Words sting. We like to pretend they don’t, but they do. They produce pain and they cause us to retaliate. This is how arguments are started. We feel slighted or disrespected and we launch an attack on the other person. We level our own arguments for their inferiority or impossible reasoning. We return fire. We even feel justified, after all, we didn’t fire the first shot… they did. We were only responding in kind.
But what if instead of fighting back and lashing out we simply looked up? What if we took all of our hurts, our stings, our brokenness from whatever someone had said and we put it in the Lord’s hands? How would our lives be different if we took insults and turned them into intercession? That is what Nehemiah does. He doesn’t answer these men for all the insults they have hurled at him or his people. Instead he takes it to God in prayer.
Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. (Nehemiah 4:4-5 ESV)
There is comfort in taking your wounds to God. You are asking Him to plead your case. You know that He sees things more clearly than you do and He will meter out justice. Sometimes we forget that when we are on mission with God that we are not the ones who will answer enemy insults, but that our enemies will answer to God for their insults. They have not only attempted to discredit the workers, but they have attempted to discredit the work of God and God is more than capable of taking up for Himself.
Here Nehemiah prays an “imprecatory” prayer. This is the kind of prayer that sounds like you really have it in for your enemies. But a couple of things should be noted. Who can judge Nehemiah’s enemies more justly than God? If Nehemiah’s enemies are in the wrong, should they not be punished? Nehemiah is asking for justice, not revenge.
These men don’t just insult Nehemiah, but by implication by insulting his people, they are insulting God and standing against His plans. He is bringing back and restoring His people from captivity, a resurrection of sorts. A restored wall is a sign of a God who can bring his people back from the edge of destruction. Sanballat and Tobiah stance places them squarely at odds with God because they are at odds with his people. Nehemiah simply asks God to turn their desires for his people back on their own heads.