The Sustaining Power of the Fear of God
We have spent several weeks talking about the opposition that Nehemiah faced. I almost wondered if we need to skip this chapter, but then thought perhaps the Lord designed this repetition to tell us something important. If we just skip to the parts we think are good then we just might miss something God has to say. I have been very encouraged by this. I think we all have different forms of opposition that do not go away as quickly as we would like. So we are in this text. We are going to see the importance of fearing God.
Do you ever feel like giving up? Do you ever hear news that just takes away your energy? Do you ever feel like you simply are not strong enough to do what needs doing. Today in the life of Nehemiah we will see the place of the sustaining power of the fear of God.
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, "Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono." But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, "It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, 'There is a king in Judah.' And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together." 8 Then I sent to him, saying, "No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind." 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done." But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night." 11 But I said, "Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in." 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 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.
14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid. 15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17 Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. 19 Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid. (Nehemiah 6:1-19 ESV)
Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, 2 I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. 3 And I said to them, "Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes." 4 The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. (Nehemiah 7:1-4 ESV)
Nehemiah is experiencing constant challenges, and yet he is overcoming them. This is nothing new to God’s people. It goes back to the beginning. Before diving into Nehemiah 6 I want to help orient you to where we are in the grand scheme of the bible and what God is doing in the world. God created man and woman to image him and have dominion over the created world. They rejected God’s dominion over them and tried to be their own ruler. The result of that was judgment came into the world. They were removed from the garden and the presence of God. Death, hardship, suffer all came as a result of the punishment of sin. But grace came after this. God chose to redeem his people. Grace came to a man named Abraham. God called Abraham to leave everything he had and follow God to a new land, a land in which God would bless his descendants. As Abraham set off to do that God said,
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)
The place God takes Abraham is to the land of Israel. It is the place God would bless Abraham’s descendants. This is the reason there is such an emphasis on this land in the Bible, and even today many fight for this land. Jerusalem was the capital and the reason that even after all the destruction on the city (for the people rebellion) that the Israelites are going back to rebuild it. That promise to Abraham frames Nehemiah and the other Israelites hope. We also see God’s promise to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse them follow through in Nehemiah’s time.
Nehemiah is experiencing opposition but he is also experiencing God’s provision, and it is the fear of God that propels him to continue in his work. With each work there is another attack.
- The Next Work
Notice first what has happened here. They got the wall done. It took 52 days, much hard work, but no breach left. It is a cause to celebrate!
Built the wall in fifty two days, worked with one hand and held spear in the other, didn’t change clothes, and were worried about famine, paying taxes, and fields being mortgaged, children sold into slavery, and they even found time to rest on the sabbath.
It is interesting in Nehemiah that the first work done is getting the wall in place, next comes the gates, and from chapter 7 on the emphasis is the work on the people of God. It makes sense that you get the city put in place first and then you start to address the community. We have seen him address the people, that happened in chapter 5 and throughout, but the emphasis has certainly been on the wall. You may think the greater work is in the people, but you have to have certain things in place before that can happen. People are not going to come to the city to hear the word of God until they know it is safe and they are not vulnerable.
I can relate to this in regards to where we are in moving the church forward. We have spent a lot of time getting certain things squared away. We have had a number of internal challenges, things that need to be done to have a viable business, and as I said before our goal this year is focusing on the community. How can we all live out the vision of our church on a daily basis. I wish we were further along in this endeavor, but we are where we are. It is an interesting parallel with Nehemiah.
The wall is done and next is setting the gates in place. The city is almost secured. Once that is in place the people can move back in. It’s a milestone, but with each goal achieve another goal is made. He move to the next work of the gates.
Enemies don’t rest and so he has to prepare for the...
- Next Attack
With a new advance, a new accomplishment, the enemy also adjusts. Previously their attacks were on the Jews and Jerusalem as a whole (4:1, 8), but those plans failed and so now their attack comes directly on to Nehemiah. They are after him (v2). They come with three kinds of attacks.
- The Overt Attack: (Big Bully). I m coming for you.
Nehemiah’s enemies plot again. They invite Nehemiah over for a cup of tea, a latte in the plain of Ono (v2). It sounds pleasant, but Nehemiah discovers their intent was to harm him. It doesn’t say what their request was, if it was in the guise of friendship, business, or something else but he discovers their plans were to harm him, or literally “to do him evil.” Nehemiah is not fooled by these guys. He calls them enemies in verse 1. They have not aligned themselves with God and they continue to oppose those who are.
You have to love Nehemiah’s response. I’ve got stuff to do. He says, “I m doing a great work and I don’t have time to mess around with your nonsense” (v3). You have to love Nehemiah’s direct forthright approach. Unapologetic. Matter of fact.
He also realizes he is doing a great work. He has a few thousand Jewish people rebuilding heaps of rubble in a broken down city, and it is a great work. He previously worked in the palace of the king of the greatest nation of the day, and he oversaw much of the work there. Many would say that is a great work, but he looks at this, he is called by God to do this work, and he recognizes it is great because of who it is for.
What is God calling you to do? Do you have a conviction about how you are advancing his kingdom? If not you need to get one. Don’t say I’m just an engineer, or just a student, or just retired. Take time and consider what is the great work God has called you too. Raising a family to the glory of God, building a business to the glory of God, being the best middle manager I can be and helping my team be the best they can be, doing a Bible study in my neighborhood to help others know Christ, going on a church plant, becoming a missionary, rebuilding my marriage to the glory of God. Whatever it is doing. Know what God calls you to do and know that it is great because he calls you to it and then do it with all your heart, and don’t give in when pesky enemies show up to ridicule you and instill fear in you.
Tell them I haven’t got time for your foolishness. That is a great way to fight off satan and his demons. I don’t have time to listen to your accusations. There are times to confront your enemies and there are times to push them aside and just do what you need to do. Facebook diversions.
But bullies don’t give up easily. “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (Mat 11:12 NIV)
They don’t stop. They sent for him four times and the fifth time they send their servant with an open letter accusing them of attempting to rebel against the Persian King, that Nehemiah is the new king, that prophets are proclaiming this. Nehemiah does not appear to be of the line of David, he is not concerned about taking the throne, he is serving the people and not attempting to rule over them. He says clearly that these accusations are lies they are making up v9). The goal here is to frighten him and the people.
They sent an open letter. The NIV translates it an unsealed letter. Kings would send sealed letters for confidentiality. The recipient would break the seal and know that no one else had opened it. It’s like the envelope in the mail being opened. If you open it you know no one else has read it. This letter comes unsealed. That means it would have been possible for others to read and know what is going on. The intent of Sanballat was to make up these accusations, the mailman, the house maid, and everyone else that touches this letter would read it and start talking. This would cause a fright. The purpose once again is that they would be frightened and give up. But Nehemiah prays for the Lord to strengthen his hands, make them strong. Why did he pray that, probably because he felt weak. Fear is a major tactic of the enemy. When you fear someone they own you, they rule you.
That is the overt attack. The next is
- The covert attack. (this is the sneaky way-Fox)
In verse 10 Nehemiah goes to the house of Shemaiah. This man appears to be a prophet, and he asks Nehemiah to meet in the house of God, within the temple. He says they are coming to kill him and he should enter the temple where they would never think to kill a man. Adonijah fled from king Solomon fearing for his life and so he entered the temple and took hold of the horns of the altar to beg for his life. “You wont kill a man in such a holy place,” is the thinking. Now asylum was granted for certain situations but fleeing from a foreign enemy was not one. Even more, Nehemiah was a layman and not a Levite and so he should not enter the temple. Even more, he was most likely a eunuch, and eunuch were forbidden from entering the temple (Lev 21:20). (The reason people think this about him is because it was common for the Persian kings to require their cupbearers to be eunuchs, after all they were in charge of the royal herem, and nobody messes with the king’s herem. If he goes in he is completely discredited.
This is why Nehemiah responds in verse 11 “should such a man as I run away. And should such a man as I go into the temple.” Again Nehemiah knew his Bible. He knew what was right. You have a prophet telling you something different and you have to discern what is right. It is your responsibility to know how to do that. You need to know that sometimes self preservation is not the right path to choose.
Satan tempted Jesus with Scripture. You are going to have people tell you wrong things. You may have false prophets, false teachers, false pastors. You need to study the word and know it. You need to test what you hear. Go back and study what I am telling you. You will not offend me. You will make me happy. I would rather teach you how to study the word for yourself than you just believe what i say. That is not good discipleship!
V13 shows that Shamaiah was hired by Tobiah and Sanballat in order to make Nehemiah afraid and to cause him to sin. If you can’t over power you seduce, instead of stopping you lead astray and discredit him. Satan’s tactics. Leaders are to be above reproach (1 Tim 3).
Nehemiah prays that God would remember what they had done, and how they wanted to make him afraid.
- And lastly is the ongoing attack.
The last thing that is done to make Nehemiah afraid is that Tobiah who appears to be an Israelite and is closely connected with the Nobles of Judah sent many letters to the Nobles, and they to him, those nobles would speak highly of Tobiah and reported Nehemiah’s words to him, All to “make me afraid” (v19). There is a constant and daily confrontation going on. Sometimes you pray for adversaries to be removed and God does not do that. You stay strong.
There is a repeated effort to make Nehemiah afraid. One more point and then we will talk about that theme.
- The Next Leader
In chapter 7 the book of Nehemiah focuses on the people of God. As they come back to repopulate Jerusalem it was important that those coming back. We are not going to study this in depth, but the thing I want to look at in Nehemiah 7 is that Nehemiah appoints others charge over Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not take it. He appointed others to rule over. We see how he is a forerunner of the king. Getting things in order for someone else. He is like Elijah who comes to “prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa 40:3 ESV).
He appoints this man, because v2 “he was more God-fearing man than many.” There are many who fear god. But some fear God more than others.
Fear is a key theme in this chapter. Fear occurs five times here in chapter 6. also 7:2. You will serve that which you fear.
And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. (Neh 6:16 ESV)
And I said, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, (Neh 1:5 ESV)
-Awesome: To be Feared. Niphal conjugation is passive or reflexive meaning it acts on itself. (Also 4:14)
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Neh 1:11 ESV)
In the New Testament Paul charges timothy to appoint faithful men to lead. You see the need to fear the Lord. All of you are charged to lead in some capacity. And you will not do it to the glory of God if you are scared of other people. Serving God is going to bring you into opposition with others. Align with the God of Abraham who alone is able to bless and curse. Do you believe that or do you believe someone else has power over you?
Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. You want to live wisely then fear God. Esteem him more than any other. You want to overcome enemies, then don’t let them control. CAn you tell them I don’t have time for you. CAn you tell them God’s word calls me to do something different than what you are doing. Can you say there is something more important that self preservation. It is only in the gospel that you can find hope to say these things.
Jesus said I will show you whom you should fear, fear him who has power to throw you into "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5 ESV)
He died that we could be set free from all of our enemies. He died that we might not live in fear of death or fear of any other emeny. In Christ we know that all things are working together for our good. In Christ we learn that we can trust God, that we can love God, and that he loves us, in Christ we know we have a firm foundation to live on. In Christ the fear of all our enemies evaporates and we can live fully the life of freedom that God calls us to live.
You are going to live in fear of something. It might be God, it might be enemies, it might be others in society, but that which you fear is what you will serve. It is only logical that you should fear the supreme being of the universe. And also remember that he is the one that can make you whole. He is the one that can make you right. He welcomes into his presence eunuchs, former enemies, and all kinds of sinners. He makes a way for them to be cleansed, to be healed, to be made new. That is the promise of the gospel, that in Jesus Christ all kinds enemies are destroyed, and those that repent and turn to him in faith are made well. This is the ultimate reason we can continue fighting our enemies and our battles.
14:27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. (Pro 14:27 ESV)