Overcoming Opposition
by Guest Columnist, Earl Creps

Serving God is not easy. In fact, the severity of the enemy's opposition may be the best indication that God's purposes are being accomplished.

Nehemiah reconstructed Jerusalem's wall in 52 days in the face of adversaries. Local political figures - Sanballat, Tobiah and Gesham - threw everything they had at the Jewish work crews to prevent Jerusalem from regaining its economic and political dominance in the region. Their strategies failed because Nehemiah knew how to recognize and defeat them.

The Fight

The two primary strategies used by Nehemiah's enemies represent the same tactics satan still uses against the people of God:

Incrimination: opposition by accusation. Rather than risk a direct assault on the city, Sanballat and his henchmen launched verbal barrages designed to create doubt about the project among the Jews and in the eyes of the empire.

Derision was the first avenue of attack. Nehemiah records that "they mocked and ridiculed us" (2:19, NIV). "What are those feeble Jews doing?" demanded Sanballat.

Tobiah said, "If even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones" (4:2,3). Sanballat's aim was to get Nehemiah's followers to compare the size of the task (enormous) with the scope of their resources (slim).

Distraction. Sanballat also invited Nehemiah to meetings away from the city, hoping to consume the governor's time and ultimately to capture and/or assassinate him. He also hired a false prophet to lure Nehemiah into the temple area in hopes he would abandon his leadership responsibilities to find personal sanctuary. Had Nehemiah complied, the reconstruction project would have died along with his reputation (6:13).

The word devil means "an accuser, a slanderer." He undercuts our motivation to serve God by heaping scorn on us, sometimes using the words of others. He creates self-doubt by translating our best motives into something ugly. He can talk us into quitting when we should stick it out or letting God-given opportunity pass by when we should take it. In both cases, our potential in the Kingdom is minimized.

Intimidation: opposition by attack. The Jew's opponents had the city surrounded and sought to frighten them into submission (6:9).

Destruction. Sanballat's allies commanded forces sufficient to overcome the city's scattered inhabitants. Even the Jews who lived nearby warned the city's residents, "Wherever you turn, they will attack us" (4:12).

Distortion. Knowing that the empire took a dim view of provincial revolution, Sanballat's allies deliberately misinterpreted the motives behind the reconstruction project. "They asked, 'Are you rebelling against the king?'" (2:19). Their question implied that Nehemiah was rebuilding the city to establish himself as king, a move sure to invoke imperial wrath (6:6,7).

"Satan" means "an adversary." As with Nehemiah's foes, he attempts to intimidate us so our "hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed" (6:9).

The Victory

Nehemiah used the weapons available to him. Similarly, "the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strong-holds" (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Perceive below the surface. Having served as a cupbearer in the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes I, Nehemiah was not a newcomer to political intrigue. When tempted to leave his responsibilities, he recognized a ploy of the enemy and retorted: " 'I will not go!' I realized that God had not sent him ?" (6:11,12).

Paul wrote of satan: "We are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11). We must use common sense to spot difficulties that cannot be explained on the basis of circumstances alone. We should also ask the Holy Spirit to make the gift of "distinguishing between spirits" operative within us (1 Corinthians 12:10).

Pray above the circumstances. Nehemiah could do little to escape his situation, so he prayed: "Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads" (4:4). By example and organization, he also involved the city's population in intercession (4:9).

John wrote, "For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4). Turning to God in prayer brings the resources of the Kingdom to bear on the opposition.

Post guards behind the gaps. Nehemiah prayed, but he also "stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families (4:13). His strategy was to rely on God, while also organizing his forces to protect the especially vulnerable places.

For some, the low point in the wall might be their thought life; for others, control of their words.

Ironically, one of Sanballat's most devious schemes was an offer to help with the project. This would have placed his forces in a position to do maximum damage.

Nehemiah responded: "You have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it" (2:20). Defeating spiritual forces means denying the enemy any role in our lives. Paul warns: "Do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:27).

Persevere until victory comes. Rebuilding Jerusalem was a long, hard struggle. At times, despite prayer and evident progress, the people almost lost heart; however, with Nehemiah's encouragement, they refused to quit.

Nehemiah summarized the fruits of their perseverance: "When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God" (6:16).

To overcome opposition, we must first know its nature and be able to identify the weapons being used. Practical and spiritual weapons are available to us to turn back every onslaught of the enemy. We can use them in confidence that "the one who is in you is greater that the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

"Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel."