Big Idea: We can handle fear if we keep our eyes open.
1. My fear of deep water. Scuba diving.
2. Attacks on Mormon temples in Salt Lake City and LA
a. Several envelopes containing white powder delivered
b. Mormons believe that they are being terrorized by homosexual activist groups because the church supported Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages in CA, and was passed in the recent elections.
c. Although gay-rights groups have protested against Mormons and these two specific temples, they deny any involvement in sending this powder.
d. Why get upset over white powder?
1.) In early 2002, just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, envelopes of white powder that turned out to be anthrax, killed 5 people and sickened 17.
2.) Although these envelopes were not anthrax, they were no doubt sent to terrorize and bring fear into these Mormon temples.
1. Fear comes in a variety of forms.
2. The fears can either be irrational – based on a wild imagination, or rational – based on real-life experiences of that person or someone else.
3. Fear can include everything from fear of losing one’s job to fear of heights to fears of snakes, spiders and rats.
1. When Moses sent twelve spies to examine the Promised Land they were about to enter, ten returned in fear saying that there were giants in the land and they could never defeat them.
2. The men of Israel under King Saul were afraid at the size of Goliath
3. Peter denied the Lord Jesus three times in front of others on the night He was arrested because of fear.
4. We can react in many different ways to fear.
a. Typically, our first response is to close our eyes and avoid the threat.
b. Child about to get hit.
c. We either wait for it to go away, or hope it goes away, or we take measures to avoid it.
D. Transition to Text
A. Attack Planned (Neh. 4:7-11)
1. Conspiracy (Neh. 4:7-8)
a. The enemies of Nehemiah and his building crew are hearing that their taunting from the previous verses had no effect on the building of the wall.
b. Their reactions of anger have been increasing each time, but so far they have only been words.
1.) This time is different, as they begin to assemble a coalition in order to attack Jerusalem.
2.) Who’s in this coalition? (PowerPoint map)
a.) Sanballat is from Samaria on the north
b.) Tobiah is from Ammon on the east
c.) Arabs from the south are mentioned because Geshem had joined them in 2:19
d.) New partner is Ashdod, an old Philistine city to the west that are historical enemies of the Jews.
3.) Nehemiah is literally surrounded on all sides by enemies.
c. They want to incite a riot within the city in order to confuse and distract the workers and get them off their task.
2. Prayer (Neh. 4:9)
a. Somehow, Nehemiah is able to catch wind of this plot, and Nehemiah and the people prayed to God.
1.) No doubt a prayer for protection.
b. However, in addition, he sets up an around the clock watch in order to monitor the movements of their enemies.
3. Perceived Opening (Neh. 4:10-11)
a. This new responsibility of adding a guard and the added daily stress of wondering if the city was going to be attacked began to wear on the builders.
b. They began to sing a little jingle that voiced their discouragement.
c. “We’re getting tired.” “There’s too much trash.” “We can’t do it.”
1.) Not exactly “Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work we go.”
2.) This song takes the form on a lament – like a funeral dirge.
d. The enemies see this reaction as an opening for their surprise attack.
1.) They have the coalition set up.
2.) They have their target surrounded.
3.) And now it sounds like the Jewish people will be easily defeated because their morale is down.
4.) They anticipate a swift and easy victory that will wipe them out and finally stop the building of the wall.
B. Plan Frustrated (Neh. 4:12-15)
1. Warned (Neh. 4:12)
a. Jews who had been living in the surrounding areas began coming into Jerusalem to warn Nehemiah of these attacks.
1.) The rumors that they had heard before were being confirmed
2.) Perhaps these were Jews who had come up to Jerusalem with Ezra and Zerubbabel fourteen years earlier to worship at the newly rebuilt temple.
3.) Couldn’t live in the city because city hadn’t been rebuilt yet.
b. They didn’t just come up once, they came repeatedly from all directions to warn them of the impending danger.
1.) Not just because their fellow Jews were about to be attacked and Jerusalem would fail to be rebuilt.
2.) But also because their own family members were working on the wall and were going to be killed in the attacks as well.
a.) In Chapter 3 we saw that there were people from Jericho, Tekoa, and Gibeon that had come in to help rebuild the wall.
2. Stationed the people (Neh. 4:13)
a. Nehemiah had to change strategies
b. Previously, he had just set up lookouts.
c. Now, it was serious enough that he took men off of the building detail and armed them with weapons in anticipation of an attack.
d. He set them up behind the areas of the wall that hadn’t been built up as much as other regions for two reasons:
1.) First, because they were the weakest areas
a.) Literally, they were uncovered and bare
b.) They would be inviting places in the eyes of an attacker.
2.) Second, so that any enemy approaching would see them and think that they had a larger army than they actually did.
3. Addressed the people (Neh. 4:14)
a. As Nehemiah set them up, he gave them a pep talk because of the fear that they no doubt had.
b. He told them to “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome”
1.) You think your enemies are great and awesome?
a.) Remember the Lord, who promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, even though he was old enough to be considered dead,
b.) Remember the Lord, who performed miraculous signs and wonders and took that nation out of Egypt through the Red Sea,
c.) Remember the Lord, who brought them into the Promised Land by defeating their enemies and fighting on their behalf.
2.) God, and God alone, is truly great and awesome, therefore don’t be afraid.
c. And he told them to fight for family pride and honor.
1.) This is why he stationed them according to families
2.) So that they would fight harder and longer
3.) “Mutual relation might engage them to mutual assistance.”
4. Plan frustrated (Neh. 4:15)
a. Ultimately, the best piece of weaponry that was ever picked up, the best strategy that was ever employed was the quick prayer that they lifted up to God before they did anything else.
b. Nehemiah gives credit where credit is due.
1.) God had frustrated their plans.
2.) God made known to Nehemiah what the enemies said they would not know (Neh. 4:11).
3.) God allowed them to continue with the work, when the work was the very thing their enemies were trying to stop.
c. The attack was thwarted even before it got going, because God heard their prayer.
d. But that’s not the end of it.
C. Work Continues (Neh. 4:16-23)
1. Planning to respond (4:16-18a)
a. Nehemiah had to make sure that the building went on as best it could, but also he had to prepare the people so that they would be ready to respond if an attack did come later.
1.) So he made some more changes to the structure they had set up
2.) Some longer-lasting changes
b. Nehemiah assigned his personal servants, those whom King Artaxerxes had allowed to travel with Nehemiah from Susa, to build and to guard.
1.) The added men were necessary to give those who were building a rest,
2.) But also to bolster the guard in some of the weaker parts of the wall.
c. In addition, Nehemiah took the rulers and princes and put them behind the front line of builders and guards in order to direct them and make themselves available to assist if necessary.
d. And all of the workers went in shifts to either be engaged in building, or to stand by as a guard.
1.) This also helped the builders, whose strength was failing
2.) As they were working, they kept their weapons on their waist so that they would be instantly ready to respond to an attack.
2. Encouraging the people (4:18b-21)
a. He also assigned a person to follow him around with a ram’s horn trumpet to act as an early warning signal in case those guarding saw anything suspicious.
b. He then took the opportunity to instruct all the people, the workers, guards, nobles, government officials, priests – everyone in Jerusalem
1.) He gave a short assessment of their situation
a.) They had a great deal to accomplish
b.) They were stretched pretty thin
2.) He also described what they had
a.) They had a warning system set up
b.) And they had a God that would fight for them (v. 20).
c. Nehemiah uses these words intentionally to encourage the people
1.) They are words that bring to mind glorious victories that the Lord had brought about in Israel’s past.
a.) As the Egyptian army had Israel trapped against the Red Sea, Moses told the people, “The Lord will fight for you.” (Ex. 14:14).
b.) As King Hezekiah rallied the people of Judah against the invading force of Sennacherib of Assyria, he said, “With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chron. 32:8)
2.) They were words of truth to bring comfort to those who were afraid.
d. As a result of Nehemiah’s planning and encouragement, the people stayed faithful to the work (v. 21).
3. Leading by example (4:22-23)
a. Not only did Nehemiah lead the people by planning and encouraging, he also led by example.
b. He ordered that no one leave the city, but stay to guard and to work
1.) He wanted as many people as possible to be involved in the building and the defense
2.) But also, he wanted to prevent any thoughts of desertion, as people went home to their families, they might get comfortable and fail to return to the work.
c. But he didn’t just order others to do this, he did it himself.
1.) As the leader of the people, and as the special envoy of King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah probably had access to some special housing arrangements that the regular people didn’t have.
2.) But he stayed with everyone else, sleeping in the city, always in a state of readiness with his outer clothing on and his weapon in his hand wherever he went.
D. Transition from Text
1. Nehemiah and the Jewish people were facing great fear as their enemies surrounded them and threatened to attack them.
2. How we see Nehemiah react and lead the people is helpful for us today.
a. He didn’t close his eyes and wish the problem away.
b. He kept his eyes open, an looked in three different directions.
A. Look to the Lord
1. As we have seen Nehemiah do time and again when faced with bad news or a tough decision, he immediately goes to the Lord in prayer.
a. I said earlier that our normal first reaction to fear is to try to close our eyes and avoid it.
b. Nehemiah’s first reaction was to keep his eyes wide open and look to God for help.
2. A couple of reasons why Nehemiah had this first response.
a. One, God has never failed him in the past.
1.) On an individual level, as we have seen God show up and help Nehemiah whether he is before the king asking to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, or last week when his enemies were taunting him into stopping the work.
2.) Also on a national level, thinking back all throughout history how God has provided for and protected Israel time and time again.
3.) This is why he says in v. 14, “Remember”.
b. Second, God is great and awesome (Neh. 4:14)
1.) Moses encouraged the people of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land with these words from Deut. 7:21, “You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.” (ESV)
2.) Ps. 47:2 says, “For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great king of all the earth” (NLT)
3.) Jesus says in Matthew 10 that we are not to fear our enemies, but instead we are to have an awesome and reverential fear of God because He created us and cares for us.
c. Third, God promises to fight on our behalf
1.) Verse 20
2.) Last week I brought up the idea of spiritual warfare and used that as the lens to help us see what is going on in Nehemiah
a.) Spiritual warfare pits the kingdom of Satan against the Kingdom of God.
b.) Our security and confidence is that the battle is the Lord’s and the ultimate victory is won because of Him.
3.) Ps. 5:11-12 says, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.”
4.) We take refuge in God and love His Name and become righteous by receiving the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
3. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
B. Look for the enemy
1. Not only did Nehemiah look to the Lord for help, but he also looked for the enemy, in order to prepare.
a. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
b. Nehemiah knew that his enemies were coming to steal, kill and destroy.
c. So he set up a 24 hour guard to watch for any signs of movement and put them on rotation so they would be fresh.
d. He also armed his workers with weapons so that everyone available could be involved with defending the city and each other if that time came.
2. Nehemiah was not a “let go and let God” kind of guy.
a. For Nehemiah prayer and action went hand in hand.
b. He committed the protection of the people to God, and then he went and did whatever he could possibly do in order to help protect the people, by looking out for the enemy to see how they would attack.
3. Scripture commands us to be aware of the schemes of the devil, so that we are prepared for any attacks.
4. In October of 1805, one of the greatest naval battles to ever occur happened off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain between the 27 ships of the British Royal Navy, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, and 33 ships of the combined French and Spanish forces.
a. Napoleon and France were gaining strength in Europe, and in order to fully subdue the continent, he needed to ally himself with Spain and defeat Great Britain and her renowned navy.
b. The British naval officers were all experienced and well-trained in comparison to the relatively untested French officers, most of whom had just been commissioned in order to replace the officers who were either executed or dismissed during the French Revolution just a few years before.
c. Nelson, today considered to be the most brilliant naval officer to have lived, knew his enemy well and knew of their tactics regarding resupplying their ships and reinforcing each other during battle.
d. As the battle took shape, Nelson divided his fleet into two columns, and charged through the enemy line, dividing them into three parts.
e. Once they were divided, they could not get supplies or reinforcements to each other, communication was disrupted and the battle was soon over.
f. Because Nelson knew the tactics of his enemy, not one British ship was lost while the enemy lost 2/3 of their fleet.
5. Going through Nehemiah helps us to see the tactics our enemy uses so that we don’t allow things like insecurity or fear take our eyes off of God
C. Look on the work
1. Nehemiah, in the face of fear kept looking to God for help and looking for his enemies so he could protect his people.
2. He also kept looking on the work. Nehemiah knew that rebuilding Jerusalem was what God had given him to do as part of God’s larger plan of rebuilding the temple, His holy place and Jerusalem, His holy city.
3. Nehemiah kept focused on his part and kept the people on task.
a. He didn’t stop the work, even when the threat of attack was at its greatest.
b. When they were getting tired, he added some workers and repositioned them to give them some rest.
c. When the immediate threat was removed, verse 21 says “We carried on the work”
d. He then made sure that no one would be tempted to leave the work by requiring that everyone stay in the city, instead of going home.
4. Doing what God had called him to do was of the highest importance to Nehemiah.
5. One way we glorify God is by continuing with the work that he has given each of us to do and not quit because of some fear that might distract us
a. Whatever that work might be: leading a Life Group or D/M group, teaching in the nursery or with the youth, singing or playing on stage or serving in the sound booth, starting a prayer meeting on campus, calling people to encourage them, finding new opportunities to share your faith, or being a faithful spouse or parent.
b. Ephesians 2:10 says that, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works”
c. God desires us to be involved and working for Him, in whatever capacity He gives us.
6. Jesus said in John 17:4, “I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
A. One of the tactics that Satan uses to get us to blink and take our eyes off of God, is to try to bring fear into our lives and make us scared.
B. Nehemiah and the Jews faced the fear of attack head-on, they didn’t blink.
1. They kept their eyes open and looked to God for their help, crying out to Him for who He is, what He’s done and what He’s promised to do.
2. They looked for their enemies so that they could be prepared and not surprised by any of their tactics.
3. And through it all, they kept looking on the work, striving to accomplish the work that God had given them to do.