Overcoming Despair

Nehemiah 4:1-23

Nehemiah 3 is the Cliff’s Notes version of “Building the Wall”; chapters 4 thru 6 give more of the story, helping us understand just how essential God’s help was to a happy ending. As Jewish people labored on wall around Jerusalem, enemies of God’s work had own wall they were building, one called despair.

Despair works by surrounding individuals or community (church or cultural) with wall of its own – isolating from others, from help, from reality; erecting barriers that appear difficult or impossible to scale; ridiculing efforts, minimizing accomplishments, scoffing at the idea that anything good can be achieved. Giant Despair used all these tricks and more to convince Christian and Hopeful that their situation was hopeless, that they would never leave Doubting Castle alive. Yet eventually Christian remembered something:

“What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news, good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.”

Christian took that key, and it did indeed open the door to their dungeon, the outer door into the castle-yard, and finally the gate to freedom. Under Nehemiah’s leadership the Jewish people exercised their key of Promise in response to obstacles intended to hinder God’s work.

the obstacles

ridicule v.2-3

first obstacle raised by Sanballat – stage voice, directed to army but intended for Jews to hear also.

army intended to intimidate, words intended to dishearten – voice dripping with scorn

Tobiah – yessssss, masssster; the fawning, servile aide to Sanballat, adding his two cents worth of contempt. They can’t build anything that will last, that will accomplish what they intend.

they are attempting the impossible – they don’t have the strength, the power, the skill to succeed in what they are doing

continual repetition of negatives said with confidence eventually wear down opposition

==> tactic used at all ages and in all the world against the people of God; ridiculing children and adults because they put Christ and his work first in their lives

conspiracy v.7-8

enemies, ancient and contemporary, allied together for the purpose of creating confusion

Arabs, Ammonites, Ashdodites (Philistines) – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”

typical response by enemies: frustrated anger when plan A doesn’t work; now plan B

not told underlying reason for anger; not too far off mark to presume it was simply because God’s plan was moving forward and they were opposed

purpose not necessarily to create large numbers of casualties by attack, rather create confusion – basically a terrorist action: halt forward progress by causing them to lose momentum, work at cross purposes with one another, shift focus from the goal

==> conspiracy and confusion can come from within the ranks of God’s people – Satan and sinful tendencies encouraging conflict loss of focus on God’s work

fatigue v.10

physically and mentally fatigued/overwhelmed by magnitude of task

not just wall to put up, rubble to move out of the way first

initial burst of energy worn off, now down to daily grind of hard labor

AND seeing hugeness of whole project rather than individual assignment

==> fatigue happens easily to the people of God: see the huge areas of the world, 10/40 window e.g. that needs Bibles, the Gospel, get overwhelmed

ambush v.11-12

stealth is highly effective – Trojan horse, Russian spies, computer viruses all succeed because the victim is unaware of the danger until too late

yet stealth only works to effectively ambush so long as cover isn’t blown; once plot is found out, potential victim can prepare and turn the tables, successfully defend themselves, or prevent ambush altogether

most successful ambush carried out by those who don’t appear to be enemies, who act like friends and allies or who have been friends in past

==> drift among people of God a most dangerous foe – the blatant enemies are obvious, drift isn’t; a little error here, a priority there that’s a little off, eventually churches/people who no longer believe Bible is inspired & infallible and authoritative

These enemies alive and well, God’s people ESPECIALLY prone to despair when multiple enemies conspire together and come upon the church all at once. Getting overwhelmed is serious; staying overwhelmed can be deadly, ending our effectiveness in God’s service at least for a time. How to respond properly??

the response

Multiple levels, emphasized as severity of problem became evident to Nehemiah:

prayer v.4-5

always the first thing – natural response of Nehemiah, came as easily as breathing

his prayer frequently: God, deal with your enemies who are also the enemies of your people.

We need to be careful not to mistreat God’s enemies – see Matt. 5:44 but it’s not wrong to ask God to deal with them. His choice how he does it! He can be trusted to take care of the opposition.

Phil. 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. AND the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard(garrison) your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

prayer and watch v.9

not a case of “let go and let God”; God has work for his people to do, need to be actively doing it; also need to be actively watching that we not be ambushed

pray for needed resources, station a guard, keep on (persevere) with the work while being alert

Eph. 6:18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints

armed defense v.13-14, 16-18

sword and trowel

When C. H. Spurgeon first published a monthly magazine in January of 1865, it was designed to inform and encourage concerning the ministry of The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London; he named it The Sword and The Trowel, being derived from Nehemiah 4:17-18. The subtitle was, “A Record of Combat with Sin and Labor for the Lord.” In that first issue he added: “We would ply the Trowel with untiring hand for the building up of Jerusalem’s dilapidated walls, and wield the Sword with vigor and valor against the enemies of the truth.” Barry Horner

Christ has given his church a weapon to use against his enemies: the Sword, the Word of God which is the Truth.

It’s truth of God’s Word that reminds us who God is, we are, that the battle belongs to God, that God (and we) will have the final victory, that God will supply our every need

reinforcements v.20a

times when resources all of God’s people need to be concentrated to withstand opposition; snipers can pick off individuals, remove defenses from one area and gain entry

the enemy has much more difficult time when God’s people work together – small group, local church, more than one church when necessary

Gal. 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

vigilance v.22-23

the adversary doesn’t sleep; requires vigilance to guard against external enemies – ridicule, deceit – and internal enemies – fatigue and discouragement

it’s when our guard is down that we are at risk; must be “on task”, making sure we’re doing God’s work God’s way in God’s strength

1 Pet. 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

the key to success

our God will fight for us v.20b

reminder of Joshua 5:13-15; 2 Kings 6:16-17

not whose side is God on, are we on God’s side? If so, we are assured of victory because…

no foe that crosses our path can ever prevail over God

our job is to have faith in God, seek his direction and strength, put all our strength into the task he has given to do


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