Nehemiah 6:15 says “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.”
I Love the book of Nehemiah; I find many parallels in it to my own leadership walk, and really to our lives in general. I find chapter 6 particularly pleasing, and let me tell you why: it is in this chapter that the enemy shows himself for all to see. I’ve jumped in to the middle, though, so let me back up.
If you’re not familiar with Nehemiah, he was a cupbearer for king Artaxerxes, king of Babylon. Artaxerxes reigned from roughly 464 to 425 BC, and was the son of Xerxes (the king shown so comically in 300). He was a Persian, and he likely suffered from an inherited condition called neurofibromatosis, which can cause tumors and bone deformation. The common story is that his surname was Longimanus because one of his hands was longer than the other, which could be an unusual presentation of the condition.
Artaxerxes was grandson of king Darius, who was son-in-law of Cyrus the Great, the Persian who first overthrew Babylon in 539 BC. 64 years earlier Babylon, then in the Chaldean dynasty, came under the rule of king Nebuchadnezzar II, who in 586 BC was final executor of the prophecies of the fall of Israel by way of capturing the remaining Israelites and levelling Jerusalem.
Babylon was an assimilating culture; they suppressed the individuality of those they captured and forced their ways and their gods on the captives. Cyrus was an altogether different kind of ruler; he fostered the cultures of those he enslaved. In fact, it was Cyrus who — just a year into his reign — allowed Zerubbabel to lead a contingent back to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding God’s Temple that had been built by Solomon. Artaxerxes, reigning some 80 years later, allowed Ezra to lead a second group back to Jerusalem with the explicit order to rebuild. Fourteen years later Nehemiah makes his plea and is granted a third group to go rebuild the city.
As a man, Nehemiah was a prayerful, God-seeking child of the light. He is first driven to go to Jerusalem because he bumps into a couple of men coming back from Ezra’s crew and is grief-stricken to hear the state of the once-mighty city. Motivated to speed up what was by then a decade-old project he begins to lead the people.
As a leader, Nehemiah gives little quarter and is quite decisive: he prays for an answer, gets it, acts on it, and demands others follow suit. Throughout his time as governor you see two things: his constant supplication and his constant smiting of evil deeds. He was a Loving man, but not a particularly patient one. He was stubborn, intelligent, and strategic. We’ve all had that boss, who knows what he expects of you, is certain he’s always right, and allows you no slack in compliance. If you know me, this likely sounds a lot like me, and I’d hazard a guess that he was, indeed, a lot like me which is probably why I look to him as an example.
Soon after arriving in Jerusalem he meets the three men who will tire him ceaselessly: Sanballat, a Moabite whose name means “strength”, Tobiah, Sanballat’s slave and a Jew whose names means “Jehova is good”, and Geshem, an Arab whose name means “rain”. These men are annoyed that Nehemiah has come and dog him relentlessly. I noted that in chapter 6 the enemy shows himself, and he does so through these men, who turn out to be the classic three types of foes Satan sends after us all: the persecutor, the interloper, and the instigator.
Geshem, as his name confirms, is the gossip of the group. He shuttles information about, twisting it as he goes to ensure maximum drama. He pours down his opinions like a storm and tries to stoke the fires of hate and war. We all know these people; quarrelsome, always trash taking you to your friends and your friends to you. They seek drama wherever they can find it, and will create it if necessary. Never do they get the blood on their hands; they are simply the messenger, and an honest one at that; just ask them. Their first words are always “I don’t mean to gossip or anything, but…” and while they cause chaos they are rarely ever noted. They slide in under the radar as the loud-mouth who somehow gains trust but can be counted on to tell exactly the wrong person exactly the wrong thing you said.
Sanballat is your classic antagonizing bully. Living up to his name he intimidates everyone he can and seeks to sabotage those he can’t. We all know this person, too: the consummate nemesis who will try to harass you into giving up or try their best to block you. They are the bully who will taunt you, but then tell the teacher you started it. They are constantly working to hold you down, and you’re sure they must get paid to do so given how constant their attacks. They are usually the most bitter people, driven to tear down anyone who dares to dream or to do good because they need everyone to be as miserable as they are.
Tobiah is the most insidious. Tobiah is a Jew, and so has a variety of ties and relatives in Jerusalem. He is the lapdog of Sanballat and informant to Geshem; he’s the snake who professes to be one of you, but all the while is eroding your life from the inside. These are the poisonous relationships that want to hold you static, the people who try to convince you that any new thing is going to be too hard or not worth it, so just stay here and eat Cheetos on the couch. Every one of us has those people, and some of us don’t know it. Some frenemies are clear, but others are deceptively difficult to spot. Their chief motivation is to cease any and all growth in every friend, every peer group, every business, every everything they can possibly stop.
Now is not to say these are the only three types of enemies in your life, but everyone has these people because they are Satan’s most proficient minions. The beautiful part is that each of them is defeated quite easily: you just ignore them and keep growing. These three men tried every conceivable method to stop Nehemiah from rebuilding the wall. They mocked him, they threatened him, they created rumors about him and threatened to tell those rumors to the king. They convinced the builders that the work was too hard and that the quality was substandard, that they could never finish and that Nehemiah was leading them astray.
But there in 6:15 is all you ever need to know of the enemy: the reconstruction of the wall was completed in 52 days. Less than two months. We’re talking about a wall that was 40 feet high, 8 feet thick, and 2.5 miles long. Even if the walls needed only half repair, which seems unlikely archaeologically speaking, it was still a more efficient timeline than any contractor you’ve ever heard of. And built in the face of Satan’s beat efforts to slow it down or stop it. And why? Because he overplayed his hand. He presumed Nehemiah a simple cupbearer motivated by lust for power. He counted on his minions to stay the work as effectively as they’d stayed the work of the past decade. Nevermind that God said to do it; no one listens to Him anyway. No, he saw this as an easy target. By chapter 6 the attacks are now petty, obvious, and juvenile. They even go as far as hiring prophets to come and tell Nehemiah his work is doomed. Not a word of it phased him.
How many times have you had the voice of the Spirit telling you to proceed while others are telling you to stop, to think it over, to proceed cautiously? Or conversely, telling you to go when He hasn’t said go?
The devil is a liar, brothers and sisters. He has nothing new to say, no grand pronouncements to offer. He has a simple, stupid tap dance routine that he shouts at you to watch. You don’t have to cave and look at him. You can choose to focus on the Lamb. You can let God work through you and watch a much more amazing show; there is nothing so awe-inspiring as watching what the Lord does through you.
Jesus Himself shows us how in Like 13 when He says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Tell Herod he can whine and pout and stomp his feet and try to kill Me, but I will continue to do what My Father sent Me to do.” He could have toned down His act; tried to dial back a few notches so as not to draw more attention from the king or the Pharisees, but no. He was sent here to redeem us and nothing short of the Father changing His mind was going to stop that.
We’re should — no, we MUST — share that same resolve. We are the children of the Most High God and the only power in the earth that can stop us or hold us back is our own.
Father, thank You for reminding me that there is no limit to growth, that You will take us out onto deeper water than we ever dreamed if we just accept You. I say “yes” to whatever you ask of me, Father, and I pray that You give me the resolve to do every single task involved. I pray also, Lord, that whomever reads this message can take some grain of truth from it and follow You the closer for it. In the mighty name of Your Word, and my brother, Jesus, I pray. Amen.