But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant and mocked the Jews. (Nehemiah 4:1)
Builders And Complainers
The task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was daunting. After seventy years, the people of God returned to Jerusalem and found a city in ruin with its walls torn down and gates burned. There was nothing of the former glory of Jerusalem remaining. Those who returned from captivity found hardship and despair as the people began to resettle in the city. The first task was to rebuild the temple destroyed in 586 B.C. It would take twenty years to finish building the temple because of the persecution and infighting among the people. The walls and gates of the city will remain unfinished for almost one hundred years. Ninety years after the first group returns, Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem, and the work of rebuilding begins. In a remarkable feat of leadership, Nehemiah and others rebuilt the city walls and restored the gates in fifty-two days. Like the building of the temple, there was opposition to the construction of the walls.
When Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, he faced opposition from three men: a Moabite named Sanballat and his allies Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian. Sanballat and his friends were upset that Nehemiah had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel and tried all they could to disrupt and destroy the work of Nehemiah. They were very angry this cup-bearer of the Persian king would come to Jerusalem to impose his will and rebuild the walls. The temple had been finished some seventy years before, but no effort was made to rebuild the walls. Sanballat liked the way things were and had no interest in rebuilding the walls. Any action by Nehemiah was met with disdain and threats. When he heard Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall, he was very angry and flew into a rage and mocked the Jews. He could not see how ignorant Jews could build a wall that could even withstand a fox walking on it.
Nehemiah faced a fierce crowd of critics. He dealt with threats, complaints, fear, and persecution but never gave up. The threats of Sanballat and others did not dissuade him because he knew he was doing a good work for the Lord. Nehemiah believed what he was doing was the work of God, and the Lord would bless their efforts for His glory. Despite all the complaints brought by the critics, the walls and gates of Jerusalem were completed in fifty-two days. Nehemiah saw the work as the will of God, refusing to let those who complained stop his work.
There are two pictures in the story of building the walls of Jerusalem. The first picture shows the laborers and workers picking up the stones and moving them into place. Groups of families took a section of the wall and worked diligently to finish their tasks. Some people did not want to work, so others did their work for them. Men and women joined in the task. Gibeonites worked alongside Meronothites. Shallum, leader of half the district of Jerusalem and his daughters, made repairs. Eliashib, the high priest, along with some Levites and priests, put their shoulders to the task of rebuilding. Goldsmiths and merchants worked on the wall. Those who had a mind to work focused on the building were encouraged by the leadership of Nehemiah.
The second picture in the story of the building of the walls were the complainers, the “non-doers” and “nay-sayers” who had done nothing for many years and were unwilling to do anything now. Ninety years had passed since the people first returned to Jerusalem. The temple was restored, but no one cared about the walls and gates. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem lived in the city and saw the walls broken and the gates burned but never lifted a finger to restore the city of God. They liked the way things were. Even when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem and began work on the walls, the complainers tried to stop the work. They could have joined in under the leadership of Nehemiah and helped, but they tried to stop the work. Why would they not want the walls rebuilt? They did not care for the work of the Lord. Their hearts were satisfied with how things had always been, refusing to see how the city was in ruin.
There are lessons for the church to learn from Nehemiah. The church faces a lot of building and restoring and rebuilding. Some see the need to work, and those who sit with folded hands complain. It is easy to become accustomed to the way things are, content, satisfied, and accept things as they are. Churches will go for decades (and longer) without shepherds to lead them, satisfied the Lord is pleased with their sound doctrine. Evangelism is almost non-existent, worship is lukewarm, hearts are stifled, and young people are lost to the world. There are many reasons for the church’s problems, but it is often because modern-day Sanballat’s discourage the work. The church needs courageous men and women with the heart and spirit of Nehemiah who will do the work of the Lord even when facing criticism. There will always be those who are willing to work and those happy to complain. Don’t wait to be told to work. Roll up your sleeves, and let’s work together in the kingdom of God.