When we put our energy toward accomplishing the works of the Lord, the enemy does not like it. He will do whatever he can to thwart our efforts and progress. As Charles Stanley puts it in Church Awakening, “While Christ has promised to build up the church, the adversary is equally committed to tearing it down.” And he will use people both outside of the church and inside of the church to make that happen.
At the beginning of chapter 4 of Nehemiah we see opposition come from outside the church. At first, the opposition comes in the form of words, in mere insults: “They can’t do it.” “It isn’t good enough.” “It won’t work.” “They will fail.” Sound familiar? These are simply words, but if they are received with the wrong attitude, they can be utterly destructive. This kind of opposition casts doubt and makes you wonder if the task is even possible (and without God, it probably wouldn’t be…but that’s another post for another day). It makes you question if God actually wants you to be doing this. And it takes your focus off of His vision to the much smaller vision of man. Words can be devastatingly destructive if we allow them to be.
Nehemiah didn’t let these words win; the building of the wall continued (vs. 7). But their choice to continue working only made the enemy angry. They then conspired to come against Nehemiah and his men in a physical manner – they were going to put a stop to the building one way or another. In America, we don’t often see physical attacks such as the ones mentioned here, but the enemy still has ways, beyond words, to try and halt our work and progress. Busyness would be the first way. How many people within the church, how many Christians, are too busy to put their hands and feet to the tasks of our Lord? Or what about money? The budget doesn’t allow for such a vision… Or he keeps the few people who could finance the vision from “catching” the vision.
Which leads us to the idea that the enemy sometimes uses those inside the church to stop our progress. He keeps us busy, keeps us from tithing, keeps us prideful…and mostly, he discourages. In verse 10 we see, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to to rebuild the wall.” How many times have you seen the strength of leaders fail? How many times have you seen burn out happen? How many times have you seen someone walk away because the struggle seemed insurmountable? I myself have been guilty of thinking the task is too large, that there is too much rubbish standing in the way, we will never make it. And when I allow those thoughts to invade my soul, I’m letting the enemy win. When I allow those thoughts to influence my actions and/or the actions of those around me, I have become a tool in the enemy’s hand.
Nehemiah didn’t allow that to happen. His response is a perfect model for how we should respond in the face of an enemy attack. First, he prayed. Or I should say, they prayed. At this point, Nehemiah’s “I” became a “we” – the people were catching the zeal and passion for the Lord’s work that Nehemiah had from the start. So when trouble threatened the horizon, they went to the Lord in prayer. This should always be our first response. No matter what the situation, finding ourselves on our knees is the best place to be. It is only in prayer that we can prepare for battle. It is only through prayer that we can dress ourselves in the armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles that face us every single day, “for in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies” (Wesley).
But that prayer means nothing if we don’t put our feet to our faith. “Nehemiah was not the fanatic to blunder into the delusion that prayer was a substitute for duty…” for he knew that prayer with action is “the most effective defense measure” (Expositor’s). He could have easily prayed for protection and continued on the way they had been – building the wall without any regard to the enemy. But he took it one step further, Nehemiah prayed for protection and then prepared for battle. Protection doesn’t mean that God will keep the battle from happening, but it does mean He will be there fighting right alongside you, strengthening your faith, bolstering your spirit, and so much more. Protection means that we are never alone.
The second response that we see from Nehemiah is unity: “I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us” (vs. 19-20). Our best chance of success is to pull together as one when the enemy attacks. Regardless of whether the attacks come from outside our walls or within – the answer is unity. IF we are united THEN God will fight for us.
Unity is a form of anointing in the Lord’s book. The 133rd Psalm is a short one but the entire point is that unity = anointing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing – life forevermore.”
“The origin of anointing was from a practice of shepherds. Lice and other insects would often get into the wool of sheep, and when they got near the sheep’s head, they could burrow into the sheep’s ears and kill the sheep. So, ancient shepherds poured oil on the sheep’s head. This made the wool slippery, making it impossible for insects to get near the sheep’s ear because the insects would slide off. From this, anointing became symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment” (gotquestions.org).
When we are united, it is then that God anoints us. It is then that we receive blessing, protection, and empowerment. But the significance doesn’t stop there. First, and foremost, this isn’t speaking of outward unity, but rather, true unity, unity of the heart. In order for us to be truly unified in that sense, there can be no unforgiveness or bitterness. For if we do not forgive, the Lord will not forgive us, and we forfeit the blessing that unity brings (Matthew 6:14-15). Aaron and his sons were not permitted to minister to the Lord or be in His presence without the anointing of the oil. Without unity, without that anointing, we harm our relationship with the Lord. When we ourselves are not forgiven, when we have not payed our debt, we cannot be in the presence of the Lord. Sin cannot be in the presence of the Lord. And if we can’t be in His presence, we certainly can’t do His work.
The oil of anointing held a very pleasant aroma. It was made from olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, cane, and cassia lignea (very similar to cinnamon) (Exodus 20:23-25). When someone was anointed the aroma would have been very agreeable, attractive to others. When we are truly and wholly united, only then will we be attractive to those outside of our walls.
This anointing we receive from the Lord when we are united is excessive as we can see in the 133rd Psalm. The oil ran down Aaron’s beard and onto his robes. Even today in the Middle East, oil for anointing is poured in such a way that it reaches every limb. It’s an extravagant amount. The dew of Herman mentioned in the Psalm is also mentioned because of it’s abundance – historical documents note that this dew, even in dry weather, was so abundant that tents were as wet as if it had rained at night (Clarke). God’s anointing – His blessing, His protection, His empowerment – is abundant when we are living in true, straight-to-the-heart unity!
When the enemy attacks, our response should be prayer with action and true unity. If we do these things, there is much to come in return: protection, blessing, empowerment and more! God is there! He is always there! He just wants us to acknowledge His presence, His power, and His purpose (unity, or true community).
When the enemy attacks, God will respond justly. The question is, will you?