For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So goes the third of Newton’s famous laws of motion, which form the basis of all kinds of mechanical activities.
For the less scientifically minded among you, you’ll be aware that any action provokes reaction in others and indeed inside of yourself. Stress itself is defined as a response – so we live in a world of activity and counter activity, push and push back, progress and resistance.
For Nehemiah, as soon as he took his first actions on his project to rebuild Jerusalem, he encountered reactions from opposition forces. Two characters emerge in the narrative who will feature in the whole story. Sanballat, a Horonite, and Tobiah, an Ammonite. Sanballat probably, was from around twenty miles to the north west of Jerusalem and a governor in Samaria, again north of Jerusalem.
Tobiah was also a governor. A man, probably of Jewish origin, but rejected for not being pure-blood enough. Both characters would have been able to trace close ties back to common ancestors with Nehemiah and both had a history of enmity with the current Jews they encountered.
It may not be lost on you that history is full of examples of the fiercest opposition finding its roots, not in distant enemies, but those who were once one, but who are now divided. Civil wars are the most bitter.
So Nehemiah is dealing with echoes of his past as well as reflections of his present. Opposition is never just from outside, but stirs inner dynamics as you are about to see.
These two characters are later joined by a third an Arab called Geshem. Remember way back when Abraham’s family split? Again, you have that which was once one.
Here comes the first insight about the nature of the oppositions tactics in this story. First these tactics set out as mockery that develops into violent threats. Consider this aspect with opposition with me. It seems to exist on a scale ranging from soft to hard, gentle to violent, subtle to full-frontal.
Solomon, who knew a thing or two about opponents, describes wine as a mocker and beer as a brawler. There you have it. The two ends of a sliding scale which define opposition. Consider the idea of the angel of light, who appears so plausible and reasonable but is lies and deceit. Then, on the other end, there is the roaring lion, wanting utter destruction by devouring you. These are both titles used to describe the enemy of our souls.
In modern warfare you hear of the tactics of “hearts and minds” in contrast to “shock and awe”. You hear of military intelligence and all out assault.
The opponents of Nehemiah will use tactics on this scale to disrupt the work.
But you are looking at Nehemiah’s mind. If you keep your eye on Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem you will miss the point. Before Nehemiah could engage the enemies outside, he had to face the enemies within. Inside his mind lives the mocker, the trickster, the deceiver and the soft spoken liar. His thoughts would have plagued him with questions, doubts and mockery all shrinking his confidence, eroding his courage and challenging his nerve. Like Jesus in the garden, he will have to sweat profusely just to overcome his inner mental opposition.
Then he would have to deal with the outright self-beating. The full frontal assault of his thoughts which would terrorise him and shock him in the night hours. This is where he will win or lose. This is why he needs his four months of preparation. His biggest enemies are within. If he can overcome them he will be ready for the visible enemies that he will soon face.
So it will be with you. When you embark on a task, you will need to find ways of overcoming your thoughts, your doubts, your fears and your struggles. The mental voice which tells you you are crazy or useless or worthless will need to be heard and silenced. My daughter and I used to call it the idiot voice. The inner talker who would talk you out of doing anything.
Like Nehemiah, you will not overcome these voices by sheer will power. It is not simply positive thinking which renews the mind. It is prayer which opens the mind to a different voice – a voice which expresses pleasure and delight, brings courage and faith, replacing doubt with trust. It will be the voice of the one who would, years later, kneel near Nehemiah’s walls and pledge to fight the biggest battle of all. The one who would take on the mocker and the brawler, drinking the cup entirely.
You can take this to work with you. Nehemiah did.
Nehemiaih Chapter 2:10
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.
20 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;
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