Nehemiah 4 p2: Sanballat's Second Attack - Physical Persecution

Bible Study Series on the Book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah 4:7-15 Sanballat's Second Attack: Physical Persecution 

by I Gordon

Neh 4:7-11 Now it came about when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. And all of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. Thus in Judah it was said, 'The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.' And our enemies said, 'They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them, and put a stop to the work.'

In the last verse of the previous section, we read that the wall was now built to half its height and the old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me", was coming true for the first time ever. Nehemiah and his builders had survived the initial attack and having a mind to work had completed half the job! The enemy may had been resisted but He's not above changing tactics. Phase two was now quickly being devised and it involved the sticks and stones! We read in vs 7-8  "Now it came about when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired to come together and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it."  Now this disturbance wasn't just calling Nehemiah names for they said  "they will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work."  (vs 11) They really, really, didn't like this wall did they? Who knows what they would have done given the opportunity. 

So, what does the enemy have the power to do given the opportunity?

Before reading this list, please note that the redeemed have been bought and paid for by Jesus' blood. God owns them. In the instances used below where Satan persecutes Gods people, GOD HAS ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN. God, not Satan, is omniscient, omnipresent, & omnipotent. While we can't fully understand how the relationship between God and Satan operates, we do know that the Lord is sovereign and in control. The best insight into the power of Satan is in Job 1:12-2:7 where God said "Behold, all that he has is IN YOUR POWER."

  • The Sabeans & Chaldeans: power over people to do his bidding. (vs 15,17)
  • Fire/Lightning: power to cause storms and lightning (vs 15)
  • Tornadoes/Hurricane: power to use tornadoes and nature to cause havoc. (vs 19)
  • Sores & Sickness: power to cause sickness in & upon our bodies (ch 2:7)

Other examples are found of course backing up these examples and providing new ones:

  • Animals: He can cause animals to act under his influence (Luke 8:32-33)
  • Thoughts: What we think are our own thoughts can be from him! (Matt16:21-23)
  • Physical Deformity: His power can cause deformity in our appearance (Luke 13:11)

Again, keep in mind that God is sovereign. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.'

Now in Nehemiah, the first thing to note is that none of the enemies are absent from this physical attack. While Sanballat is again at the front of the list, Tobiah and Geshem's people the Arabs are also mentioned. Sanballat is again the main orchestrator but he rarely seems to work alone. A brief look at the history of the Church shows us that Satan has used both of his friends in destroying and persecuting Gods people. In the first and second centuries the attack came from the Roman Empire, who frequently forced Christians to do lunch with lions. This is Satan using the world and its system (Geshem) to do what he ultimately wants. To "kill them and put a stop to the work." (vs 11) The Roman Empire became the Roman Catholic Church (Tobiah - that very "good" religious system who may say that Jehovah is good, but hates God's true people) and the persecution and deaths continued. 

Old Pope and Pagan!
John Bunyan, in his classic 'Pilgrim's Progress' writes: 'And I saw in a dream that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of pilgrims who had gone this way before; and while I was wondering about the reason for this, I saw a little ways in front of me a cave, where two giants, Pope and Pagan, had lived... But Christian passed this place without much danger, which I wondered about; I have learned since that Pagan has been dead for some time, and the other, though still alive, has grown so crazy and stiff in his joints because of his age and the many skirmishes he met with in his younger days that he can now do little more than sit in the mouth of his cave, grinning at pilgrims as they go by and biting his nails because he cannot attack them...Yet at the sight of the old man who sat in the mouth of the cave, he did not know what to think, especially since the man spoke to him saying "You will never change till more of you are burned."
Will the last days see a revival of the Roman Empire and a new lease of life for old Pope?

While in the west, we don't live in a country where physical persecution happens to anything like this extent, physical attacks and trials still come our way and are used by Satan to weaken our desire for God and the Christian life. In fact, it is the promise of God that "In this world you will have trouble". There, it's a promise! But our response to these trials is what God is looking for, and our faith is what He wants to refine.

The Resistance Of The Righteous

Neh 4:12-15 'And it came about when the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, 'They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,' then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears, and bows. When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people: 'Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.' And it happened when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.'

So what was Nehemiah's response? We read in vs 9 earlier,  "But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night."  The response gives the necessary ingredients for God to act.1 It is, as Major Ian Thomas says, "a love for God, leading to dependence upon God, resulting in obedience to God, that lets God be God in a man!" Nehemiah wasn't complacent, or under-estimating the enemy for he  "stationed men in the lowest part of the space, behind the wall, the exposed places, and stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows."  (vs 13) Yet his prayer and attitude was always that  "The God of heaven shall give us success; therefore we his servants will arise and build but you (the enemy) have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem."  (chapter 2:20) 

When the enemy attacks there are always areas of our life that could be called "the exposed places." The wall has not yet been built in this area and we are still vulnerable to an attack. Sanballat isn't stupid; he goes for their weakness!2 This may be a personality problem like pride, greed or being given to worry or depression. It may be a habit or addiction that he can use. Doesn't matter what it is - guard the lower parts and exposed places. Be on the alert and use the armour of God (this is covered in the next study). Fear is often a favourite of the enemy as it was in Nehemiah's day3. It affected nearly all the workers and leaders during this physical attack (vs 14) yet the answer remains the same -  "Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight..."  Does that sound familiar? It should, for it is the same attitude that Joshua and Caleb were trying to instil in Israel to enter the Promised Land. Of course, they were met with a slightly less favourable response and were nearly stoned! (Num 14:9-10)

Now what was the result of Nehemiah's faith? Vs 15 tells us that "God frustrated their plan". Nehemiah's action allowed God to operate and receive the glory! 

So the work on the wall continued, providing greater protection and security each day.

And may the walls of your salvation continue to build as well, thwarting the enemy's attack!


[1] So, you're in a spot of bother! Bit of an attack you reckon?? Then who is the one who fights the battle - God or man? Or in other words, who lives the Christian life? Again Nehemiah gives us insight into this aspect, which may help. On the one hand we can NEVER, EVER forget that "the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear (your natural fleshly effort); for the battle is the Lords" (1 Sam 17:47) and that "without me, you can do nothing!" (John 15:5) God living in man is the essence of the Christian life, Christ in us our only hope of returning to the glory from which we have fallen (Col 2:27, Rom 3:23). Anything we try to do apart from this basis is sin because it is not based on faith (Rom 14:23) and in the end will only produce a heck of a lot of wood, hay and stubble!

Yet, we cannot ignore the commands to be alert, sober and watchful (1Thess 6-8), to resist the enemy (1Pet 5:9), and to put on the full armour of God (Eph 6:11). These things are directed at us to do. Nehemiah knew that dependence upon God was essential and prayed to God. He also knew that a true faith and dependence acts, and was on guard, ready, day and night. The two sides of the coin are seen in verses such as "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might", "For this purpose I labour, striving according to his power which mightily works within me", "therefore, let us be diligent to enter the rest", "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do." It is an attitude that faces every difficulty with "I can't, but you can. Thank you Father that you are everything I need in this situation." and then steps out!


[2] I tend to play a lot of tennis and if it's an important match then it is necessary to quickly establish where the opponents' weakness is and then exploit it! Cruel I know, but necessary. If they have a bad backhand then I'll keep plugging away at that weakness and sooner or later they will begin to lose confidence and it will become much easier to win points. Our enemy isn't any different. He will exploit the weak areas - be sure of it. Nehemiah knew it. If it means running round your backhand, run round your backhand. If it means not going or putting yourself into situations or places that cause you to be tempted then do that!

[3] Pop Quiz Time.... For 40 points and a starter of 10, "What command did Jesus give more than any other?" That's right! "Do not be afraid!" He obviously knew human nature pretty well! I like the amplified version of when Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water. They were in a storm (trial) and Jesus wasn't with them (or didn't seem to be. Surprise, surprise!) They were freaking out cause Jesus didn't seem to know anything about it (or care) when suddenly he comes, calm as can be saying 'Stop being frightened, I AM!' He was again reminding them that even when he doesn't seem close, he is still in total control, the eternal I AM. Everything we will ever need.


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