Sanballat’s Nothing-burger

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), 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. 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?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 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. 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.” 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.” 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. Nehemiah 6:1-9.

This is the same lie Artaxerxes threw out years ago. It had no power then, and it’s only real purpose is to make the Jews paranoid and fearful enough to stop building. But Nehemiah is not having it. He keeps his people on task and ignores the chatter. Sanballat has no real power, except to get them to believe him.

Nothing has changed. We have orders from our master, and He has given us power to accomplish them. Satan’s only power is what we give him by believing him instead of God. So long as we believe it’s just not God’s timing to obey Him, or we aren’t ready, or we aren’t able, or our pastor/deacons/denomination hasn’t told us to obey Him, it will just have to wait.

Moral Authority

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. Nehemiah 5:6-13.

There are people who get rich in every circumstance. When the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and took the people captive, they left some behind to tend the land. Some of those people prospered nicely. Now their countrymen are returning, and they were exploiting the situation. They lent at interest, and demanded repayment by seizing ancestral property and enslaving the young.

There was an old command that had been forgotten:

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11.

Nehemiah, armed with nothing but his knowledge of God and His ways, shames the wealthy into releasing the people from their obligation. They do so voluntarily. Nehemiah has no army, but he appeals to the hearts of those who know better.

Today we have replaced compassion with a complex web of legal remedies and seemingly free money. We can come in contact with the poor and be confident that somebody else has got this covered. We gave at the office when our paychecks got taxed. All we expect in return is that the poor stay out of our way, out of our neighborhoods, and out of trouble.

Unfortunately, free stuff comes without the virtues that make prosperity more likely. They have no reason to improve themselves, establish stable homes, or raise children with work or study habits. Then they get to be resentful at the bottom rung and start to rob, rape, kill, vandalize and organize into unruly mobs that insist that their lives matter.

The poor don’t need our money alone, for there will never be enough to satisfy them. They need our virtue as well, and to get that, we need to rediscover it ourselves.

Staying On Mission

In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:10-14.

Just as the builders were making progress, the naysaying chorus was tuning up. Some among themselves said it was too much work. Their enemies spoke of killing them. The local sympathizers called them from the work because it was too dangerous.

God did not send them back to merely survive and eke out an existence. He sent them to restore the kingdom. It was a tall order, but He would help them. He had not sent them to fail.

We are on a similar mission with similar opposition. We are lazy and make excuses that it’s too much. The world despises our mission and threatens us. Other Christians have no shortage of half-baked theological arguments why it’s the Lord’s will to twiddle your thumbs until Jesus comes back.

We have been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and we have been told, by Jesus himself, that the gates of hell will not be able to stand before us (Matthew 16:18). But, it’s hard. Sinners are in power and overwhelming. We should just stay on their good side until they decide to join us. And so we cower in fear, lowering our standards so we don’t attract attention and make them mad.

It is not the will of God that we have failed. It is just that we have found a comfortable way to fail.

Build the Wall

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord. Nehemiah 3:1-5.

This whole chapter consists of a lot of unmemorable names to go with manual labor during the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s city wall and it’s gates. The ones that stick out are the unnamed rulers who didn’t care to participate. We don’t know if they just didn’t think this was important enough for them to do, or if they didn’t want to wrinkle their robes. But the author thought it was worth mentioning.

Most ministry is grunt work, and it’s hard to find people who will stoop to do it. Maybe we think it’s not important enough, or maybe we don’t want to be inconvenienced, but Jesus told us that our humble acts of service to the least of people were equivalent to serving Him. And He thought it was worth mentioning that those who were too good for that would not enter His kingdom (Matthew 25: 45-46).

The Lost Art of Entreaty

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Nehemiah 2:1-8.

Many years earlier, the Lord inspired Cyrus the Great to restore the house of God in Jerusalem. Ezra went on the expedition, overcame local opposition, and got it done. But now, Nehemiah wants to take it further and rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. And this time, it’s not the king’s idea.

As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah is a trusted servant. He makes sure that what the king is drinking isn’t poisoned. He probably has to drink it first. Otherwise, he has no real power other than his access and relationship to the king. So he will have to win the king over to his desire to restore the walls.

Getting the powerful to want to help you is a gift. So is making them feel like they HAVE TO help you. They both may work, but having to do something may lead to resentment, or worse.

In America today, nobody is won over to an idea anymore. People demand their rights, real or imagined, by political power, threat, or tantrum. It is the reason there is so much resentment and ill will. When all that matters is that you get your way, you can expect to live in a constant state of unrest.