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Verses 1-23

2. The opposition to the workers ch. 4

Any attempt to fulfill God’s desires will almost certainly draw opposition from God’s enemies.

"The real test of a leader is how he or she faces crises and reacts to opposition. This chapter recounts several forms of opposition and how Nehemiah confronted them." [Note: Breneman, p. 193.]

The Jews’ enemies used ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1-6), as well as armed resistance (Nehemiah 4:8), to oppose the work. A better translation of the Hebrew word rendered "wealthy" (Nehemiah 4:2) is "army."

"The Hebrew root ’mll is occasionally used in the OT to denote the fading or withering of a plant (Isaiah 16:8; Isaiah 24:7; etc.). It is also used of people without any hope (Isaiah 19:8; Hosea 4:3). It is employed here in Nehemiah [translated "feeble," Nehemiah 4:2, NASB, NIV] to ridicule the Jews." [Note: Fensham, p. 180.]

Nehemiah based his imprecatory prayer (Nehemiah 4:4-5) on God’s promise that He would bless those who blessed Abraham’s descendants, and curse those who cursed them (Genesis 12:1-3).

"God’s people should always regard prayer not as a last resort but as our primary weapon against opposition." [Note: Breneman, p. 194.]

We should probably understand Nehemiah’s request that God would not forgive their sin (Nehemiah 4:5) as referring to their sin of opposing the builders, not all their sins. John Bright considered Nehemiah "not . . . an overly modest man." [Note: Bright, p. 373.] This is a minority opinion.

"The iniquities and sins were committed by sneering at the work God had commanded. The prayer was thus not vindictive because the Jews were insulted, but because God’s work was ridiculed." [Note: Fensham, p. 182.]

"To understand such violent language, we need to appreciate fully the sense of the divine purpose at work, so that opposition is not seen in human terms but as opposition to God himself." [Note: Peter Ackroyd, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, pp. 277-78.]

Furthermore, God had already pronounced judgment on Israel’s enemies, so Nehemiah was praying according to God’s will that He would deliver Jerusalem from her enemies (Joshua 1:5). Finally, Nehemiah was asking God to take vengeance, which is His work, not the work of Nehemiah or other believers (cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). [Note: Gene A. Getz, "Nehemiah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 682.]

Nehemiah and the people’s responses to opposition-prayer, continued work, and self-defense (Nehemiah 4:9)-are the proper ones whenever an enemy seeks to stop the building of what God has commanded (e.g., His church, cf. Matthew 16:18).

With the added opposition of the Ashdodites, the residents of a formerly Philistine town (Nehemiah 4:7), the Jews’ enemies surrounded them on all sides: north, south, east, and west. Josephus wrote, "They slew many of the Jews." [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11:5:8.] The workers became discouraged by their own fatigue, the immensity of their task, and the threats of their enemies (Nehemiah 4:10-12). Nehemiah responded by increasing security, focusing their attention again on God, and reminding them of their duty to protect their families and property (Nehemiah 4:13-14). Oliver Cromwell similarly counseled, "Trust in God and keep your [gun]powder dry." C. H. Spurgeon advised his students, "Pray as if everything depended on God, then preach as if everything depended on you." [Note: Quoted by J. G. McConville, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 95.] His approach proved effective (Nehemiah 4:15-16). The Jews were willing to make temporary sacrifices and endure some discomfort to finish the work God had given them to do (Nehemiah 4:17-23). In this they are models for all of us who serve God.

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