Week 4 – Nehemiah 4:7-23
Last week we were introduced to a few dastardly characters, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, who were threatening the work of rebuilding Jerusalem. This week we’ll see their threats boil over into in a plan to ambush Nehemiah and the resettlers. As we read this together it’ll be easy to focus on Sanballat and co. and then harp on opponents of the church today, both real and imagined. Instead, we want to use this passage to remind ourselves that our fight is against spiritual forces rather than physical ones (Eph. 6:12), and that the most precious thing we can fight for is unity among God’s people. Along with our discussion, Vintage staff and pastors hope that our Advance Commitment Night on Tuesday will be a joyful celebration and reminder of the unity with which Jesus has blessed our church.
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As mentioned last week, Sanballat and his cronies were hoping to keep Jerusalem knocked down so their power in the region could keep growing. But, as Nehemiah put it in 4:6, the people of Jerusalem “had a mind to work,” and had successfully rebuilt the wall halfway, a monumental task itself. And yet, with an unfinished wall the city was still vulnerable, and this vulnerability was increasingly public knowledge. Starting the work brought criticism on the resettlers, and with it the greedy eye of Sanballat, who began plotting to lead an attack on the Jerusalemites in the night (4:11). In turn, the resettlers were disheartened and afraid, beginning to think that the strength of God’s people was failing (4:10). In verse 12 we even see Jews who lived nearby, who had lent their relatives to work on the walls, asking their families to get out of Jerusalem before things got ugly.
From our point of view we can see the real enemy at work here. Firstly, with Ephesians 6:12 in mind, we know that spiritual powers have been at work throughout human history. The antics of Sanballat and his friends, accusing (2:19), mocking (4:3), sowing discord (4:10), and ambushing (4:11), are all old tactics straight out of Satan’s playbook. But we also know God was fully up to the challenge, able to deflect any ambush and route any enemy. Like in 2 Chronicles 20, God could’ve wiped out his people’s enemies without them lifting a finger. The real enemy here was already within the gates once those in Judah began to say, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing.” The threat came from whispers to come home, to not spend the night in the city, to abandon the work because it seemed to great and costly, to not be there to rally in support of one another if things got bad—these potential divisions were a far bigger vulnerability than a half-built wall.
Notice Nehemiah’s plan. He told the people not to fear their enemies because he knew God could smoke whenever he wanted. But he also prepared the people, and all his preparations were meant to strengthen their unity. He told them to fight for one another (4:14), he organized them to keep building and keep guard of one another (4:16), he planned to rally to one another’s aid in times of crisis (4:20), and he convinced the people to commit to the defense of the city at night rather than abandoning it in a vulnerable time (4:22).
All this builds to an incredibly relevant application point for us. Jesus told us to expect opposition if we follow him (John 15:20), so determining how we respond to opposition is more faithful to Jesus’ teaching than determining how to avoid it. That’s why we’ll turn to a short passage in John 17 where Jesus prays that his disciples would be one, or unified, with him and with one another. Interestingly, Jesus prayed for God to make them “perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”(John 17:23) Their unity—and our unity—isn’t just camaraderie. It’s testimony. Our surprising unity in place of infighting, our love for enemies (Rom. 5:10; 12:14), our joy in place of complaining; all of this points to the incarnate Son of God. Only someone who changes hearts, someone who is walking among us sowing a hope for eternity in our hearts, could produce a people like this.
As we look ahead towards the finalizing of our Abound initiative and embarking on 20-year-long goals, we do so knowing that the way we go together is just as important as where we go together. We do so even with Jesus’ words in our ears, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35)
Questions for Discussion
• How do you think the people working on the wall felt while facing this opposition?
• How do we see God providing for the Israelites here?
• How do you think these events built unity among God’s people?
• Take a moment to read John 17:20-23. Here Jesus is praying for his disciples—why do you think he wants them to be unified?
• How does the idea of true unity among our church family stir your heart?
• How does unity among God’s people impact the way we spread God’s kingdom?