Sanballat … mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Do you remember saying that as a kid? It was a way to try to ignore the insults that kids so often share with each other. But, as we grow up we learn that words do hurt and often times hurt more than the sticks and stones. Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem were about to learn that lesson as their work was being insulted and ridiculed. They would grow tired and frustrated from these lies and the opposition they were constantly facing.
There are lies that flow all around us that sound very similar to what Nehemiah and the people were dealing with. We hear all the time that we incapable of change or success. We don’t have what it takes and will never make it. We aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, or enough of anything. What success we have experienced or victories we have been able to achieve wont last. The list can go on and on of the lies that are out there and that find their ways into our minds. They are dangerous, because if we are not on our toes we will start to believe them and we will end up discouraged and fearful.
When we start hearing the lies we need to do what Nehemiah did – pray. Twice in Nehemiah 4 he went to the Lord in prayer. Twice he encouraged the people to remember who God was, how awesome He is and that He was fighting for them. He didn’t try to pretend that the lies and threats didn’t impact them. He said, this is tough stuff, but our God is tougher. With the prayers and the reminders of God’s faithfulness they kept going, they kept building.
Don’t listen to the lies today – listen to God and seek Him. God will make it (whatever we are seeking in Him, victory in Jesus), because He who is leading you and calling you is faithful. God will do it!
Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.”
Have you ever had a project you needed to do but never really got started because you just didn’t know where to start? Maybe you knew the second step, or the third step, but you were missing that first step. That first step is so important, if we miss it the entire project might fail or be impossible. Where you start and how you start matters.
Nehemiah has just arrived in Jerusalem to get to work rebuilding the wall and I think he knew his first step was a big one and it mattered. He took some time once he arrived there to get to know the city and survey the brokenness. But, one he was ready to get to work it seems he started at the Sheep Gate. This was a big first step and very important gate.
The Sheep Gate was where they would bring in all the animals to market and those that were going to be sacrificed in the temple. This gate stood as their entrance, or first step, in obedience to God. This wasn’t just about them rebuilding a wall, it was also about them rebuilding their relationship with God. At this time, that always started with sacrifice.
It was also the only gate that was consecrated (dedicated). I believe they took time at this gate to make that sacrifice and to surrender themselves and their work to the Lord. Think of this as a moment of re-commitment or re-dedication. For a long time they had not been living as God’s chosen people, but they knew they needed to get back to it. What better place to start than the Sheep Gate?
For us, Jesus is our sheep gate. He says so in John 10. Jesus is our way into His family, our way into a relationship with the Father. It all starts with Him. Before we get to far into rebuilding any walls or trying to restore any brokenness we need to first enter through the sheep gate and spend a minute there letting Him do a work in us first. Get with Jesus and allow Him to begin doing His work in you. If you have gotten away from Him, well, get back – you already know the way. He is there, waiting to welcome you home.
Nehemiah asked Hanani about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. He said to him, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” When he heard this, he sat down and wept. In fact, for days he mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Have you ever heard the saying, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you?” Have you ever said that or felt similar to that about a particular topic or person? I think it is a pretty common feeling because usually information brings obligation. We usually don’t want to know because the knowledge will usually require something from us, some kind of action and it is just much easier to now act and therefore, not know. We like easy, so not knowing is often easier. But, Nehemiah wasn’t afraid of hard, it's why he asked.
The information he gained with that question moved him to tears and to prayer. He knew something needed to change he just didn’t know how it was going to happen. So, he turned to God. In the prayer that follows we get a glimpse of his understanding of God and perhaps some courage to gain some knowledge ourselves.
Nehemiah knew that what bothered him, bothered God too. He wasn’t alone feeling like this should be, the city shouldn’t lay in ruin and the people shouldn’t continue to live in shame. It broke his heart and he knew it broke God’s too. We need to hear that – what bothers you, bothers God too. What moves you to tears and prayer, moves God. You are not alone.
He also knew that God was in the business of forgiveness and restoration. God was all about fixing and restoring the broken. So, his ask and his desire were not far from God’s nature. He was right on track. When we ask for God to forgive, heal, and restore we are asking God to act in His nature. We are asking God to do what He already wants to do. So, ask away!
Nehemiah also knew God would need an instrument to work with and he was willing to be just that. He didn’t know how since he wasn’t even living in Jerusalem and he was the king’s cupbearer, but he was willing if God would call him. Are you ready to be used by God in the area that stirs your heart? Just maybe, God is ready to use you. Don’t run from that stirring, take it to God and see where He leads you.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Hope is a funny thing. Without we feel like there is no reason to put one foot in front of the other. We feel alone and like there is no purpose. With it we are looking forward to what lies ahead. We have purpose and excitement. But, hope can also lead to frustration. We know better is possible. We know where we are headed is better than where we are coming from, but it is just taking so long to get there. Hope itself can sometimes be exhausting.
I think those are the moments Solomon was referring to when he wrote this proverbs. When our hope goes unfulfilled, or we have to wait a really long time for it, we do feel sick. But, at the same time it is that very hope that keeps us moving forward anyway. It seems weird to say the very thing that has caused our exhaustion is the very thing that keeps us pushing through it. But, as Solomon points out, that is exactly what happens, perhaps more times than we care to admit.
The writer of Hebrews had a similar reality to share with us. In Hebrews 11 the writer makes a long list of people we would consider heroes of the faith. In verse 13 of that chapter we are struck with the harsh reality that “all these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” Their hope was deferred beyond this life. Are we ready to hope and hope until the day we die even if we never receive the thing we are hoping for?
For us to live that hopeful of a life we will need faith. Not only did all these people have tremendous hope, they had tremendous faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” Faith gives us what hope deferred can’t – an assurance that even if we don’t see it fulfilled it is still worth hoping for. The heroes of the faith knew that if they didn’t see those promises fulfilled someone else will. They weren’t just hoping for themselves, they were hoping for everyone. Their faith wasn’t in the outcome of their hopes, but in the source of their hope – God Himself.
In this life we will experience hope deferred, but when we put our faith in the source – God, the tree of life, we can live with assurance despite our disappointment. Has your hope been deferred? That’s ok, you are in good company. Have faith, hold on to that hope, and keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfector of our faith.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.