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Bible study

Bible Study – Overcoming Opposition (Nehemiah 6:3)

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 4-6

Today’s Reflection: Nehemiah 6:3

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?”

What is this text saying?

Nehemiah was sent to Judah to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  In completing this task he faced opposition from the neighboring tribes and peoples.  After threats against the Jews had failed to stop the work some of the foreign leaders invited him to join them for what appeared to be a peaceful meeting, but God had given Nehemiah insight into their true intention to do him harm.  Nehemiah 6:3 was his reply to their ‘friendly invitation’.

Why is it important?

After the events of the book of Ezra, Nehemiah was sent under the authority of King Artaxerxes of Persia to lead the resettling of the remaining Jewish exiles and to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

As the centre of worship for Israel, Jerusalem and its security were of utmost importance.  Its’ existence was a witness of God’s continued favor on His chosen people.  It was also a witness of God’s authority over all of the kingdoms of the earth.

The Medo-Persian empire was the dominant world power at this time in history and their dominance suggested their gods were superior to the gods of the peoples of the nations they ruled, according to the prevailing world view of the age.  But the God of Israel had impressed the kings of Persia to recognize Him as the true God.

King Cyrus went so far as to say it was God who had given him reign over the kingdoms of the earth (Ezra 1:2).  Kings Darius and Artaxerxes followed Cyrus’ example, and it was under their authority that the temple and the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and the people of Israel were restored to the Promised Land.

Not surprisingly, this homage angered the neighboring tribes and nations who worshiped other gods and idols.  They did all they could to disrupt efforts to re-establish the nation of Israel.

How can I apply this?

Know that whenever you seek to do the will of God and accomplish something for Him you will face opposition.

Aside from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the reality that our world is caught in a cosmic battle between two forces has only been touched on this far into the Bible.  But central to every conflict we face is the idea of spiritual warfare: the battle going on between God and the fallen angel Lucifer, also known as Satan (Isaiah 14:12-17).  Much of this war happens in the spiritual realm beyond our perception, but it also manifests itself in conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations, even the conflicts we have within ourselves.

When you make the decision to follow God, you set your allegiance on His side in this war.  When God puts you to work—when He gives you a calling, a mission, a purpose—the tasks He gives you will ultimately be concerned with one thing: helping to save souls into His Kingdom for eternity (including yours).

Your decision to follow God is also a declaration of war against Satan and his forces.  And he won’t hesitate or delay in attacking you and your efforts on God’s behalf.  Here are some points to remember in order to be victorious in this battle:

1) The enemy will try to frighten you.  When the building of the wall began the leaders of the surrounding nations conspired against Israel and hoped fear of attack would disrupt the work.  Nehemiah successfully rallied the people reminding them of the might of their God and the importance of their work to the lives of their families (Nehemiah 4:14).  With this assurance the Jews continued building, each working with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other (Nehemiah 4:17).

The enemy of our souls will try to scare you with threats of loss—losing your job, your family, your friends, even your life—to encourage you to do things displeasing to God.  Know that when you begin to feel fear, you’re beginning to become disconnected from God, for perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18) and God is that perfect love.  Also know that every good thing comes from God (James 1:17), so trust that anything you might fear losing is already in His hands and that He will make all of the circumstances in your life work together for your good (Romans 8:28).  Finally, if you do lose something, know that God is ready, willing and able to restore, even more than you’ve lost (Mark 10:29-30).

2) The enemy will try to charm you.  After this failure, Israel’s enemies tried to lure Nehemiah into an ambush with what appeared to be a friendly invitation.  It was anything but and Nehemiah had enough discernment from God to avoid the trap set for him.

The enemy doesn’t come to you in horns and with a pointy tail.  He comes to you as your dream job, the man or woman of your fantasies, fame, authority and power, wealth and riches, the very thing you desire.  Perhaps Nehemiah’s enemies knew he wanted peace with the surrounding nations so their invitation appeared to be a step towards this desire.

But the enemy also intends to use your desire for your destruction.  When he offers you something it always requires a compromise of what you know to be right.  This compromise will ultimately unravel your life into confusion and desolation.  For Nehemiah it would have required him to stop the work he knew was his highest priority and his duty to God.

3) When the enemy attacks you need to keep your focus.  Nehemiah didn’t debate the potential merits of stopping the work.  He didn’t engage in conversation with the messenger.  He knew his priority was the work the Lord had given him. “Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”  He didn’t feel the need to justify his response any further.

We often feel the need to consider and contemplate every circumstance that comes to us.  This is how circumstances become distractions.  Distractions are how we find ourselves taken away from the tasks God has called us to perform.  The state of distraction is a dangerous place to find ourselves.  The Word tells us “Anyone who begins to plow a field but keeps looking back is of no use in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NCV).  We need to set our minds to do what God has told us to do, and trust that He will take care of everything else.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

4) You need to remember whose battle this really is.  When Nehemiah was first threatened and the Israelites were losing heart the first thing he did was tell them “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”

This is God’s fight.  He didn’t recruit you into it to become a prey for the enemy, He recruited you because you already were a prey for the enemy and He wanted you with Him on the side of the victory He is already assured of.

Remembering this is essential when the enemy attacks because Satan is smarter than you.  He fooled Adam and Eve, who were perfect beings.  Believe me when I tell you he’s got your number.

The good news is you don’t need to be smarter than Satan.  You don’t even need to fight Him.  God has given you His word, the Bible, and the presence and assistance of the Holy Spirit and by using them you put the battle where it belongs—in His hands.  It is by the Word and the Holy Spirit that Jesus overcame the temptation of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).  If you look at that confrontation again, it’s startling to see that the ONLY words Jesus spoke to Satan were words from scripture.  No philosophizing, no justifications, no arguments, just the truth of the Word of God.  Satan had no choice but to turn and leave.  When you stand on God’s authority Satan has no place there.

We all must be similarly equipped.  The day may soon come when we can’t lay a hand on a book, or a computer or mobile device to look up a text.  We need to read, study, internalize and memorize scripture.  We also need to pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit, who can bring what we’ve studied back to our remembrance (John 14:26).  This way we can have the power of God’s Word at hand and at the ready at all times.

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