1When Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, heard that we were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he became angry and started insulting our people. 2In front of his friends and the Samaritan army he said, “What is this feeble bunch of Jews trying to do? Are they going to rebuild the wall and offer sacrifices all in one day? Do they think they can make something out of this pile of scorched stones?”
3Tobiah from Ammon was standing beside Sanballat and said, “Look at the wall they are building! Why, even a fox could knock over this pile of stones.”
4But I prayed, “Our God, these people hate us and have wished horrible things for us. Please answer our prayers and make their insults fall on them! Let them be the ones to be dragged away as prisoners of war. 5Don't forgive the mean and evil way they have insulted the builders.”
6The people worked hard, and we built the walls of Jerusalem halfway up again. 7But Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people from the city of Ashdod saw the walls going up and the holes being repaired. So they became angry 8and decided to stir up trouble, and to fight against the people of Jerusalem. 9But we kept on praying to our God, and we also stationed guards day and night.
10Meanwhile, the people of Judah were singing a sorrowful song:
“So much rubble for us to haul!
Worn out and weary,
will we ever finish this wall?”
11Our enemies were saying, “Before those Jews know what has happened, we will sneak up and kill them and put an end to their work.”
12On at least ten different occasions, the Jews living near our enemies warned us against attacks from every side, 13and so I sent people to guard the wall at its lowest places and where there were still holes in it. I placed them according to families, and they stood guard with swords and spears and with bows and arrows. 14Then I looked things over and told the leaders, the officials, and the rest of the people, “Don't be afraid of your enemies! The Lord is great and fearsome. So think of him and fight for your relatives and children, your wives and homes!”
15Our enemies found out that we knew about their plot against us, but God kept them from doing what they had planned. So we went back to work on the wall.
16From then on, I let half of the young men work while the other half stood guard. They wore armor and had spears and shields, as well as bows and arrows. The leaders helped the workers 17who were rebuilding the wall. Everyone who hauled building materials kept one hand free to carry a weapon. 18Even the workers who were rebuilding the wall strapped on a sword. The worker who was to blow the signal trumpet stayed with me.
19I told the people and their officials and leaders, “Our work is so spread out, that we are a long way from one another. 20If you hear the sound of the trumpet, come quickly and gather around me. Our God will help us fight.”
21Every day from dawn to dark, half of the workers rebuilt the walls, while the rest stood guard with their spears.
22I asked the men in charge and their workers to stay inside Jerusalem and stand guard at night. So they guarded the city at night and worked during the day. 23I even slept in my work clothes at night; my relatives, the workers, and the guards slept in theirs as well. And we always kept our weapons close by.
A central theme running throughout Scripture’s story is that of a war between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. The attempt to rebuild the city of God runs into problems from a number of sources. The first is the surrounding inhabitants who resent the work. They mock the people and threaten them. The second is the hard labour itself and the fatigue it brings on. Then there is the people’s fear of their enemies.
But Nehemiah and the people prayed to a sovereign God, who was great and fearsome (v 14) and who would fight for his servants. After praying they posted a guard and went back to work. One half of the people worked and one half were positioned to defend. Even those who worked had a sword strapped to their waist, ready to fight when necessary.
As the people of God today we must realize that our work will encounter opposition. We must not be naïve. The evil one goes about like a roaring lion seeking to discourage and defeat God’s people with every method, whether through fear or fatigue or any other strategy (1 Peter 5:8). The apostle Paul writes in his ministry that he was not unaware of the designs of the enemy (2 Corinthians 2:11)
The answer is not a blithe naïveté, a stiff stoicism, a prayerful pacifism, or a discouraged defeatism. The answer is to remember that we have a sovereign God, and to pray knowing that this sovereign God can make a difference. At the same time we must use our minds to take necessary precautions while continuing with kingdom work.
In the conflict against the evil one, we must pray as we act, and act as we pray.
Dear God of Heaven, Help me to realize that you are the fearsome and awesome one who promises to fight for us as we engage in the fight for your kingdom in the world. Deliver me from a naïveté about evil and a mindless optimism. Help me to commit to a sober realism, arming myself with the power of prayer and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, for the fight to the finish. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.