Broken Walls 4 - Deepening Opposition
Nehemiah was ready to begin building. He had trusted God, prayed, fasted, seized an opportunity to get his employer’s backing, conducted an audit, formed a plan and motivated the people to work with him. He had also seen off the opposition, by pointing them to God and then focusing on his work.
The amount of work done in such a short space of time and by such a variety of workers (Nehemiah 3) is truly staggering. High priests, goldsmiths, perfume makers, people who normally worked under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates, merchants, rulers, their daughters, temple servants and local residents were all united in a common purpose. It was, of course, their unity of purpose which drove them forward, and workplace groups are exactly the same. Although Christians in a workplace come from diverse church, family and cultural backgrounds, they are united in their common desire to share Jesus with colleagues, and bring them into the kingdom of God.
But it wasn’t long before the bullies returned. First it was sneering, ridicule and insults (4:1—3). Again, Nehemiah gave the situation to God and got on with the work – working ‘with all their heart’ the people rebuilt half the wall. Then the opposition ramped up several notches, so Nehemiah took practical precautions by posting 24 hour guards. But then, faced with death threats (4:11—12) and tired from their hard work, the people started to look at the rubble, not the wall. What do we do when we’re tired, dispirited or feeling threatened by bullies? Do we look at the rubble and start to wilt?
Nehemiah took even more practical precautions – he armed the people and increased the guards. But he also pointed his weary people back to God: ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome’ (4:14). And so the people went back to work, with weapons in one hand and trowels in the other. While we may be jeered or mocked for being Christians, we don’t face physical threat, yet Paul reminds us that ‘our struggle is ... against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12). And the way we protect ourselves against those powers is by looking to God, through prayer and through immersion in His word.
Throughout my teens, I spent my summer holidays working on a beach mission team, which regularly involved street evangelism. I remember once, shaking and scared after being heckled by a drunk, the leader saying to me, ‘Gill, we’re not playing at soldiers. We’re at war.’ And so we are – a spiritual war for which we need to be prepared. Are we, like Nehemiah, ‘strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10)? It was a lesson I never forgot.
The bullying eventually became personal and almost continuous – chapter 6 describes intimidation, gossip, poison pen letters, attempts to trick Nehemiah into wrongdoing. It got pretty heavy; the higher the walls grew, the more his opponents’ power base was threatened and the worse the opposition became. Yet through it all, Nehemiah refused to engage with his accusers. He constantly refused to accept the premise of their questions. He was wise enough to see through the trickery. He just kept giving it all to God to deal with, and got on with the work.
And with the words of Nehemiah, ‘Our God will fight for us!’ ringing in their ears, the people doggedly continued to work with him ‘from the first light of dawn until the stars came out’ (4:21) armed, protected and with faith in God. When opposition comes to your witness at work, are you, like Nehemiah, armed with God’s word, protected by prayer and with your faith firmly focused on God? Do you look at the world’s rubble or God’s walls?
Next blog: Handling internal conflict
Other blogs by Gill Robins