“For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin,
and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.”
Nehemiah 6:13 (ESV)
Normally the books of Ezra and Nehemiah aren’t high on my priority of Scripture reading. I don’t know why that is, and perhaps to compensate, I should plan to preach through them sometime, but I wouldn’t have been reading them if it weren’t for M’Cheyne’s daily reading plan. For that plan, and for the way in which God continues to speak as I study His word, I am grateful.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book of Nehemiah I think a little background is due. The city of Jerusalem sat in ruins, the nation of Judah had been conquered by the Babylonians (who were subsequently conquered by the Persians), and the people deported as strangers in a strange land for 70 years. Nehemiah served as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, and when he had heard report from the remnant of Jews in Jerusalem, and of their trouble and shame, Nehemiah wept and prayed that the Lord would show mercy on His people.
God answered His prayer. Through Artaxerxes, Nehemiah is returned to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the wall, and is given letters from the King that all the supplies and provisions necessary for the restoration of Jerusalem should be supplied. Nehemiah governs Jerusalem, rebuking the city officials for over-taxing the people and gouging their prices, and maintaining peace in the city during the period of reconstruction. If ever you need to read about the power of prayer and faithfulness in the midst of trials, the book of Nehemiah is second to none.
Still, Nehemiah’s work did not go unopposed. There were other regional governors who were rather put out over the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Neh 4:7-8 tells us, “When Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites hear that the repairing of the walls in Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were being closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.”
The behavior of these tribal leaders reminds me of that of Junior High Girls. I’m sorry, that’s unfair to the girls. Listen to what they did. They assembled their armies, surrounded Jerusalem, and while the people were rebuilding the walls, they taunted them and ridiculed them. They invited Nehemiah to come out and meet with them, hoping to kill him if he left the city, and spreading lies about him.
Notice, though, how Nehemiah responds. He does not lower himself and deride his accusers, neither does he give up his work in despair. Rather, what we see from Nehemiah is great faith in the midst of great persecution. He prays that God would remember their guilt and vindicate His people (Neh 4:5); that God would be his protection (Neh 4:9); he encourages the people by reminding them that the Lord is great and awesome and they had no need to fear their accusers (Neh 4:14), and he found his strength of character and resolve in the strength of God (Neh 6:9).
Much is being said today about the problem of bullying in our schools, and hopefully the conversation will make have a positive impact, but what we are dealing with is nothing new. Bullying started as soon as we left the Garden, when one brother was jealous of the other, and decided he could take what he wanted by force. We find this kind of intimidation in our schools, the workplace, the government, and even, sadly, in the church. While we should work to overcome it, we must recognize that as long as we are dealing with broken and sinful people, we will deal with broken and sinful behavior. It is how we deal with it that matters.
Let Nehemiah be an example. When being bullied, it is very easy to respond in kind, bullying back, or intimidating others weaker than ourselves. That is not the way of Nehemiah, nor it is not the way of Christ, neither can it be the way of those who would follow Him. When you are slandered, falsely accused, and outright bullied, consider this:
Pray that God would remember their guilt and vindicate His people (Neh 4:5). Our God is a God of justice, so leave the justice to God. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Pray that God would be your protection (Neh 4:9), them that the Lord is great and awesome and they had no need to fear their accusers (Neh 4:14). Remember that the God who loves you is the God who has created the world, the God who set the stars in motion, and who holds all things in His hands. He has the power over every situation, and “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). It is sometimes very difficult to see when in the midst of the trials how God could possibly work things for your good, but as Jesus said, “what is impossible for man is possible for God” (Luke 18:47).
Remember that the foundation of you character and resolve is in the strength and love of God (Neh 6:9). This is probably the most important thing to remember when others are trying to cut you down. People, out of their own insecurity or jealousy, will say some of the meanest, hateful, and vile things you can imagine. They will try to cut down everyone around them, they will turn on friends, they will betray confidences, and they will simply lie just to make themselves look good. “The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). But we must always remember, what they say, though it hurts, does not matter. What matters, in the long run, is the truth. The truth is, God loved you with such a love that He would send His Son to save you, that He might call you His beloved child. No lie, no accusation, no flaming arrow can pierce the armor of God’s mighty love for you in Jesus Christ our Lord – you are fireproof. You identity, your confidence, your self-esteem is not found in the words of man but in the Word of God. If your life is found in His life, then nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
May God’s Word be your strength and your defense. “Do not be afraid. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome!”
Great post! I preached a sermon on part of Nehemiah 9 this last summer. It was one of the most rewarding times in exegesis I’ve ever spent. There is much to pull from that book.