Nehemiah and Authentic Fellowship–Part 4: Disdain

Part 4:  Disdain   Nehemiah 4:1-4
Having discussed the dilemma, diligence, and defense associated with rebuilding the Jerusalem Wall (Nehemiah 1-3), I will now focus on the topic of disdain (Nehemiah 4:1-8).  More specifically, I’ll discuss how Nehemiah 4:1-4 outlines benefits of God allowing us to be derided, devalued, and despised.
As a context to Nehemiah 4:1-8, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab were the Jews’ principal enemies last mentioned in Nehemiah 3. They now reappear front and center as a clear and present danger.
Nehemiah 4:1 reveals how Nehemiah and God’s people were derided. The end of this verse reads “[Sanballat] became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews” 1 (NASB).  The idea behind “mocked” involves a constant stuttering or stammering. It’s a constant, almost unintelligible diatribe characteristic of Sanballat who previously did so in Nehemiah 2:19 and 3:33.  Notice, also his progression of emotional meltdown: he’s almost obsessed with interfering with Nehemiah’s plans. This behavior should not surprise us, however, because I Peter 3:8-13 reminds us that we shall suffer for righteousness’ sake.  We should expect verbal abuse by those hostile to God and those who follow Him.
Next, we see how Sanballat and Tobiah devalue God’s people based on rhetorical questions and hyperbole.  Nehemiah 4:2 contains five rhetorical questions which address physical and spiritual aspects of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.  The first two and last two questions relate to the Jews’ resources and resourcefulness. Sanballat fuels his anger by surrounding himself with a sympathetic audience.  Isn’t it amazing when our enemies attempt to devalue God’s work by focusing on man-power rather than God-power? The third rhetorical question involves Sanballat’s sarcastic comment  “Can they offer sacrifices?” in an effort to falsely declare Nehemiah had political intentions to undermine King Artaxerxes’ authority (Nehemiah 2:1-9).
Not surprisingly, Sanaballat’s co-conspirator adds to this devaluing of God’s people. Nehemiah 4:3 records Tobiah’s hyperbole that “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!”  Oh what a low view of God to suggest His plans can be foiled by an animal!  We should take heart when some people feel they can bring down God lifting up themselves.  Isaiah 55:8-11 tells us otherwise: we can’t outsmart, out maneuver, or out valued God. The Word and the Work of God mean something; they have spiritual and eternal value.  God forbid when we allow outlandish opinions of unbelievers to distract us from fellowship with Him and His people.
Nehemiah 4:4 contains a shocking transition detailing Nehemiah’s prayer about being despised.  At first glance, his crying out to God to judge his enemies contradicts his office as a prophet. After all, as a prophet, shouldn’t he have a forgiving spirit and pray that his enemies repent of their sins and turn to God?  Why’s Nehemiah so harsh, so dogmatic?
Let’s look at two interrelated Old Testament and New Testament scriptures that help clarify Nehemiah’s prayer.  Deuteronomy 32:35-36 begins “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip.” In this context, God reiterates His sovereignty as an objective Judge of men’s hearts and actions.  More specifically, God’s vow to protect Israel from enemies includes both slow and swift judgement. Deere comments “[Enemies of Israel] may think themselves safe from God’s judgment since they would have defeated God’s people” but this is not the case 2.  The desire to attack God’s people only scratches the surface:  the central issue is spiritual. Getz declares “in opposing the Jews, Sanballat ‘and company’ were actually opposing God.” 3
In Romans 12:17-19, Paul references Deuteronomy 32:35-36 as he exhorts believers to strive for peace among everyone and leave vengeance to God.  Practically speaking when believers are despised, we should understand the source of opposition: sin. So let’s be careful not to become “sic ‘em saints” blinded by our ulterior motives and praying for God’s swift and powerful judgement (1 Corinthians 6:11).  By the same token, we can’t ignore God’s low tolerance for spiritual rebellion.
Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon 1977 : 541. Print.
2 Deere, Jack S. “Deuteronomy.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 320. Print.
3 Getz, Gene A. “Nehemiah.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 682. Print.

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