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Don't Despair


Neh. 2:19-20; 4:1-14
Related Sunday School Lesson, Bible Studies for Life, Mar 15


The real test of a leader is his or her response during a crisis. Nehemiah and the Jewish people were experiencing their greatest crisis from the foreign enemies who surrounded their city. The Jewish people had placed their reliance upon external motivation; they were only aware of their physical surroundings resulting with their encountering fear, loss of motivation, and despair that could have led to the cessation of the rebuilding of the walls and buildings.

However, God already foresaw their despair and sent His man Nehemiah to lead His people. Nehemiah overcame his emotions of fear and despair since he was motivated inwardly; he knew God was in control.


The problem generated by the adversaries - Neh. 2:19-20; 4:1-3, 7-8, 11-12

When Nehemiah’s intentions became known to his adversaries they began their war of despair against the Jewish people. Sanballet (2:19; 4:1) was governor of Samaria North of Jerusalem; Tobiah (2:19; 4:3) was an Ammonite official East of Jerusalem; Geshem (2:19) was an Arab chief controlling the south of Jerusalem; and the Ashdodites (4:7) were located west of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was completely surrounded by her enemies who could interrupt the supply of food and resources to the city.

The enemies were concerned that the Jews would soon have their city rebuilt and offer the traditional sacrifice of dedication (4:2). They could not pinpoint a legitimate basis for their opposition other than their hatred for the Jews. Therefore, the enemies intended to demoralize the Jews with ridicule (laugh and make fun of) and scorn (contempt and indignation) while questioning the significance of their labor.

This sometime initiates more harm than questioning one’s credentials or good intentions. Jesus Himself suffered from ridicule and scorn (Lk. 22:63-64; 23:11). The enemies accomplished their task by accusing the Jews of rebellion against the king (2:19) and using burned stones in the rebuilding of the walls (4:2) which was an assertion that burned limestone would be unstable.

Then the enemies used psychological warfare by intimidating and injecting fear upon the Jewish people ten times (symbolic number for completeness) by threatening to invade them with a massive force when they least expected it (4:8, 11, 12).


The prayers against the adversaries - Neh. 4:4-5, 9

There are two prayers recorded in this passage of Nehemiah. The first one is found in verses four through five of chapter four. It is the first of three prayers that are referred to as imprecatory prayers (6:14; 13:29).

On the surface an imprecatory prayer is one that calls for the enemy to be cursed, which was prayed often in the Old Testament. However, a better definition of imprecatory prayer is a prayer of last resort appeal to God for justice.

The “curses’ are simply the just penalty deserved. It is an appeal to the court of divine justice for protection and the appropriate punishment for the offender (Dt. 19; 16-20).

Nehemiah knew that God’s will dictated that the Jews rebuild the wall, yet, the enemies held them in contempt and despised them for their obedience to God (v. 4). The enemies schemed to circumvent the will of God.

Nehemiah believed that justice would be served if the enemies experienced their own “reproach” (taunt hurled at an enemy) and captivity that they had desired for the Jews (v. 4). Nehemiah prayed that God would treat the enemies with the same anger they had treated His people (v. 5).

The second prayer from this passage was a prayer of faith with works (v. 9; Js. 2:14) in which the Jews exhibited a balance between faith and readiness, employing some of the wall builders as guards.


The preparation to confront the adversaries - Neh. 4:9-10, 13-14

When the rumors of attack continued and began to have a demoralizing effect, Nehemiah began his preparation by imploring God’s protection and direction through prayer. After consulting God, Nehemiah directed the people to set up a watch both day and night and armed them with swords, spears, and bows. (vs. 9, 13).

Since some men had been reassigned to guard duty there was less manpower available for moving the rubbish that blocked the builders from rebuilding the city, which in turn weakened the men involved in the labor resulting with Judah’s disparaging remark that the walls could not be built (v. 10). Nehemiah did not waver since he was convinced that God was in control while others (Judah) were distracted by their surroundings and lost hope.

Nehemiah positioned the men in the most vulnerable points, the lower parts of the walls and at each opening. He arranged the people in family groups (clans) at the most exposed places along the walls (v. 13), which was Israel’s traditional way of fighting. This heightened each fighter’s awareness of the high stakes involved knowing that they would fight more fiercely when the lives of the own family was in jeopardy.

Then, as any great leader, Nehemiah inspired his people by reminding them that their God was great and awesome, unlike the false gods of their enemies. He inspired them to fight for their children, their brethren, and their houses and land (v. 14). He reminded them that they were not only fighting for themselves but for others whose security and livelihood depended on them. Everything rested upon them and with God’s help they would be victorious.

Nehemiah stood with the people during the whole experience (v. 23). What a pattern for us when we are faced with the oppositions of life: prayer, persistence, and especially faith! What made Nehemiah a great leader was his faith and his assurance that God had given him the task to rebuild the city and would not forsake him.