Devising Strategies

Explore the Bible Series

January 7, 2007

 

Background Passage: Nehemiah 4:1-7:73

Lesson Passage: Nehemiah 4:1-2, 4, 12-13, 19-20, 22; 6:2-3, 11-13

 

Introduction: Last weekís lesson focused on Nehemiahís concern for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.The Scriptures detail how Godís servant determined to address the difficulties of the disgraceful circumstances in the holy city.The text set out some of the essential elements of godly leadership: prayerful self-examination, identification of clear goals, careful planning, transparent communication of vision, and wise enlistment of workers to help with the work.In addition to these indispensable qualities, godly leaders must learn to cope with those who oppose the Lordís work.

 

No one will ever truly serve the Lord as a leader without encountering opposition.Sometimes this hostility becomes so severe that the Lordís servants are driven to despair. Calvin Miller, his helpful book The Empowered Leader, identifies several categories of difficult people (I do not mention them all).Perhaps you will recognize some of these folks!

  1. The Chronically Arrogant: This strong-willed person is controlled by the delusion that they are always right.They do not respect leaders because they long to have their way about all things.Secretly, these folks are searching for significance, and they will not support anything that does not afford them the preeminence, like Diotrephes of old (See III John 9).
  2. The Congenitally Belligerent: This person emerges, from the womb, upset about everything.They foster a sour, disaffected personality, and no leader can appease them enough to bring them out of this angry state.
  3. The Non-Negotiator: This individual seldom becomes combative and confrontational; instead, they thrive in the shadows of whispered conversations.Basically, these people are cowards who would never express their concerns straightforwardly. They do their damage behind the scenes (telephones and emails are made for these folks!). Gradually, they seek to erode the credibility of leaders and short-circuit progress in the initiatives of the church.
  4. The Nitpicker: This person is incapable of identifying the essential issues of church life, and he centers his attention on secondary and tertiary concerns that have little import. Often, these individuals have eccentric agendas that easily divert the leaderís attention and energy from the important work at hand.
  5. The ďYes-ButterĒ: These persons focus all of their attention on finding fault with the leaderís work.In particular, they delight in pointing out the weaknesses of any plan or strategy.

 

These opponents, and a few others we could identify, sap the energy from any leader who allows a forum for their ungodly tactics.Nehemiah had to learn quickly how to cope with the barrage of criticisms and threats he encountered, and contemporary leaders may learn much from the example of our ancient brother.

Outline of Background Passage:

 

I.                   Initial Attempts to Hinder Nehemiahís Work (4:1-23)

A.    The identity of Nehemiahís opponents (vv. 1 and 3)

1.      Sanballet the Horonite: According to ancient secular texts Sanballet served as a regional governor over Samaria in the late Fifth Century B.C.Although he had a pagan name, Sanballet was a Jewish man who later married his daughter to the high priestís grandson (See Nehemiah 13:28). Apparently this contrary man hailed from the Beth-Horon, an important trade center located between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps Sanballet feared that the refortification of Jerusalem would threaten the lucrative position held by Horon; therefore, he opposed Nehemiahís efforts to restore Zion to prominence.

2.      Tobiah: The text identifies this man as an Ammonite, but he clearly descended from Jewish ancestry.The Ammonites lived to the Northeast of the Dead Sea, and, perhaps, Tobiahís family fled to this region in the aftermath of the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem. He apparently enjoyed a favored status in the region, and may have resented Nehemiahís prominence with the royal house of Persia.

3.      Geshem the Arab (See 3:19): In all probability, this man was an Arab chieftain who served as a vassal to the throne of Persia.He would have enjoyed little in common with Sanballet and Tobiah, but he had similar interests in opposing the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and he joined the other conspirators in their efforts to hinder Nehemiahís work.

B.     The tactics of Nehemiahís enemies (vv. 1-9): These enemies employed other tactics revealed later in the text.

1.      Mockery (vv. 1-3): the malignant use of ridicule to belittle and provoke an enemy. Take a moment to consider the nature of the mockery.How did these ungodly men deride Godís servants?

2.      Conspiracy (vv. 7-8 and 11): Not content with their opposition to Godís servants, these scoundrels recruited others to contest the work. Ungodly men often take consolation that they can easily persuade others to enter their conspiracies.We readily see this in the Gospels when conflicting religious and political groups conspired to kill the Lord Jesus.

C.     Nehemiahís response to the threats of his enemies (vv. 4-5 and 9-23): Basically, Nehemiahís impulse was to pray and protect.Immediately, this godly man set the people to pray; however, he also used his prerogative as a government official to arm the workers.Nehemiah and his co-workers were not self-appointed vigilantes; rather, they legitimately bore the sword as an outgrowth of Nehemiahís legal status, granted by King Artaxerxes (See the important passage in Romans 13:1-7). Nehemiah divided the work in such a way that men could work and protect their families at the same time.

 

II.                Nehemiahís Concern for the Poor (5:1-19)

A.    The oppression of the poor (vv. 1-13): A famine had struck the land, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem devoted so much time working on the walls that perhaps they did not have enough time to tend their businesses and fields.Whatever the case, many people suffered from severe poverty.Personal indebtedness spiraled out of control, and some families grew so desperate that they were forced to sell their children into slavery. Nehemiah chided the rich folks for lending money, at interest, to their kinsmen. The Mosaic Law prohibited usury (See Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:20).

B.     Nehemiahís generosity to the poor (5:14-19): At some point in the development of our story, Nehemiah was appointed governor of the region surrounding Jerusalem.His governance lasted twelve years, and, during these years Nehemiah refused to collect a tax that would force the people to pay for his expenses.Previous governors took advantage of the people, but Nehemiah did not burden them.

 

III.             The Second Wave of Opposition to Nehemiah (6:1-14)

A.    A conspiracy to kill Nehemiah at Hakkephirim (vv. 1-9): Nehemiahís enemies sought to lure the Lordís servant to a remote region of Judah. Through flattery and false promises of reconciliation, the conspirators wanted to entice Nehemiah to an isolated area and harm him.They persisted in their efforts, and when their flattery failed, they sought to intimidate Nehemiah. Like many other opponents to Godís work, these unscrupulous men lied about Nehemiah and falsely impugned his character.To his credit, Nehemiah refused to meet with Sanballet and company; thus, he did not allow his enemies to distract him from his God appointed task.

Personal note: Brethren, we must walk a fine line at this point.Godís servants must have an open, gracious spirit, even toward those who do not treat them well.However, there are times when leaders must ignore the opposition and go forward with the Lordís work.

B.     A conspiracy to terrify Nehemiah (vv. 10-14): Sanballet and Tobiah sunk to a new low when they hired prophets to give the Lordís servant a false report.They delivered this fabricated story in order to scare him from completing the task of building the wall.Again, Nehemiah met their threat with prayer.

 

IV.             The Completion of the Wall and the Continued Repopulation of Jerusalem (6:15-73)

A.    The completion of the wall reconstruction (6:15-7): After just 7 Ĺ weeks of work, the Jews finished the wall.God strengthened the Jews, and, despite the opposition of ungodly men, the work was completed. Tobiah continued his hostility toward Nehemiah; thus, the faithful workmen secured the city and took full advantage of her fortifications.

B.     The repopulation of the city (7:5-73):This genealogical information bears a striking resemblance to the materials found in the second chapter of Ezra.By consulting the pedigree records, Nehemiah hoped to establish the genealogical integrity of the people who would repopulate Jerusalem.