Written by: Christopher Sernaque
(Neh 4:1-8) Nehemiah had three central adversaries, who made it their sole aim to dishearten Nehemiah’s already burdened heart. These men were Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. What were their primary means of combating Nehemiah? These men did not summon a legion to wage war against Nehemiah. They did not perform large scale espionage to upend Nehemiah’s plans. Nor, did these men stage an aerial or naval attack, but then again, how could they? Their attack strategy was simple, in fact, anyone and everyone, without any military expertise could attack someone today in this self-same way. The weapon they unsheathed to wound Nehemiah was that of ridicule. Oftentimes, especially as we try to live for God, we will be met with wagging tounges that will attempt to vilify our characters. Let us look at the characteristics of the circumstances under which the ridicule was produced and the content of the ridicule itself.
First and foremost, it was not until after Nehemiah and his crew were successful at building the wall that Sanballat was infuriated and scorned their progress. Here we find something interesting about the nature of ridicule, it can be born out of jealousy for someone else’s success. The account does not say that Nehemiah humiliated himself by not counting the cost and failing his project, the account says that he succeeded in completing the task the Lord put on his heart. So, why the insults from Sanballat and his cronies? Sanballat evidently had a lot of time on his hands, otherwise, why did he dedicate so much of his time to backbiting Nehemiah?
The antidote to jealousy is gratitude and Godly ambition. It is easy to feel small, and even bitter, at the accomplishments of others. When these feelings arise, it is best to be grateful, and “in everything give thanks.” (1 Thess 5:16-18) Furthermore, why ridicule someone else’s blessing, when the Lord wants to bless all of us, especially with the gift of salvation? (2 Peter 3:9) Coveteousness can only be present in a life of idleness. At the beginning of time, God gave to mankind work as a blessing. (Gen 2:5, Gen 3:23) Tasks are a gift because when we are engaged in doing work for the Lord and are singlemindedly focused on accomplishing His will, we will not even have time to cherish feelings of envy. In fact, Nehemiah plainly said that he did not have time to deal with the Sanballat’s distracting taunts and schemes, because he was too busy doing the work of the Lord. (Neh 6:2-3)
(Neh 6:3,8,9) Continuing, here we come to one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with adversaries, precisely by not dealing with them. This is not to say that we expose ourselves needlessly to scorning, or that we internalize the hurt, but we can transcend harassment by ignoring it. Before we continue, it is necessary to also point out that we should never needlessly expose ourselves to danger, for even Nehemiah had his men armed while they worked. (Neh 4:13, 17-19) To return to the original premise, attention is the lifeblood of rumors. Even though everything within us shouts that our name must be cleared from the smears levied against it, sometimes the best way to address a rumor is by carefully rebuking it by living a life that denies the charges held against us. Once again, it is exceedingly difficult not to be hurt by the words used against us. In fact, it is far more human to be hurt than to be stoic. Nevertheless, let us look at the kind of joy the apostle Paul expressed as he endured trouble on every side. (2 Corinthians 4:6-14) How can we be troubled on every side, or have everything going wrong in life, and like Paul be able to say that we are “not distressed?” How is this even humanly possible? The answer: it’s not. It is impossible for us to find peace in pain, truth in trial, and life in loss without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The joy that Paul had, the joy that Nehemiah had, and the joy that we can have is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:22) The best part is, all we have to do is ask for the gift for the Father is more than willing to grant us the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:13)
Life will still be suffering after receiving the Holy Spirit. People will backbite, hurt, wound, despise, humiliate, and brutalize just as they always have. The difference will be that at last, we can have an internal calm that will cause us to find delight in the duty of carrying our cross. (Luke 9:23) Let us end on this note. What is the difference between an anarchist and a protestor? Sanballat could have been one of the greatest men of God known in history. In all seriousness, this man seemed to enjoy speaking or at least had the boldness to challenge individuals. Imagine for a moment if Sanballat had used his ability to provoke as a means of motivating people instead of discouraging them. Instead of lying about the nature of Nehemiah’s work and character, imagine if Sanballat overcame his personal insecurities, and was happy for Nehemiah instead. There he is, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, and a tune in his voice as he congratulates Nehemiah on staying faithful to God and finishing the work. Today by the grace of God, let us make it an aim to celebrate someone’s victories in the Lord and “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinth 15:57)