Given March 6th 2018
The Work Resumes
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah.
17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 “At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water. (NASB)
In this part of Nehemiah chapter 4, we see the method that Nehemiah uses to motivate the battling and at the same time to maintain the building. It was vital that the walls be built up. The temple was in jeopardy and the people were in jeopardy. The enemy could come in at will. Roving bandits could move into the city, even without a great deal of armaments, and take what they wanted.
By way of application, this is a picture of what the defeated Christian is like. The Enemy comes in and runs rampant through his life, doing what he pleases. Satan is out to defeat the Christian in every circumstance. He loves it when there are no defenses that are built up. The book of Nehemiah talks about physical fortifications, but in the same way, a mature Christian must have “spiritual fortifications” built up. These spiritual fortifications in the life of a believer represent maturity. We need to be spiritually self-sustaining and able then to nourish others and to build them up. This is particularly important with us men as spiritual leaders in our families. We need to be mature, not spiritual babies. The writer of Hebrews addresses this:
Hebrews 5:11-14 – 11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Verse 12 is saying that, considering how long you’ve been a Christian, it is a necessity that you ought to be a teacher. V. 13-14 says you ought to be on Porterhouse and instead you’re on Pablum.
In the book of Nehemiah, the MacArthur Study Bible lists 7 attempts to stop Nehemiah’s work:
- 2:19 – Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem mocked Nehemiah
- 4:1-3 – Sanballat and Tobiah mocked Nehemiah
- 4:7-23 – the enemy threatened a military attack
- 6:1-4 – Sanballat and Geshem attempted to lure Nehemiah outside Jerusalem to Ono
- 6:5-9 – Sanballat threatened Nehemiah with false charges
- 6:10-14 – Shemaiah, Noadiah and others were paid to prophesy falsely and discredit Nehemiah
- 6:17-19 – Tobiah had spies in Jerusalem and wrote Nehemiah letters in order to frighten him
Up to this point in the book, the Jewish people had been experiencing 4 things:
- Daunting and intimidation (4:1-3)
1 Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2 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?” 3 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!”
- Discouragement (4:4a,5b)
Hear, O our God, how we are despised … for they have demoralized the builders.
- Defiance, threats of open attacks (4:7-8)
7 Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.
- Doubts (4:10)
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.”
The enemy was using all of these tactics to attempt to prevent them from “building the wall”, but Nehemiah had answers for all of this, because he was in touch with God.
In the beginning of our passage for today, we see that Nehemiah’s guards, and the overall show of force, had the effect of not just defending the Jewish people, but also intimidating the enemy. When the enemy learned that Jerusalem was armed and ready, they backed off. God had frustrated their plot.
“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:10–11 NKJV)
As they were getting back to work, Nehemiah knew that he couldn’t interrupt the work every time he heard a new rumor, so he set up a defense plan that solved the problem: Half of the men worked on the wall while the other half stood guard. He saw to it that the people carrying materials also carried weapons and that the workers on the walls carried swords. In this way, the work would not be interrupted, and the workers would be ready in case of an alarm. The man with the trumpet stayed close to Nehemiah so the alarm could be given immediately if trouble came and they were attacked.
So, in the same way, we as Christians must build and we must battle. We cannot stop battling to build and we cannot stop building to battle. We must do both simultaneously. We see this principle in James:
James 4:7-8a 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
When Charles Spurgeon started his church magazine in 1865, he borrowed the title from Nehemiah and called the publication The Sword and Trowel (note – trowel is a small handheld tool with a flat, pointed blade, used to apply and spread mortar or plaster):
He said it was “a record of combat with sin and labor for the Lord.” It is not enough to build the wall; we must also be on guard lest the Enemy take it from us.
Building and battling are both a normal part of the Christian life if we are faithful disciples (Luke 14:28–33).
28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
** Question: What are some areas (in our personal lives, in the church and in the culture at large) that we as Christians need to be battling against?
** Question: What are some areas (in our personal lives, in the church and in the culture at large) that we as Christians need to be involved in building up?
There are 3 prominent things in this passage of Scripture – the plan, the promise and the perseverance:
- Why do we need a plan? Vengeance of the enemy, vitalness of the work and vastness of the wall
- The vengeance of the enemy demands that there be a plan that we might have victory. We saw this in v.7-8 of this chapter:
Nehemiah 4:7-8 – 7 Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.
- The vitalness of the work. In the book of Nehemiah up until this point, the emphasis has been how important this matter of building the wall is to the people of Israel:
Nehemiah 1:3-4 – 3 They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
- Because of the vastness of the wall:
Nehemiah 4:19 – I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.”
They weren’t all together in one place when working on the wall, but they were individuals, working on individual parts of the wall – they were separated by great distances. In the same way, we as Christians are not always together all the time (maybe once or twice a week). But, during the times when we’re not together, we may be living or working in close contact with unbelievers. We not called to just stay inside the “Christian bubble”, but we are to go out and penetrate our society and infect them with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20):
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
God doesn’t want us to sit around as a bunch of Christians and hold hands all the time. When we come together, it strengthens us. But we’re not just one big happy family living together all the time (for example, like the Amish or Mennonites). That’s going to happen in heaven. Rather, we are soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4):
3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
And ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20):
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
We have been sent out on a mission – and the mission is the lost world (Acts 13:47):
“For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”
- Who’s involved in the plan? Everyone:
Nehemiah 4:16 – From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah.
The load bearers and the builders were both working and were holding their weapons. The rulers were in a supporting role. They were feeding the people and were encouraging them.
Nehemiah 4:17-18 – 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.
Those who built on the wall were the laborers – they had one hand doing their work and one hand holding their weapon. It also speaks about those who carried burdens. The trumpeters stood by Nehemiah.
This is a beautiful Old Testament illustration of a New Testament concept – “Spiritual Gifts”. So everybody was doing his job – everybody was involved. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the importance of these Spiritual Gifts. God gives every single believer in Jesus Christ a spiritual gift. We’re all to be involved and using these gifts for “the common good” – it’s not just the pastor, it’s not just the elders, Nehemiah put everyone to work (1 Corinthians 12:4-7):
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
- What is the plan? The plan consisted of 3 elements – they were to be armed, active and alert:
- They are to be armed – prepared for battle. They were carrying their weapons while working. We as believers need to be armed and the Word of God is our weapon (Hebrews 4:12):
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
- They were to be active (v.15b-18):
15b all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.
- They were to be alert (v. 20) for the sound of the trumpet:
Nehemiah 4:20a – “At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.”
No matter what the workers were doing, or where they labored on the wall, they all kept an ear open for the sound of the trumpet. What an example for us to follow as we await the return of the Lord!
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thess. 4:16)
The Promise (v.20):
Nehemiah 4:20b – “Our God will fight for us.”
This concept is communicated a multitude of different times in Scripture. This is God’s promise repeated so often to the nation of Israel. The “Plan” involves something you can do. The “Promise” involves something you receive as a result of God’s marvelous grace. For example:
Ex. 14:14 – The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Deut. 20:4 – For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
Joshua 10:24-25 – 24 When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks. 25 Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.”
Ps. 60:11-12 – 11 Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. 12 With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.
2 Chronicles 32:7-8 – 7 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.
Isaiah 54:17 – “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from Me,” declares the LORD
Nehemiah 4:21 – So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared.
They didn’t let anything stop the building. They “carried on” the work. That involved hard work and long hours (from the rising of the morning until the stars appeared – that was probably a 15 hour day!) That’s a long day, but that was required, because it was a large task. Jesus says:
John 9:4 – We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.
They were so dedicated to this purpose that they were always clothed and always armed. It would’ve been uncomfortable, but they were always ready. Even in the matter of sleeping, they were always on alert. Nehemiah had instituted a “second shift” and required the workers from the other towns to stay in Jerusalem at night and help guard the city:
Nehemiah 4:22-23 – 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.
It is often while we sleep that the Enemy does his most insidious work and so we must be on guard:
Matthew 13:25 – But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.
Nehemiah not only organized the workers and guards and encouraged them to trust the Lord, but he, as a good leader, also set the right kind of example for them (Nehemiah 4:23):
So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.
The “Perseverance” then, is a great picture of what the Christian life really is all about. It’s a battle from the start to the finish. But it’s also a building process from the start to the finish.
The late Dr. Alan Redpath explained why the Jews succeeded in getting their work done and keeping the enemy at bay. The people had:
- A mind to work (4:6):Nehemiah 4:6 – So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
- A heart to pray (4:9a) and an eye to watch (4:9b):Nehemiah 4:9 – But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.
- An ear to hear (4:20):Nehemiah 4:20 – At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.
And this gave them the victory.
They also had a godly leader with the faith to stand. Nehemiah was a leader who served and a servant who led. He stayed on the job and was alert at all times. He inspected the city’s defenses every night and made sure that the guards were on duty.
“Therefore … be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58 NKJV)
My sources in preparing this talk:
- BE Determined: Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition (Old Testament Commentary on Nehemiah by Warren W. Wiersbe)
- Faith Life Study Bible Commentary (included with Logos Bible Software)
- The MacArthur Study Bible
- The “Bible Nuggets” app I wrote for Android (used the “topics” feature)
- Sermon on Nehemiah 4:15-23 by Paul E. Steele senior pastor of the ‘Valley Church’ Cupertino, CA from Sermon Audio (https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=816081429374):