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Book of Nehemiah: Rebuilding Our Faith

The Bible Teacher's Commentary


Nehemiah 4:1-23

Paul J. Bucknell

Nehemiah Theme | Nehemiah Outline and Index| Nehemiah Historical Background

Wave #1 Anger Leading to Discouragement (4:1-6; part I)
Wave #2 Anger leading to Discontinuation (4:7-23; part II)

Anger. We have all faced it.

Anger can come at us in most unusual ways and extreme forms that often destabilize us. We turn from doing what seems good, normal and God's will under anger's manipulation. Chapter 4 of Nehemiah enables us to properly respond to the anger of others, especially in light of how their anger is used by the evil one to turn us awayfrom God's best way.

Dealing with the anger of others

Nehemiah was a godly man. He surrounded himself with godly men. He consistently prayed; he fervently prayed. Nehemiah was a man of God's Word. He was gifted, talented and chosen by the emperor to go rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The mission started with compassion and was accompanied by prayer. This work was clearly a work of God. From the timing, the financing, the extreme blessing, we see God leading the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Most people would assume if God started this work off in such a way, then He would continue to protect their work from having difficulties. But we just don't find this happening in Nehemiah or in real life. It is a phony assumption that often leads us into despair. Even from chapter two, we discover the presence of troubles. The hassles persist to the end of the book. During these messages we want to answer some of the tough questions that throw us off balance. Questions like:

We will be handling these kind of troubles for a good part of the series of Nehemiah. God has made it so that we could learn from this example. From the outset I trust that we can personally take courage facing troubles in doing what is good and honorable, even when facing difficulties stemming from the anger of other people.

Old Testament

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People were deliberately malicious and purposefully destructive. If we can see that God could keep Nehemiah in these situations, then we ought to take courage that we also can endure these attacks through God's grace, whether the anger is focused on us or just coming generally toward us.

Other BFF articles on anger including podcasts!

Consequences of anger |Speaking with angry people

Two Kinds of Anger | Six steps to overcome anger |

Handling Angry Children | Understanding Angry Teens

Resolving anger (in Marriages) Ephesians 4:26-27

Problems of Tolerating Anger | Dealing with the Anger of others (Nehemiah 4)

There are two waves of attack against Nehemiah, the Jews and the rebuilding of the wall mentioned in chapter 4. They are easily identifiable. We see that in the first verse of each section, verses 1 and 7, use the word angry.

The "very angry" describes the hearts in which these influential men, first mentioned in chapter 2, purposed to foil the Jews. Today let us take a look at the first wave of anger and how Nehemiah and the Jews rightly responded to it.

Wave #1 Anger Leading to Discouragement (4:1-6)

The first wave is described in verses 1-6. In verse 1 we see that Sanballat heard about the rebuilding of the wall and was "furious and very angry." There is no shyness in discussing the great anger within his heart. Why was it so fierce? Was he jealous? Did he formerly agree to help build it but failed to build it? Did he think his authority was by-passed? Was he not making any money out of it? Did it have to do with the tension between the Samaritans (half-bred Jews) and the Jews (pure bred). We don't know.

We do know, however, that he was extremely angry, and it had to do directly with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem initiated by Nehemiah. Perhaps we could summarize this by the phrase, "Reform comes at a cost."

There are two words used for anger in verse 1; the more intensive one is repeated in verse 7. The first one used is [Hebrew:hrx] charah. "This word is related to a rare Aramaic root meaning "to cause fire to burn," with the Arabic root meaning "burning sensation, in the throat, etc." (TWOT - 736). Some synonyms are kindled, wroth, hot, angry, displeased, fret, incensed, burn, earnestly, grieved.

The other Hebrew word used has root meaning to vex, agitate, stir up, or provoke the heart to a heated conditions which in turn leads to specific actions" (TWOT Vol. I p. 451;1016). It is like heating up the water to boil. As the heat increases, so does the vigor and froth of the water. Synonyms for this word are: anger, provoked, angry, grieved, indignation, sorrow, vex, wrath, wroth. I think you get the idea of the trouble that was brewing.

The first attack came against the hope that rallied the Jews to build. When hope was instilled into the lives of these demoralized people living in and near the broken down city of Jerusalem, things began to happen that did not exist for decades. Shortly after Zerubbabel led the first exiles back to the deserted Jerusalem in 536 B.C., we find that they started rebuilding the temple. It took almost 20 years to rebuild and finish it.


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The temple in Jerusalem was dedicated on Feb. 18, 516 B.C. One would have thought that they would proceed to rebuild the wall, but somehow they didn't. Even with the return of exiles with Ezra in 455 B.C., 61 years later, there still was no work on the wall mentioned. Only after another 10 years when Nehemiah came, did that work on the wall finally take shape. We should remember that the work followed the restoration of their hope, that through God's strength and will the wall could be rebuilt.

Hope forms a critical part in doing the work of God. Yes, I know that Nehemiah also had some soldiers with him and access to the king's lumberyards, but it was not these things that stimulated the people, but the hope. We should not then be surprised that if hope is so important in building up a peoples' faith, that Satan will begin to challenge the work by directly undermining that hope as soon as he can.


Can you not think of a time when you were encouraged by some great think God might do in your life. You had all your hopes up. And then 'bang.' Everything seemed to go wrong. You became discouraged. You lost the vision that the hope gave you. The lost of the hope broke apart the determination to change. You gave up.

The first target of your new found determination to break free and do God's will then will be your hope. If the evil one can discourage you, then you will not continue the good work God had appointed you to do. Lately, I have been challenging the congregation to stand up for the things God wants to do in and through their lives. I have been trying to instill a hope compatible with the promises of God into your lives. Some of you for years, maybe decades, have just been coming to church.

Christianity is a sideline of your lives. You have not discipled anyone. You have thought you can not do this or that. You are dead like; without any fruit. Now all during this time you could have been alive and making disciples. You could have been living for God rather than your own concerns.

So what happens when you get a new hope for your marriage, your relationship with your parents or children, or even a hope that God will take care of your needs at work? Satan goes to work to discourage you. Let's note how the evil one brought Sanballat along in Nehemiah 4:2-3.

"And he spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?" Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, "Even what they are building--if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!"

Sanballat and Tobiah came by and mocked them. They were bullies. I believe that these leaders asserted their false authority with these Jews by humiliating them. They controlled them with discouraging remarks.

And no doubt when they were working on the wall, all one has to do is point to one of the weaker points to foster discouragement.

How did Nehemiah respond? In verse 5 he actually admits that the people have demoralized the builders. Literally, the text says that they have caused grief or anger to come to the builders. Let's trace this. Sanballat and Tobiah were angry. Inside them anger boiled up and flared out of their mouths in mocking words. The Jews heard it and the anger and grief entered their own hearts.

Please note carefully the process in which the evil one often uses anger in causing the destruction to the hopes of doing God's will.

1) Anger boils up in the heart.
2) Anger flares up and produces destructive words.
3) The destructive words are heard by the targeted person.
4) The destructive words are received in the heart of the person.

What would happen if the Jews did not hear these words? Would it have affected their work? No. It is not enough for there to be belittling language; one has to hear and then accept it. What if the Jews heard it but rejected it as false? Would it affect them? No. They would have dismissed the missiles of the enemy. It is when the Jews agreed with the thoughts and received them into their soul as their own thoughts that the lies began to affect their hearts.

So many Christians have begun to start off so well but after they accept the lies of the evil one, they give up on themselves. They use a non-hope lie to substitute their former hope such as, "I guess I just can't do it." Or, "I am just no good." They end up like when they started out, without hope. Ephesians 2:12 well summarizes what our lives are without Christ,

"Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."

The evil one works hard at knocking out our faith. It is for this reason that the promises of God are so important. For you will not hear whole truths from the evil one. He will make you think it is the truth so he can persuade you to leave the truths of the scriptures. This is why in describing the armor of God we are called to stand firm.

In Ephesians 6:16 we are admonished, "In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." These missiles are not imaginary. Only faith and hope will enable you to extinguish the discouraging remarks of the evil one. He continues in 6:17-18,

"And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints."

We see this is exactly what Nehemiah did. We find that he stood firm and countered with praying. Listen to Nehemiah's prayer,

"Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before Thee, for they have demoralized the builders."

Nehemiah stood firm. He believed that the people could build the wall. He knew it. Those things they were hearing were well-framed lies. He took these missiles and sent them back with a boomerang prayer. "Return their reproach." In other words, he was asking that these false words would not only settle in the hearts of the Jews, but that these missiles would backfire and hit the attackers. He does not ask for God to prosper his enemy but to eradicate them. For they stood as tools in the evil one's hands.

Many of us have never prayed this way. I am not speaking of the rebuking in the prayer as much as the well intentioned and focused prayer to stand against the enemy no matter what it takes. We often do not take our spiritual lives so serious. In this case it is easy to examine. All the accusations are written down before us. We can look later and find that they really were able to rebuild the wall to its full height. But usually it is not so easy to examine the word missiles coming into our mind and to return them.

This is where we have not taken the armor of God for what it is. We have not believed the importance of the promises from the Word of God. If we receive the lies into our hearts, then we will be discouraged, and we will return to our self-defeated behavior. "I can't help it!" the demon will whisper in your mind. If you ignore the thought, then it will settle. For a while you will work your way out of the vague defeated feeling, but in the end the doubt will corrupt your hope just like a small bug in a software program.

We must deal with several important things.
If hope is important in true restoration, then we need to guard that hope. We have found that the evil one will attack us here because it is a vulnerable area. Your hope can be taken away. You are crippled without it. Why? Hope guides us into the path God wants us to walk. Only hope will take us the right path of God. Otherwise our eyes will be upon ourselves and the circumstances around us.

I hope that we are not overly irritated by the anger of others. Realize that they are a pawn of the evil one. The evil one is using them to get at us. This takes a lot of the strain out of the relationship with these people and sets our hearts on prayer. Frankly, we must see that this "Do not forgive them" kind of prayer should only be rarely used. Do not use it to protect oneself's interest. But if you find an attack against God's people that are destroying them, then if moved by the Spirit, we can pray this. Nehemiah was not fighting for "his" project but cared about the people.

We should not be afraid of criticism if objectively examined. The problem is when we just swallow the half-lie. The slight truth is but a sweet bright coating of a pill to have you swallow the lie. Analyze the criticisms. Sometimes there is truth which you can work on. We cannot allow one thought to come in without analysis and prayer. For it is these statements that can do a lot of harm. Let me give you an example of God's Word. What if you hear someone say that the Bible is true only in spiritual matters? What are the implications? If you do not deal straightforward with this challenge, then you will never trust God's Word. You will never use it as an absolute standard in your life but only as a relative one.

Say the pastor spoke on tithing. Some of you might have had hope that God would help you give ten percent of what God gives to you. You had hope and faith that God could help you through the struggle. But then as soon as you get home, you see an unexpected bill. You give up hope of ever being able to tithe. You dismissed the promises of God as being inadequate to care for you.

As I think about my life, I have been decimated numerous times by hopelessness. They say low self esteem is part of the results of a broken family. I can't deny it. Self-esteem is wrongly understood as a part of our nature, but really it is a perspective of our lives. Self-esteem is the conditioning lens of how we interpret our part in the world. Through a broken family and different troubles in our lives, the evil one can come along and implant lies that seem to be truths. They will shape you. Our job is not as the psychologists say to have a good self-esteem. They give you lies to substitute your past lies. The scriptures say to think rightly about your self. Don't over or under estimate what God has given you and what He wants to do in your lives.


God is building a work in your lives as His people. He has a design and He regularly uses His Word, prayer and brothers and sisters to inspire us to get there and to keep going there. Can you hear any false statements about yourselves going around in your mind right now like "I'm no good. I'll never be able to be able to do it. I'll always be a failure." don't think that the Lord says these things. Remember God is building you up; satan does the tearing down. We need to start guarding our hope and faith. We need to remember that it is not God saying that we are failing and that we are no good. These are the words of the demons sent to whisper these thoughts in your minds. We need to stand up for God's purpose in us. We need to affirm God's truths. He can guard and keep our minds in Christ Jesus.


People will at times come with great anger boiling up inside them. Remember that they are in the hands of the evil one. The evil one wants to break your walls of hope and implant a few doubts and lies. Do not be distracted with the person. Focus on what is happening to your minds when you hear those rocketing words trying to break through your defenses. You must stand firm. You must intercept them with the promises and truths of God's Word. You must see them as the enemy's doing and not God.

The evil one often uses anger because it disguises what he is really up to. Don't be tricked again. Stand firm in your hope of living a godly life. Don't despair. God has a way to bring you back int he main line of operations. This was just wave #1.

Do not think that this is the only means of attack, but do anticipate it. "Restoration comes at a cost." We should expect that any time we take something that we have given to the evil one for so long that he will come back with a fierce smile to get you back under his control. Praise God that Jesus is our Victory. Jesus is our Hope.

Next => Nehemiah 4.7-23 Understanding Threats & Fears

Previous => Hope Ignited Nehemiah 3:1-32

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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