attack was made, the people could run and fight against them (4:18-20). I want us to consider if we would still do the work and still worship if we were in such dangerous circumstances. They believe that God will be with them and fight for them.
We are being shown how the people had a mind to work. They were devoted to the work before them, even with all the resistance and dangers they encountered. There are going to be people who we would expect to work with us decide to not participate. They are going to sit on the sidelines. They are going to just sit on pews. But we must still have a mind to do the work. There are going to be people who are going to verbally malign us and denigrate the work we are doing. They are going to say that we are wasting our time and that our efforts are in vain. They will be angry with us for our devotion to the work. But we cannot give up. We must still have a mind to do the work. It can even get to the point of physical confrontation. The opposition can become so strong that our jobs can be put in jeopardy. The opposition may want to physically harm us for our faith and our continued teaching in the community. It may become dangerous to assemble. It may become dangerous to proclaim our faith. But even through many dangers, toils, and snares we must still have a mind that is devoted to the work. Doing the work requires a complete commitment. Doing the work will require perseverance. We must be prepared to not give up when it is hard to do God’s work.
Having this mind to do the work comes from seeing God’s glory and trusting in him. When the work seems to be too much or too hard, we trust that God will give us success and we are not working alone. We trust in God and know that we are joined together for this work which we remind each other about each Sunday and Wednesday. When we are intimidated, discouraged, or even attacked, we can have a mind to work by trusting in God. Pray like Nehemiah did and keep doing the work. Remember the Lord is great and awesome. Remember that you have a family of faith to support you as we work together. The words of Nehemiah 4:20 must be emblazoned on our hearts. Our God will fight for us. Remember what the Lord taught the apostle Paul.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10 ESV)
Our God is for us. We know we have an important work to do in West Palm Beach. We must look at our work not only through the church but beyond the church. I am so excited to hear of so many who are taking the initiative to start Bible studies in their communities and among their friends. It is wonderful to see a family of faith who has a mind to work. Create those opportunities and know that God is with you. I think it is an important reminder to say that doing God’s work does not have to run through us. You have been called to do God’s will and do not need our approval to do it. We are looking to give out more work and responsibilities to any of you who would like to have more. Have the mind to work. God is with us and wants us to carry out his work in this area and in our lives.