Facing Opposition (Nehemiah 4)

Bible Passage: Nehemiah 4

As Nehemiah and the people set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they did so while surrounded by opponents.

This opposition took different forms: Firstly, they experienced mockery. Questions were raised to undermine their building in a number of ways. They were called feeble, raising questions about their strength and whether they had what it took to get the job done. Their willingness to sacrifice was questioned, implying that they did not have the commitment to see the project through, and the quality of the materials at their disposal was disparaged. They didn’t have the raw materials they needed to build well. Secondly, the opponents of the building responded with anger. Often opposition doesn’t come in purely rational forms, but can be accompanied with hostile emotional reactions. Thirdly, the opponents attempted to disrupt building by sowing confusion amongst the builders. One of the ways the building can get stalled is when people are unsure of what is happening, sceptical of each other’s motives and lacking clarity about what part they play. This was the plan the enemies of Nehemiah had. Finally came physical opposition. Ultimately the plan was to stop the building by force, and to kill those who were attempting to rebuild the walls. Construction had to take place in an atmosphere of continual physical threat.

As we build God’s kingdom today, opposition is likely to come. The form it takes can vary, but it may correlate with one or more of the types of opposition Nehemiah had to face. We may face mockery and have to answer doubts about our ability, our commitment or our resources. We may face emotionally hostile responses. We may experience times of confusion amongst our co-labourers, and we can face physical opposition, which in many parts of the world can lead to martyrdom.

Nehemiah 4 gives us a valuable reminder that opposition will come as we do God’s work. It also helps us to face that opposition by showing us a few of the strategies that Nehemiah used. Each of them can be helpful for us as we face the opposition that comes our way.

  • He prayed – In verse 4 we see Nehemiah appeal to God for help, and in verse 9 we see that the people all prayed. They knew that opposition to God’s work is opposition to God himself, and they did not attempt to deal with it in their own strength.
  • He remembered God’s promises – In verse 14, Nehemiah’s calls were for the people to remember the Lord and fight for their families and homes. These two things are linked by the promise of God that his people would possess the land. As they brought to mind the Lord and his promises, it galvanised them to fight despite the opposition that was before them.
  • He considered why they were building – Linked to the previous point, Nehemiah brought to mind what was it stake. It is much easier to keep going in the face of opposition when there is a clear and compelling vision for what can be done.
  • He celebrated small wins – Verse 6 makes note that the wall was now rebuilt to half of its eventual height. In a lot of ways this is meaningless; a half-finished wall is as effective as no wall at all. And yet, getting halfway is a landmark on the way, and Nehemiah pauses to celebrate the progress that has been made.
  • He set a guard – It can be easy to be too spiritual in the face of opposition and not take practical steps to protect oneself. Nehemiah does not fall into this trap, and verse 9 tells us that as well as praying he also set a guard. It is not wrong to do what we can physically to protect ourselves from those who would oppose us.
  • He armed the builders – In verse 17 we are given the picture of builders working with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. In this we see that being guarded against opposition whilst getting on with the work is the posture the people have. It is possible to be naive to the threat and this is unhelpful, but it is also possible to be so vigilant that it disrupts the building work. Here was see the right balance between the two.

Potential Applications:

  • The passage challenges our expectations for what a life building for God will be like. Opposition will come and we must be prepared for it when it does.
  • Some people will be facing severe opposition at the moment. You could offer prayer for situations that people in the congregation are facing, as well as praying about issues impacting believers all over the world.