Courage Amidst Opposition (Nehemiah 1-6)

November 14, 2011

The weekend retreat gathered forty-five women, many of them new in the faith, to a lovely site on the Pacific Ocean. The speaker’s topic was “Courage,” which would seem to have obvious application for women today; but the choice of Nehemiah 1 through 6 as the text was fascinating to me. God moved quite strongly among and in the women, and for that we were all very grateful!

While listening to our speaker, the geek in me “traveled” to the former time and place and what the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall meant to God’s people, to their opponents, and, yes, to us in the PCUSA. My contemplation of the Word followed this track, straight from the text:

1. Nehemiah 1:3—“They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” I too lament the breakdown of boundaries and foundations that have previously defined us as Presbyterians.

2. Nehemiah 2:4—“The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘…send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’” Might we also be called to rebuild what has been trampled in the PCUSA and rediscover our Reformed roots in the process?

3. Nehemiah 2:17—“Then I said to [Jews who had previously returned to Jerusalem], ‘You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, . . . Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.’”

4. Nehemiah 2:19—“But when . . . Sanballat, . . . Tobiah, . . . and Geshem . . . heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing?’ they asked. ‘Are you rebelling against the king?’” But rebuilding the integrity of the PCUSA is inviting ridicule and even judicial obstruction from those who have a vested interest in keeping the walls ill-defined: people shaped by secular values outside and within the church.

5. Nehemiah 3:17—“Next to [Nehemiah ben Asbuk], the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum . . .. Beside him, Hashabiah . . . carried out repairs in his district. Next to him, the repairs were made by . . . .. Next to him, . . . Next to him, . . .Next to him.” The work before us can be accomplished if we labor shoulder to shoulder.

6. Nehemiah 4:1—“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, . . .. ‘Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?’”

7. Nehemiah 4:4-6—“‘Hear us, O our God, for we are despised.’ . . . So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.”

8. Nehemiah 4:7—“But when Sanballat, Tobiah, . . . heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead . . . they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

9. Nehemiah 4:21—“So [in response to the plots against us] we continued the work with half the men holding spears, . . .” In the face of institutional opposition, our quest for godliness and strong, defining boundaries, can be accomplished by faith and pragmatism.

10. Nehemiah 5:1—“Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers [regarding economic injustices and enslavement within the community].” The dissention within the ranks is just as distracting, if not divisive, as the threat from without. Great attention must be paid to meeting the pastoral needs and encourage the unity of any reform movement within the PCUSA.

11. Nehemiah 5:9—“‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?’” Throughout the rebuilding process, the builders must confess sin and seek to practice God’s justice/righteousness. Repentance continues to be necessary for us to succeed in God’s work.

12. Nehemiah 6:1—“When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall . . . [they] sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’ But they were scheming to harm me; . . .” Intimidation in the form of “Let us meet to discuss what you are doing” is another way to neutralize the PCUSA rebuilding effort. The longer we stay in meetings, the more temptation we have to fall asleep, get distracted, or be satisfied by less than God’s desire for the church.

13. Nehemiah 6:8—“I sent this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’ They were trying to frighten us . . . Should a man like me run away? . . . [They] had hired [a prophet] to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin . . .”  People sounding very pious can derail the efforts to rebuild the church.

14. Nehemiah 6:15—“So the wall was completed . . . in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” No human threat can ultimately undermine what God desires to do through courageous and submitted saints.

Tomorrow: Are Presbyterians being intimidated into accepting the status quo?


One Response to “Courage Amidst Opposition (Nehemiah 1-6)”

  1. “Two factors, which are really one and the same thing, reveal the difference between spiritual and self-centered love. Emotional, self-centered love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a community that has become false, even for the sake of genuine community. And such self-centered love cannot love an enemy, that is to say, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it. Both spring from the same source: emotional love is by its very nature desire, desire for self-centered community. As long as it can possibly satisfy this desire, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But emotional, self-centered love is at an end when it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and slander.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together

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