The Example of Nehemiah (Part 2) – The Enemy

“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction…..” 1 Corinthians 10:11

The Enemy will Attack

Non-believers explain away the existence of God and convince themselves that His divine attributes are accredited to some impersonal “force” of nature.  Like the saying made popular by the Star Wars movies, “the force be with you”, they believe in some mysterious, unknown force that can possibly be harnessed by a select few “masters” who can train their senses to connect with this force to control it for their purposes, thus placing human beings as the highest form of life in the universe.  This lie goes back to the garden where Eve was told that if she ate the apple she would be “like God”.  Popular today is the phrase “thank the universe” as if to honor this unknown force that somehow controls our fate.

Similarly, the forces of evil are de-personalized by non-believers.  They see evil as some unknown force that battles against the forces of good.  When we are functioning in the system of this world, it is easier to block out of our minds the fact that both God and Satan are real persons who are enemies of each other.   Yes, Satan is real and I believe that he would rather that people not believe in him because it makes his work easier.  For the Christian, we must not only acknowledge his existence, but we must be aware of his tactics.

We have established in a previous post that Nehemiah’s work of rebuilding the walls surrounding the temple of Jerusalem is symbolic of God’s restoration of the internal, spiritual temple within our hearts and minds. As Nehemiah started his work, we see that there were surrounding enemies that immediately came against him.  Likewise, when we start to rebuild our spiritual relationship with God, we will be confronted by the enemy in an attempt to stop the work.  Let’s look closer at how these attacks happened and see what we can apply to our lives and situations.

The first item of interest is the fact that Nehemiah was very quiet and even secretive about his mission.  When he initially reached Jerusalem to begin the work, he went out at night with only a small group of men to examine the damage of the walls that needed repair: “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.  Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. And I went out by night….and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.” Nehemiah 2:11-13.  Nehemiah didn’t make an announcement about his plans when he arrived.  He didn’t draw attention to himself.  It was as if he knew there would be opposition to his work so he waited until the latest possible moment to make known his plans.  We too should be careful not to be too open about our spiritual work when restoring our internal spiritual temple.  We should expect that the enemy will use any tactic to demoralize our efforts.  He will use others to discourage us, so we don’t need to make a broad announcement about what we are doing.  Not that we should be ashamed, but we should recognize that we will be entering into battle with the enemy.  You don’t need to open the door for arguments or for negative feedback.  When you are doing an internal rebuilding work in your life, you are not in a position to be teaching or convincing others. The focus should be on you and your work.  As Jesus advised, first take the log out your own eye before you attempt to take the splinter out of someone else’s eye.  Some of us have a tendency to want to get involved in “helping” others before straightening out our own lives.   As we mature and have the walls of our lives restored, then we will be strong enough to help others restore their lives.

As soon as the surrounding leaders of the enemies of the Jews discovered that the rebuilding was happening, they reacted.  Expect that there will be an immediate reaction to any efforts that you make to draw close to God.  Here’s what they did to Nehemiah:  They laughed at him, they despised him, and they tried to make his efforts look like something evil.

The enemy will ridicule, criticize, and attempt to diminish your efforts

“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us,”  Nehemiah 2: 19

One of the easiest ways to manipulate someone is to ridicule the actions that you don’t want them to be doing.  It’s a form of peer pressure targeted to pressure you to change what you are doing.  Expect that you will be ridiculed.  Nobody likes to be laughed at, but we must see this for what it is: an attempt to stop us from the work we need to do.  It’s a ploy of the enemy; the people don’t even know that they are being used by the enemy.   The ridicule is an attack on our pride, but we must resist and recognize their motive.

Similarly, people will criticize what you are doing. After being ridiculed and criticized, Nehemiah prayed, “Hear, Oh God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!” The word “despise” means “to regard with contempt, distaste, disgust or disdain” according to dictionary.com.  This is just another attempt to pressure you to stop your work.

Satan can influence people’s minds and use them to attach you.  Be prepared and be strong against this attack.  Don’t be caught off guard, but expect it and be mentally ready when it comes.

Nehemiah’s enemies even tried to promote a lie that the work he was doing was the equivalent to rebelling against the king.  This is another tactic, to make something good look like something evil.  During the ministry of Jesus, the Jewish leaders suggested that His work was a rebellion against Caesar and the Roman Empire who was controlling that region at the time.  They suggested that Jesus was promoting Himself as King and therefore usurping the authority of Caesar.  They even rationalized that by killing Jesus they would be saving the Jewish nation from being destroyed by the Romans.   These type of lies are intended to confuse people and turn others against you.  Don’t be fooled.  When we draw closer to God we may be accused of alienating our friends or causing problems with our spouse or whatever other lie the enemy can conjure up.  There are always some negative consequences associated with any good action.  The enemy will try to highlight the negative and elevate it to a false position in an attempt to negatively impact your good efforts.

Nehemiah’s response was powerful: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:20.  He essentially said that God is on his side and this is none of their business.  He simply stated the truth; the truth will always kill the lies.  We need to ask God for the wisdom to see the simple truth in our situation, and then make the simple statement of truth to those who are being used by the enemy.  They will have no retort.

Next Attack: Anger, Mocking and Inciting Others

But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews”  Nehemiah 4:1

The enemy doesn’t give up easily.  If they see that their initial tactics are not working and your efforts are moving forward anyway, they will take things to the next level.  Nehemiah’s enemies were accustomed to abusing the Jews of Jerusalem whenever they felt like it.  They could pillage their homes and stop any attempt that the Jews would make at establishing their honoring and worshiping of their God.  They knew that they had power and control over the Jews and that they were losing that power.  Similarly, our enemies had power over us.  When we were apart from God and in the world, Satan could control our thoughts and steal away any seed of truth that God was planting in our hearts.  He doesn’t want to lose this power.  He wants to keep us in bondage.  Matthew 12:43-45 Jesus teaches this:  “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came,’ and when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” I don’t believe that everyone has unclean spirits living in them, but we must recognize that there is demonic activity that can be escalated during our rebuilding efforts. We can’t let down our guard but rather we should recognize that there is likely to be a long battle.

This next level of attack by the enemy is more intense, but it has the same goal: to manipulate us and stop our efforts.  Anger directed towards us and/or mocking us are just more extreme forms of manipulation.  In Nehemiah’s case, his enemy even attempted to get more people included in the manipulation by talking to their brethren, or other family members, as well as the army of Samaria.  There’s power in numbers and the enemy will attempt to get more people involved to try to persuade you to change.

This time Nehemiah did not respond to the enemy.  He ignored them, and rather he prayed that God would turn their reproach back on their own heads.  When someone is furious and indignant it is better not to respond and engage with them.  It would only worsen the situation.  They most likely will not change, so don’t give them more ammunition to use against you by responding.

Be aware that doing the right thing spiritually will never make you popular.  Actually, being popular is more likely a sign that you are doing the wrong thing spiritually.  Jesus told us that we would be hated just like He was hated.  He was betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten, ridiculed and finally crucified, and He was the perfect Son of God sent as the Messiah.  We should expect the same treatment if we follow in His footsteps.  It’s not an easy road: Mark 8:34-38 “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’”  The battle against the enemy is well worth the effort.  We must remain strong and steadfast in our fight and allow the Holy Spirit to bring about in us the changes needed to totally free us from the enemy’s influence.  This brings us to the next level.

The Next Level: Physical Attack

When these tactics failed for Nehemiah’s enemies, their next move was to plan a direct physical attack on the men building the wall.  Nehemiah learned of their plans and prepared his men, removing any element of surprise. When the enemy learned that Nehemiah was aware of their plot and had made preparation, they canceled their plans and never attacked.  “And it happened when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.”  Nehemiah 4:15

What does this mean to us?  Will the enemy attack us physically?  I think he does through sickness or injury, but God will expose his plot and bring it to nothing.  This is another ploy of the enemy to scare us.  Many times it’s just the threat of attack, and not a real attack.  It could be a doctor’s report that turns out to be nothing.  Or a suspected problem or physical threat like losing your home or vehicle or job, but it never happens, or if it does, God takes you through unharmed.  Whatever the enemy throws at us, we must recognize that God is greater and He is able to deliver us without being harmed.  I like the encouragement expressed in Isaiah 43: 1-3 towards His people: “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the Lord you God, the Holy One of Israel, Your Savior.”

Even when Nehemiah learned that the attack of the enemy was cancelled, he still kept his men prepared.  The workers kept their weapons handy or even wore their weapons while they worked. The guards remained in place with their weapons.  We too need to be not only building up our faith and relationship with God, but we also need to continuously be on guard against false teaching and lies from the enemy.  In the letters to the young churches in the scriptures I find both of these two themes.  There is a clear warning about false teaching and also there is an encouragement about increasing in the faith.

The Final Attempt: An Invitation to Join Together

Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (although at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down.  Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” Nehemiah 6: 1-3

When the enemy saw that the work was all but done, their final tactic was to invite Nehemiah to meet with them. Nehemiah saw through their plot and recognized that they just wanted to hurt him so he refused their invitation.  Later, the enemy sent Nehemiah another invitation to consult together about some rumors that they had heard.  Again Nehemiah refused to meet with them and saw this as an attempt to spreading fear and weakening their efforts.

As we mature in our walk with the Lord and strengthen our relationship with Him, and we allow the Holy Spirit to build up the walls of our internal temple, the enemy will attempt to get us to compromise. The enemy will approach us in a non-threatening way.  “Come meet with us” was an attempt to lore Nehemiah out where they could harm him.  We may be tempted to think we can compromise and meet the enemy half way.  In the past, I was tricked into thinking that I could hang out on occasion at the bar with heavy alcohol drinkers that I worked with and not be affected.  I ended up being harmed by it.  Whatever the compromise, be very careful and recognize that the enemy only wants to harm you.

Final Warning

Satan is real.  He is an evil person and he has an army of fallen angels or demons who work with him.  He is the prince of this world and God has allowed him to have some power for a limited time.  Please be aware that he wants to destroy you and keep you from entering the kingdom of God.  I hope that this writing has alerted you to some of his tactics and prepares you before they come.  If you are a new Christian or a mature one, you will still be confronted by the enemy.  Be strong and fight the good fight.  Jesus has defeated the enemy already by His death and resurrection.  God is more powerful than Satan.  We know the end of the story: Satan will be destroyed in the lake of fire!

This is what Nehemiah said to encourage his people to fight: “And I looked and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and you houses.’” We too must fight not only for ourselves, but for the many other people who we have an influence on and who are looking to our lives as examples.

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