Fighting The Enemy Within
Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.” Nehemiah 1:5-6
Anyone who has ever undertaken a building project knows that what looks great on paper never takes the same shape in the real world. I don’t know if Nehemiah had ever heard of “Murphy’s law –whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” There must have been a Persian equivalent, because a man who lived 2600 years ago experienced the full force of that reality.
Possibly the name Nehemiah doesn’t ring a bell with you, in the event you read only the New Testament; but there is an Old Testament book, sandwiched between Ezra and Esther, containing the story of this great man’s life and what he accomplished, which is well worth discovering.
Nehemiah was a man with a mission. He had papers from King Artaxerxes of Persia which would allow him to build the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Sounds like a nice project, right? Put in a garden and flowers! Everybody would be happy, right? Dead wrong!
Nehemiah knew it wouldn’t be easy. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he told no one of his intentions. Why? He knew that opposition would immediately mount. Finally, he brought together the leadership and gave it to them straight. He described the disgrace and dangers which resulted from having no wall around the city, and they responded (like babes without knowledge), “Let us rise and build!”
More than one person has aspired to build a castle, but having faced the reality of the real world, settled for a shack. It’s called “compromise”–giving up on your dream to settle for second best.
No sooner had Nehemiah begun the project when he was faced with severe antagonism. Local political adversaries tried to stop them. As the work progressed, the opposition tried scorn and ridicule. “What they are building–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” their enemies mocked in derision (Nehemiah 4:3).
But stop building, they did not!
When the wall was nearly half built, the enemies mobilized and began to attack them. Undaunted, Nehemiah instructed that half the people should stand guard while half worked on the wall.
Finally, the wall was built and everybody lived happily ever after! Right? Wrong again! As the wall was going up, trouble broke out among those who were building, as some of the folks took advantage of their brethren by charging them high prices. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, but in all of this Nehemiah didn’t quit or give in to weariness.
When Tobiah and Sanballat, the chief antagonists of the project, knew that their resistance was failing, they tried to trick Nehemiah into a peace conference. “Come,” they invited, “let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” Again, doesn’t peace make sense? But Nehemiah realized this was a trick, and they sought to kill him. “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down,” he replied (Nehemiah. 6:2-3). Four times came the invitation, and four times came the reply.
If Nehemiah were alive today and we should ask him, “What lessons did you learn from all of this?” surely, he would reply: “I learned that God will honor His Word, and that it is no sin to grow tired or weary; the sin comes when you yield and compromise your conviction. I learned that the greatest enemies, however, are not those outside the walls. They are the ones within, which we later experience.”
Throughout his life, Nehemiah was a man of prayer. When confronted with danger and challenged, he prayed, and he kept on doing what he knew was right. Yes, may God give us more Nehemiahs today.
Resource reading: Nehemiah 6:1-18