When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. Nehemiah 4:1-6
The Right Response To Ridicule
When Sanballat and Tobiah first heard about the rebuilding project of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:10), they were disturbed that someone had come all the way from the Babylonian capital to promote the welfare of the Israelites. They expected the people to give up on the idea of repairing the walls of Jerusalem as they did in Ezra 4. However, when they saw the fearless determination from the Israelites to repair the walls, they used scorn and intimidation to prevent the work form starting (Nehemiah 2:19). When they saw that the work had begun and proceeding with haste, they became angry and were greatly incensed.
In verse 2, Sanballat tries to discredit the repair work in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria by ridiculing the Jews and calling them feeble. With an onslaught of disparaging words, he insulted the Jews for having the audacity to try to repair the broken walls. He wondered aloud if the Jews had the resolve, resources, talents and ability to repair the broken walls. From his perspective, he could not envision any possible way for the Jews to turn the heaps of rubble into a solid wall that can protect them against their enemies. It is not surprising that Tobiah the Ammonite join the mocking with additional sarcasm.
Though the mockery and ridicule of Sanballat and Tobiah were painful and discouraging to hear, the Jews were undaunted in continuing with the repair. In verse 4, Nehemiah turned to God in prayer to express his outrage against the insult of Sanballat and Tobiah. Here again Nehemiah demonstrated that prayer was his first resource, not his last resort. He did not try to respond to his enemies in any way. He trusted God to deal with them. In his prayer, Nehemiah asked God to do three things. First, he wanted God to hear his heart cry. Second, he wanted God to turn their insults back on their own heads. Third, for God to give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.
In verse 5, he asks God to show no mercy to those who were mocking and insulting the Jews in their rebuilding work. Nehemiah was convinced that by mocking the builders, Tobiah and Sanballat were mocking God. He truly believed that the repair was God’s work, and any insult against those who were doing the work was an insult against God. His prayer is structurally vindictive. This demonstrates the human side of Nehemiah who was probably fed up with the shenanigans of Tobiah and Sanballat and wanted them to stop discouraging the Jews. Notwithstanding the intimidation and discouragement from the enemies of the Jews, they had the mind to work and rebuilt the wall until it reached half its height. Which was an amazing accomplishment given the fact that many of the builders had no building skill and had never been involved in such a project. The builders were motivated by their love for God and their love for Jerusalem. They trusted the vision of Nehemiah and adhere to his leadership.
We should not allow the criticism and ridicule from others to discourage us as we try to live up to God’s purpose for our lives. No matter the opposition we face, if God has ordained for us to do a work, we should be fearless in our determination to get the job done. Mockers and haters will do all they can to make us give up on our God-given vision. In their desperation, they will bear false witness against us as well as try to intimidate us so we would quit. But we have to remember that God did not give us a spirit of fear. God will always protect and uphold us as we try to do his will.
In their desperation, our critics will cast aspersion on our reputation and our abilities. In so doing, they are triggering the wrath of the God who fights our battles. God will not allow our enemies and critics to succeed in derailment his purpose for our lives. Therefore, we have to be strong and courageous no matter who is against us. We should not pay attention to what is being said about us. Effective leadership is not a popularity contest. Doing the will of God requires resolve and spiritual fortitude. If our enemies smell fear from us, they will be empowered to persist in their effort to discourage and disrupt our God-given vision.
One of the reasons Tobiah and Sanballat resigned themselves to ridicule and mockery of the Jews is because they knew they could not attack the building project because it had the approval of the king of Babylon. They huffed and puffed, but in the end they knew there was not much more they could do. In the same way, our enemies will huff and puff like fiery dragons, but in the end they will be afraid to attack us because they know that our King Jesus is a dragon slayer. Tobiah and Sanballat observed the repair moving in haste despite their best attempt to discourage the builders.
The most important thing Nehemiah did in dealing with his mockers was to pray. Nehemiah did not say anything about the fact that he had the backing of the king of Babylon. He did not even address his antagonists in any way. Instead, he went to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is the best response to any personal attack or criticism. When our enemies are gunning for us, we should take it to the Lord in prayer. By turning the matter over to God in prayer, Nehemiah was putting the fate of his enemies in God’s hands. He was also confirming that the rebuilding project was the work of God and not a human initiative. Such a move is inspirational and gives a theological framework for the builders to keep working despite the ridicule of their enemies.
Blessed Lord, please give us the courage to implement your vision despite the oppositions we face.