C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
The title is taken from Daniel 9. 25, and refers to conditions which would prevail for many years subsequent to the return to Jerusalem of a remnant of God’s people out of captivity. The pages of Nehemiah amply justify the prophecy. Many forms of opposition to the Lord’s work are seen here and a careful consideration of these and how they were overcome is very instructive.
Above and behind all the hindrances which God’s people encountered: at this time were the hidden world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, Eph. 6.12 R.V. Satan is seen accusing, Zech. 3. 1, and there are spirit-world forces seeking to prevent the outworking of God’s purposes in reconstruction, consolidation and refreshing at Jerusalem, Dan. 10. 12f. But here in the world Satan has his agents too, and we ought not to be ignorant of his devices, 2. Cor. 2. 11; 11. 13-15.
Broadly speaking, there are two spheres in which hindrances to the work of God become apparent. There is the anticipated and more readily detected opposition from the world outside and the subtle and disconcerting hindrances within the very household of faith. Both of these are treated in Nehemiah and we shall note in each case (a) the occasion, (b) the form of opposition and finally (c) how the opposition was overcome.
Without were Fightings
The foes of God’s people are alive to every opportunity for bringing the work to a standstill. In fact, if they had their way, the work would never commence. As soon as Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, they detected his heart-exercise and desire for the welfare of God’s people, 2. 10. From that time onward they gave increasingly open and forceful expression to their hatred, not only when the people responded to Nehemiah’s encouragement and strengthened their hands for the good work, 2. 18, but also when the building programme was underway, 4. 1, and when even further progress was made in repairing the walls, 4. 7. The final waves of opposition which spent themselves on the immovable faith of this great leader were felt when there was no breach left in the walls, 6. 1-14, 19. Satan and his agents are always busy when the people of God, alive to their privileges and responsibilities, undertake a work for the glory of God and the well-being of His own.
The forms that the opposition took were as varied as the occasions. The enemies at first merely demonstrated their irritation and annoyance, 2. 10, but smouldering hatred was soon to take more definite measures to prevent the furtherance of this work of faith. The people of God were exposed to laughter and contempt, 2. 19, anger and mockery, 4. 1, and when these failed to bring the work to a halt, violence and schemes to cause confusion were implemented, 4. 8. Realising the key place Nehemiah had in the project, they resorted to cunning with a view to assassinating him, 6. 2. They laid a snare in order to trap him and bring him to compromise, 6. 5-7, and sought to strike terror into his heart, to intimidate him, 6. 10, 13, 19. Is the enemy less active today? Is he less bent on hampering God’s work? Are we sufficiently on our guard against his many manoeuvres?
In the light of such hostility from without directed by the archenemy above, we might well ask ‘who is sufficient for these things’? In each of the contexts already introduced we are taught how God enabled His servants to be more than conquerors. Firstly then, note that Nehemiah had a detailed knowledge of the need and a godly determination to meet that need by God’s grace, together with a consciousness that God would have him do the work, 2. 12-17. How we all need to be convinced that we are putting our hand to the work that God has given us to do. This surely will prove a good work, 2. 18, a great work, 4. 19; 6. 3, and one in which we can count upon the Lord’s help, 6. 16. We are not surprised to find that this man had unshakable confidence in God which kept from compromise with the foe, 2. 20. How many a victory was gained through ‘praying always’, 4. 4f, 9, yet this did not lead to laxity. They watched and prayed. Forethought and vigilance, 4. 9, and a vision of the greatness of the work, 6. 3, all contributed to the continuance of the building. False allegations too needed repudiation where God’s work and honour were at stake, 6. 8f (cf. Paul in 2 Corinthians). It is delightful to see how a sense of the dignity of his position prevented him from running away from the foe, 6. 11. To us the words are written large, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world’, 1 Pet. 5. 8, 9.
We are not always as prepared for difficulties arising in our very midst which hinder the completion of our corporate work. Nonetheless, we must not be blind to the inroads that Satan makes among us resulting in division, discouragement, defilement and departure, 2 Cor. 11. 3. Consider again in this respect the people of God of Nehemiah’s day.
Within were Fears and Failures
What occasions evoke such sad conditions? We note that all too often unremitting labour in God’s work, when saints become occupied with it rather than with Him, brings its own troubles. Heaps of rubbish can soon appear mountains preventing the furthering of the work, 4. 10. Again, when their eyes were on the enemy, their spirits became agitated through fear of attack, 4. 11f. A shortage of food, resulting in a drain on their material resources and even slavery, brought its heartburnings too, 5. 1-5; cf. 13. 10. There were even some among God’s people in the pay of the foes, 6. 12; cf. Balaam in 13. 2; 2 Pet. 2. 15; Jude 11; Rev. 2. 14. Others through intermarriage had strong links with the enemy, 6. 18: cf. 13. 4. Some of these causes of weakness are seen among God’s people even today.
The form that the hindrance takes in these cases is more subtle but is very effective in slowing down the work. Labourers become discouraged through the toll on physical resources, 4. 10, and nervous energy, 4. 11f. Those noble by name but not in deed caused distress by serving their own ends at the expense of those more wholeheartedly engaged in God’s work. We see selfishness, greed and a form of ungodliness developing which can sit at ease in Zion, even reign as kings, while others labour working with their own hands, 5. 5; cf. 3. 5; 13. 10; 1 Cor. 4. 8-13. The ties of money and marriage brought their dangers and thus many of the happenings at Jerusalem were passed on to the enemy by traitors within its gates, 6. 17. How painful for any leader so burdened for God’s glory to find that many had more good to say of Tobiah than of himself, 6. 19. Yet his life proved that he would gladly spend and be spent for them though the more abundantly he loved them, the less he was loved; cf. 2 Cor. 12. 15.
Though troubled on every side, Nehemiah was not distressed. The grace of God made him more than equal to these difficulties among God’s people, each form of hindrance being successfully overcome. Untiring zeal, 4. 15, 21, 23, systematic methods for the defence of both workers and work, 4. 13, 16-22 and stirring words of encouragement, 4. 14, 20, dispelled discouragement and developed a sense of security. His righteous anger, his rebuke and exhortation of the nobles, 5. 7-9, 11f, backed by his own lavish hospitality and impeccable example, 5. 8, 14-19, was the death-knell to ungodly exploitation of the workers. Although so busy and in the forefront of the battle, his spiritual discernment was acute, 6. 12 (cf. he understood, 13. 7, he perceived, 13. 10, he saw, 13. 15, 23) and he knew much of prayer, 5. 19; 6. 9, 14. Later he is seen contending for the truth and adopting strong measures to put things right, 13. 9, 11, 15-22, 25, 28; cf. 2 Cor. 10. 1-6; 12. 19 to 13. 3, 7-10.
And so the work continued and was completed. The victory was won despite the onslaughts of the enemy from without and within; cf. 2 Cor. 6. 3-10. Let us encourage our hearts from this. His grace is sufficient for us, His strength is made perfect in weakness, 2 Cor. 12. 9. We have cause to give thanks to God who ‘always leadeth us in triumph in Christ’, 2.14 r.v. Let us then stir up the gift of God that is within us for ‘God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline’, 2 Tim. 1. 7 R.V.