Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Old-Testament-era prophet Nehemiah, who was commissioned to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, employed several practical strategies to deal with his enemies.
Since there is “nothing new under the sun,” I believe his adversaries represent types of “opponents” also found today–especially as political and culture wars heat up and some extremists are threatening violence, even as Nehemiah’s enemies wanted to stop his project with their own threats.
I believe Nehemiah’s strategies can serve as models and encouragements for us, too, in all of the arenas in which we operate, not just political and cultural but also spiritual (note: not denomination, creed, or philosophy-specific religious “programs” because such man-made constructs do not necessarily reflect our true unity as believers in, and followers of, a person: Jesus Christ).
The prophet also employed “spiritual weapons,” most notably, prayer, discernment, and obedience to God’s Word, when it came to practical applications, because then (even as now) he understood that his real adversary behind the scenes was in the spirit realm–even as now.
As defined in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
But first, a few thoughts on Nehemiah’s preparation–an essential component of a successful campaign in any kind of battle.
A study of the narrative reveals that the Nehemiah was:
obedient to not only his “call” to rebuild the wall but also to King Artaxerxes for whom Nehemiah was the highly-trusted cup-bearer. He knew he would need both permission and provision from the King to tackle the re-building of the wall around Jerusalem. He was…
thorough; it has always been of interest to me that Nehemiah took approximately twice as long to plan the project as the actual re-building took to complete; he wanted to make sure “all the ‘i’s’ were dotted and ‘t’s’ crossed”. He was…
humble; a notable example of his humility was when the wall was complete, he did not respond to the peoples’ plea that he continue as governor of Jerusalem but went back to his original assignment as cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, and Nehemiah was…
prayerfully patient–and practical. These last attributes were revealed in both his willingness to wait on permission from Artaxerxes as well as his care in surveying the damage and assigning the families and shopkeepers to repair the sections closest to them.
Nehemiah’s patience and practicality are also evident in his response to his enemies’ various tactics, thus he avoided knee-jerk reactions by first getting on his knees in prayer for guidance.
I think the last point is critical because our (real) enemy, through human agents, enjoys lighting as many fearsome, distracting, and exhausting fires–demanding our immediate attention–as he can get away with.
Ever notice that?
But God is the author of a sound mind, and His wisdom is easily entreated (administered) despite the “rumble of hostile drums,” as a friend describes the soundscape of these tenuous times. And in what fray may come, there is also a peace.
I think that in that kind of peace there is likewise confidence, courage, and strength. As James put it in his letter to the saints:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. (3:17)
Scripture (and, I would add, history which tends to repeat itself) teaches that there is nothing new under the sun, as previously noted; thus I believe that a study of how Nehemiah (successfully) handled each of the major attacks on his work rebuilding the wall around the holy city–challenges from both without and within–reveal what are effective strategies in any era.
So to the battleground in B.C. and Nehemiah’s timeless strategies–after careful preparation, of course–with some parallel strategies and advice for us here in A.D.
Nehemiah faced back then, even as we do today:
As soon as the first stones were gathered for the reconstruction the attacks against Nehemiah and his wall-rebuilding project began. They started with mockery and insults.
“What are these feeble Jews doing?” (One can almost picture a sneer on Sanballat’s face as he says this). “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble…?” (4:2).
His cohort Tobiah added, most likely with his own look of contempt, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (4:3).
A modern enemy in the eyes of many put it this way: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” (Saul Alinsky*, Rules for Radicals).
Because ridicule is often laced with contempt, it is virtually impossible to counter it with reason. Anyone who has ever been up close and personal with such an adversary will attest that if not resolved, this can be a relationship-destroying dynamic.
Ridicule-based contempt works well on people groups, too, dividing and conquering in its wake.
But most importantly, if we take the battle bait of thinking we need to respond to this kind of attack, especially the contemptuous kind, it is highly distracting, and often mires one in a mud-slinging contest where nobody wins.
Well, except for the one who uses it as a distraction–so that the work falters or fails.
I am reminded of Proverbs 9:7-8: “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. 8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you…”
Why? Because such mockers don’t want resolution, they want destruction.
What did Nehemiah do?
He prayed, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads…” (4:4). He left the “response” to God; meanwhile, back to work.
Note for today: Pray, resist distractions, and keep on working**.
2) Stirring up trouble for a fight
Nehemiah writes: “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” (4:7-8).
A Scripture from elsewhere in the Old Testament reminds us: “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
Successful “warriors” understand that there is that opposition where reason and negotiation are ineffective because the adversary, as previously noted, really desires destruction. Then it’s time to “armor up” in the spirit–and on the ground.
What did Nehemiah do? ” But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (9).
Note to believers today: Pray, employ practical as well as spiritual measures for defense or offense, whatever is needed, and keep on working.
3)Trouble on the “inside”
While Nehemiah and the citizens were commencing with the work, he was notified of dissension from within–among the Jews. “And there was a great cry…” (5:1) against the brethren who were lending money at exorbitant interest rates (usury). He called the people together, reminded them of the need for unity, and commanded obedience to maintain unified strength against the enemy from without.
A wise women with whom I once worked on various pro-life issues and activities warned all of us thus engaged to watch out for the “hangers-on,” that is to say, people of questionable motives who often join causes for their own reasons.
In the group we were in, for example, there were “plants” from the pro-abortion side to stir up doubt; a cult-leader looking for recruits (because back then it was primarily religious people who were engaged in pro-life work); and people just out for attention who showed up for the marches and anything covered by the news media, but didn’t do much if any at all of the “work behind the scenes,” often lonely and sometimes dangerous work. Ask those who were imprisoned and/or abused in prison, which got very little, if any, attention–even in the church.
What did Nehemiah do? He responded immediately, explained the danger of such division as not only unjust but also distracting and as such would weaken the larger effort, he ordered it’s cessation and restitution of what was unjustly taken, and instituted consequences if it were not stopped.
Note for today: Among those “internal adversaries” today would be the same kinds of people: the deceivers (aka quislings and perhaps virtue signalers); the greedy; and the attention-seekers whether for press or for recruits for their own personal agendas. Thus, discernment is essential and calling them out is critical, and keep on working.
4) Compromisers: Using Reason, Fear Mongering, and False Prophets
This last multi-faceted strategy is the most subtle and used only after more blatant attempts to stop the work have failed.
After Nehemiah had successfully ignored the insults and accusations, had dealt successfully with exploitation from within the ranks of his people–and the wall got higher, brick by brick–his enemies tried another tactic: the call to compromise, make some concessions, negotiate. This tactic included three different kinds of compromise attempts, each one subtler than the last thus requiring three different resistance tactics.
FIRST: But compromising sounds like a reasonable thing, right?! (That’s the “appeal to reason strategy.”)
Nehemiah, however, having dealt enough with his adversaries already to know they were deceptive, did not take the bait, especially when he learned that Sanballat wanted him to get down from his ladder, come away from his people, travel to a distant village and, well, who knows what would have happened, then.
NEXT: In the next instance, Sanballet changed his tactic. He suggested Nehemiah was suspected of personal ambition to take over Judah and some people were plotting a revolt, so Nehemiah really SHOULD meet with him. Again, however, Nehemiah discerned “they were all trying to frighten us.” He rebuked Sanballat for his lies and prayed to God, “Now strengthen my hands” (6:9).
LASTLY: Sanballet used the “false prophet” strategy, as in a prophet who was really one of Sanballat’s people. This prophet, he told Nehemiah, said that some men were coming to kill Nehemiah, and if he wanted more information, he had to meet with Sanballat “in (a) house of God,” AND, they would also “close the temple doors” because…killers…
(The reader by this time can almost hear Nehemiah saying, in today’s vernacular, “Okay, yeah, right…NOT.”)
What did Nehemiah do? In the first instance, he replied, simply, that he “was carrying on a great project,” and couldn’t come down (6:3).
In the intensified second instance, Nehemiah, keeping in mind what he already knew about Sanballat and his tribe, rebuked him and prayed, again, for strength.
In the last instance, Nehemiah discerned the man was a false prophet hired to intimidate him and discredit his name. In addition to using discernment, this time he responded using rhetorical questions: “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life?” (6:11), Instead, Nehemiah resisted fear, rebuked the false prophet, and committed the fate of all of his enemies to God (6:14).
Note to believers today: Discern who the enemy is–including false prophets–act accordingly, pray for protection, having done all you can leave your enemies in the hands of God, and keep on working.
Or in the words of Jesus by way of a parable: “Occupy (pragmateuomai–literally: trade, take care of business [keep on working]; figuratively: bear much fruit) until I come” (Luke 19:13)
*For more on how Saul Alinsky’s ideology and writings have influenced today’s radical left, see this three-part series, Outing the Radical Left’s (Literal) Playbook–and What a Person Can Do
**For our assignments, whether working in private or public domains, at home, in the workplace, or any other arena where we go about our daily business, see here for literal assignments, here for “gifts” to enable us in our work, and here for the outcomes that gradually increase as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the “spiritual maturation process.”
For more posts on both spiritual and physical survival, I invite you to read posts here.
Image of Nehemiah from Wikimedia commons.