One of the drawbacks of starting a family in your thirties is that your children will likely have a distinct shortage of grandparents. However, not because we deserve it, but because God is gracious, our children are blessed to have a team of onlookers who have been, well . . . looking on for their whole lives, cheering from the sidelines, applauding through the curtain calls, celebrating birthdays and graduations, lauding their achievements right alongside our family. These “bonus grandparents” have become grafted into our family tree by their faithful presence, by their sharing of wisdom for living and their encouragement in hard times.
In Chapter 4 of Nehemiah, the toiling renovation crew had onlookers of a different stripe. It seems that not all of the Jewish remnant had signed on for wall-building duty, and instead of focusing on the glass half-full — or the wall half-built (4:6), these onlookers chose to focus on the danger and risk of their current situation through the lens of their past defeats and disappointments. Sure, Nehemiah had rallied the troops, and the wall was intact all the way around at half its usual height, but in their experience, walls were no sure defense against a determined enemy.
Rumblings of military action from hostile neighbors sent the Israelite onlookers into auto-back pedal. Instantly “re-tweeting” Sanballat’s threats, they began warning their relatives to “give up and come home, already!” Kelly Minter recreates a fictional (and amusing) possible scenario in her excellent book, Nehemiah: A Heart that Can Break:
“The perfume-maker’s mother scurries into town and says, ‘Come off the wall, Son. They’re going to kill you! Come back to your potentially lucrative trade; Chanel No. 5 hasn’t been invented yet!’ Or maybe Shallum’s brother traveled in and said, ‘You’re being reckless with my nieces! Haven’t you heard the threat Get them off the wall’; or what about the friends of the priests? ‘Eliashib! What use is your priesthood if you’re dead?'”
Although they meant to be a wet blanket with their dire predictions, for Nehemiah, the onlookers’ words were gasoline on the flames. Notice the transitional word from verse 12 to 13: “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall . . . with their swords, their spears and their bows.” Instead of giving up and sending everyone home, Nehemiah persevered, ratcheted up his security, went on the offensive, and God brought the enemies’ plot to nothing. This is more than a positive mental attitude, and my question (sitting here with my coffee on a Tuesday afternoon) is this: From whence cometh this kind of discernment? I see it in Samuel when he discovered that King Saul had disobeyed God’s directives for the handling of the Amalekites and their king. (Read about it yourself in I Samuel 15.) How did this aging prophet muster the conviction that he was to “hack King Agag in pieces”? Surely he could have rationalized away that impression as “extreme” and settled for sentencing him to a stint as a high-profile POW.
How did Nehemiah trust his calling over and above the shrill sound of those who were convinced he was crazy? I believe that answer lies somewhere in the fact that he had not forgotten what God had put in his heart to do. Apparently, the wall’s full height at completion would be about seven meters, so with another three and a half meters still inked into his day planner, Nehemiah could not afford to let himself be swayed by onlookers who had lost their vision of God’s all-surpassing greatness.
Are there onlookers standing around your half-built wall who make you feel like quitting? What kind of onlooker are you? Do you look on in faith, sharing encouragement, pitching in when things get tough? It’s much easier to be part of the doom and gloom crowd.
Do you have a support group of faithful onlookers who encourage you? If so, you’re blessed! Be sure to thank them.
If you’d like to leave a comment or a link to your own post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. This post is the twelfth in a series based on the book of Nehemiah, travelling slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/