Sunday School Lessons

Punches or Prayer?

What do you do when you get angry, especially when other people are intentionally goading you and trying to bait you into doing something rash?  Maybe you excuse yourself to seethe in private, or maybe you are inclined to fight back (whether with words or with fists).  I’m not here to tell you the specific solution for every situation, but the book of Nehemiah offers us an alternative option to the usual reactions that our emotions suggest.

After recounting some insults being said about Israelites (in the time of Nehemiah) who were rebuilding a wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah 4 appears to show a change in tone: from narrative (i.e., what was happening among the hecklers) to a prayer.

Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

Nehemiah 4:4‭-‬5 NIV

I don’t know for sure who wrote (or said) these words; however, the sentiment appears to be the same, regardless of who the author was.

  • For instance, the Lookout (cited below) suggests that this represents the feelings of the people at that time.  That seems reasonable, given the insults being sent their way.
  • It’s possible that this prayer was from Nehemiah himself, offered to God when the problems were happening.  (This also appears to be the interpretation of Matthew Henry, a particular Bible commentator that I researched for this lesson.)
  • It’s also possible that this prayer was an editor’s note, perhaps Ezra the scribe or another person who was compiling the history of this time into the books we know as Ezra and Nehemiah.  Maybe it was a request to God after the fact, asking that these people who had attacked the Israelites be punished.

Regardless of the context of this specific prayer, though, this is an example of calling out to God when we are being attacked for our faith and for good actions done in Jesus’ name.  Even Jesus prayed before His crucifixion for relief from the suffering He was heading into (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:41-43), although – unlike our normal inclinations for ourselves – some manuscripts indicate that He also prayed for forgiveness to those who later did crucify Him (Luke 23:34).

This particular prayer seems a little pointed, asking for God to punish those who were resisting this work.  I’m not sure about all of the implications of this prayer for us today, but whether or not we pray a prayer like this one, those who fight against God’s work should not expect to prosper in the long run.  (On the other hand, God is merciful and gracious, and can restore even those who oppose His people as severely as Saul did in the book of Acts.)

So, trust God, and go to Him when you feel overwhelmed.  Do not start with your own limited knowledge, the Internet, or some sort of escape mechanism.  Instead, go to God and tell Him how you feel.   Ask Him for help, and seek out His direction for you to take next.

If you’re not sure whether this is a valid approach for your own situation, consider what happened when the prophet Elijah was discouraged and on the run from Jezebel.  Elijah told God how he felt, and God responded (see 1 Kings 19:15-18) with clear instructions for what Elijah should do next.  If you’re frustrated with others’ resistance to doing God’s will, talk with Him first, and get some input as to your next steps.  It’s better than punching back.

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.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via

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