“Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?”” (Nehemiah 4:1–2).
Jerusalem, the city of God and His temple, lay in disrepair. Nehemiah saw this as a tragedy — his heart broke. Moved by God, he prayed, and God opened a door of opportunity. Nehemiah was granted permission and funding by a foreign king to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. So Nehemiah went on this mission from God.
But this mission was under attack. A man named Sanballat spearheaded the campaign against Nehemiah, for he hated to see God’s people gain momentum. Sanballat hated the mission and city and temple of God. So he threatened and ridiculed the work — and Nehemiah. Sanballat, an enemy of Israel, was an ever-present thorn in Nehemiah’s side.
I think the ridicule of Sanballat is instructive, for it strikes me as the same ridicule modern servants of Christ experience. We love Jesus and His holy hill, Mount Calvary. We want to tell the world of what Christ has done, teaching and making disciples, but the enemy of our souls stands and scoffs. His mockery is loud. Sometimes, the mockery doesn’t originate from outside us, but inside us. Painfully, our own thoughts betray us. I think by observing the attack of Sanballat, we can become bolstered against the modern attacks we will inevitably experience as we build for God.
He ridiculed their strength
“What are these feeble Jews doing?” Sanballat asked. Immediately, he began questioning their strength. They weren’t, after all, all that impressive. Many of them were out of place doing wall work. There were families and royals and perfumers and women working on that wall. Barely anyone was qualified for the task. As they joined together, they may have felt weak for the work.
Our enemy loves to ridicule our strength. He loves to point out our weaknesses, all we are not. He loves to remind us of those who are far superior to us in gifting and effectiveness. He loves to taunt us about all our insufficiencies.
An excellent reply is to say, “I already know.” Paul seems to have embraced his weaknesses, for it was in his weakness Christ could prove Himself strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). And this seems to be the heart of God. For us to receive the credit is dangerous, so He will allow us to go beyond our natural abilities, beyond our depth.
He ridiculed their defenses
“Will they restore it for themselves?” was Sanballat’s next question. Sanballat mocked their fortifications. He openly challenged whether they’d be able to build up and restore these defenses again. Things were in shambles. Certainly, this rag-tag group of builders couldn't overcome years of atrophy to rebuild Jerusalem's defense system.
The enemy of our souls loves to pour contempt on the weapons of our warfare, which are not carnel. We have Christ and all He offers. Truth is our belt, girding us up for battle. Righteousness is our breastplate, protecting us from the great accuser of the brethren. The gospel of peace serves as our shoes, carrying us to distant shores and local coffee shops with the message. Faith is our shield, serving to quench the fiery attacks of the wicked one. Salvation is our helmet, for our minds need constant reminding of our security in Christ. Scripture is our sword, our offensive weapon in the fight. Prayer draws every element together. These are not feeble defenses, but strong ones, no matter how often Sanballat tells us otherwise.
He ridiculed their worship
“Will they sacrifice?”
Sanballat mocked the sacrificial system of Israel. Jerusalem housed the temple, so the city walls would protect the sacrificial system, the worship of God at that time. Israel was a small nation, dominated through the decades by many foreign powers. What made their worship so special?
Satan loves to mock our worship. Your private devotion and public praise will come under fire from him. You will pray and wonder why. You will sing and wonder why. You will serve Christ and wonder if it is of any impact. But be strong. Know this attack is designed to keep you from the very work that will bring God glory.
He ridiculed their speed
“Will they finish it in a day?”
Sanballat mocked the pace of the people. This project was a massive effort they embarked on; surely it would take forever. But Nehemiah would see it through in fifty-two days.
We will often feel the pace is too slow. And, certainly, our life’s work will usually take more than fifty-two days. We might feel ashamed at the slowness of our sanctification. We might be embarrassed by how long fruit takes to grow on our branch in His vineyard. Know that Christ is patient to stand and wait and work in us as we progress in life.
He ridiculed their materials
“Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?”
Sanballat mocked the materials they had to work with as they built. The burned stones had been cast into the trash heap. Would Israel actually try to use them again?
We will often wonder at the materials God has given us for the task. Will prayer actually prove effective? Will the teaching of the Bible actually help people? Will fellowship lead to open doors for discipleship? Don’t we need better, fresher, materials? No! God can and will use the simple and powerful materials of old to build His work today.
For his part, Nehemiah would hear none of it. He remembered it, for Sanballat's words were recorded in detail. But, at the moment, it had no adverse effect on him. He only turned to God. "Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads," he prayed. May we do the same as our enemy tries to play the same game Sanballat already lost.