“Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders” (vv. 4–5).
Nehemiah’s confidence in the Lord inspired the Jews in Jerusalem to get started rebuilding the wall of the city when they first encountered foreigners who were opposed to the work (Neh. 2:9–3:32). However, it was not long before the work hit a snag. As we see in today’s passage, the same individuals who originally spoke against the Jews’ labor began to do so again when they saw progress being made on the wall.
This time, the enemies of the Jews were far more intimidating when they endeavored to get God’s people to cease working. Sanballat of Samaria spoke in the presence of his army, clearly gathering the soldiers in order to threaten the Jews into submission (4:1–2). Joining him in the jeering against the people of God was Tobiah the Ammonite, who mocked the quality of the construction, saying that a fox—a lightweight creature—would cause the wall to crumble merely by climbing on it (v. 3). The Jews continued working for a time, but eventually the apparent strength of their enemies got to them, instilling in them great fear (vv. 6–12). We should not underestimate the threat the Jews faced. Nehemiah 4:7 mentions that peoples on all four sides of Judah were against the Jews—the Samaritans in the north, the Ammonites in the east, the Arabs in the south, and the Ashdodites in the west. From a human perspective, the Jews were in grave danger.
In addressing the problem, Nehemiah once again combined prayer and wise action. Verses 13–23 describe how Nehemiah instructed the builders to arm themselves and to appoint guards to watch over them. However, they did not take these actions without also praying for the Lord’s favor (vv. 4–5, 9). Moreover, Nehemiah encouraged the people by reminding them that God was on their side and that they should fear Him and not their enemies (v. 14). Nehemiah made wise plans, but his ultimate trust was not in those plans or in the might of the Jews but in the Lord Almighty. He well understood that “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov. 21:31). No plan or armament, no matter how wise or strong, could save the people if God did not show them favor. This is a lesson we ourselves must learn. Wise planning is good, but because we are sinners, we will be tempted to trust in our own wisdom. As we plan and prepare, we must not take our eyes off the Lord. Only He can give us success.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage that “the reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man.” Good preparations and plans are vital, but the only way not to fear our enemies is to fear the Lord and His might (Neh. 4:14). If He is on our side—that is, if we are on His side—we have nothing to fear from this world.