Focal Passage(s): Nehemiah 2:19-20; 4:1-14
Historian Barbara Tuchmann once insightfully wrote, “Men will not believe what does not fit with their plans or suit their pre-arrangements.” For Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, the appearance and passion of Nehemiah for Jerusalem did not fit into their schemes. As principal opponents to Nehemiah, they held territorial jurisdiction over the area (Tradition has it that Sanballat built the temple on Mount Gerizim to rival the temple in Jerusalem, John 4:20). Thus, according to Nehemiah 2:10, he and Tobiah were displeased that someone would come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
What follows is an opposition-response format in today’s text. In order to undermine the rebuilding project, they accused Nehemiah of insurrection — “Are you rebelling against the king?” (2:19). Nehemiah responds with an affirmation of divine assistance — “The God of heaven will grant us success.” Chapter three illustrates that faith response; the wall reconstruction project progresses.
When their accusations did not work, they dismiss the work derisively — “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (4:2). According to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Sanballat mocks their faith, “What do these wretched Jews think they are doing? Are they going to leave it all to God? Will they offer sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubble, even though they are burnt?” It was not enough to question Nehemiah’s motives (2:19-20), but his faith (and the Jews’) is also questioned.
In effect, Sanballat asked if they were expecting some kind of miracle! Were they expecting the stony rubble to become animated and take their place on the wall? Once more Nehemiah responds to this opposition with a prayer of lamentation — hear our enemies’ insults and bring down your judgment.
Remember their evil deeds and respond accordingly. The work continues because “the people had a mind and ‘were determined’ to work (4:6).” Opposition makes a people strong!
The accusations and ridicule are ineffective against the project; opposition intensifies with Sanballat and his cohorts plotting physical violence. Though Jerusalem is surrounded on all four sides by its enemies and the Jewish people’s resources are limited, they call to God for help and form battle lines along the walls. When word comes from the neighboring countryside of impending danger, they reinforce the wall’s open spaces and trust their Lord — “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome!” (4:14) And the wall was built!
Historian Will Durant once observed, “Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision and heroism. When she had overcome all her enemies, she flourished for a moment and then began to die.” Opposition kept Rome strong. Opposition made Nehemiah strong. In Christ, opposition can make us strong.