The Honor of Suffering

Week Three – Nehemiah 4

Last week, Nehemiah had arrived in Jerusalem.  He had gone out at night to assess the wall, the gates and all of the rubble.  He had gathered the people and they began diligently working on the ten gates as well as the portion of the wall that was in front of their own homes.

We discussed the ten gates and the spiritual significance of each of them as well as the importance of constructing our own walls for protection against the enemy.

This week we pick up as the building continues, but Sanballat is still lurking around provoking Nehemiah and the other Israelites.

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he exploded in anger, vilifying the Jews. In the company of his Samaritan cronies and military he let loose: ‘What are these miserable Jews doing? Do they think they can get everything back to normal overnight? Make building stones out of make-believe?’

At his side, Tobiah the Ammonite jumped in and said, ‘That’s right! What do they think they’re building? Why, if a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight.’

Nehemiah prayed, ‘Oh listen to us, dear God. We’re so despised: Boomerang their ridicule on their heads; have their enemies cart them off as war trophies to a land of no return; don’t forgive their iniquity, don’t wipe away their sin—they’ve insulted the builders!’

We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the work.

When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.  But soon word was going around in Judah, The builders are pooped,  the rubbish piles up; We’re in over our heads,  we can’t build this wall.

And all this time our enemies were saying, ‘They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work! ’The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, ‘They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!’ If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.

So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.’

Our enemies learned that we knew all about their plan and that God had frustrated it. And we went back to the wall and went to work. From then on half of my young men worked while the other half stood guard with lances, shields, bows, and mail armor. Military officers served as backup for everyone in Judah who was at work rebuilding the wall. The common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other. Each of the builders had a sword strapped to his side as he worked. I kept the trumpeter at my side to sound the alert.

Then I spoke to the nobles and officials and everyone else: ‘There’s a lot of work going on and we are spread out all along the wall, separated from each other. When you hear the trumpet call, join us there; our God will fight for us.’ And so we kept working, from first light until the stars came out, half of us holding lances. I also instructed the people, ‘Each person and his helper is to stay inside Jerusalem—guards by night and workmen by day.’ We all slept in our clothes—I, my brothers, my workmen, and the guards backing me up. And each one kept his spear in his hand, even when getting water.” Nehemiah 4:1-23

I was helping in the nursery a few Sundays ago in the toddler room.  We had four toddlers.  One of the little girls just wanted to be held and rocked the whole time.  She watched the others play but she was very content just to sit there and watch.  Another little girl was just the sweetest thing.  She was unusually kind for a toddler.  She would take toys to the other children if they were crying.  She helped clean up without being asked.  She didn’t require a lot of attention because she was so well-behaved, but rather she showed attention to others in a selfless manner.  We had one boy who would set his focus on one toy for minutes at a time.  He pushed a truck back and forth.  He would throw and chase a ball.  But his eyes grew large with excitement when we pulled out the big Legos.  He diligently snapped them together and went to work creating these tall columns of block.  The sweet, helpful little girl was just as diligent as she held up the towers while he continued to add more blocks.

Then there was this other little girl.  She was all over the place and she had the typical toddler mentality.

“If I want it, it’s mine.

If I give it to you & I change my mind later, it’s mine.

If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.

If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.

If it’s mine, it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what.

If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.

If it looks like mine, it is mine.”   Author Unknown

Her sole mission was to be two steps behind the little boy and take whatever toy with which he was playing.  The truck, the ball, whatever it might be.  But there was a real determination in her eyes when the Legos were being stacked one on top of another.  We all know there’s that one child that comes along after another child has constructed a fort or a tower of blocks and with just one swoop, just knocks ‘em all down.  It’s as if they can’t help themselves. 

The funny thing to watch was that as the boy continued to add Lego upon Lego, the sweet, helpful girl was standing guard.  She was stabilizing the blocks and would strategically move herself to create a barrier between the destructive little girl and the tower of blocks.  Because of this, the “little bulldozer” would get frustrated and eventually walk away letting the little boy continue his building.

At the time, I thought this was just simply a cute little scenario occurring amongst toddlers.  I started studying for this lesson and it came flooding back to me as a true representation of this situation with Nehemiah.  There were three of us helpers in the nursery that day and we all kept on eye on the children and intervened when necessary.  We would often remind that one little girl to either play nice with the others or to find something else with which she could play.  The little boy and the helpful girl never said anything to the other girl who was determined to knock down their tower.  They didn’t have to.  We intervened when there was conflict between the toddlers.

Notice that Nehemiah also never directly responds to the enemies.  He, instead, turns to God.  Verse 4 tells us Nehemiah prayed.  Why do you think Nehemiah didn’t address the enemy but went to God instead?

Working in the court system for as long as I did, there were many occasions when a person would choose to represent themselves in court.  It didn’t matter if it was a civil case and the opposing counsel was a very seasoned attorney or if the person was charged with a crime and were standing before a judge attempting to defend themselves against a prosecutor effectively representing the State.  There were some people who felt confident enough in themselves to take on the challenge.  Some of the judges would be extremely gracious and coddle these self-representing people as much as the law would allow, but none of these people that I ever saw were equipped, educated or experienced enough to do the job.  They just didn’t have what it took for the fight and they should have sought out an expert to help them because 99.9% of them lost the battle.

This was something Nehemiah already knew.  When faced with opposition that he, a cupbearer filling in as a wall builder, wasn’t equipped to handle, he immediately turned to the One he knew could and would fight for him.

When we face opposition from the enemy, what is our response?  There are so many different ways to respond.  We ignore it, we minimize it, we give in and give up, we confront it head on.  How many of you have rebuked the devil or directly addressed him?  I’m guessing that most of us have at some point in our life.  Before you do that next time, I want to give you something to consider. “Not even the chief angel Michael did this. In his quarrel with the Devil, when they argued about who would have the body of Moses, Michael did not dare condemn the Devil with insulting words, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ “ Jude 9:1

I don’t know about you, but if God’s chief angel isn’t comfortable rebuking the devil on his own, I seriously must question my authority and ability to do that.  Instead, I think the instructions James gives us are more solid. “So then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.”  James 4:7

This is precisely what Nehemiah did even without the benefit of reading the Book of James.  Nehemiah submitted to God and he resisted the enemy.  He turned away from the enemies and turned to God.  He turned a deaf ear to the taunts and the mockery being spoken by the enemies and instead, held a conversation with God.  In this case, the enemies were men; leaders of surrounding cities and territories.  They verbally mocked the Israelites, they physically threatened them.  Their ultimate goal was to stop the Israelites from doing what they were doing.

Nehemiah felt led by God to do what he was doing.  Did it make sense for Nehemiah to stop living his life working for the king and taking on this project in a city to which he had never been?  No.  Did it seem feasible that this could be done?  Not really considering how long they had been back in Jerusalem and hot not been able to fix it from the Babylonian invasion that had taken place more than 140 years prior.  And yet, God handpicked a cupbearer who was more than 500 miles away to lead this mission.  God kept His hand on Nehemiah and equipped him with provisions in that King Artaxerxes permitted him to take a leave of absence.  God provided supplies that were needed when they were needed.  And all along the way, God gave Nehemiah protection.  But none of this was an easy road.  Although you could dust for fingerprints and place God at every step of the way, this wasn’t without obstacles and hardships.  But in doing God’s will, it seldom is.

“God has blessed you in ways that serve Christ. He allowed you to believe in Christ. But that is not all. He has also given you the honor of suffering for Christ. Both of these bring glory to Christ.” Phillipians 1:29

The honor of suffering.  The honor!

Let’s be real.  None of us like to suffer.  We like a comfortable life free of personal conflict, tragedies, struggles.  Our days are ruined when the air conditioner goes out in July, when a thunderstorm knocks out cable and internet for an hour, when the car is making a funny sound and has to go in the shop.  But God knows that.  In the words of the Gaither Vocal Band: 

Sometimes it takes a mountain

Sometimes a troubled sea

Sometimes it takes a desert to get ahold of me.

Your love is so much stronger

Than whatever troubles me.

Sometimes it takes a mountain

To trust You and believe.[i]

We struggle with the small, insignificant interruptions in life and think we’re suffering.  Small, insignificant interruptions in life don’t grow our faith; they don’t expand our trust in God like major, life-altering events.  Those mountains of struggles – cancer diagnosis, loss of a job; the troubled seas – marital problems, family conflicts; the deserts – financial problems, lack of relationships and support; those are the moments when God gets our full attention and reminds us that His love is stronger.  He is stronger than whatever opposition troubles us!

Here is the last little piece to this that I want you to recognize.  Sanballat and the other enemies were actual men.  They were leaders in their own areas and were tangible, visible enemies.  Nehemiah saw them as enemies who were out to stop the will of God.  Sometimes our own Sanballat can be something other than another person.  Your Sanballat may actually reside within you in the form of discouragement, fatigue, fear, defeat, impatience, and believe it or not, common sense.  I saw that because we can find ourselves right in the middle of God of where God wants us, but perhaps things are going smoothly.  Problem after problem creeps in.  We grow tired and weary.  It’s just too big of a risk.  We can’t get anyone else to help us and we stick with it as long as we can.  Perhaps others try to talk us out of it.  The bottom line is what God’s asking us to do just simply doesn’t make sense.

But then we remember that if it made common sense, then we would be able to explain God and His ways.  There’s nothing common about God nor His ways.  Isaiah 55:8-9 should keep us grounded in this area.  “The Lord says, ‘My thoughts are not like yours. Your ways are not like Mine.  Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,  so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.’ “

Nehemiah did, despite the threats of attack, finish the wall.  He did so not by facing or eliminating his enemies, but rather by relying on God for protection.  When we are busy doing the Lord’s work, we should be busy doing the Lord’s work and not be distracted by the inevitable snags and barriers we encounter. 

I keep picturing the toddlers.  There was the one who just wanted to sit and watch; basically to do nothing. There’s no risk of having your toy taken away if you’re not playing with one.  There’s no danger in failing or injuring yourself if you’re just being rocked.  There’s no opposition, but there’s no activity; no acts of faith.  How many of us are content to always be the one to just sit, watch and do nothing?

The little girl who was such a delight was inspiring.  She tried to give toys to the little girl being rocked.  She played alongside the little boy and without even being asked, stood in between him and his opponent.  She was mindful of the needs around her and sought to help in various ways.  How attentive are we to the needs around us?  When we see a friend facing opposition from the enemy, are we positioning ourselves in between and asking God to protect them?

Then there was the small boy who was just doing his thing.  Enjoying the toys, living his life.  But when faced with opposition, he resisted.  He relied on the helpful girl to stand with him and he trusted the voices of authority in the room to intervene.  He didn’t shove away the nuisance nor did he walk away from what he was doing.  He didn’t hit, bite or try to defend his position.  He simply waited for one of us to step in.  When we encounter opposition from the enemy, do we attempt to take on the fight ourselves without calling on the help from God?

And lastly, there was the little girl who sought to take away and destroy.  She was so busy focusing on the others and what she could do to make them uncomfortable and to disrupt what they were doing, that she didn’t really sit down and just play.  She was never satisfied with what she had in front of her because she was too busy looking for ways to torment the others.  Dare I ask how many of us spend our days knocking down the emotions and aspirations of others?  How often are we like Sanballat and mock the efforts of those who are doing things that make no sense and we totally discount the fact that they just may very well be doing exactly what God wants them to be doing?

If we are living out God’s will daily, we’re going to face opposition.  That simply spiritual warfare.

In closing, here’s a quote from Steve Harvey.  “The higher you climb, there’s going to be opposition.  New level means a new devil.  Just keep rolling and pushing through.  What God has for you is yours if you don’t quite before the finish line.”

[i] Sometimes It Takes a Mountain, Songwriters: Mark Mathes, Gloria L Gaither

Published by Diane Simcox

Daily I am humbled at how God shows me that He is active and involved in my life. He is gracious enough to simplify every day things so that I have a better understanding of Who He is to me.

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