A Lesson from Nehemiah
BY ONG KENG HO
There is a perception among Christians that open doors is a sign for smooth journeys ahead. For in times of indecision with regards to life’s next steps, we have been advised to pray and look for open doors. And the perception is that if doors are opened for our venture, everything that follows thereafter will be smooth going. Nehemiah’s experiences teach us otherwise. For if scriptural reality on this side of heaven is that we are always at spiritual warfare, that can’t be true.
In Nehemiah 1, we see how Nehemiah was stirred up by the Lord about how bad a condition Jerusalem was in, even after the Jews had returned to the city 100 years earlier. Nehemiah was so moved he went into private mourning and interceded for his nation, Israel. He embraced the cause of God’s people wholeheartedly, longing for the rebirth of his beloved nation.
So motivated was he that he was prepared to leave his comfortable and respected job at the palace of King Artaxerxes. And thence from this one man, yes just one man, began a grand movement that inspired the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. More importantly, it sparked the spiritual revival of Israel.
Then in chapter 2, Nehemiah acted upon his vision with daring and enterprise. He first sought help from the Lord. He embarked on his vision with prayerfulness, dependence, and humility. That vision was born out of awareness of his identity as a member of God’s community. He took ownership of Israel’s sin as his. As a community, they had sinned against their covenant God. But at same time, he knew intimately of the compassion and love of Jehovah. Living and working as a stranger in a foreign land and away from the worship of Jerusalem did not distract him; in effect, it shaped his longing for God and Israel’s revival.
Then he sought help from the earthly king to whom he was a trusted cupbearer. The testimony of his career has put him in a good position to do that. And his twofold bold request was for a safe passage to Jerusalem and provisions for the rebuilding task (Nehemiah 2:7). His career was very much bigger than personal security. Nehemiah didn’t just happen to be there. God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives and where He has placed us, if we care to align our spiritual heart with His will.
Nehemiah was granted the desires of his godly cause for God and nation. For all that, Nehemiah knew it was the good hand of the Lord that was behind it (Nehemiah 2:8). Ironically, the resources came from a source that, in the first place, ruined Jerusalem.
With the doors opened wide, we would have thought that everything would now be smooth sailing with the hand of the Lord upon Nehemiah. Nehemiah came through the provinces and into Jerusalem peacefully. He entered the ruined city with the king’s army and horsemen. At that point, the peace ended and troubles erupted. His very arrival was opposed by Samaritans led by Sanballat, the Ammonites by Tobiah and the Arabs by Geshem (Nehemiah 2:19).
Later on, his building programme was further intimidated and obstructed by the antics of their enemies. And in the midst of all that, the resident Jews had their own set of internal problems – poverty, economic slavery and religious laxity (Nehemiah 5:1-10; 6:17-19).
Nehemiah met each case of opposition by trusting God and striving to be obedient to His word. He let God take care of the opposition (Nehemiah 6:14). At the same time, he did not just facilitate; he worked alongside his fellow Jews, sword in one hand and spade in the other. Hence, the wall was completed in fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15-16). It was a clear demonstration to the surrounding nations that the work had been done with the help of God (Nehemiah 6:16). All that was completed despite the poor state the Jews were in and the relentless opposition from the neighbours, including conspiracy from within.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (ESV)Joshua 1:9
The takeaway from this is that God might grant us open doors with a conviction to accomplish the holy desires of our heart. But it is no guarantee that the work will take place smoothly. Indeed, just the opposite is true. When God’s work is done in God’s way, often, if not always, opposition will arise. That is not necessarily a sign of closed doors. But a rough ride that calls us, as Moses put it to Joshua (Joshua 1:6-9), to be “strong and very courageous” in the Lord. Opposition and difficulty there will be in this broken and rebellious world. That is a spiritual reality. But we are “not be frightened, and not to be dismayed”. “For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” concluded Moses. And further from Nehemiah, is the affirming exclamation, “the joy of the Lord is strength” (Nehemiah 9:10).
Alas, where did we ever get the idea that the work of the Lord is easy?