Despite screening of participants, some venues still end up with visitors sitting in the audience (or standing in the back of a crowd) and shouting out insults or challenges to the speaker. These days, with the anonymity of being online, more people seem to feel emboldened to criticize or attack a point that someone else has made. Whether we call them hecklers, trolls, or just mischief-makers, I think of them like Statler and Waldorf, the two guys from the Muppet Show who sat in the box at the theater and made fun of the performers in the show.
The next mini-series of articles brings us to the book of Nehemiah. Living in the same era as Ezra (the priest / scribe / teacher), Nehemiah was sent by a non-Jewish king to Jerusalem, in order to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
To provide context to today’s Bible text from Nehemiah 4, I encourage you to also read Nehemiah 2:10, 19-20. Three detractors, “Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab” (from verse 19), aren’t happy that the Israelites might be making a comeback, and they’re making fun of the people who are rebuilding the wall.
Note that Nehemiah’s recorded response in verse 20 doesn’t try to justify his actions. I supposed that he could have whipped out his commission from King Artaxerxes and shoved it in their face. Perhaps he did reference the king’s support, but what we have recorded here is a testimony to Nehemiah’s confidence in God’s help, and a reiteration that Jerusalem was promised to his people.
Jumping ahead to chapter four, we find that the verbal resistance to the Israelites’ work is growing more intense.
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!”
Nehemiah 4:1-3 NIV
Here we go again! Sanballat and Tobiah apparently…
- …hear the news about the project that Nehemiah is leading, and are concerned. (Nehemiah 2:10)
- …hear about the rebuilding, and make fun of the Israelites. (Nehemiah 2:19)
- …hear that the rebuilding is taking place, and get angry…with insults. (Nehemiah 4:1)
Sanballat’s mocking comments insult the people’s capabilities, their ability to restore worship to their God, and perhaps even their attempt to accomplish a difficult thing. Tobiah jumps in and insults their workmanship.
This isn’t about the hecklers, though. Today’s article is about those who follow God boldly. If you do big things in God’s kingdom when He asks you to do so, you should probably expect the same treatment as Nehemiah and his countrymen of that day:
- Someone will suggest that you don’t have the skills to accomplish your goal. If your project relies on God to support it, they are probably right: only with God’s help can you achieve certain things.
- Someone will suggest that you’re crazy for doing something for God. To the uninformed, that might seem to be the case, but God’s power and faithfulness are clearly evident, both historically and in our own experiences.
- Someone will suggest that you simply can’t succeed. For the mockers, your goal might be impossible if they were to try it themselves. However, as the motto of my state says, quoting from Matthew 19:26 (see also Mark 10:27), “With God all things are possible.”
- Someone will suggest that you’re just building a house of cards, and it won’t hold up. THese same people might have said that putting 300 rebel Israelites up against 120,000 Midianites and other opponents wasn’t going to work (see Judges 8:4, 10), or even that sending the Savior of all humankind to earth as a baby under foreign rule was risky (see Luke 2:4-12). God’s plans don’t have to follow man’s rules, though, nor are they subject to man’s limitations.
So, the next time that someone challenges or insults you for following Jesus Christ, don’t panic and don’t lash out. Evil and ignorance have fought against God’s instructions for humankind since the Garden of Eden, but that’s no reason to slow down in our quest to follow God’s directions. Whether you’re building a wall, or just living a God-honoring life, the larger story isn’t about those who didn’t participate, but about the amazing results of God’s plan.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 12, 2023
- The Lookout, February 12, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.