Nehemiah 4–6. Building the Wall and Dealing With Resistance.
Key Notes: The wall was done in 52 days. Problems of the builders: ridicule; intimidation; loss of energy; shortage of food and money; conflict of interest. External attacks on the Church and some of the repair-workers. When to fight?
Any project as politically loaded as rebuilding the wall of a conquered city is bound to meet with resistance. Resistance to Nehemiah and the builders came from non-Jewish opponents and from the weakness of their own people. We will try to learn what the different oppositions were and how they handled them.
Neh.4:1–6 The builders met at once with ridicule. Feeble Jews. (Everyone knows perfumers and goldsmiths have no muscles.) Will they build in a day? Burned limestone rock becomes soft calcium oxide, useless for building. A fox could break it. They were also intimidated because Sanballat’s ridicule was in front of the Samaritan army, a display of force.
It was done in 52 days (6:15)—faster than we could get a kitchen remodeled! That would be alarming.
Nehemiah prayed a prayer of imprecation. Let them be treated as we have been—with plunder and slavery.
4:7–14. The wall was finished to half height. Ruins of ancient cities have revealed walls 25 ft. thick at the base and 35–40 ft. high. So we suppose that the wall was now 15–20 ft. high. The lower part would be easier because some of the original wall remained and scaffolds were not a big problem. From here on the work would get harder because stones were scarcer, and had to be lifted higher with scaffolding.
They were threatened with warfare. A coalition of Sanballat, leader of the Samaritans (North), Tobiah, chief of the Ammonites (Northeast), Geshem, leader of the Arabs (Southeast) and Ashdodites (West) had them nearly surrounded. The Jews prayed and set a guard. They were afraid. Ten times they were warned of a general attack.
They also ran out of energy. They stopped the work and evidently rested.
Nehemiah gave them a pep-talk. Remember the Lord. Fight for your family.
4:15–23 When the rumored attack did not come, they went back to building. Guards were posted behind the workers. The leaders stood behind them. Laborers carried a weapon in one hand, and a tool in the other. The trumpeter stood by Nehemiah. They agreed that everyone would stay in Jerusalem until the work was done. Nehemiah and his men slept in their clothes, weapons in hand.
5:1–5 A new problem came up. The people ran out of food. There was a famine. The people building the wall were not working for money. Taxes had to be paid. So real estate was being mortgaged and when that money was gone, children were being sold into slavery.
5:6–13 Nehemiah understood that rich Jews were taking interest (1% / month?) on income (5:11) and enslaving their poor brothers. He assembled them in front of the people and shamed them to silence. (The Law of Moses was plain on financial questions such as lending at interest: Ex.22:25; Lev.25:25; Deut.23:1.) Nehemiah’s arguments were :
*We have been buying Jews out of slavery and you are selling them back again.
*Where is your fear of God?
*What about the taunts of our opponents?
*I and my brothers are lending without interest.
Nehemiah took an oath from the priests as well and put a curse on anyone who did not keep the promise to return lands and interest. May God shake you out of His lap.
5:14–19 Nehemiah led by example as well as by speech. He was governor for 12 years but did not take the food allotted to the governor. He may have become wealthy as Artexerxes’s cupbearer. He did not buy land. Yet each day he had 150 at his table and needed as much as 800 lb. of meat.
He prayed for God’s reward. He was not rewarded on earth.
6:1–14 Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem were alarmed to see that the wall was now done except for the gates.
They tried four times to get Nehemiah to discuss the situation away from the city. It was probably an assassination attempt. Nehemiah was busy. When he refused, they sent him an open letter accusing the Jews of intending to rebel and having Nehemiah as their king. He denied the charges.
He prayed for God’s strength against their intimidation.
6:15–14–19 Even some Jews tried to undermine his efforts. Shemiah prophesied, warning him of an assassination plot and advising him to hide, seek asylum in the temple. (Was Shemiah was shut up in his house for fear of assassination?) Nehemiah refused.
Noadiah and other prophets tried to frighten him.
The Jews had a conflict of interest. Tobiah had an active correspondence with the nobles of Judah and he had the sworn loyalty of many because of intermarriage. It was hard for Nehemiah to maintain secrecy. Tobiah sent more threatening letters to Nehemiah.
Comments: They finished the work.
The wall was begun 3:1
The wall was at half height 4:6
The wall was finished except for the gates 6:1
The wall was done 6:15
The wall was dedicated 12:27
The resistance was both external and internal.
External: political challenges 2:20; 6:6
threats of assassination 6:10
threat of war
Display of the Samaritan army 4:2
Plot to attack Jerusalem 4:8,12
Internal: fatigue of the builders, and fear 4:10
famine and poverty 5:1–5
conflicts of interest 6:10–19
Nehemiah’s solutions were practical, accompanied by prayer. However, he had no solutions for the conflicts of interest.
Christians today are challenged in similar ways.
*The call to unify the churches.
“Let us build with you for we worship your God as you do….” (Ezra 4:2; also Neh.2:20)
Jesus prayed that the disciples would be “one”. The splintering of the churches after the Reformation has been a scandal to outsiders and a concern to all Christians. The ecumenical movement is an effort which started after WWII to unify the major denominations: Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians in particular. The World Council of Churches is another symbolic unification but It requires theological compromise. The lowest common denominator—“we are all Christians”—is supposed to be sufficient grounds for political unification. But when Jesus prayed “…that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us….” (Jn.17:21), he is commanding the highest possible criterion of unity, not the lowest. Our tentative response is that the “invisible Body of Christ” is unified, even though it is not apparent to the outsider.
*We face political challenges. It may be a crime in Canada to read Lev.18:22, or Rom.1:26 in public church service. It is illegal to speak to a Moslem about Jesus in many countries.
*Threats of death and violence are persuasions used by Hindus, Islamists, Buddhists and Marxists.
*Poverty is a problem only now being addressed by the evangelical church. We have no well-developed methods for dealing with injustice done to the poor. Nehemiah did not propose a bread-line and a homeless shelter. He demanded justice, the undoing of financial dealings that were forbidden in the Law of Moses. The problem was short-term, and clear-cut. Our country is dealing with entrenched poverty that has been festering for at least 150 years.
*Major hole-makers in Christian doctrine during the last three centuries and those who worked to fill them.
By’18, the walls of orthodox doctrine had suffered major damage from five attacks:
•Graf and Wellhausen made out the Old Testament documents to be a fanciful reconstruction of Israel’s history to help the morale of the exiles in Babylon.
•Schleiermacher taught that Christianity was a matter of feelings rather than facts. Miracles could not be accepted in the modern scientific world.
•Darwin said that the human race was the produce of evolution, not creation.
•Marx said religion was the opiate of the people.
•Freud taught that God was a projection of the father image.
Christians who went along with these ideas were called “modernists” or “liberals”.
The rebuilding of the wall was begun in the United States after WWI by a group of pastors and educators. They developed apologetic arguments, and wrote what eventually became twelve volumes called “The Fundamentals”. They affirmed Christ’s virgin birth, the miracles, His sinless life, the substitutionary atonement, and the Resurrection. They insisted on the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. They were called “Fundamentalists.” They also fought against Mormonism, Christian Science and other pseudo-Christian religions. Eventually the movement was felt around the world.
Some of the famous men who worked to rebuild the wall are W.B. Riley, Gresham Machen, and Clarence McCartney. Princeton Theological Seminary was an intellectual center of activity. William Jennings Bryan tried legal means to keep the teaching of evolution out of Tennessee schools. C.I. Scofield published the Scofield Bible in’09. J.N. Darby advocated the premillennial return of Christ. They fought to make Christianity visible in the modern world. Much evangelical scholarship of today follows their work.
The Fundamentalists have been roundly criticized:
•They were separatists. They pulled away from the major denominations in order to preach the Gospel freely and to support evangelistic missionary activities. This led to the formation of new denominations.
•They confused courtesy with compromise. This led them to be discourteous.
•They tended to make minor issues into major battles. They treated all beliefs as of equal importance. Thus the time of the Rapture or the length of time of the Creation became as important to some as Jesus' substitutionary atonement.
•They confused possessing the Word of God with possessing holiness.
•They had difficulty criticizing themselves, since they were so bitterly criticized by others.
But this criticism of the builders should not take away from what they accomplished for Christian doctrine and the Kingdom of God. We are here because of their work. Our challenges are new and more subtle. The lines between truth and falsehood are blurred. We are currently battling for moral improvements rather than doctrinal correction.
To fight or not to fight. Nehemiah’s situation was clear. He would rather build than fight but he was prepared to do both if necessary.
To fight or not to fight? Because our fundamentalist predecessors were fighters, we would rather not continue in that reputation. But we are getting frequent calls to arms.
We must pick our battles prayerfully.