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Rebuilding Our Faith Series #9


Nehemiah 4:7-23

Wave #1 Anger Leading to Discouragement (4:1-6; part I)
Wave #2 Anger leading to Fear (4:7-13; part II)
A. Understanding Threats & Fears
>B. Reasons Threats Work (4:7-23; part III)
C. Overcoming The Threats

Dealing with angry people is one of the most difficult things one has to deal with. Everything seemed so normal and good before that person got so angry with you. Now your life has become a storm of turmoil. A person can be so malicious that it seems they make their life purpose to make you thoroughly unpleasant. This is not a new experience. We all must at times face these people. Even in our zeal of doing God's work, we should not be surprised at the malicious anger that sometimes comes our ways. Let me review this process as we have discovered so far in the book of Nehemiah.

Two results ensue:
1) Try to make sure that these changes never happen. {Ch. 2}

  • Challenge the changes
  • Question the authority of the one making the changes
  • Make sure people get conflicting reports and information Nehemiah uses secrecy to avoid all these things. Our conclusion is that sometimes it is good to suddenly introduce change so to avoid different potential problems.
    2) Frustrate attempts to complete these changes. {Chapter 4}
  • In excited anger make belittling remarks (untrue) to foster discouragement (4:1-6)
  • In excited anger make threats to foster fear (4:7-23
    In the past sermons I have touched upon a reason why fear is used. It is a great intimidator especially if you have people under your power already. But today I want to further explore how it is that anger can so easily turn people from doing God's will. We must admit the enemy did find ways to poke into the hearts of the people and discourage them in the first case and create fear in the later. In both cases, the people began to give up. In 4:4-5 Nehemiah cried out, "Hear, O our God, how we are despised! ... ... for they have demoralized the builders." In 4:10 it reads, "Thus in Judah it was said, 'The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable To rebuild the wall.'"

    How is it that the enemy was so successful? I sense we must explore these issues a bit further because of two reasons. We need to learn the evil one's tactics so that we will not fall to them. The evil one no doubt has used these tactics on us to keep us from doing what God wants. We need now to understand them so not to be overcome by them. Secondly, we must learn these tactics so that we can overcome the evil one where we are now defeated. We might be like the Israelites in one or more areas of our lives. We live in servitude because of fear. God wants you to understand how to break out of this bondage so that you can faithfully serve Him. Let's now discuss why these threats work are so effective.
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    B. Reasons Threats Work

    The intensity of the counter attack to frustrate the suggested changes will relate to how long and deep the old ways were sustained. In this case, their bullying had been going on for tens of years. They could and did manipulate the Jews into cowardness. So in response to getting the wall to half its height, Nehemiah was confronted with a new surge of anger through which the enemy's artillery would be shot at the hearts of the people.

    Threats are effective because they hold power over the ones that receive them. The more a threat touches a prized part of our lives, the more effective it is. What are these prized places? They are the very things that we treasure and protect. In this case with the Jews it was their lives and the welfare of their families (4:11) . But we can be fearful of other things too including our job security, desire for wealth or fame. If job security is important then we will easily compromise doing wrong for our boss. If fame or our reputation is important, then we are greatly tempted to lie and cheat on tests and forms. Any area which you believe is important to your welfare becomes a bulls eye for the evil one to attack when needed.

    Did you ever think on how certain things become so precious to you that you might do wrong to keep them? Undoubtedly, there are those things that we ourselves have presently decided is important. A girlfriend desperate to keep her boyfriend gives in to increased physical intimacy a little at a time. The young man lies to his parents so they think he is always doing what they want. He has to keep up his image. But we need to be alerted to the fact, as in the case here, that often the enemies that threaten us are the very things that historically, and therefore culturally, linger about our lives and society. If sins are not repented from, they become embedded first of all in a family and then spread to the culture.

    But if we really want to understand the power of the enemy, we must understand how the presence of these enemies' owed their existence to sins the Israelites had committed. The very presence of these enemies had everything to do with subtle character faults permitted within the Israelite culture. At this point in the Israelite's life, the faults are not very obvious. Their culture or anyone's culture has blended the good and bad within a cosmopolitan environment. Only the most discerning people can even recognize that they are emersed in a cultural cloud that greatly affects and shapes their lives. Only the wise and brave can live beyond the culture in a way that pleases God and not man.

    If we cross cultures, we are apt to spot these things very easily. Prostitution is popular in Taiwan so much that barber shops and restaurants with dark windows are all around. Today, we can't understand why the Chinese would wrap the high class girl's feet up in bandages and so break their feet that they could only be carried about. Amy Carmichael wrestled not a little with the Hindu practice of burning the wife to death if her husband died.

    God has challenged us with living in a new culture called the kingdom of God. We are to be holy as He is holy. That is, we live according to His standards by faith rather than picking up our clues on how to behave from the world around us. James 4:4 says, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."God wants us to come close to Him so that we will live by His ways which in turn becomes a whole new culture which offers blessing untold. Psalm 1:1-3 says, "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers."

    Our present and past situations perhaps have more similarity then we often think. This combination of counter-God behaviors is called the 'world' in the New Testament. We might think it is only our individual problem but if we were wise, we would see that it is a weakness of the very society that we live in and that temptations to err in this way are common for many people. We should not be surprised to find that the same enemies that have been manipulating the Israelites for decades are the same ones that are intensifying their attack in the present. This is what we find here in verse 7 and look at in more detail in a moment, but let me first deepen our understanding on how threat and fear tactics work.

    If we have given into the threat of another, then we should realize that we have submitted ourselves to that one. We are slaves to that one. The word fear or be afraid is used 611 times in the Bible. Out of these times 136 times it says, "Do not fear" or "Do not be afraid." The people in and around Jerusalem were dismobilized from doing God's will for decades only because the people were so despondent. They were bound in chains of fear. The Israelites were again beginning to give into their fears when Nehemiah in 4:14 says, "When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people: "Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses."

    Usually when we hear about threats, we are scared. A threat demands conformity or a confrontation. Either you will go along with the demands or you will challenge their authority to demand such things. Let me give you two contrasting examples.

    Perhaps we hear about some gangs that are forcing the businesses to give so much money to them or else. That person has to conform or confront this challenge with how the owner desires to operate his business.

    But what would happen if you had a business and three six year olds came in with toy guns and said they wanted so many pieces of candy a month or they would cause trouble? The threat of a six year old with a toy gun to a 200 pound adult is useless. The threat has no affect upon him or his business. He confronts this demand with his own authority.

    What is the difference? In the first case the threat was a sizeable threat. You heard other stores facing the same problem. You know if you refused, the gangsters would be compelled to give you problems and they could. In the later case you know they could not back up their threats.

    But once a person gives in, that fear lives in and around that persons's life and business. The fear and servitude spirit becomes an uninvited partner in the business. What happens if the business is sold? The new owner hears about the threats from the nearby gangsters. He has his chance to conform or confront. Because of precedence, there is that much more pressure on him to conform. He will need some other strong power or confidence in something to enable him to break the original set up. The longer and deeper the strangle hold has been, the stronger the fight to freedom will be. In this case, for example, the police force has accepted the gang favors as normal.

    This is what happens when our ancestors, family or nation faces an area in life where in the past we have given over to a certain fear. We might discover God's will is to break the habit and manipulation by fear. We need to confront the fear and find a greater power to overcome. We need a source of greater confidence to challenge that former fear for it just naturally lingers over the place. It is easy to think one has overcome the problem but relapses are a real problem. This is what we have found here with the Jews who have not only served these oppressors for these tens of years, but even their existence is linked to their own forefather's mistakes.

    Their enemies were really old enemies. They were never rightly dealt with and therefore according to the pattern the Lord has clearly spoken of, they have become thorns in their sides. Let's examine verse 7 with the other description and information we have of these enemies.

    There were three chief enemies: Sanballat, the governor of Samaria; Tobiah an Ammonite leader; and
    Geshem, Arab chief. We first meet up with this 'hellish trinity' in chapter 2:9-10 when Nehemiah first came to Jerusalem. They were not at all pleased that someone had come to seek the welfare of Jerusalem. In short we could call them bullies. Their authority more than likely did not reside over the area of Jerusalem. Sanballat governed Samaria which was the area clearly north of Jerusalem. In Ezra 5-6 we find that Judea was a small dependency and that the nearby Samarian governor made complaint with reference to the Jews rebuilding their temple. Probably Judea was just a small separate government but with the governor of the large nearby province looking over it. Tobiah was an Ammonite leader with responsibility over on the other side of the Jordan River but clearly not here. Lastly there was an Arab chief who likewise had no business in Jerusalem. Since it was a conspiracy, they got the Ashdodites in this deal too. When the prize is dangled out in front of some, they just join in.

    These bullies assumed authority where they had none. They used a lot of big talk, some power, and lots of threats to maintain their supposed control of a certain area. When we look historically at these three people: Samaritans, Ammonites and Arabs, we find that our greatest problems in doing our present work are to fight off opposition that has historic roots.

    Our weaknesses will become our children's weaknesses; our idols will become our children's idols. These oppressive sins will remain until they are overthrown. From Exodus 34:7 we see that these curses can pass on from generation to generation.

    "Who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation." Let's note the origin of these several enemies. The enemies arise because of past compromise.

    The Samaritans , over which Sanballat governed, developed because the split of the North/South kingdoms into Judah and Israel in the north. The north was noted for a tendency to idol worship. Later after Assyria conquered the north, they were given the name as Samaria. These were people who for convenience wanted their own worship separate from Jerusalem. For them freedom to worship meant laziness in godly spiritual disciplines such as going to Jerusalem three times a year. They were taken into captivity much earlier than the southern kingdom (721 versus 586 B.C.). The northern kingdom became polluted as it intermixed with other people and other faiths. Their root problems were rebellion and idol worship.

    Application Any compromise of the worship God expects will sooner or later lead to outright rebellion. Either you will submit to God's Word or you will assert your supposed spiritual freedom. Spiritual adultery often leads to all sorts of sensual sins for once you have put off God's spiritual laws, then the moral laws are replaced by your physical lusts.

    Genesis 19 tells us that the Tobiah and the Ammonites came from Lot's son. God had rescued Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah. After taking refuge in the mountains, his two daughters believed that the most important thing was to have children. But ignoring the noble and good, they connived their father into drunkenness and then the two lay with their father, him not knowing anything. They each had a son, the older named Moab, the younger Ammon. From each of these two men came the groups of people known as the Moabites and Ammonites. Their root problems were disrespect, immorality, pleasure over propriety and security over obedience.

    Application Character flaws include our tendency to obtain pleasure over against propriety. Think how many times you have willingly watched sensual scenes so to gain pleasure. Or your willingness to guard your security and significance by defying rules of God. This is where cheating on our tax forms to get a bigger retirement nest egg or willing to gossip so that you can gain an upper edge with a competitor.

    The Arabs were descendants of Abraham. Although Abraham was a great man of faith, his faith slipped at one point because he did not trust God for that promised child. He used the world's way and took Hagar his handmaid and had a son by her and named him Ishmael. Ishmael is the progenitor of the Arabs. Genesis 25:18 says of his descendants, "And they settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives." These are the same people today as we know as Arabs which mostly have adopted Islam as a religion. This battle was flesh over faith. Abraham did what the world accepted but not what pleased God .


    One of our biggest sins is just going along with the world. If you are not facing some big battles on how to fight the world, be assured that you are just moving downstream with everyone else. Faith requires ways that challenge the world's ways of getting things done.

    We can focus on the evil one in all this process and how he uses the anger of others to try to hold back the progress of God's people, but we should not be blind to the opportunity it is for God's people to have an opportunity to show that the Lord means more than all these things. God's people must take these challenges as an opportunity to do God's will even at the cost of life's most precious things. This is true freedom when man overcomes his fears and lives in light of the will of God. As long as man lives in fear, then he serves the idols of his heart, and in fact becomes like them. Threats are opportunities for God's people to stand up and obey.

    We will be tested in those areas of our lives where we ourselves have a weakness that has slipped into our lives or culture in the past. If we don't have a weakness, then we chase the threat out of our lives like that business owner chased those little kids out of his store. We can look at this as a work of the evil one who has diabolically gotten a foothold into a region affecting our lives. He can use them to cause trouble and hold back the growth and strength of God's people. These are called generational weaknesses or sins. Whether biological or learned, it does not matter much. The point is, you can expect when you show signs of growth, that you will have to face these issues sooner or later. Satan uses them to tempt you and make you fall.

    However, God positively wants you to grow. He knows that you cannot grow unless you do overcome these enemies. Your heart is divided in loyalty as long as you have made compromises for their participation in your lives. They can be called enemies from the outside but the dividing line is not that clear. In this case we find that these bullies obviously had power and influence over the people of God. God wanted a holy people that would be committed only to him. So for God's people, this became a test of their hearts. God provided the extra help needed so that they could overcome the evil one. When they refused the advances of the evil one, then they made more room for God. This is really what God is after in each of our lives. This is when God's work can and will go on. This is Christian growth: the developing of our loyalty to do what God wants all the time.

    Summary The early church was filled with the Spirit. One result was that they were bold. They were out to do what God wanted them to do. Jesus said for them not to worry about what to say in tight situations because the Spirit of God would give that to you at the very last moment. They were not to fear what the government might do to their lives. God was in charge of that.

    Most importantly for you to understand is that fear from the enemy is designed purposely to keep you from doing God's work. The ultimate test is to see whether you have been waylaid. Have you actually done what God has called you to do? Yes, we have bad health, disappointing friendships, difficult family circumstances, but the key question in the end is whether are you so poised to do God's will, that someone's threat will not be able to keep you doing what God wants. You might need to move slower than you thought. But you will never give up. You are determined to do what you can to affirm His will in your life. Your faith is challenged so that you could deepen your trust in God for things you or your forefathers perhaps have never trusted Him to do before.

    Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith



    Nehemiah Overview and Notes | Nehemiah Outline | Also see notes on Ezra

    Nehemiah Historical Introduction | Nehemiah Rebuilding the Walls

    Nehemiah 1:1-2:5 | Nehemiah 1:1-4 Love for God

    Nehemiah 1:11-2.8 God's will | Nehemiah 2.9-20 Prepare

    Prayer: Prayers that Changes the World 1:4-11 | Nehemiah 1:1-11 Prayer | Nehemiah 1:05-11 Prayer

    Nehemiah 3:1-32 (1/2) Hope | Nehemiah 3:1-32 (2/2) Gates

    Nehemiah 3 Jerusalem Map (pdf)BFF Biblical Digital Library

    Nehemiah 4:1-6 Anger & Despair | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Anger & Fears

    Nehemiah 4:7-23 Threats | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Overcoming Fear

    Nehemiah 5:1-05 Loans | Nehemiah 5:1-19 Counts

    Nehemiah 6:1-14 Darkness at the Gates

    Nehemiah 6:1-19 Rumors | Nehemiah 7:1-73 Restore

    Nehemiah 8:1-12 Revival | Nehemiah 8:13-18 Obedience

    Nehemiah 9:1-38| Strength & Direction in Life | Confess

    Nehemiah 10-12 Covenant | Nehemiah 13:1-31 Restoration


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