Overcoming Problems in God’s Work: Handling Victory Part 1 (Neh. 6:15-7:1)
Wow, I can’t believe we made it this far. We are about to finish up the first half of the book of Nehemiah. The theme of the book has been “Building God’s people for God’s work.” We have been talking about God’s work, which takes up the first half and soon, in the coming weeks, we will talk about building God’s people.
So as we conclude here with the first half, we are going to talk about how to handle victory. We probably do not hear enough about this topic. We talk a lot about dealing with failure and discouragement and other problems in God’s work. But we do not talk enough about how to handle times of victory. Although there are always problems in God’s work, there are also special times of victory. These are times when a soul finally gets saved, or people delivered from bondage, people persevering through trials, reconciliation between believers, marriages healed, prodigals come home, backsliders return, etc. I would even say any advance you make with the Lord, it is a victory. Anytime you choose to invest (not spend) your time with the Lord and in His Word, it is victory. Anytime you turn away from temptation and turn it into conversation with God, it is a victory. This is because in God’s mind, He is counting the advances and not the setbacks.
So there are a lot of times of victory and celebration in God’s work. But Warren Wiersbe says, “Satan is not a quitter but stays on the field even after it looks as if he has lost the battle. Many a careless Christian has won the war but afterward lost the victory. Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” Sometimes it is not your failure that leads to your downfall, but your successes.
So how should we handle them? First of all,
I. With every great work, give glory to God (Neh. 6:15-16)
These are the theme verses of the book of Nehemiah. Look at Neh. 6:15. The story began with “So I prayed” (Neh. 2:4). Then we read, “So I came to Jerusalem” (Neh. 2:11). “So they strengthened their hands for this good work” is the next link in the chain (Neh. 2:18), followed by, “So built we the wall” (Neh. 4:6) and, “So we labored” (Neh. 4:21). Now we reach the end of this part of the story: “So the wall was finished” (Neh. 6:15). But this marks a new beginning, for now Nehemiah must protect what he has accomplished. How he does this is the theme of the rest of the book.
I thought it was funny that Nehemiah is so matter-of-fact and almost saying this in passing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. Jenny comes home from work and I ask about her day and she goes on for about 10 minutes about her day. I home from work and if she asks me about my day and I say, “It was good.” I feel like Nehemiah is like that here, “Yeah, it was good. We built the wall.” What?! Don’t you want to throw a party right here? This is such a huge moment! Especially in light of all that they went through to get here and almost a century passing before anything like this ever happening. Well, there will be a celebration later, but Nehemiah, the shrewd and careful leader that he is, wants to make sure victory is handled well. Hold the ticker tape. Don’t cut the ribbon just yet!
Nevertheless, what a remarkable achievement: the wall is completed in 52 days! A little under two months since his night inspection in Neh. 2:12-15, Nehemiah rallied the people of God to do the work of God. Let’s go over the time table for a second. Nehemiah got word of the walls being broken down in Neh. 1:1 in the winter time, around Nov-Dec. He prayed about it for a few months and then in April of the following year, Neh. 2:1, he approached the king with a request to leave.
After preparation and travel, he arrived in Jerusalem around the beginning of August. The “25th day of the month Elul” means end of September to early October. Wow, in nine months (half of which was traveling—actually it took him longer to travel to Jerusalem than to build the wall), Nehemiah hears about the problem and gets the wall up. This is incredible! Some scholars think the width of the wall was about 1.5 to 2.5 miles long, depending on whether you included certain areas of not. It was also probably about nine feet thick. Some have said the height of the wall was about 16 feet high.
How was he able to do that in such short time? Nehemiah tells us how in Neh. 6:16. Look how the tables have turned! All of the nations wanted to make Nehemiah and the Jews were afraid, but in the end they were afraid. The expression “fell greatly in their own esteem” or “lost their self-confidence” (NIV) literally means that their pride had suddenly vanished. Nehemiah adds, “They all realized that this work was accomplished with the help of our God.” The best answer to opposition is to keep doing and fulfilling God’s will. I love his humility here. It was not just because of Nehemiah’s leadership or just because the people were skilled at building or just because they had favorable conditions or just because the King of Persia provided lumber for the gates. They knew this was a God-thing.
The prophet Elijah was once in a contest with the prophets of a false god named Baal. You can read about this in 1 Kings 18.The contest was about which god was the true god and whoever was the real god would show Himself strong, by bringing fire down on an altar. Then Elijah did a strange thing. He said, “Pour water on the altar.” He said to do this three times. The water was flowing all around it and filled even the trenches. In other words, let’s do something here that we know only God can do. It will not be magic. It will not be trickery. It will be a God-thing. And then God came down, set the whole thing on fire and even licked up all the water around. What I love about this book is that there are no overt miracles, meaning no parting seas, burning bushes, earthquakes or plagues. They had good leadership and hard work, but in the end everyone saw God’s hand was on it!
Let us pray to God that He would a God-thing in our lives. A good prayer I love to pray is, “Lord, do something so great that you alone get the glory!” I remember one hot night on July 4th evening sitting in the back of a room for an all-night prayer meeting. I was seventeen years old. My friend and I sat in the back, ready to leave as soon as possible for fireworks, only to be captured by the gospel, captivated by grace and corralled by the Holy Spirit. It was 5am and I was on my knees weeping over my sin. I looked over and saw my dad and my mother receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior along with my friend and his parents as well as two other households. Ok, explain that?! Actually I can…God did it! There are times you might feel like things are getting worse than better, where you feel like God is pouring water on your altar when you are trying to get a fire going. That’s ok! He might just wanting to do something so great that He alone will get the glory!
By the way, I think some Christians have a hard time accepting and giving praise for fear of pride and stealing God’s glory. I used to struggle with this. If anyone tried to encourage me, I wouldn’t let them. I would be stop them and say, “Praise God. Hallelujah! To God be the glory!” Then along the way someone said, “It’s ok Robin. Yes it was God, but you were willing and available and faithful, accept it and move on.” You are not stealing God’s glory by saying, “thank you.” Yes, ultimately God does get the glory. I mean, don’t dwell on the encouragement, realize you want God to do more with you, say a prayer, keep going and keep serving. I also read through Paul’s letters and he was always showering so much love and affection and praise like “You are my joy and crown” or “Everyone is talking about your faith” and things like that. Have you ever noticed that? Jesus Himself said that followers need to live waiting to hear, “Well done. Good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). Secondly,
II. Guard great victories because they can be followed by great failure (Neh. 6:17-7:3)
The book does not end here. I love how the Bible is real. There is no fairy tale ending in doing God’s work until Jesus comes. Nehemiah says, “in those days,” which means, “throughout that period,” the wall was don, but I was still facing opposition. The Enemy never walks away until he will thrown into the Lake of fire forever. The work is never done on this side of eternity. You don’t ever retire from God’s work on earth. So you have to guard times of great victory because it can still be followed by great failure. Remember David’s fall to Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 happened when he knew no defeat. Jonah’s self-pity party in Jonah 4 happened after a huger revival in Ninevah in Jonah 3. Elijah’s great victory I just talked about was followed by suicidal thoughts in 1 Kings 19. So in this section, we find three ways to guard your victories:
a) Avoid compromise (Neh. 6:17-19)
You may remember that Tobiah, one of the main enemies, has people on the inside. The reason was intermarriage with unbelievers. This was forbidden because of the close connection between your race and your religion. It was forbidden to marry outside your race because of the temptation that it will become to follow after their gods.
Now some of the big shot leaders in Judah started corresponding with the Enemy. These were probably some of the same people Nehemiah confronted in Neh. 5 for exploiting the poor. Remember last week we talked about a prophet/priest named Shemiah who was so shady and working for the enemies and almost tricked Nehemiah into sinning. Here we see more people who betrayed Nehemiah and God. Nehemiah must have felt like he could not trust anyone since he did not know who was friend and who was foe.
Notice the phrase “bound by oath.” This means that Tobiah was helping them out financially if they helped him out by giving him information about what is going on inside the wall. They probably wanted to get their money back! How did this start? Look at Neh. 6:18. Flip back to Neh. 3:4. Meshullam’s daughter was married to Tobiah’s son. Meshullam worked on the wall! Tobiah also had a Jewish wife. It gets worse. Tobiah is also related to a Jewish priest named Eliashib in Neh. 13:4. The guy’s got connections all over the place and he has his followers deceived. Look at Neh. 6:19. I was kind of shocked by this. Did they not remember that this same Tobiah wanted to kill them…just 2 chapters ago? (Neh. 4:8). Did they not remember his ridicule saying “even if a fox goes up, the wall will come down!” (Neh. 4:3). Perhaps money is involved here, but most likely, I think what is going on here is as Warren Wiersbe says, “The bonds of human connection were stronger than the bonds of spiritual affection.” 
I am all about family, but unfortunately, I have seen on numerous occasions, solid believers compromising their faith because they were influenced by human relationships over loyalty to God. I believe the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” Yes, humanly speaking, you have greater obligation to a relative than you do to a stranger. But Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37, NKJV). The “blood bond” that unites us to Christ is the strongest bond of all, and our loyalty to Him must come first.
That is what made compromise so tricky here. It doesn’t happen all of a sudden. You start flirting and hanging out with the wrong crowd. You make a small decision to watch that movie or look at that site or meet with that person. You tolerate it once and you get used to tolerating it and it numbs you before it kills you. We are all just one decision away from destruction. And that decision happens because of a long list of smaller choices you made.
Watch out for this especially after a spiritual victory. On Mondays, I am so tired, I feel like I do not want to do anything. It is then I must guard my television and internet habits. The whole week climaxes right here for me and if you are praying for me for Sunday (which I hope you are), pray for me on Monday too. Perhaps for you it is the weekend or a vacation. One day goes by and you are not in prayer or in the Word. Then before you know it, it is weeks, months and years. Watch out that you are not compromising when things are going well. You may not have a job now, I know you are praying for it, but pray when you do, you do not compromise your faith. Pray for the wedding, but pray a lot harder for the marriage. I have heard of ugly marriages, but I have never heard of ugly weddings. Pray for children, but pray a lot harder to raise him.
b) Decide on priorities (Neh. 7:1)
We have talked a lot these past few weeks about priorities. Nehemiah is so careful here once the wall is built to make sure some other things are set. This would have been a time to relax, but he doesn’t do it. He assigns gatekeepers. We read in Neh. 11:19 that there were 172 gatekeepers. This was for protection, although it does make you think, “What is the point when your so-called people are your own enemies?” The wall was a symbol of Israel’s identity as God’s people. The gatekeepers made sure nobody got in to threaten that.
He then assigns singers! I love it! The Jews loved to sing! Look at all the Psalms. When they were carried off in exile to Babylon, the singing had stopped. It says in Ps. 137, they sang a song about how they cannot sing anymore! How they used to sit down and weep because of it. Nehemiah says, it’s time to sing again! He’s getting the people ready to worship. Stephen Davey says, “Music is not incidental to worship, but an essential part of worship.” He also assigns Levites, who were the priests. Their job was to interpret the Word of God for the people. So the singers inspire the heart for worship and inform the mind through teaching of the Word.
I think what helps me handle victories is to know my priorities. So when work is done or a goal is accomplished, I am doing two things. I am avoiding compromise and putting my feet down on my priorities. You need to do both. Living the Christian life is not just saying no to sin, but saying yes to the things that please God. What are your priorities? Most people say, “God, family and others.” I feel like that can lead to compartmentalizing your life. It should God, God and family, God and others, God and work, etc. Everything is the Lord’s. He doesn’t even charge me for using His oxygen. He’s given us money, our bodies, resources and time to use wisely. I don’t own anything. It is the idea of stewardship. You are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 3:16).
How do I know if I am not prioritizing? I came up with ten possible ways we might fall into compromise if we are not prioritizing. I am prioritizing when (and in no particular order):
1. I find entertainment and recreation as less of a necessity than being with the Lord in the Word and prayer.
2. I am communicating with my spouse or loved ones.
3. I am not overeating and taking care of my body.
4. I am burdened for the salvation of my unsaved loved ones.
5. I find time to come to church or Bible study.
6. I am not too tired for my family.
7. I am convicted to give financially to God’s work.
8. I come to church rested and prepared to serve, worship and receive from God’s Word.
9. I have not become numb to my apathy and complacency to the Lord.
10. There is accountability in my life.
I’m going to stop here and continue this next time, as the Lord allows. D.A. Carson says, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
This is true especially as we celebrate victories. Giving glory to God means not just praising Him for the work He has accomplished in our lives, but doing our best to protect it in His strength. I think it is a victory that you chose to come here today and worship the Lord. But for me and for you, it will be what do you do when you get home? Small compromises cause you to lose your priorities. And if we do not make the small changes now, don’t think one day all of a sudden we will be as God wants us to be.
Forgive me if you have heard this story before (it was on my heart as I was preparing this message) of an old missionary couple, having spent 30-40 years out on the field in Africa, finally came back to the US, too weak now to serve. On their flight home, a prominent United States Senator also was coming back to the US from his visit. When they landed at the airport, the Senator got out and was greeted with the media. There were photographers, television cameras and lots of journalists and news reporters. Right behind him was the couple. The husband looked at his wife and said, “We’re back from the mission field serving so hard and we get nothing.” Then his wife replied, “But honey, we are not home yet!”
There is a day coming, beloved, where our victory will be finally won. I love the verses in 2 Pet. 1:3-11, telling us to work at our spiritual growth with all that we have, knowing that at the end in 2 Pet. 1:11, a huge welcome mat, party and celebration will be waiting for us. We don’t know when that day will come, but let us love, serve and work as though it could be today, and we will not be ashamed.
Wiersbe, Neh. 6:15
http://sawaal.ibibo.com/puja-and-rituals/what-were-dimensions-nehemiahs-wall-623178.html accessed August 20, 2009.
D. A. Carson, quoted in “Reflections,” Christianity Today (7-31-00) as quoted in http://www.preachingtoday.com accessed August 21, 2009.