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Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Nehemiah

External Opposition to God’s Work and the Response of God’s People in Nehemiah 2

I’d like to look at the second chapter of the book of Nehemiah today and zero-in on a particular theme. And that theme is – the opposition to God’s work, and then the proper response that we as God’s people should have to that opposition. 

The theme of enemies who oppose the work that God was doing through Nehemiah is found often throughout this book – especially in chapters two, four, six, and thirteen. We’ll just focus on what’s revealed for us in Nehemiah 2 this morning. 

Opposition in Nehemiah 2:9-11 

So, let’s look at Nehemiah 2 and verses 9-11 in which we get the first hint of opposition to God’s work in this book. 

Neh 2:9 [After getting the king’s permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it…] Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters.  

Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. 

So, that’s a good thing! God was sending this godly leader to help his people to do the work he wanted them to do. Who wouldn’t rejoice about this? Verse 10… 

10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the {servant, the Ammonite,/Ammonite official} heard of {it/God sending Nehemiah to help God’s people and rebuild their city}, {it grieved them exceedingly/it was very displeasing to them/they were very much disturbed} that there was come a man to {seek/promote} the welfare of the children of Israel. 

11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. 

The Opposition 

So, note the parties involved in opposing God’s work. We’re given two names. Sanballat and Tobiah. They are not Jews – they’re not God’s people. And interestingly, this list of opponents increases as we continue in this book. 

Now, how is this opposition expressed? The enemies of God’s people are grieved or displeased or disturbed. They’re happy when God’s work is hindered and God’s people are disadvantaged. But when it looks like God’s work is going to go forward,… not so much. So, these enemies start off with some negative emotion but they’re not really acting it out just yet. 

So, that’s the opposition.  

The Response of God’s People 

Now, how does Nehemiah – the godly servant of the Lord – react to this opposition? Verse 11 seems to indicate that he just ignores them completely. And that’s sometimes what we need to do with external opposition to our serving the Lord – just ignore it and get to work. There is a time for that. 

OK, so that’s the first hint we get that certain people are opposed to the work that Nehemiah is doing for the sake of God’s people.  

Opposition in Nehemiah 2:17-20 

From there Nehemiah goes on his now-famous midnight ride around the city to survey the damage that’s been done to the wall and what needs to be fixed. 

Then he speaks to his fellow-Jews in Nehemiah 2:17 

17 Then said I unto {them/Nehemiah’s fellow-Jews},  

Ye see the {distress/bad situation/problem/trouble} that we {are in/have},  

how Jerusalem {lieth waste/is desolate/lies in ruins},  

and the gates thereof are burned with fire:  

come, and let us {build up/rebuild} the wall of Jerusalem, {that/so that} we be no more {a reproach/in disgrace}. 

18 Then I told them of the hand of my God which {was good upon/had been favorable to/was gracious to} me;  

as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me.  

And they said,  

Let us {rise up and build/begin building right away!/start rebuilding}.  

So they {strengthened their hands for/put their hands to/readied themselves for} this good {work/project}. 

So, again, this is great. God’s people are encouraged and ready to start the work he wanted them to do! Right?  

Not so fast. Verse 19… 

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the {servant, the Ammonite,/Ammonite official} and Geshem the {Arabian/Arab}, heard {it/all this/about it}, they {laughed us to scorn/mocked us/derided us}, and {despised/expressed contempt toward/ridiculed} us, and said,  

What is this thing {that ye do/you are doing}?  

{will ye rebel/Are you rebelling} against the king? 

20 {Then/So} answered I them, and said unto them,  

The God of heaven, {he will prosper us/will give us success};  

therefore we his servants will {arise and build/start the rebuilding}:  

but {ye/as for you, you} have no {portion, nor right, nor memorial, in/just or ancient right in/claim or historic right to} Jerusalem. 

The Opposition 

So, what is the opposition doing now? They’re not just grieved or displeased emotionally. Now they’re scorning and laughing at God’s people and God’s work. They’re mocking with the intention of discouraging Nehemiah and his co-workers. And they’re even insinuating that what Nehemiah is doing is wrong – it’s rebellion against the king! 

And did you notice that the list of enemies has increased? We saw the familiar names Sanballat and Tobiah. But now there’s this new character – Geshem the Arab! So, the opposition is both intensifying in nature and increasing in number. 

The Response of God’s People 

Well, what’s Nehemiah’s response? Note that before the intimidation from the enemies, Nehemiah was communicating the great need that he and his fellow-Jews had. He put before their eyes the great danger they were in and how they were in a humiliating condition. 

But then he gave them a picture of what things could be like if they followed the Lord and did his will of rebuilding those walls. Nehemiah related to the people God’s providential support of their work – both directly and even as mediated through the ungodly human Persian king that Nehemiah served! And the result was that Nehemiah strengthened the hands of the workers. 

And even after the enemies tried to discourage him and his people, Nehemiah remained undaunted. He communicated his rock-solid faith that God would be with them to help them as they obediently and faithfully served him in this endeavor. 

Application 

So, may the Lord help us to face with an undaunted determination any opposition we might experience as we try to do God’s will. Let’s remember the ways in which the Lord’s hand has been so clearly displayed in our lives bringing us to this point. And let’s endeavor to strengthen each other to do the work that God has for us. 

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