Facing Discouragement W/ Courage
Context of the Passage:
This chapter describes the struggles that the people had to endure during the work. The chapter begins by describing the response of the opposition to the work and the efforts that they made to disrupt it.
Outline of the Passage
1-6 – First Wave of Attacks
1-3 – Enemy Attack
4-5 – Response of Faith
6 – Divinely Empowered Result
7-14 – Second Wave of Attacks
7-8 – Enemy Attack
9 – Response of Faith
10 – Response of Fear
11 – Enemy Attack
12 – Response of Fear
13-14 – Response of Faith
15-23 – Nehemiah’s Plan for Handling the Attacks
Exegesis of the Passage
This passage suggests two halves of the project and the different attacks of the enemy at each stage.
- Verses 1-6 suggest the first half of the project. The strategy of the enemy during this stage was mocking and verbal attacks.
- However, as the people began to make obvious progress on the completion of the walls, the strategy of the enemy began to intensify.
Notice – this is no simple attack (vs. 7)
Sanballat & Samaritans – from NORTH
Ashdod – from WEST
Tobiah & Ammonites – from EAST
ARABS – from SOUTH
- They are being threatened from every direction!
Nehemiah responded to the first wave of attacks with prayer (4:4)
- The Bible does not record any other response at this point (not to the enemy or even to Israel). Nehemiah simply led the people to work.
4:11 – The plan for a surprise attack!
4:11 – “They will cause the work to cease.”
- The Hebrew is complicated here
- Lit – “They will cause to return”
- The context seems clear that the enemies will cause the work to stop
4:12 – “The Jews who dwelt near them”
- This could be certain alarmists among the Jews or even some collaborating with the enemies.
- It could also be that some of the Jews were appealing to those who left to villages to work on the wall to return and protect them because they felt under attack.
4:12 – “Everywhere you turn”
- Again the idea that the enemy will attack from every direction
- The enemies wanted the Jews to think that there was no way for them to escape
As the opposition began to intensify, Nehemiah again responded with prayer (4:14). He also led the people with wisdom (4:13).
- Nehemiah organized the people by family units
- He set people in the most vulnerable places (4:13 – the lowest parts of the wall)
- He equipped them for the battle (4:13 – swords, spears, bows)
- He challenged the leaders (4:14)
- The leaders were afraid
Nehemiah motivated the people not to get discouraged. The Bible is full of stories of people who got discouraged: Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Disciples after crucifixion
4:16 – “From that time on”
- The first half of the project had only minor attacks, but the attacks intensified as the enemy began to perceive that completion was a reality
4:17 – Working with one hand and guarding with the other!
- Not the same as working with one hand tied behind your back …
4:18 – “Every one!”
4:20 – The Trumpet was the rallying cry and a reminder that no one was alone.
- Nehemiah developed a communication system to alert people of impending attack
4:22 – Nehemiah developed a plan to guard the city
- He trusted in God – and made a plan
4:23 – They took the garments off for washing
- The sweat involved in the work demonstrated their commitment to the task and the pride in their work
4:23 – “Neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me.”
- The example of a godly leader. He’s not just dictating work for others to do; he is leading them by example. Do as I do; not just as I say.
Sermon on the Passage
Causes of Discouragement in our Lives
- It was their failure that led them to this point
- We saw this in Neh. 1
- Jewish Historians – they had tried before to rebuild the walls – and were not successful!
- Every time they looked at the walls on the ground it was a reminder of their failure!
- Sanballat and Tobiah – Government officials from surrounding countries
- Cf. 2:10 – that’s the kind of people these are
- The Strategy of the enemy (4:2-3):
- 1) Belittled their Abilities
- “What are those feeble Jews doing?”
- – Tobiah tries to mock their efforts – “even a fox knock down!”
- 2) Challenged their Ambitions
- “Will they restore their wall?”
- 3) Mocked their Optimism
- “Will they offer sacrifices?”
- 4) Attacked their Enthusiasm
- “Will they finish in a day?”
- 5) Undermined their Confidence
- “Can they bring stones back to life?”
- Fatigue (10)
- Vs. 10 – The strength of the laborers is failing
- The people were tired!
- Lit. they were “staggering, tottering, stumbling”
- They were on the verge of burnout or breakdown
- NOTE: God’s solution: Eat! (Twice!); Sleep; friend (spread the work)
- Vs. 10 – The strength of the laborers is failing
- Frustration (10)
- Vs. 10 There is SO MUCH RUBBLE! (It’s everywhere!)
- You Can’t rebuild on top of the rubble – unsteady building
- had to remove it! – task seemed overwhelming
- Fear (12)
- Vs. 12 – JEWS came 10 Times – We can’t do it
- they had bought the threat of the enemy – their right! Can’t!
- Focus (10-12)
- Where is the focus of the people? – It’s in the wrong place!
- Listening to the Wrong people
- They are focusing on the enemy – rubble never bothered them before until the enemy pointed it out (cf. Vs. 2)
- vs. 12 – they are too close to the enemy
How to Overcome Discouragement
- Focus on the Lord instead of the Enemy (4-5)
- Seek the Lord
- Trust in who God is – (14) – “great and awesome”
- Have Confidence in what He will do (20)
- Develop Wise Plans
- Get rid of the rubbish! (10)
- I positioned them (13; 21-22)
- From that time on (16)
- Be on guard against the attack of the enemy
- NOTE that Nehemiah is out working with them (23)
- Ill. Judges 7:17 – Gideon – “Do as I do!”
- Leader taught them priority
- Remember the significance of the Task (14)
- Remember who we are working for: God, family, my friends
- Nehemiah reminds them in vs. 14 – what they have
- Work with Genuine Commitment to the Task
- 4:6 – The people had a mind to work
- 4:15 – even their enemies knew that God had accomplished a great work in them
- Stay United with God’s People (19-23)
- Don’t get so far away from God’s people that we are no longer working together
- We need each other
- The leaders were side-by-side with the people