Nehemiah was on a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. According to the narrative, while serving as king Artaxerxes’ cup-bearer, he had asked some visitors from Judah about the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity and about how things were going there. They said to him, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” When he heard this, he “sat down and wept. In fact, for days [he] mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:3-4, NLT).
Through a series of divine favours (see Nehemiah 2:1-9), he was now in Jerusalem. However, not everyone was happy to see him, for “when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel” (2:10). These two, when they heard about the plan to rebuild the wall, “scoffed contemptuously. ‘What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’ they asked” (v. 19). Nehemiah was resolute: “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no share, legal right, or historic claim in Jerusalem” (v. 20). The detractors did not let up. As the men began rebuilding (Ch. 3), the opposition increased.
Chapter 4 details the extent of the opposition and ridicule. Sanballat angrily mocked them, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing?” (v. 2). Tobiah scoffed, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (v. 3), but Nehemiah prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land!” (v. 4). In the face of hostile opposition, Nehemiah and his men, despite the occasional self-doubt (v. 10), “worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard” (v. 21). Fifty-two days after the work started and in spite of the relentless opposition and attempts at distractions, the wall was finished (6:15). As Nehemiah recorded, “When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God” (v. 16).
Has God chosen you to do something for which you are constantly being opposed? Ridiculed? Tested? It is easy to question what you are doing; to ask if this is of God then why is it so difficult. Often times the people we expect to be supportive are among the scoffers and the critics! Their words and actions have the potential to distract, to discourage, to frustrate, to cause one to quit. However, like Nehemiah, we must maintain our focus on the task at hand. To persevere, to keep on trusting God, to keep on doing what we were commissioned to do. Just because He told us to do it. Like the walls of Jerusalem, the task will get done. Our critics and everyone else, having been put to shame, will come to the realization that “this work had been done with the help of our God.” Stay the course!