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Nehemiah 6-7: The Faith to Overcome Fear Print E-mail
Nehemiah
Sunday, 15 May 2016

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Our fears can paralyze us. Think about a time in your life when you were very afraid. How did you respond? How did your body react? What did you feel like doing? A few years ago, my family and I vacationed in Gatlinburg. My mom rented a cabin that was literally located on the side of a mountain. In order to get to it, you had to drive up a steep incline and make a sharp turn into the driveway. The first night that we were there, Glenna and I went out to get some groceries for the week. It was raining and I knew the trip back was going to be a bit interesting. When we got to the bottom of the hill that lead to the cabin, my heart was racing. We started up the incline without any problems, but when we tried to turn into the driveway, my wheels started spinning and we began to slide back down the mountain. I put the car in reverse and backed down the road to build up a running start. When I got to the bottom, I was frozen with fear. It was all I could do to not just park the car somewhere and walk up to the cabin. I had absolutely no desire to attempt the trip again. But we did. I put the car back in drive and gunned it into the driveway this time, tires spinning and all. It was a scary few minutes. And the fear left me paralyzed. Have you ever felt like that? Have your fears ever left you unable to act, unable to continue?

Our Enemy knows that fear is a powerful emotion. He knows that he can use it to keep you from obeying God. He knows that he can use it to distract us from the mission that God has for our lives as believers in Christ. He has long been trying to use fear to paralyze God’s people. In fact, he attempted to use fear to keep Nehemiah from finishing the wall in Jerusalem. But Nehemiah does not give in. He does not stop the work. He perseveres. How does he do this? Nehemiah overcomes fear by having faith in God, faith in His Word, and faith in His leading. Let’s consider these this morning.

Faith in God (6:1-9)

Nehemiah has been facing some particular enemies ever since he got back to Jerusalem. We see them again in 6:1-4. Look at those verses with me. These men realize that Nehemiah is about through with the wall so they make some final attempts to prevent that from happening. They start by trying to get him to come to a meeting. At this point, we might conclude that they are not very smart in their approach. Nehemiah would have to be foolish to not recognize the danger in meeting with them. Yet, they did have power and authority in the region, so he simply reminds them that he is too busy to make the meeting at this point. So they ask again. And they ask again. And again. Four times they ask him to come and he continues to refuse. So they try something else. Look at verses 5-7.

From this, we see that Nehemiah’s enemies are not in fact ignorant men. They use the old ‘open letter’ trick. Instead of sealing their message to Nehemiah so that only he could read it, they send it in a way that everyone can read it. And what does it say? Oh, it simply accuses the Jews of rebellion and Nehemiah as attempting to set himself up as king. This is terrible. All the people who read this letter will think slanderous things about Nehemiah and the temple. And what is the worst part? Sanballat says: ‘And now the king will hear of these reports.’ What will happen if the king hears that the Jews are rebelling and that Nehemiah wants to be king? He will have to put down such a rebellion and take the head of the governor.

So how does Nehemiah respond? Look at verses 8-9. Nehemiah knows that what they are saying is not true. It is hurtful and potentially disastrous, but he will not let their threats paralyze him. Rather, he just keeps on working and calls out to the Lord. Once again we see Nehemiah crying out to God for help. Why does he do this? Because he believes in the Lord. He knows that his enemies are trying to frighten him and the people so that they will stop working. But he believes that the Lord is greater and stronger and worthy of obedience. So he cries out to the Lord in faith and keeps on working on the wall. We can face the threats of our enemies with faith in God. We have been given stories like this one to know that our God is trustworthy and faithful. Nehemiah overcame his fear through faith in the Lord.

Faith in God’s Word (6:10-14)

But the enemies don’t give up. They try another tactic, namely buying off the priests so that they will turn against Nehemiah. We read about such an attempt in verse 10. Look at that with me. Again, the threat sounds serious: ‘they are coming to kill you.’ What is the offered solution? He tells Nehemiah to hide out in the temple for safety. At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal. Just go hang out in the temple and keep safe until the threat passes. After all, a priest is telling you to do that. Surely a priest would not lead you astray. But if we know the Law, then we know that there is more going on here than meets the eye. Only the priests were supposed to go in the temple and they could only go at certain times. Nehemiah was not a priest and was not supposed to go in the temple.

So what will he do? Will he listen to the priest or listen to the Word? We see his response in verses 11-14. Look at those with me. Nehemiah will not break the Law in order to run away from this threat. He knows that he should not listen to what the priest is saying. How does he know that? Well, it could be that he had secret informants who told him that the priest was in the pocket of his enemies. But it could also be that he simply knew what the Law said and was unwilling to sin to possibly save his neck. One of my commentator’s writes: “If someone tells you to do exactly what the Bible says not to do, you know that person does not speak for God. So Nehemiah heard this counsel that he should enter the temple, and he responded to it on the basis of what the Bible teaches.”1 Then he asks: “You want to know the will of God? Know the Bible. He has revealed His will. You want to tell when someone is or isn’t in line with the will of God when they claim to reveal the will of God? Evaluate their claims by Scripture. Are they saying what the Bible says?” Nehemiah defeats the threats of these priests by knowing and trusting the Word of God. We can fight our fears in the same way.

Faith in God’s leading (6:15-7:73)

One final way that Nehemiah fights his fears in these chapters is by continuing to trust in God’s leading. Look back at 2:12. The Lord had put it into Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. He had risked his life by asking the king for permission to do it and he had continued to risk his life by not quitting when the enemies threatened. He trusted that the Lord was going to accomplish this task. He told his enemies when they mocked him: ‘The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build…’ (2:20). He strengthened the workers by reminding them that the Lord was with them and that He would fight for them (see 4:14-15, 4:20). Nehemiah was confident that the Lord had led him to do this work and he would not let the fear of man stop him. And the work was completed. Look at 6:15-16.

They tried to get him to be afraid of them, but they ended up afraid of God and His people. Tobiah continued to try and frighten Nehemiah, but he just kept on following the Lord’s lead. Look at 6:17-7:4. Tobiah tried to make Nehemiah forsake the work, but Nehemiah would not give up. He finished the walls, appointed leaders, and gave instructions for how to protect the city. He would not be paralyzed by fear. He would keep following the Lord’s lead.

We also see him following God’s lead in enrolling the people. Look at verses 5-6. Just as God had put it into Nehemiah’s heart to build the wall, now we see that He put it into his heart to enroll the people. The list that is given in the remainder of chapter 7 is the same as Ezra 2. In one sense, this genealogy marks a transition in the book that is also similar to the book of Ezra. Once the temple is finished in Ezra (ch. 1-6), the focus then shifts to the people and Ezra teaching them the Law (ch. 7-10).

In Nehemiah, the wall is finished in chapter 6 and the remaining chapters (7-13) focus on reforms among the people, which explains why Nehemiah would record a genealogy at this point. It also helps prepare us for the issue of intermarriage and syncretism, which will be addressed in chapters 9-10, and 13. In all of this, Nehemiah is continuing to follow God’s lead and not be afraid of his enemies. Of course, we need to note that following God’s lead can seem subjective at times. Yet, when we read the Word and set our hearts to obeying it, then we face our enemies with the faith that will drive out our fears. Although our situations will be different from Nehemiah’s, we can still overcome fear in this way.

Conclusion
Nehemiah overcomes his fears by having faith in God, faith in His Word, and faith in His leading. So how can we have such faith? It begins by turning from our sins and trusting in Christ. In our flesh, we fear men all of the time and it leads us to sin against God. We fear rejection and being alone, so we have inappropriate relationships. We fear being mocked, so we say things that are wrong, listen to things that are wrong, and watch things that are wrong. We fear missing out on the fun of life, so we follow the lead of others and participate in things that we know we should avoid. The fear of man, the fear of the flesh, leads us repeatedly into sin. But Christ paid for all of those sins. He came in the flesh, lived a perfect life, faced the fear of a horrible death, and rose victoriously over the grave. By turning from our sins and trusting in Him, we can be forgiven for all of our sin. And not only that, but we can have victory over our fears as well. In Christ, I do not have to be afraid of men. What can they do to me? Can they separate me from His love? Absolutely not (see Romans 8:31ff). Can they drive me from His presence? Never. In fact, even if they take my life, they are only ushering me into His eternal presence. So why are we afraid? Why do we let fear paralyze us and keep us from obeying the Lord? Why is fear the number one reason given for not sharing the gospel? Through the power of the Spirit, let’s be free of that! Trust in God! Trust in His Word and His leading through the Spirit. Fight for faith that will overcome your fears! Amen.

1 James M. Hamilton Jr. Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah CCE (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014), p. 143.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 May 2016 )

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