The Faith to Challenge Others

When Jesus sent His disciples out to minister, He first gave them the authority they needed to do the job; and He promised to meet their every need (Matt. 10:1–15). As we go forth to serve the Lord, we have behind us all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18); so we don’t have to be afraid. The important thing is that we go where He sends us and that we do the work He has called us to do.

Nehemiah is a good example of how believers should relate to unsaved officials as they seek to do the work of God. Nehemiah respected the king and sought to work within the lines of authority that existed in the empire. He didn’t say, “I have a commission from the Lord to go to Jerusalem, and I’m going whether you like it or not!” When it comes to matters of conscience, we must always obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29); but even then, we must show respect for authority (see Rom. 13 and 1 Peter 2:11–25). Daniel and his friends took the same approach as did Nehemiah, and God honored them as well (Dan. 1).

The king’s response is evidence of the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations. We expect God to be able to work through a dedicated believer like Nehemiah, but we forget that God can also work through unbelievers to accomplish His will. He used Pharaoh to display His power in Egypt (Ex. 9:16; Rom. 9:17) and Cyrus to deliver His people from Babylon (Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Ezra 1:1–2). Caesar issued the decree that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1–7), and two different Roman centurions—Claudius Lysias and Julius—saved Paul’s life (Acts 21:26–40; 23:25–30; 27:1, 42–44). While it may be helpful to have believing officials like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, we must remember that God is not required to use only believers.
Moses and Nehemiah made similar decisions of faith and similar sacrifices (Heb. 11:24–26). As the representative of the deliverer of the Jews, would he be welcomed by the Gentile officials? Nehemiah performed no signs or wonders, nor did he deliver any prophecies; but he faithfully did his work and prepared a city for the coming Messiah (Dan. 9:24–27).

    No description is given of the trip from Susa to Jerusalem, a journey of at least two months’ time. As a testimony to the faithfulness of God, Ezra had refused military protection for his journey (Ezra 8:21–23); but since Nehemiah was a governor on official business, he had a military escort. Nehemiah had just as much faith as Ezra; but as the king’s officer, he could not travel without his retinue.

    For one thing, he would not oppose the will of the king; and he could not force his faith upon others.

    When the official caravan arrived, it was bound to attract attention, particularly among those who hated the Jews and wanted to keep them from fortifying their city. Three special enemies are named: Sanballat, from Beth Horan, about twelve miles from Jerusalem; Tobiah, an Ammonite; and Geshem, an Arabian (Neh. 2:19), also called “Gashmu” (6:6). Sanballat was Nehemiah’s chief enemy, and the fact that he had some kind of official position in Samaria only made him that much more dangerous (4:1–3).

    Being an Ammonite, Tobiah was an avowed enemy of the Jews (Deut. 23:3–4). He was related by marriage to some of Nehemiah’s co-laborers and had many friends among the Jews (Neh. 6:17–19). In fact, he was “near of kin” (“allied”) to Eliashib the priest (13:4–7). If Sanballat was in charge of the army, then Tobiah was director of the intelligence division of their operation. It was he who gathered “inside information” from his Jewish friends and passed it along to Sanballat and Geshem. Nehemiah would soon discover that his biggest problem was not the enemy on the outside but the compromisers on the inside, a problem the church still faces today.

    After his long difficult journey, Nehemiah took time to rest; for leaders must take care of themselves if they are going to be able to serve the Lord (Mark 6:31). He also took time to get “the lay of the land” without arousing the concern of the enemy. A good leader doesn’t rush into his work but patiently gathers the facts firsthand and then plans his strategy (Prov. 18:13). We must be “wise as serpents” because the enemy is always watching and waiting to attack.


    Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working when others are resting. Nehemiah didn’t want the enemy to know what he was doing, so he investigated the ruins by night. By keeping his counsel to himself, Nehemiah prevented Tobiah’s friends from getting information they could pass along to Sanballat. A wise leader knows when to plan, when to speak, and when to work.


    As he surveyed the situation, he moved from west to south to east, concentrating on the southern section of the city. It was just as his brother had reported: The walls were broken down and the gates were burned (Neh. 2:13; 1:3). Leaders must not live in a dream world. They must face facts honestly and accept the bad news as well as the good news. Nehemiah saw more at night than the residents saw in the daylight, for he saw the potential as well as the problems. That’s what makes a leader!

    Published by Intentional Faith

    Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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