Have you ever faced opposition in your service to God? I think we all have. Nehemiah understood it well.
Nehemiah gets approval from the king to go to Jerusalem to begin repairing the walls. Even before he tells anyone, there is opposition from Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:9-10). After he surveys the situation secretly, he takes his message to the people, emphasizing first of all that this was a work of God, and secondly, that the king supports it. This clearly encourages the people, because their response is "Let us rise up and build" (Nehemiah 2:17-18). The work, in verse 18, is called the "good work." When we do something that God has laid before us, to build up His work and glorify His name, it is a good work.
Opposition arises again in Nehemiah 4:19. Sanballat mocks and taunts them. Nehemiah handles it well. He has the full support of the king, but instead of pointing that out, he tells Sanballat immediately, "The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build." He concludes this with a little "in your face, Sanballat," by reminding him: "you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem." Nehemiah knows whose work this is; and Sanballat is not a part of it. He is only standing in the way.
Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is a detailed description of who did what work and where. There are over 40 people named as working on the wall. They come from different walks of life. There are priests (3:1, 26), goldsmiths, (3:8), perfumers (3:8), rulers, (3:9, 12, 15, 16, 18) and in one case, daughters (3:12). There was a place for everyone to work. This account reminds us of Romans 12:3-8, which describes how the Body of Christ has many different gifts, but each is important. Just as each person was able to contribute something to the building of this wall, so each one of us in Christ is able to work toward building the kingdom.
The opposition is not over. In fact, it gets worse. The enemies threaten a physical attack (4:7-9). Nehemiah prays first and then acts (4:9), setting up guards for protection. He sets the people up along the breached spaces and puts the men with their families. Nehemiah is a master battle organizer here. Putting a man with his family alongside him ensures that he will fight hard. They were fighting for the Lord, but in the heat of the battle, the man would fight to defend his family.
Armed workers are a permanent fixture now:
From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each laboured on the work with one hand and held his weapon on the other. (4:16-17)Nehemiah exhorts them:
In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us. (4:20)Nehemiah's confidence is unshaken. He knows who his God his, and he knows whose work this is. While it may be a struggle, it will go forward. Nehemiah refers to God in two ways in these first chapters; God of Heaven (1:4; 1:5; 2:4; 2:20) and my/our God (2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 4:4; 4:9, 4:20). God is both the God of heavens and a personal God. Earlier in 4:14, Nehemiah reminded them:
Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.Nehemiah's God is our God. Those two exhortations, to remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and that God will fight for us, ought to be our "battle cries" when we face opposition. Do you ever feel discouraged in your walk with Christ? Do you have people mocking you and taunting you, insisting that you will fail? In your parenting, for example, do you feel weary, wondering if you can do what God has called you to do? Or are you in the workplace, fighting the opposition of the world system, where people would be only two happy to see you throw in the towel? Though we are called to action, it is ultimately God who will fight for us. That he will work for us does not mean we stand idly by, but it does mean we can work with confidence, knowing that He will work for us. God wants His work to go forward, and He wants His will accomplished in us. We don't fight alone. We go forward with assurance.