Nehemiah

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs. Matt is a leader at St Mary's and is married to Pip.

Nehemiah 4

Opposition to the Rebuilding

4 [a]When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?"

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, "What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!"

4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of[b] the builders.

6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall."

11 Also our enemies said, "Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work."

12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, "Wherever you turn, they will attack us."

13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."

15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!"

21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, "Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day." 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.[c]




Reflection

In the ancient near east, walls were not simply put up around a city in order to keep the 'baddies' out. But were a physical symbol of keeping the national identity of the people that lived within the walls – in.

The story of Ezra-Nehemiah is about rebuilding the people of God into the holy nation they were always meant to be, worshiping in a purified temple (thank you, Ezra) and in a newly dedicated city (thank you Nehemiah) ready to fulfil their calling to bless the nations.

For the samaritans outside the city walls it's a threat – soon they will no longer be able to enter the city whenever they chose, and their ability to influence the people will be weakened.

And they respond violently.

I think the same is true for us. We enter into relationship with God, we become aware of his love for us, and gain understanding of who we are in relation to him (our identity) and then we experience opposition. Sometimes it's friends, or family or colleagues who don't like that we're Christians, sometimes it's like lies being played on a loop in our heads undermining our true identity.

Jesus knew his disciples would experience resentment and opposition as well so he prayed to his Father on our behalf (John 17:14-15). Unlike the story of Nehemiah, Jesus doesn't pray that his disciples be isolated from the world (or that they would live protected within the city walls) but rather their distinctiveness from such people be preserved and protected.

We are citizens of a Kingdom where the walls maintaining identity in Christ are high, wide and firm, but where the gates are flung wide open inviting everyone to enter in.
Each day we are engaged in a battle, to live in the light of the identity that has been won for us. Paul knew this challenge and called the church in Ephesus to put on the full amour of God in order to respond to God's call for their lives.

11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:11-17

Keep going! You're doing really well. M x



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