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Nehemiah 4:13-23a

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The reaction of the Jews (4:7–15)
When Sanballat and his allies realized that their ridicule had failed to stop the work they threatened the Jews with violence (4:8).
This intimidation was dealt with by earnest prayer for divine assistance and increased labour on the wall (4:9).
There was prayer and perspiration!
As the Jews pressed on with their assignment they could hear the relentless and disheartening words of three groups pounding their eardrums.
Some of their own number, who had prayed with them for God’s help, were still overwhelmed at the enormity of the task:
‘The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall’ (4:10).
When does realism become pessimism?
It is true that we should weigh up carefully the difficulties in any spiritual enterprise,
but we ought not to let our evaluation depress and defeat us. Nothing is too hard for our God!
‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.
The builders were also bombarded with further menacing words from their adversaries:
‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work’ (4:11).
The third group was comprised of Jews who had swallowed the propaganda of the opposition:
‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us’ (4:12). They repeated their dismal message ‘ten times’;
sometimes our friends are our worst enemies!
Exhaustion (‘The strength of the laborers is giving out’),
fear (‘They will attack us’) and
fear (‘They will attack us’) and
incessant harassment were getting through to some of God’s people.
incessant harassment were getting through to some of God’s people.
So last week we saw that Conflict is Inevitable in the work of God, which made Prayer Crucial in the work of God.
Today we’ll see (first of all) that Unity is Essential.
Very much aware of such intense discouragement, Nehemiah devised a strategy to meet the immediate crisis and implemented change.
First, he mobilized the Lord’s people by making sure that the most vulnerable parts of the wall were protected by appointed guards.
Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
Nehemiah’s response was to do things that, on the face of it, looked mutually exclusive: “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” ().
Prayer to God and preparation for battle. Nehemiah posted guards day and night and, when things got decidedly worse,
stopped the work (v. 13), armed the people, and arranged them at the most exposed places along the wall (v. 13),
urging them not to be afraid, but to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for … brothers, … sons, … daughters, … wives, and … homes” (v. 14)
Morale is low; some already voicing frustration with the building process complain that their strength
(of will as much as physical stamina)
has given out ().
Something of the taunts of their enemies and the threat of violence has gotten through to them,
and there is evidence of a lack of resolve among the people.
Energy is dissipating and zeal abating—
So what’s a leader to do? Did Nehemiah know what it was to be overcome with terror (2:2)?
He could enter sympathetically into the fears of his colleagues, but he also believed that fear is conquered
by reflecting on the sufficiency of God: Remember the Lord.
Nehemiah uses the words of his opening prayer (1:5), when he first heard of Jerusalem’s plight.
Now he is leading the venture in the city he reminds himself and his contemporaries of the uniqueness,
power (great) and holiness (awesome) of God.
The Lord had promised to meet the needs of his people,
however serious their adversities, and would not go back on his word.
Their circumstances had changed, the work was more difficult and the enemy more active,
but the Lord was exactly the same.
They must remember God. Here in v14 we are introduced to a very important theme, remembering God.
It is apparent from the Old Testament that remembering the great acts of God is essential to the spiritual well-being of God’s children.
In fact, God is very directive about this.
The Passover (turn over to ).
On the night before the Exodus, when God instituted the Passover rite as a perpetual ceremony in Israel, he instructed Moses to say,
And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ ” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Passover was meant to bring about heartening spiritual memory and reflection.
The Law (Go over to ).
Later, after God thundered the Ten Commandments from Sinai and charged Israel with the Shema and specific instructions to “impress them on your children”
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Moses went on to say:
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; 22 and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. 23 Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers.
Flip over to . The most notable example of God’s concern for his people’s memory
was at the crossing of the Jordan,
when he instructed the priests of Israel to take twelve stones from the Jordan and pile them in Gilgal in the Promised Land.
His subsequent instructions were explicit:
that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
The Israelites were to look on the stones and remember that they did not get across the Jordan through their own ability.
It was all the work of God. And realizing this, they were to conduct all of life accordingly, whether warfare, business, or family life.
(Turn to )Why all this emphasis on remembering?
Because God’s children have always tended to forget the wonderful things he has done.
Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; 6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; 8 And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9 The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, Turned back in the day of battle.
The seventy-two verses of mourn Israel’s tendency to forget God’s faithfulness. Verses 10, 11 sum it up.
:10They did not keep the covenant of God; They refused to walk in His law, 11 And forgot His works And His wonders that He had shown them.
Turn to . We present-day children of God confirm our sad continuity with the children of old
by our forgetfulness of things that were once so vivid and vital to our faith and way of life.
But the emphasis here in is altogether positive!
Those who remember what God has done, those who cultivate the memory of God’s great works on their behalf, will live to God’s glory.
The Apostle Peter did just this when he remembered how God preserved Noah and delivered Lot
and concluded with a resounding statement of confidence: “if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials” ().
“If God did it for them, he will do it for us!” How important theological memory is.
This matter of remembering was on Paul’s mind as he wrote his second letter to Timothy.
Immediately after the greeting, he heartened Timothy by calling to memory
the faith of their forefathers (1:3),
his and Timothy’s own deep friendship (1:4),
his and Timothy’s own deep friendship (1:4),
Timothy’s rich spiritual heritage (1:5),
Timothy’s rich spiritual heritage (1:5),
the day of Timothy’s call and gifting for ministry (1:6, 7; cf. 3:14, 15), and
the day of Timothy’s call and gifting for ministry (1:6, 7; cf. 3:14, 15), and
lastly the pattern of sound teaching he had given Timothy (1:13).
lastly the pattern of sound teaching he had given Timothy (1:13).
Remember, remember, remember, remember.
Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,
Did the apostle really imagine that this dedicated young minister could ever forget Jesus
The source of his life,
The secret of his strength and
The secret of his strength and
The substance of his preaching?
The substance of his preaching?
But when trouble comes, Scripture’s great realities
can be temporarily displaced by anxious thoughts.
Believers often need that timely reminder.
So he unifies them by bringing them all into remembrance of who their God is!
So go back to our text.
And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
So they took necessary precautions, but the true defender of the blood bought people of God, is God. He’s our protector.
Here’s Nehemiah, see how he posted guards in v13, in the lower places and set them behind the wall.
He set them as families, families fighting together for the glory of God!
Notice how he encourages and unifies them in v14 “Remember” and “fight”.
Consider dear believer, whom do you fight under? You cannot serve a better Captain! Do you think your enemies are great and terrible?
Remember the Lord great and awesome! What are those enemies to God? Especially when they are in opposition to Him?
He is great above them to control them, and will be terrible to them when He comes to reckon with them!
Consider also, whom you fight for? He says in v14 to fight for your brethren!
For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
All that is dear to you in this world is at stake! Your sons, daughters, your wives, and your homes!
Therefore fight valiantly! Fight courageously!
And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.
So the enemies design to foil the work was thwarted. Guess what? They are going to hatch another!
We must always watch our spiritual enemies and cannot expect the warfare to be over until our work is over!
Look at the course Nehemiah took, so that the people of the Lord would be ready for the attack: Half were armed.
So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.
Dividing their time between trowels and spears, they are said in v17 to work with one hand and hold their weapons with the other.
This is a description of many in this room. We are battling the forces of Satan, seeking to divide the church through gossip and vain babblings.
So we unify against that division.
We are also building with the trowel at the same time, in making disciples and investing in the lives of others!
Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.
So for the Christian, we work out our salvation with the weapons of our warfare in our hands!
Then in v18 every builder had his sword by his side. — 18 Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, which we always are to have at hand. We should never have to run back and grab our sword.
And the trumpeter was close to Nehemiah, as he sought to give as early a notice as possible, if there was an approaching enemy.
And if there was a trouble, they would all rally to the point where Nehemiah sounded the trumpet and fight together!
Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Notice this: When it was working time, they were dispersed in various places on the wall, building and laboring!
But when it came time to fight, they would gather together as a body!
So even though dispersed out during the week, we are still unified in our building together!
And certainly in warfare, we are or should be all standing together.
So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. 22 At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.”
Notice that the strength of a church is in the people and not its walls. Strength isn’t found in a church sign or denomination.
A church is only as strong as its membership. Do we have a strong and committed membership, that is committed to the cause of God in the Great Commission?
Beloved, they Nehemiah instructed these folks to stay in Jerusalem, which was a call to stay close to the work of God.
They labored, not just from sun up to sun down, but everyday until twilight!
Their vigilance even followed them to sleep. — 23 So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.
Our guard isn’t just up during the heat of the day but also at dark. Because our enemies are called the rulers of the darkness of this world.
What a picture of resolve. Utterly resolved to set their hearts to the work of God they didn’t really have time to dress and undress, but were at the ready at all times.
So in closing today, in light of the fact that in every age there will be Sanballats and Tobiahs,
but do you have the sword of the Spirit and making every effort to oppose the Adversary here in this gathered group?
In chapter 4 we learn where our strength is from from whence our help comes from.
Remember the Lord great and awesome!
Our God, in the gospel, has fought for us, in Christ and has gained the victory!
And as we battle on as His people, to the end, and
make every effort to guard and strengthen the household of God.
Beloved, is v17 a description you? “Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.”
God is calling you to take your place upon His walls and build up His people for His glory!
I invite you to come and meet with God at this alter, may the Lord lead you into the work today! Let’s sing.
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