Nehemiah 4:18-23

Nehemiah 4:18-23

This past year I took one of my former students to camp with me as a leader. He commented how his experience as a leader was different than his experience as a student. He had the blessing of being my roommate so not only did he get to hear me snore through the night but he quickly realized that being a leader meant that you go to bed later than everyone else, wake up earlier than everyone else, and spend yourself all throughout the day concerned with how everyone else is doing. This was the burden of leadership that he had never seen before.

Most people from the outside looking in see leaders as those who bark orders, make plans, and get stuff done. Sometimes there are “perks” of leadership like looking at a set of plans in an air conditioned office building while the rest of the crew works outside putting the plans together; most often though, the demands of leadership are those of sacrifice and service. It wasn’t any different for Nehemiah.

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 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.  (Nehemiah 4:18-23 ESV)

In this passage he puts the trumpeter right by his side and he lets the people know, “When you hear the sound of the trumpet, run to the sound because that is where the fighting will be.” This communicated two things. One, that they would be able to know where to go should they be attacked at some point. Two, that Nehemiah would be right at the front lines of battle. After all, the trumpeter was with him!

Then Nehemiah went a step further and requested all the people to say in town so they could keep watch at night. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to post watches and go to sleep. He could have still taken advantage of his positions and taken baths, had his clothes washed, and even dined on a fine meal, but instead of taking leisure while everyone else was puling double time, he makes sure that he and his attendants serve just like everyone else. He sets the example.

Nehemiah made a promise to his people that when danger came he would be the first one into battle and that when the days got long and tired because everyone was pulling over-time, he would be the last one to get a bath. This type of leadership is called servant leadership. It doesn’t boast, gloat, or rule over others in a proud way. The people Nehemiah had come to help were already being exploited by people like Sanballot and Tobiah; they needed someone to lead them who loved them.

When I read this about Nehemiah I can’t help but also think of Jesus the ultimate servant leader about who the Apostle Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV).

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Offense and defense are the two major aspects of any great sport. On offense you want to score a goal or earn points for your team on defense you want the stop the other team from scoring on you or marking points against you. What is especially interesting are the sports where you have to play keen offense and defense at nearly the same time. In basketball the ball can be stolen or in football it can be intercepted and everyone who was on the field to play offense is all of the sudden playing defense.  Players who may not be defensive players are still trained in how to tackle others so that when the momentum shifts, they are ready to stand up for their team.

In Jerusalem they had reached a point where it was necessary to go on the offensive of building the wall while at the same time being ready to defend their position. They had to be ready with a sword in one hand while having a trowel in the other. Everyone had to be a dual position player. They had to take their turn at watching the wall and building the wall.

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When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:15-20 ESV)

There is wisdom with being prepared and moving ahead on two fronts like Nehemiah did. In the Christian life we will always be called to reach out to others, witness, and disciple folks in the name of Jesus, but we will also need to stand guard against temptation. We are all prone to give in at various times to various sinful desires that if we are not careful we will let the wall down.

What was really encouraging for the folks in Jerusalem and what I think can be encouraging for us as well is in verse 20 where Nehemiah says, “Our God will fight for us!”  This is true. In our stand against temptation and sin it is our God who has fought for us. It is He who went to the cross and died for our sins and freed us from the power of sin and darkness. It is our God who lives in side of us as the Holy Spirit choosing our bodies as His temple. Placing his seal over us.

You may feel discouraged in the fight today and maybe you feel week when it comes to standing against temptation, but remember this; Our God will fight for us! So stand strong on the wall with your sword in one hand ready to resist the attacks of the enemy and with your trowel in the other hand building up the wall that God has called you too.

Nehemiah 4:10-14

Nehemiah 4:10-14

There is something energizing about the beginning of an adventure or project. You start out with all kinds of energy and gusto ready to take on all the challenges that lie ahead. You know that it won’t always be easy sailing, but you are ready for whatever comes. There is a sense of what it could be like; how the world or at least you little corner of it, will be different when it’s all said and done. You are spurred on by hearing success stories of other people in other places and you ask yourself, “why not here? Why not now?” You set your hand to the work and it the motivation comes easy.

Then somewhere in the middle as things begin to take shape you realize that the finished product may look different than your dream. The days seem to get longer when there is hard work to do and shorter when there are deadlines to meet. You find yourself wondering if you should just quit. You have met the resistance! Resistance is that inward voice that tries to get you to throw in the towel early and quit. It’s the part of you that says that it can’t be done. It’s the part that says you have done enough. It’s the little voice that says you gave it a good run or somebody else can take it from here.

Lots of people fade out half way through because of that little internal voice of resistance. They quit early. They miss seeing the mission completed NOT because the enemy outside was too great, but because they gave ear to a voice from the inside that said to quit.

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In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:10-14 ESV)

As Nehemiah was finding out, sometimes the greatest obstacles to success don’t come from outside the walls the come from voices inside. The progress was challenged by the internal voices of resistance. The people were talking to one another wondering if they could really get the wall completed with the materials they had on hand. They were already half way there (Nehemiah 4:6) but they were struggling to see the vision of how the other half would come together.

So what do you do when it’s the voice inside telling you to quit? You remember God! Look again at verse Nehemiah 4:14. He doesn’t give a long drawn out speech about duty, or honor, or anything like that. He goes straight to the point. He says, “Remember the great and awe inspiring Lord.” In other words he reminds the people that they didn’t call themselves into this battle. They didn’t start the ruckus. They didn’t even attempt to rebuild the wall in their own strength. This is of the Lord! If God had lead them there he would lead them through.

I don’t know where you are in your fight against resistance but there is only one place to go when the voice inside your head telling you to quit becomes almost deafening. You have to take it to the one who called you to the task in the beginning. Take it to the Lord! Remind yourself of who He is, what He has done, and that if He has called you to this, it will be accomplished! Spend sometime today reflecting on who God is. One of the passages that helps me reflect on the mightiness of God is Psalm 115.

Nehemiah 4:9

Nehemiah 4:9

I love what the book of Nehemiah teaches us about prayer. Some folks believe that when we pray and ask God for something that it ends there. So they will pray and ask God for a job, but they won’t put a resume out, attend a job fair, or even tell their friends they are looking. They expect the job to fall out of the sky. Granted sometimes God does work in incredibly miraculous ways, but most often prayer is a partnership. We pray and ask in faith and then we act in faith that God will do what He said He would do. So for the guy looking for the job, he prays and asks God for a job. Then acting in faith that God will provide, he goes and looks for the job that God is going to provide! Or the girl who prays for rain; She asks God for rain and then takes an umbrella with her. Both of these requests were in faith that God would answer, and both had a faith step to take.

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But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. (Nehemiah 4:7-9 ESV)

When things get turned up around Jerusalem and the idle trash talk all the sudden turns into a serious threat Nehemiah and his people are prepared. The very first thing they do is pray. The next thing they do is set up a guard. This is where faith and action meet. They ask for God’s protection and then they diligently set up an alert system should they need to defend themselves. This is like bringing out the umbrella after asking for rain or putting in a job application after asking God for a job. This is faith that God will act.

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

We just recently saw the 2016 summer Olympics. One of my favorite moments of the Olympics was when South African Swimmer Chad Le Clos’ taunted Michael Phelps. If you don’t know Michael Phelps has won lots of gold medals in swimming over the last several Olympics, he is the man to beat in the pool. It wasn’t just Le Clos’ shadow boxing in front of Phelps that brought a spark to the event it was some of the things he had said before everyone even got to Rio that made this an interesting rivalry. Le Clos’ was out to take down Phelps and his strategy involved trash talking and taunting.

What was really interesting was Phelps response. He just stared. It was a mean stare, no doubt, but it was just a stare. He didn’t say anything back. He didn’t engage in the trash talk. When it was his turn he just got in the pool and beat everyone to win another gold medal. You see Phelps knew something; you can talk all you want, but it’s what you actually do that matters.

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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. So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (Nehemiah 4:4-6 ESV)

Nehemiah does something similar here. He has heard the trash talk from Sanballat and Tobiah. He has prayed to God. He knows he is on the right path. There is no reason to respond with words. The only reaction is with action. He, along with all the people of Jerusalem went right on rebuilding the wall. They didn’t have time to stop.  Shouting back wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

There will be those who come along who will attempt to discourage you from doing the Lord’s work. They will tell you all the ways you are doing it wrong and why it can’t be done. They are experts at trash talking. They will attempt to cause you to fear what they might do, using intimidation as a tactic. Remember though that when it comes to doing the Lord’s work that He will defend His name, we only need to put one foot in front of the other and keep on carrying out the mission.

After the two swimmers got in the pool and the race began someone’s camera caught a picture of the pair near the end. Phelps was winning and he was facing forward looking towards the finish wall. De Clos’ was behind looking across the lane watching Phelps win.

For me the pictures serves as a sober reminder that if Lord has given you something to do, do it with all your might and don’t waste time trash talking or trying to figure out what someone else is doing.

When Insults become cause for Intercession Nehemiah 4:4-5

Nehemiah 4:4-5

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.

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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.

Trash Talk Doesn’t Get to Define You (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

Trash Talk (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

I love sports. I particularly enjoyed playing basketball and football in high school. One of the elements of playing sports was the inevitable trash talk. Somebody from one team or the other would feel the need to comment on how poorly the other team was about to perform. It served as a false bravado verbally building up the team doing the trash talking while attempting to psychologically undermine the other side.

If you think about it, trash talking didn’t have any real power. It was just talk, but some guys would let it get in their head. They would either get so mad that they couldn’t think straight or they would start to believe that they were going to lose. The only power that the trash talk could have was the power that those who heard it gave it.

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Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building–if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 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. (Nehemiah 4:1-4 ESV)

When the wall starts to get rebuilt it stirs up the enemies of Jerusalem and they the come surround the city and begin a campaign of trash talk. Trash talk is always the same it goes like this, “You can’t do that, because ________.”  The reason doesn’t even have to make sense, it’s just trash talk. Sanballat and Tobiah bring their trash talking A-game in an effort to stop the work on the wall.

I think it’s at this point that it is helpful to realize that Sanballat and Tobiah don’t have Jerusalem’s best interest at heart.  They have a goal; make sure the people never get the wall built.  They don’t want to see the people as strong and independent. They want to exploit the people of Jerusalem and to do that they have to keep the wall from being built.

Along the way you will encounter some trash talk. It’s important to realize what it is, just talk. There are people out there who for whatever reason don’t want the peace of your city. They have an agenda that strikes against everything you will be working to do. They will trash talk. Don’t let it get in your head.