Our Divine Helper (Sermon)
Have you ever faced a season life—or perhaps you’re in the midst of one right now—where it feels like every time you turn around there is a new reason for discouragement? Each day seems to hold fresh new opportunities for confusion and fear. Now as believers, we know God promises new mercies and sufficient grace for each day—but our experience seems out of line and out of touch with these sorts of biblical promises. Friends, every follower of Christ that has ever lived and will ever live—will face times and season where the only prayer that can be uttered is, “Dear God, please help.” The great pastor and hymn-writer, Isaac Watts beautiful captured this reality when he wrote…
Our God, our Help in ages past, our Hope for years to come, our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal Home.
As we jump back into Nehemiah this morning, we will see that the work God has called Nehemiah and His people to is being opposed again—there are more opportunities for discouragement, uncertainty and fear… but brothers and sisters, against this backdrop we will see the unfailing love and care that God has for His people… and I trust this will fill your heart with hope as you are reminded that God is Our Divine Helper.
Our text this morning continues the account of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem—and we find throughout ch. 6 four developments…
Look with me at vs. 1, we find here the first development—and it’s something wonderful and encouraging… vs. 1 reveals…
1. A Frustrated Opposition (v. 1)
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), (Nehemiah 6:1—ESV)
Well, the wall is almost finished—all that’s left are the doors, and so—those that oppose Nehemiah and the people are incredibly frustrated. But of course, that makes sense—doesn’t it—when we consider all the ways they have tried to derail this work… absolutely NOTHING has worked.
Let’s take a moment and review some of the opposition’s highlights… 2:19—jeered, despised, and tried to sow doubt among God’s people.
 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” (ESV)
4:1-3—where we saw some really petty, sort of Jr. High-is mocking…
Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” (ESV)
4:7-8—it get’s more serious as they plot in their anger.
But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. (ESV)
Now, friends, remember this is simply a catalog of what has happened by means of external opposition… it is to say nothing of what the community of God’s people faced internally as well… we studied that in chapter 5. Each time the enemies rise up against Nehemiah and the people, they walk away in frustration and defeat. I’ve mentioned this in past weeks, but I want you to see it again. What does Nehemiah do each time the opposition rises up? As the people look to Nehemiah for leadership, where does he look for help?
After the jeering in 2:19, what do we find in 2:20? Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper… (ESV) In response to the mocking in 4:1-3, what do we find in 4:4? Nehemiah prays… Hear, O our God, for we are despised. (ESV) Finally, when Israel’s enemies plot against them in 4:7-8, what happens in 4:9? Nehemiah leads the people in prayer meeting... And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. (ESV)
Brothers and sisters, when the people of God faced opposition, uncertainty, fear, and discouragement, they didn’t find hope in a good leader—though God had given them a remarkable leader in Nehemiah. In fact, even when they did look to Nehemiah, he was quick to redirect their gaze, wasn’t he? I have to believe that Nehemiah embraced the truth of Psalm 46:1, and he knew his people needed to embrace this as well.
Psalm 46:1—God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (ESV)
Perhaps you find yourself this morning, brother or sister, facing uncertainty, fear, and even spiritual opposition. Discouragement is setting in and feelings of hopelessness are overtaking you. My desire is to serve you in your need, by drawing your attention to the faithfulness—the the strength—to the unfailing love of God… and what is the supreme expression of God’s love, Christian friend? He has given you His Son, Jesus… look to Him in your discouragement and confusion. Consider the words of this well-known and well-loved song… there is a sweet reminder here for every child of God…
What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! Are you weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still your refuge— Take it to the Lord in prayer; Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield you, You will find a solace there.
Friends, what leads Sanballat and his gang to the frustration of ch. 6 is not the strategically impeccable leadership of Nehemiah, or the super-human work ethic of the Jews… no, it is the spiritual reality we encounter in 4:15
When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. (Nehemiah 4:15 ESV)
Over and over the opposition rises up against Nehemiah and the people, and each time the opposition fails… and our text makes it crystal clear why… God was frustrating their plans. So, out of their frustration—a second development is revealed… the opposition devises…
2. A New (and Demonic) Strategy (vv. 1-14)
Frustrated and grasping for a new plan, verses 1-2 tell us that Sanballat and Tobiah try to lure Nehemiah away to a very important meeting about a day’s journey from Jerusalem. The text indicates that Nehemiah knew immediately that something was fishy, and so he responds by sending messengers back to Sanballat and Tobiah—verse. 3—
And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (ESV)
I love that—it’s like Nehemiah says… “listen guys, I know you clearly have my best interest in mind here, but I’m in the middle of something—and it’s way more important than anything that involves you guys—so I won’t be coming to your meeting…” In fact, I think you may even be able to hear Nehemiah giving them a little taste of their own medicine—a little jeering back at them—as he somewhat mockingly asks— Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you? Friends, this is the work of God, and Nehemiah will not be distracted by something less. Well, Sanballat and Tobiah aren’t about to give up—verse 4…
And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. (Nehemiah 6:4–5 ESV)
Ah, the dreaded open letter! By now, it shouldn’t surprise us that Sanballat and his gang would resort to something as wicked as this. Here is a letter intended only to bring harm to Nehemiah and God’s people by spreading false speculation and gossip about them and their work.
Derek Kinder writes, “the sending of an open letter, ensured that the malicious rumors it contained would sooner or later become public property…” What did this open letter say, you ask? Look at verses 6–7…
In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” (ESV)
In other words, this opposition was fabricating as damaging a lie as they could come up with, in hopes that it would destroy the work in Jerusalem. The lie claimed that the Jews were rebuilding in order to stage a rebellion—and Nehemiah was leading them to do this because it was his desire to be their king. In fact, they claimed that Nehemiah was even setting up prophets to announce his reign as King of Judah.”
Oh friends, this is how the Devil works… his great and single aim is to destroy the people and the work of God, and he will do whatever it takes… and often the most divisive and insidious weapon he has at his disposal is the tongues of people. Gossip, slander, spreading false rumors—friends, these sins have done more damage the work of God than anything else. Watch your words, brothers and sisters, don’t become an instrument of Satan in His effort to destroy the work of God. Nehemiah responds to this heinous attack in vs. 8—with a calm that only one who fears God can possess.
 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.”  For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.”
Again, Nehemiah sees right through their attack and we see so clearly again, that the Evil One wants nothing more than to thwart the work of God. Do you understand, brothers and sisters, that Satan is working in this very moment to get the members of Redeemer Bible Church to drop their hands from the work of God… he wants to distract us—to delay us—to discourage us… he wants the work here to stop He doesn’t want another marriage strengthened… he doesn’t want parents discipling their children… he doesn’t want your neighbors to hear you share the gospel… he doesn’t want us investing in planting and strengthening churches… he doesn’t want this body to be marked by honesty, humility, grace, kindness, and courage. No friends, as long as the gospel of the grace of God is being declared here, we will be under spiritual attack. So, let’s learn from the example God offers us in this text… In response to opposition and attack, Nehemiah does precisely what we have come to expect him to do… he prays. But notice the divine irony in the prayer—the attack of the Devil has what aim? “their hands will drop from the work…” and now what does Nehemiah pray? end of verse 9:
But now, O God, strengthen my hands. (ESV)
Friends, consider the picture here—I have in my mind a boxer with hands raised, ready to fight… and what happens if he drops his hands? The dropping of the hands is a sign of defenselessness and defeat—and the same is true here, so Nehemiah prays, “O God, strengthen my hands! Make me ready to fight—give me strength to keep going!”
As I was preparing this week, I stopped right here and I pleaded with the God—“do this for us God—do this for Redeemer—strengthen our hands—make us ready to work and ready to fight when necessary—give us strength to keep going in the face of discouragement and opposition. Notice, the text does not tell us that Nehemiah responded by strengthening his hands, but that he cried out to God—O God, strengthen my hands.
Brothers and sisters, everything God had called Nehemiah to do required God’s strength—the same is true for us… there is nothing God has called this church to do that we can accomplish in our own strength. So please hear me… we are, individually and corporately, totally dependent upon God… and so we must be a people of prayer. Well, it is a good thing that Nehemiah asked God for increased strength, because the opposition isn’t done yet…
In verses 10-14, the text explains a sort of last-ditch effort by Sanballat and Tobiah… Nehemiah went to the house of a prophet named Shemaiah who offered him a plan. He suggested that he and Nehemiah go to temple and meet securely in the temple. This, Shemaiah suggested, would save Nehemiah’s life by protecting him from a plan to kill him. Well, Shemaiah, underestimates the insight and character of this wise and courageous leader.
Nehemiah balks at the plan because he is neither a priest—so he has no business going into the temple in this way, and he is also not a wimp—so he will not abandon his people and run away to safety. Nice try Shemaiah! Look at verse 12…
 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to tauntme.  Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid. (Nehemiah 6:10–14, ESV)
Alas, another plan is foiled, the opposition is frustrated, they devise an evil new plan… and where does this all lead? To a third development in verse 15.
3. A Completed Wall (v. 15)
 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.
Friends, there is an understated quality to verse 15 isn’t there? After everything we’ve studied so far—after all the opposition… we simply read, almost with a yawn… so the wall was finished. In our study this morning, we have seen that God frustrates the plans of the wicked and he prospers the work of His people—because His plans and work cannot be thwarted.
In light of the completed wall, let me make a couple of applications to us, brothers and sisters…
First, we are reminded once again that only God can strengthen and sustain his people in the face of opposition… which means what? Redeemer family, we are desperate for God… and if we are desperate for God, this church should be marked by regular, fervent, longing prayer.
Second, understand that Satan will use everything he can to distract the people of God from the work of God, because—when the people of God do the work of God it results in the glory of God and the joyful flourishing of God’s people—and that’s the last thing Satan wants. So, what does a good and godly leader do when the God’s people are tempted to be drawn away from the work of God? He simply places God before the eyes of his people. And this leads us to a final observation here…
As we look around brothers and sisters—and it feels like the opposition to God is growing—and our culture further scorns the things of God and becomes more deliberate in its opposition to what is holy and righteous… we need to engage in this world in meaningful ways—pursuing what is true, good, and beautiful—we need to both share the gospel and live in a way that adorns the gospel… but we also need to chill out—we need to learn to rest in the sovereign resign of our good God—we don’t need to panic.
There is only one possible end to the story that is unfolding all around us—God will frustrate the plans of His enemies and He will rule in perfect holiness forever… so, sleep well brothers and sisters…enjoy the bounty of God’s created world… and joyfully anticipate the coming day when everything sad will come untrue.
Consider the certainty of God’s purpose and plan. Just like God determined that the wall of Jerusalem would be rebuilt. He ordained that His son would one day suffer, die, and be raised back to life again. God has promised that His kingdom will come in fullness and he will reign forever. I mentioned earlier that when the people of God, do the work of God, strengthened by the hand of God—God alone receives the glory. And that is what we find here isn’t it? The final development reveals…
4. A Glorified God (v. 16)
 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
Brothers and sisters… I don’t know what God has planned for us. I don’t know what the next 50 years will hold for Redeemer Bible Church. You all have endured profound difficulty over the last few years, and even now, while we see evidence of God’s kindness everywhere, we also face some very real obstacles.
But this morning, as I close, I want to offer you a simple aim—something we can embrace and pray for together—and I hope this fueled by what we have studied this morning. Friends, we are not and won’t be the biggest church in the Twin Cities, and we won’t have the flashiest programs—or the slickest printed materials… it is unlikely that we will ever be known broadly or esteemed widely.
But, I do hope and pray, that God would grant us this grace… that when Redeemer Bible Church is brought up in conversation or even mentioned in passing… my longing is that maybe—maybe just one person would sincerely say—as they observe this church, “I perceive that this work has been accomplished with the help of our God.” Let’s do life and ministry in such a way that it requires the help of God—so that we might glorify Him. We want to God to be noticed and revered in this place.