Title: Why do the Nations Rage?
Text: Nehemiah 2.11-4.23
Introduction: We began this portion of our sermon series in Nehemiah with a look at his call. He heart was broken by the news from his homeland. He fasted and prayed, as God put a plan into his heart. When the time was right, he took action. He petitioned the king with a well thought out plan. And God blessed.
With this thought in mind, that is, Nehemiah’s obedience to the call in his life. I’d like to continue looking at this man, called to a task, called to lead.
Today, we’ll cover a lot of information in a short period of time. My purpose in doing so is two-fold:
- I don’t want to be in Nehemiah through the summer and into the fall. And in order for that to happen, I’ve got to keep moving.
- I feel I can cover a lot of information without going into deeper detail. You can have your own time of study if you feel led to dig deeper. My purpose isn’t to conduct that here. I’ve got this message on my heart and to preach it, I’ve got to cover a lot of ground.
Today, we’ll cover 2½ chapters. So, let us begin. The outline is as follows:
- Before the work begins: Nehemiah gets organized. (2.9-20)
- The Work begins: Beams, Bolts & Bars (3.1-32)
- The Work progresses with Shovels & Spears (4.1-23)
- The Nations Rage (1-4)
- The Peoples Plot (5-14)
- The Lord Laughs (15-23)
Transition: so let’s begin quickly now, with point # 1…
I. Before the Work Begins: Getting Organized (Tell this in my own words quickly)
- Assessment of the Ruins (2.9-16) possibly over two nights?
- Appeal to Rebuild (2.16-18) A call for unity; community;
- Antagonists Rise up to Oppose the Work of God (2.19-20)
II. The Work Begins: Beams, Bolts and Bars (3.1-32) – a basic description of the work; not just a rebuilding, some areas are totally wiped out.
- The Sheep Gate (1)
- The Fish Gate (3)
- The Old City Gate (6)
- The Valley Gate (13)
- The Dung Gate (14)
- The Fountain Gate (15)
- The Water Gate (26)
- The Horse Gate (28)
- The East Gate (29)
- The Muster Gate (31)
Transition: as we move into chapter 4, we begin to see what happens when God’s people do God’s work – following His leading – being obedient to the call. Let’s pick up in chapter 4 where the work progresses.
III. The Work Progresses
- The Nations Rage (1-5)
exp.: rd v 1; enraged; Why do the nations rage? A question asked by the Psalmist that was read earlier in the service. A common theme in Scripture: People, who are not God’s people, always stand against Him. They stand against Him as if it were possible – and I believe they think so – that they could persevere against Him. They say he isn’t real but their words don’t match their actions. Perhaps it is no more poignantly presented than in the words Christ heard while hanging on the Cross, Matt 27.42ff: 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Rd v 2-3; now for me, what’s surprising in this story is the way Nehemiah responds: rd v 4-5; wow! He’s praying a “King David, before he was king” kind of prayer (e.g., Pss 35, 58.6, 59, 69, 109, and 137)!
ill.: Can I pause and expound on this? I want to be careful to not be misunderstood. You ready for this? I’m ok with this kind of praying: (e.g., Pss 35.1-8)
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
2 Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
3 Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation!”
4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
5 Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
6 Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!
7 For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8 Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!
6 O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
7 Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
8 Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
9 Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
2 deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
3 For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,
4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
5 You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel.
Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
6 Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
8 But you, O Lord, laugh at them;
you hold all the nations in derision.
9 O my Strength, I will watch for you,
for you, O God, are my fortress.
10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
Cf.: 69, 109, and 137
app.: Here is where I think it is ok: when the attack is against the LORD and not you. Just because someone doesn’t like you or what you’re doing doesn’t give cause for such prayers. However, when it comes to the work of God, I believe such prayers are warranted.
- 1st, the prayers here are directed to God, not their enemies.
- 2nd, such prayers are the response to threats – not retaliation. It is not wrong prayer when your heart’s greatest passion is the glory of God. Such prayers for retaliation that are delivered from an insecure heart and a damaged ego should be condemned. But when your heart’s cry is God’s glory – well, you know you’re praying according to God’s will because that is His will. He has said in 48.11 11For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. Where prayers from insecurity draw condemnation, such prayers from a sincere and upright heart should be commended.
t.s.: The Nations Rage and
- The Peoples Plot in vain (6-14)
exp.: rd v 6; oh, they rage and they plot, but it is all in vain. Why? Because God will accomplish his heart’s desire. Rd v 7; he was very angry; in v 1 he was just angry; rd v 8; heh, the people plot; rd v 9; Note actions on the part of Nehemiah:
- He Trusts God – and makes this evident in his prayers.
- He Takes Action – he posts guards in strategic places.
Nehemiah does this in spite of the mocking coming from the peoples. Rd v 10-12; Here is the reality of this sort of persecution, this opposition: It brings discouragement to the ranks. The wall is half high, meaning they’re about half way through, maybe a little further (because the doors and gates are hung). Now, it’s one thing to be hit by those outside your own walls, but it is altogether a greater sense of defeat when the discouragement comes from within. We learn a great principle from Nehemiah at this lowest of lows for the people. Rd v 13; Nehemiah puts people as guards over their own people. And he tells them, rd v 14;
app.: And here is the principle: we protect and serve best – the people we love.
t.s.: the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, but…
- He who sits in the heavens laughs; The Lord holds them in derision. (15-23)
exp.: rd v 15-23; Here we find another principle for the one who has been called to serve and to lead: Nehemiah leads by example. He was there in the midst of the people. He kept the trumpeter near, while he kept a watch over his people and on the enemy in the distance. And this charge was not his alone, but also the other leaders.
app.: this is a wonderful lesson for us here as a church: The Nations Rage and the People Plot in Vain. They have as far back as time goes. But God is not moved. As we read about Sanballet and Tobiah’s mocking, jeering it says back in v 1, we find that this is the same word used to describe the Lord’s actions in Psalm 2. And again in Ps 59.8: But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.
t.s.: Galatians 6 – 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Let me close with some questions for you to Ponder:
- Do you exist for a cause greater than yourself? Think about this: Purpose comes from meaning. There is then direction, action, and movement. No meaning or purpose leads to simple existence.
- Does your purpose lead you to lay down your life for others? I’m not talking about dying – I’m talking about taking your selfish ‘ness’ and laying it down – on the altar of life. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
- Nehemiah is prepared to interrupt the building of the wall to address concerns. Some of the people trade a spade for a spear. Others trade a shovel for a sword. Others continue the work. To pursue the completion of the wall without addressing concerns would have meant certain failure. It is quite possible that people might have put down their spades and shovels and walked away. Which by the way, is what the enemy was hoping for! What would you do – how would you respond if your leadership approached you and asked you to change positions? What if they moved you to a different section of the wall? What if they took your tool away and gave you a trumpet? What would your response be?
- This is MY ministry! I started it!
- This is MY committee – MY team – I created it!
- This is MY… you fill in the blank.
- Nehemiah set a guard in place both day and night. In today’s context, what should God’s people be on guard against both day and night? How might you live in such a way that you work with one hand and hold your weapon with the other?
- In 4.12, God’s people were discouraging God’s people. How might your actions or your words be a discouragement to God’s people today?