Second Chronicles 32:1, opens with these words; “After these faithful deeds, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah... “—which seems somewhat of a raw deal for poor old King Hezekiah who’d just finished implementing a whole set of sweeping reforms aimed at returning a wandering Israel back to a place of obedience and devotion.
The general, perhaps some would even say ‘logical’ pattern, would presume that such obedience and faithfulness would entitle us to a less difficult and less harassed life; but here it seems that even after all his faithful and devoted service, Hezekiah and the Hebrews are rewarded with confrontation. The words of George MacDonald spring to mind; “Everything difficult indicates something more than our theory of life embraces”.
According to their particular theory of life, the logic those ancient Hebrews were living under, obedience wasn’t meant to result in trouble. Devotion was not supposed to be rewarded with harassment.
The first wave of opposition
Chapter 4 brings the first wave of opposition to Nehemiah and the Jews in the form of two antagonists Sanballat and Tobiah. Behind them lay a small army of opposers; Arabs, Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod (v7). The opposition of two men quickly mushroomed into the forming of a Samaritan coalition convinced of the threat of a regrouped (rearmed) Israel. Their threat begins with relatively harmless banter;
“What are those feeble Jews doing?
“Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
“What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
From there it gets rather nasty quite quickly.
“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem...”
Some people develop strange ideas about pressure. They assume that if they’re careful enough, wise enough, efficient enough, rich enough, smart enough or even holy enough, that they’ll by-in-large be able to dodge a large majority of life’s trouble. As if trouble carries some form of intrinsic slide rule system that indicates if you’re a 7-10 in certain areas, then you most likely won’t be bothered by it, but woe-betide you if you’re anything below a six, you can be sure you’re in for a rough ride!
Nehemiah does not strike me as the naive type. When he left the kings presence Jerusalem bound, I do not believe for a moment he anticipated blue skies, gentle breezes and plain sailing ahead. He’d asked for specific letters and authentication from the king because he knew full well he’d encounter opposition. So when opposition arrived in the form of Sanballat the Horonite & Tobiah the Ammonite, he wasn’t altogether taken by surprise.
As contradictory as it may sound, Sanballat and Tobiah would prove to be gifts to Nehemiah and the Hebrews. Their opposition would not only refocus and reorganise them, but would go on to galvanise them toward a more committed and concerted effort to complete the task. Much of the time opposition comes in poorly decorative packaging. It looks unappealing, odd, offensive even. But under that clumsy wrapping often lies our greatest resource for growth and advancement. Chapter 4 encourages each of us to pause before we complain about the Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s in our lives. To appreciate perhaps that under that awkward packaging lies the seeds of a better, stronger tomorrow.
We’d do well to be quicker to ponder that protest, quicker to consider than complain, the next time opposition comes our way! It may just be God, albeit cleverly disguised, giving you the best gift your development could have asked for!