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
C. Overcoming The Threats (4:7-23; part III)
It might seem as if another person's anger is something totally haphazard, but we have discovered that anger can at times be used by the evil one in deliberately creating an emotional unbalance so that we would swallow more of his lies. If he can get us to swallow a few of his lies, then we will in time begin to accept these lies as truths which will in the end impair our vision, destroy our hope and break down any pursuit of godly activity. Nehemiah did what we all need to do in order to stand firm against the evil one. He enumerated the lies, looked at the truth of the situation and asked God to break down the work that was destroying confidence in the hearts of His people. Under Nehemiah's leadership and the grace of God, the demoralizing of the people was halted, and they were able to finish building the wall to half its height.
They had as verse 6 says, "A mind to work." We don't realize that much of self control and discipline derives from the convictions of our hearts. Note the difference between the art work of those who are convinced of the truth and those who live in supposed freedom of a relative society! The more lawlessness prevails, the more litter is strewn along the streets. Without laws and constraints, we end up with messes. Once the Jews saw in a fresh way God's design to build the wall through their lives, they were encouraged and with a renewed vigor went back to their building. The wall was joined together to half its height.
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But because using another person's anger is so effective in destroying a person's pursuit of God's will, Satan comes at Nehemiah and the Jews with another wave of attack. Angry people are very easily manipulated to do the devil's work. They are like pawns in his hands. They lose their self control and discernment. It is almost like they are being influenced by alcohol. Oftentimes, the person who is angry regrets later being angry at all. This is because he or she did the work of the evil one rather than the work of God. Oh, sometimes they think they are doing the work of God, but they are at the moment very deceived. If they can admit it to themselves, they later on will be able to see the destructive things they have done or said. Let me ask you, "Did you have a conflict with another brother or sister and get angry?" Maybe you even called the other person "stupid." But how is it that you forgot the important teaching of love?! Anger distorts people's normal reasoning processes so that they can be used of the evil one.
Sanballat and the others were incensed. Remember that the two waves of attack were triggered by anger. In verse 1 we see the stronger word for anger and the moderate word for anger with an intensifier 'very.' Now in verse 7 we find the more intense word for anger (charah. "to cause fire to burn") combined with the intensifier 'very.' When they saw their mocking to be unsuccessful and the gaps in the walls being filled in, they became ferociously angry. They became spitting angry. This is not just like water boiling, it is acid boiling with its awful vapors seething into the air poisoning those around.
The first wave of attack used verbal assaults on their abilities such as scoffing and criticism. There is such a thing as positive criticism but this kind of criticism is to get the people to do something they want them to do. But this second wave of anger triggered through failure decidedly turned to making threats. We have to understand the heart of angry people. They are very upset that things are not going their way. They are interested in manipulating and controlling people. If they do not succeed in getting what they want, they get madder. They increase the attack. In the end they want capitulation. They want the people to give in. Perhaps it is a matter of pride. They always have been able to get their way. They have learned many ways to get people to do what they want, often through anger and intimidation.
Application Do you use anger to manipulate people and get your way? This anger has destroyed many a marriage and church. Though this sermon is focusing on responding to others in anger, let me shortly mention two applications as far as we are concerned.
What if we are this kind of person? Is there hope? Of course there is. You just need to realize that at the core of your problems is the felt need for you to get your way. Your basic problem is with God and submitting to Him and His will. You have chosen to get things your way rather than waiting on Him. Just manipulating your environment or taking medication is not going to solve your root problem of controlling people. You need to repent and humble yourself before God. God will help train you. You need to retrain your process of thinking and response by the scriptures.
But are you training someone to be this way? We hardly ever think of training our children to be these kind of people but this is most often where it is learned - right at home. The key element is the way you let your child get his or her way. A parent often thinks his standards are very high, but we should understand our standard is only as high as we regularly enforce it to be done. The key question is can the child through anger and temper tantrums change your opinion and behavior? If so, then you are training them how to control people through anger. All children have this potential, but it is up to the parents to chase this foolish response from the child. I know you might be frustrated with dealing with their temper tantrums, but generally speaking the parents simply need to isolate the child and show them they cannot get their way.
But now we must turn our thoughts to dealing with anger through threats. These bullies "conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it." They wanted to destroy the work so they could continue their unjust control over the people. Today let's look at this fight in two ways: the threats, and the reason for the threats. We will need to focus on the means to overcome these threats in a latter message.
A. Understanding Threats & Fears
Firstly we must remember what threats are. There are perhaps two major kinds of threats: 1) Empty threats, and 2) Serious threats. Empty threats in themselves are not dangerous. Empty threats are people who regularly use threats to manipulate people by their words but rarely follow through with their words. People quickly learn and adjust to those people who have only empty threats. A child knows it is only after the fifth time the mother yells at the child using his middle name that he better do what his mom wants. Or maybe it is when the father slams his foot on the floor. Empty threats are made from deceit and are filled with lies. "If you don't do this, I won't take you with me." But really you have to take them with you, and the child knows it! We should not use empty threats. However, I don't think this was an empty threat that came against Nehemiah and the Jews.
This was a serious threat. A serious threat means they are serious about taking action to enforce their wishes like they have indicated in their actual threat. Maybe the action will be somewhat different, but they will do what they can to cause trouble.
The actual threat is found in verse 11, "And our enemies said, "They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them, and put a stop to the work." Their threat included a secret plot to come at night or when they least expected it and kill a group of workers. They were probably thinking of killing a few of the people, then they would all become fearful and would stop the work on the wall. In this case we can think of the terrorists in the Middle East. Israel faces the bombings every day if they continue on with their normal expansion. They fight back by returning anything that happens to them with a little bit more damage. With time on our side, we of course can look back on the scene and see whether they were empty threats or serious threats. We find in this case that they actually mobilized some forces to carry out their action. This was a serious threat.
The danger is that we are not so often familiar with people or groups so that we can know their threat is an empty threat or serious one. In any case then, if we do not know the people making the threats, we always need to be careful. I will deal with handling these cases more later on. Right now, I want to better understand the emotional side of threats for whether the threat is empty or real it can cause real fear in our lives which then lead us to make distorted decisions and form unhealthy relationships.
During the times people are making threats, we need to pay special attention to our fears. They can easily get out of control. Once the fears are out of control it becomes very difficult to be objectively monitoring them. What are fears? Fears are emotional responses to what might happen. The real situation provoking the fear might be only two feet away as the drunk swings at you, or it might be a threat which might or might not happen. Whatever, we will find that fears though they are of the future and not presently real situations can greatly affect our motivation just as the lost of hope.
Let me focus more on the fears from threats. They provoke fears which can become so real that we respond to them as if they are truly existant. Perhaps you have responded to fears which were pure imagination - what might be- more than to what was. This is why fear is so dangerous. Fears can rotate in our minds with such velocity that we begin living in a false world. We think we are being rational in our decisions, but it ends up that we are being very irrational. This is the reason the evil one often uses threats to cause God's people to compromise in their God-given principles.
Fear sometimes derive from real horrible situations. We often underestimate the fear of a child that their parents will leave them. If they hear their parents arguing, then they might assume the worse - divorce. They don't want to loose their parents so they very often develop odd behavior that brings attention to themselves so to keep the parents together. Fear is forming bizarre behavior so to keep the parents nearby. Lately, you probably have heard of all the fear that is hidden in the hearts of children when they hear their parents do not want them or have even abused them. These fears are stored in the hearts of the little children. These fears can be used later on by the evil one to cause irrational behavior then when they become adults.
Whether fear has genuine sources, or it is merely a nightmare, fear can seem more real than real. Fear greatly affects people. In this case, the fear touched the heart of the workers. Verse 10 says, "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."
Just the question of their abilities mentioned in verse 2 destroyed their hope and therefore the work on the wall, so we find fear, from the angry threats mentioned here, were able to destroy their confidence and stopped their work. At this point you must realize no real violence was done. There were only threats. If they had not heard these threats, would they have changed their behavior? No. Of course not. This is the reason people can use threats to manipulate and motivate people. Fears do not build relationships but condition the behavior of others. If we submit to the fear, then it becomes an idol that we serve. This is why the Israelites were told only to fear God lest those things that you fear begin to control and destroy you.
Let me finalize this analysis of fear by noting the possible responses to the threats. Of course, we should be open to the possibility that they might be right. If we are wrong, then we should apologize and correct our behavior. How do we detect whether we are in the wrong. We should ask whether our behavior was right or wrong. We need to know God's Word back and forth. We also need to be humble to be able to rightly discern these things.
However, if they are motivated by anger, they are probably at least overestimating the situation. Man's anger rarely accomplishes the will of God. We should keep an open eye and discerning ear at all times lest we let one statement enter that is not true. Because of the violence of their words, people tend to give in to the threats and make a compromise. Perhaps they change their behavior so that the angry person is pacified and therefore re-secure their security. Maybe they stop sharing the gospel or pay a bribe or just quiet down. The increase of lawsuits is not only greed activated but often the means a manipulater legally carries out his will upon another. In conclusion, we must never be intimidated to neglect doing God's will because of threats and fears of others. Today's lesson clearly teaches that Satan often uses anger and threats to hinder us from doing God's clear will. Nehemiah resisted the charges and prepared to take all the risks to live faithfully before God.
Let me summarize the way of fear. Anger for whatever reason explodes in a person. The anger destabilizes the emotions of the person who is the target of the anger. They hear the threats. They often respond to the threats rather than to the right and wrong of the situations.
Application If fears shape your thoughts then they will form your decisions. You think by compromise that the fear will go away. It doesn't. It gets stronger and you are bound up under it. Fear will keep you from doing the work of God. God is calling each and everyone of us to stand up against the fears that rule our lives. If we allow fears to keep us from doing what God wants, they represent a sick place in our souls. These places of weakness represent a greater love for something beyond God's Word such as our security, peace, life, welfare of our children, protection of our possessions, protection of our reputations, etc. Each of these are idols. These are things that divide your loyalty to the Lord. When tested, will you obey the Lord or live in fear of losing these things? We should not laugh at the fears of others for it is more than likely unless we are humbled by the danger of these things, then we are also plagued by them. Ask God now to break you from these fears by the powerful truth of God.
Facing the anger of others is a real struggle. Our emotions stand on high alert, super sensitive to each word and gesture. The evil one wants to insert doubts about our ability to do the job right and on time, or through threats causes our hearts to fear. The evil one's purpose though is the same. He is trying to keep us from the work that God has put before us. We must master the practice of discerning the messages coming to us from angry people, even the angry threats that occasionally come. We should not simply pack up and panic. After prayer and evaluation, we walk the road that God asks us to follow. We take the precautions that we can do and then entrust ourselves in God's hands. This is the way of faith. It is here we will see God sending the enemy into frustration. For somehow God blesses our feeble efforts along with His mighty power to break down the threats of the enemy.
Anger in and of itself can't hurt us. Threats can't hurt us. But violence and evil plans devised in that anger can. We have to be careful, but we should not turn aside from the work of God. If all authority on heaven and earth is Christ's and the work to make disciples is ever before us, then we should not stop facing the enemy with confidence that somehow and some way God will use us in expanding His kingdom and growing as His people. No one likes facing angry people, but we can stand up to the enemy and not be caught unaware.
Biblical Foundations for Freedom