Nehemiah and Authentic Fellowship–Part 4a: Disdain

Part 4a:  Disdain   Nehemiah 4:5-8
 
Like Nehemiah, we often experience unbelievers’ disdain in the midst of our ministry during God’s work.  Nehemiah 4:5-8 records how we are often demoralized, dispositioned, and disturbed while doing His great work.
 
In Nehemiah 4:5, we see a continuation of his prayer started in verse 4 for God to help His demoralized people.  This verse contains two negative statements:  “Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You” (NASB).
 
Is Nehemiah really praying for God judgement and wrath?  Yes and here’s why. The word “forgive” speaks of God’s divine nature to both hate and deliver from sin.  As Houston comments: “Primarily, forgiveness is an act of God, releasing sinners from judgment and freeing them from the divine penalty of their sin. Since only God is holy, only God can forgive sin.” 1  Therefore, Nehemiah is justified to go to God about Sanballat and Tobiah’s physical threat to the Jews.  
 
But there’s something more because Nehemiah wants his enemies punished for their affront to God’s holiness and sovereignty.  Saldarini puts it this way:  “The Bible develops the motif of forgiveness through a variety of terms and images: sins or debts or transgressions may be sent away, wiped clean, covered, removed, released, or passed over.” 2 So in his negative statement “do not”–Nehemiah prays that God not cover or overlook His enemies’ sinful actions.  The military and political threat weren’t honest mistakes or done through ignorance: Sanballat and others knew exactly what they were doing.  
 
In the same way, we should pray that God pass divine judgement for those with hardened hearts and a mind to threaten His people.  Does this mean we shouldn’t also pray for Him to change their hearts and seek repentance? We should do both: pray for God’s holiness not be mocked but also pray that He remove the blindness of sin. I address this seemingly hypocritical stance in an earlier blog.  
 
Next, Nehemiah and his people were not only demoralized, they were also dispositioned to serve. Nehemiah 4:6 begins with the phrase “So we built the wall.”  Grammatically, “So” is a subordinating conjunction which connects to Nehemiah 4:5.  The clear and present danger from enemies does not overwhelm God’s people to the point of halting His work.  In this case, the word “So” also powerfully captures the tenacity of believers operating from a Heavenly not worldly foundation (2 Corinthians 5:7).   
 
Lest we misunderstand the true source of the tenacity of God’s people, the prophet informs us in the latter part of Nehemiah 4:6 “for the people had a mind to work” despite of or in the midst of trials.  Paul addresses this mindset in Philippians 4:1-13 when he talks about not allowing our circumstances to determine our contentment.  In short, the highs of doing God’s work don’t even come close to the lows of enemy opposition!
 
Finally, Nehemiah 4:7-8 describes how we should expect to be disturbed.  Verse 7 concludes: “[when Nehemiah’s enemies learned] that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry.” The start of verse 8 emphasizes unbelievers’ concerted effort to disturb or disrupt: “All of them conspired together.”  As Lange points out “These various nationalities might suppose that by acting in concert, they could show to the Persian king they were only acting in his behalf for the safety of the empire against an insurrectionary movement of the Jews.” 3 Isn’t it amazing that those who oppose God’s work conspire to destroy unity?  In this case, Nehemiah’s threat includes both national unity for Jews as well as spiritual unity with a singular purpose worship God.  For our benefit, Paul talks about the obtainable goals involving spiritual unity in Ephesians 4:10-16. Be encouraged: disdain will not overcome us!
 
1  Houston, James M. “Forgiveness.” Baker encyclopedia of the Bible 1988 : 810. Print.
Saldarini, Anthony J. “Forgiveness.” Ed. Mark Allan Powell. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) 2011 : 297. Print.
3  Lange, John Peter et al. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Nehemiah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Print.

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