Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:17-20
The Power Of Words
Having shared his vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem with the leaders, the priest, and the officials in Jerusalem, Nehemiah appealed to their sense of patriotism to stir up in them the desire to help rebuild the wall. This was no easy task. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had come to accept that the wall will never be rebuilt. The last time they tried under governor Zerubbabel, they were stopped by foreign enemies and became apathetic about trying to rebuild the wall again. Instead, they learned to live with the broken wall as a reality they dare not change. In verse 17, Nehemiah gave a passionate speech during which he told the leaders and the citizens of Jerusalem, “come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” Whereas Nehemiah had a cozy position as the wine taster to the king, he still owned the problem as his also. “He didn’t criticize the leaders of Jerusalem. He simply identified right along with them regarding the problem.”
An effective leader takes responsibility for the failures within his or her organization. Doing so helps to garner the loyalty and strengthen the partnership between leader and follower. That made it easier to convince the leaders they played a vital role in the restoration of the wall, and they are not to be blamed for the disgrace of the city. Nehemiah wanted these leaders to know the time had come for them to erase the disgrace under which they had been living for so many years. This was their opportunity to restore the illustrious reputation of their beloved Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s careful and convicting words highlight the fact “this wasn’t really about brick and mortar; it was about removing a condition of shame, fear, poverty, and insecurity among God’s people.” Furthermore, “The hard work involving bricks and mortar would be worth it because it would have real spiritual impact in both individuals and the community” (Guzik).
In verse 18, Nehemiah confided in the leaders that his desire to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was ordained by God as evidenced by the fact that the king gave him full support, including supplies and protection to rebuild the wall. That was the extra motivation the leaders needed to accept the challenge to rebuild the wall. Such strategic and effective communication skill from Nehemiah demonstrates the veracity of his ability to inspire and power others to do more they can think or imagine. “If people sense your vision is really all about you, and raising you up, and making you great, they will rightly be hesitant. But if it is from God, and they can see it, they will be thrilled to partner with you.” Naturally, the leaders co-sign on Nehemiah’s vision and replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” Nehemiah didn’t beg or make deals with the leaders to garner their support. After four months of prayer and the ensuing support from the King, Nehemiah was convinced he had a high calling from God. Thus, he asked others to be part of that vision, but he never stopped treating it like a high calling. “Nehemiah didn’t offer rewards, incentives, or positions for the ones who got the job done. Those are all external motivations and aren’t God’s highest calling. Nehemiah simply said, “Let’s stop kidding around. We know there’s a job to be done, and God is leading us to get it done now.” He relied on the LORD and the leaders to create a true inward motivation. External motivation – manipulation, guilt, pressure, carnal rewards can work for a while, but are never a part of God’s plan” (Guzik).
In verse 19, the enemies of the vision started to oppose the vision. They began by mocking Nehemiah and the leaders for their stated desire to rebuild the wall. Their mocking was intended to ridicule, vilify and instill doubt in the mind and heart of Nehemiah and the Jewish leaders. The fear of mocking prevents many from living up to God’s calling for their lives. Nehemiah wasn’t one of these people. Moreover, they ridiculed Nehemiah and his team as well. This was to instill doubt in the minds of Nehemiah and the Israelites so they can question their ability to do what their predecessors could not do. The enemies of the Israelites were hoping that their mocking and ridiculing would have the same effect as it did in the past. They sarcastically inquired if Nehemiah and the Jewish leaders were rebelling against the king. That was a more subtle way of instilling fear in the hearts and minds of Nehemiah and the Jewish leaders. Verse 20 captures the boldness of Nehemiah. Despite the ridicule and their scorn, he exuded confidence in his God giving vision. He wasn’t rattled by their derision, nor was he afraid of their verbal attack. Instead, he answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
Nehemiah’s answer to the enemies of the Jews demonstrates three fundamental characteristics necessary to implement a God-giving vision. First, he confidently articulates his faith in God. He told them, “The God of heaven will give us success.” When faced with naysayers and doubters, we have to rely on the faith that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Second, Nehemiah communicates confidence in his vision to his enemies. He told them that “we his servant will start rebuilding.” That type of confidence had not been expressed before by the Jews concerning rebuilding the wall. Nehemiah did not say “we are going to try to rebuild the wall and hope we can succeed.” Nor is he giving his enemies the impression they can stop the project.
In the latter part of verse 20, he reminded them this is a project for God’s people and by God’s people. “Tobiah (a Jewish name) was a man of influence, being associated with the high priest’s family, and getting help from the priests (Nehemiah 13:4). “Tobiah” was a prominent name in priestly families for generations to come. Sanballat was connected by marriage to priestly families (Nehemiah 13:28). An ancient document from this period refers to Sanballat as “governor of Samaria” (Kidner). Yet because they acted as enemies of the vision to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah warned them they have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
At times, our greatest opposition will come from people who are familiar to us (family, friends, fellow church members). We should not be surprised when people we lead, those we’ve helped through the years, family and friends, and those we minister to stand in opposition to our God giving vision. Everything vision that is worth pursuing will face opposition. At times, the opposition will come from the least expected people. Nevertheless, we should not back down to our naysayers. After all, if God is for us, who can be against us.
As Nehemiah stood his ground against Tobiah and Sanballat, so too should we stand our ground when people mock and ridicule our God-given vision. Our job is not to convince people that what we are called to do is of God. We do not need anyone’s permission to do what God has ordained for us to do. We just have to be strong and courageous no matter the strength or size of our opposition.
Blessed Lord, please give us the boldness of Nehemiah so we can confront those who mock and ridicule your vision for our lives.