EZRA/NEHEMIAH, PART 10

The Value of Work and the Value of Weapons

Nehemiah 4:12—23

It is clear from Genesis 2:15 that man was created to work, and he will work either for God or against Him. Jesus said as much in Matthew 12:30, where we read:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

There is no middle ground, no neutrality in what Jesus said. Either a person is actively working for the Lord (gathering) or he is actively working against the Lord (scatters). Life is in no way passive, and a Christian who is living his faith slovenly—in a hit and miss manner—is dangerous to the Kingdom of Heaven; if he is not “gathering,” then by default he is “scattering.”

But Christians shouldn’t work in a slip-shod manner, either. The Lord expects His workers to do their best; to work hard but skillfully.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28)

In attempting to perform some work for the Lord, the Lord wants us to enter into it with our eyes wide open, our minds alert, and our senses keen. Of course the Lord promises to help in the work, but He won’t do our part. As we “estimate the cost,” Jesus is able to bear that cost. Our responsibility is to measure the cost of the work against our abilities and our needs, and acknowledge whom we serve.

If you are one who genuinely desires to work for the Lord, then there are some highly suggestive thoughts scattered throughout this portion of Nehemiah.

1. The position of the workers, 4:13

Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.

The enemy had hatched a nefarious plot against the Jews in order to stop them from rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem:

Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” (verse 11)

Nehemiah must have had his own very good sources of information, maybe some spies in the enemy’s camp, to learn of this plot. Nehemiah, trusting in the Lord, was also vigilant and responsible in both the work and in protecting his people as they worked. He “watched and prayed,” he did his part by counting the cost.

In spite of Nehemiah’s faith and inspiration, the workers were frightened, and some would say rightfully so. After all, these Jews were not warriors any more than they were wall-builders! They were volunteers, doing the best work they could for the Lord. But fear is so strong:

Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (verse 12)

The phrase “ten times over” simply means “repeatedly.” Over and over, the workers came to Nehemiah, convinced that they would be attacked from all sides if they kept on working. And his response was quick and common sense. He stationed some of his workers at “the lowest point of the wall,” the places were the city was most vulnerable. Basically, Nehemiah placed those workers right in the line of attack. That wasn’t the best place to be! It was a lot safer being posted at “the highest point of the wall!”

Nobody wants to be exposed the enemy; no Christian enjoys being the Devil’s target. Most of us would much prefer “the high points” of Christian work, where we could see and be seen, where we wouldn’t get our spiritual hands dirty. Working among the spiritually bankrupt and corrupt masses is not nearly as attractive as standing behind a pulpit and microphone!

We can all take a lesson from Nehemiah’s people, who had the grace to go where they had been sent, and to do their part in the great work of the Lord, knowing that everybody’s job was a necessary part of the whole project. In the Church of Jesus Christ, there are so many positions that need filling, so many faithful workers needed to reach the lost. Yet so many of us regard “witnessing” and the sharing of our faith as almost beneath us. In truth, we have all been called to work where it is most vulnerable; on the front lines of battle, where the enemy is the strongest.

We need to adopt the attitude and ambition of people like Nehemiah and his workers; people like C.T. Studd, who famously said:

Some people want to live within the sound of chapel bells, but I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of hell.

2. The privilege of the workers, 4:14

Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Nehemiah had put every man in a position where he could defend his own family and the city. Here was wisdom at work. Each man, weapon in hand, family near by, didn’t need to fear for his family back home; Nehemiah’s plan kept families together. But still, fear and apprehension are strong, and Nehemiah rallied his troups with what became their motto and their rallying cry: Remember the Lord!

Throughout history, people in times war needed a “rallying cry.” In World War II, for example, it was “Remember Pearl Harbor.” During World War I, it was “Remember the Lusitania.” During the Spanish-American War, the rallying cry was “Remember the Maine.” For Nehemiah’s people, and for all believers throughout all generations, the rallying cry must be “Remember the Lord!” The apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy, gave that young worker his rallying cry:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. (2 Timothy 2:8)

We warrior-workers are not working for ourselves; we are working for the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven! We must never lose sight of that; we must never forget that rallying cry. As we engage in our work for the Lord, whether that work takes the form of preaching a sermon, teaching the children in church, witnessing over the fence to our neighbor, or working at some soup kitchen, we must always remember for whom we are working. The more we think of Him, the less we will think of ourselves; the more we think of Him, the less we will fear others. The bigger your God is, the smaller the enemy becomes.

3. The worker’s encouragement, 4:15

When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.

How quickly the tables can turn! The enemy had entered into a secret conspiracy to fight against Jerusalem and to stop the work of rebuilding. They had planned to sneak in, unawares, and fight against God’s people. Their plan would have worked, but they hadn’t factored in “the God factor!” That always tips the scales in favor of His people.

He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. (Job 5:12)

This was an incredible—and surprising—victory for Nehemiah and his people. How was this victory won? Certainly, Nehemiah’s foresighted “plan of battle” played a part, but that alone was not what secured this victory. No, in fact the victory of verse 15 was a direct answer to the simple prayer prayed back in verse 4:

Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.

Nehemiah, prayed, then counted the cost, and God bore that cost and gave Nehemiah and his people complete victory. There isn’t a Christian alive who, if they are living in communion with God and in obedience to His Word, should fear any enemy, who should ever doubt or question the power of God that resides in them.

[N]o weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me.” (Isaiah 54:17)

4. The worker’s weapons, 4:18

and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

In spite of the great victory they experienced, the people remained watchful and ever vigilant. From here on, Nehemiah divided his workers into two companies, one would continue in the work and the other would stand guard, heavily armed. But all would be responsible for protecting themselves, wearing a weapon and working with tools.

Work and warfare characterize the devoted Christian’s life. You cannot work for the Lord without the sword of the Word. True servants of Jesus Christ must be aggressive in their faith, not just defensive of it. In other words, the trowel and the sword are both necessary in achieving any measurable success for God. Never, ever try to do anything for God unless you are prepared. The trowel is needed for your work of building the Kingdom, but the Word is needed to build you up and keep you strong!

As surely as Nehemiah’s people needed both the trowel and the sword, so today Christians can do nothing without the trowel (good works) in one hand and the sword of the Spirit (the Word) in the other.

The words that close verse 18 are important should be noted.

…the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

This particular trumpet was the shofar, and it was used for signaling the people during times of attack, but it was also blown to mark the beginning of the Sabbath. It was important that, scattered as the workers were, all of them were subject to one voice of leadership, expressed by the trumpet. The shofar, symbolic of the piercing Word of God, the one sound that should move God’s people fight and to worship.

5. The worker’s devotion, 4:21

So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.

Obviously, these weren’t members of the SEIU! These workers were so devoted to the task at hand that they denied themselves a normal work routine:

Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. (Deuteronomy 24:15)

So devoted and determined were these people, that they willingly suspended the cultural and religious norms of their day to get the work done. And this single-minded devotedness to the cause of God was what enabled this rag tag group of volunteers to prevail against the enemy and the elements.

There really is no “secret” of success in serving the Lord. The ones who find ways to avoid serving Him are simply unfit to do it, and you can find believers like that relaxing on the shoulders of the Narrow Way, as the rest of us press on, doing our part and theirs. It is one thing to get tired in the work of the Lord, but something else entirely to get tired of it.  Paul expressed as only he could in 2 Corinthians 12:10—

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

These wonderful people worked night and day on this divine project. But to show just how committed they were to the work of the Lord, notice verse 22:

Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.”

This is significant because not all the workers actually lived in Jerusalem; many of them lived throughout the region, in nearby towns and villages. In order to guarantee success in the project, these workers willingly stayed in Jerusalem until the work was done. They willingly gave up their freedom to go home until God’s work was finished.

God rarely calls any of us to give up that much freedom to serve Him! Yet for so many Christians, the thought of surrendering a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night is still too much of a sacrifice. And they wonder why the great spiritual blessings of answered prayer elude them.

The building of that wall around Jerusalem, while a real task, also stands for the kind of devotion and consecration God wants from all who serve Him. The building of that wall was not a convenience, but a way of life. Is your Christian life a convenience to you? If so, you are not only short-changing God, but also yourself. There’s not much God can do for you until you’ve given Him your all.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13, 14)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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