“My enemies are vigorous and strong; and many are those who hate me wrongfully. And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me, because I follow what is good” (Psalm 38:19-20). The temptation for discouragement is so great when we are faced with the overwhelming abundance of our enemies. In this sinful world, we are literally surrounded on all sides, from within and without, by the enemies of God – all of whom are seeking the degradation and consumption of not only their own souls, but the souls of others. As Peter puts it, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan knows he is going to Hell (Revelation 12:12), and he is bent on taking as many souls with him into the depths of damnation as he can.
But we must, as soldiers of Christ and children of the Most High, be on the alert. We have a grave obligation to the preservation of the church, and to the keeping of our souls until the day of glory. With so many enemies, though, it is difficult at times to keep ourselves pure. It is even more difficult to stay positive in the face of such opposition. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to understand our enemies and what weapons they use on us. Having an understanding of one’s opponents is primary in defeating them! Sun Tzu Wu once said of war, “Know thy lot, Know thine enemies, Know thyself. Know thy enemy and know thy self and you will win a hundred battles.” In his Art Of War, written sometime in the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu also wrote of his enemies, “Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.” And so it is with our enemy the devil. His forces in this world outnumber us, and he is, at times, a great deal more powerful than us. But understanding the devices of our enemies, and knowing how they attack us, is essential is to defeating them!
For this lesson I would like to examine the methods used by two enemies of God, in particular. We read about them and their schemes in the book of Nehemiah – Sanballat and Tobiah. Two men of intensely depraved mind, they worked hard at confusing the work of Nehemiah and the returning Jews to Jerusalem. As each stone is added to the crumbled walls of the city, Sanballat and Tobiah use just about every trick in the book to try and discourage the heroic efforts of God’s people. They serve as examples to this day of how all of God’s enemies try their hand at defeating the will of the Almighty.
Before beginning the bulk of the lesson, let us consider the situation in Jerusalem. Read Nehemiah 1:2-3. With this knowledge, Nehemiah entreated King Artaxerxes to let him go to the city and help rebuild its wall. Upon reaching the city limits, Nehemiah is startled at the disrepair of Judah’s once-beautiful capital (2:17). It was not simply the ruins that greeted Nehemiah, though, as we meet Sanballat and his shifty friend Tobiah for the first time. “And when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel” (Nehemiah 2:10).
Our Enemies Use Scorn
The weapons of our enemies are sometimes powerful. They pierce us much deeper than any carnal weapon can, for they harm us within our souls. The first weapon that is often used by the enemies of the Truth is scorn. We all remember the old rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But anybody who has ever been at the opposite end of sharp words will question its merit. The enemies of Jeremiah proclaimed loudly, “Come on and let us strike at him with our tongue, and let us give no heed to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18). And James tells us that “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). We cannot be so proud that we underestimate the danger of verbal scorn.
As for the enemies of Nehemiah, they used this tool twice in the text. Notice first of all what Sanballat and Tobiah say in Nehemiah 2:19, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Of course, Nehemiah was in Jerusalem at the order of the king, and his job in reconstructing the city walls was sanctioned by Artaxerxes himself. This is telling of the kind of scorn that our enemies often use against us today. Most often, what they are saying is not even true; if one wants to discredit a Gospel preacher he simple needs to accuse him of sexual impropriety; if a deacon or an elder, then embezzlement of church funds. If an entire group of people want to discredit the Lord’s church, they resort to name-calling (“antis”) or simple misrepresentation (as if members of the church are uncompassionate, uncaring to the elderly and to orphans, political radicals, etc.).
Still others use verbal scorn to belittle the work of the church, making light of how ineffective the Gospel seems in changing the world. To one whose mind is set on worldly things, the church may seem like a small fish. The great events of mankind overshadow the small accomplishments of the remnant of faithful ones. One can say that in 100 years, mankind as a whole does more than God’s people; in the 20th century alone, we have seen governments rise and fall, great feats of construction, new ideas and philosophies form over night, weapons of unimaginable destructive power. One writer states, “What is this paltry idea about converting people one by one compared with scientific, legislative, educational, economic and sociological programs which can affect millions at a sweep?” (Explore The Book, Baxter, 239)
Sanballat and Tobiah continue their taunting in Nehemiah 4:1-3. Imagine how deriding this must have been for the Jews listening in on such a conversation. Not only are these offenders mocking the work itself, but they are also pouring contempt on their nationality (“feeble Jews”). But within these comments lies the infirmity and weakness of the enemies of God. Since Sanballat and Tobiah have no strong argument, they must resort to lesser forms of abuse. It is clear that children do the same thing! When a rebellious child is in trouble and knows he is at fault, his only option is to scream and call people names. The enemies of God cannot use logic in their reasoning because any semblance of logic would lead them to God! Consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:18. The only people who choose not to believe in God and His power to save are people who choose ignorance over knowledge, hardness of heart over peace of mind, and death over life.
Beyond that, we must also see that Sanballat and Tobiah always needed to be together to make their arguments. One can just picture Tobiah jumping in after Sanballat’s statements, mimicking the assertions with his own twist. Truly, evil people love company because they know they are weak in their logic – Tobiah would most likely have said nothing had it not been for Sanballat’s presence, and Sanballat would most likely have minded his own business if he knew he did not have a lackey to follow him around and agree with him all the time!
When confronted with verbal scorn, the best thing to do is keep working, praying and trusting in God. It is a victory for Satan every time words are able to halt the work of the Gospel. We must strive to be like Nehemiah, who placed all of his confidence in the Lord as he asserts, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right, or memorial in Jerusalem” (2:20).
Our Enemies Use Force
As disconcerting as it is, we must prepare ourselves for physical opposition, at times, to the work we are trying to accomplish for the Lord. The harm of evil men is a distinct possibility for Christians, just as it was for Nehemiah! When Sanballat and Tobiah realize the ineffectiveness of their insults, they resort to violence as a means of disparaging the workers in Jerusalem. “Such enemies as Sanballat and Tobiah were not the sort to be content with venting their spleen in idle mockery. Their keenest shafts of sarcasm were lost on a devout soul like Nehemiah. So scorn now gives place to force” (Baxter, 240).
Notice especially the events which unfold in Nehemiah 4:6-15. “For the people had a mind to work” (4:6). First of all, the defense of the city of Jerusalem and the successful completion of the walls, hinged on the willingness of the people to themselves in harm’s way. It was not safe to work on these walls, knowing full well that enemies were outside, prowling about! But when people have a mind to work, as these Jews did, much can be accomplished. When the people do not have a mind to work, nothing is accomplished but damnation. Truly, churches can become like this, too – groups of Christians who do not want to evangelize, teach classes, encourage each other, etc. will more often than not fall apart within a generation. Also, notice that the success of the builders made their enemies very angry. It infuriates Satan every time we baptize someone, it disheartens our doctrinal opponents to see our congregations growing, it enrages atheists when our good, clean, moral, happy lives put to shame the wanton pursuits of worldly people.
It is important to see from this account that God will always be with us, even when it seems like all hope is lost. “Things certainly looked pretty serious. The opposition had now developed into a formidable alliance – Sanballat, Tobiah, Arabians, Ammonites, Ashdodites! It is remarkable (or is it?) how again and again mutual enemies will become mutual friends to make common cause against the people of God. Pilate and Herod patched up their quarrel and became “friends” in their joint condemnation and abuse of Jesus” (Baxter, 240). With rumors and threats flying, and even a short rhyme floating around Jerusalem saying that they will fail in their efforts, Nehemiah utilizes his abilities as a leadership and sets up a plan to guard the incomplete portions of the city wall, day and night. But notice a small detail before anything is put into play, “But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them” (4:9). It shows a great level of spiritual maturity and faith for Nehemiah and the people to go to God at a time like this – but this should not surprise us, especially when we realize that this statement sounds very much like a phrase that our Lord once spoke, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46).
What is so significant about this idea to the Christian is that Nehemiah’s faith was not just one of inactivity and blind trust, but also one of obedience and action. He completely believed that the Lord would deliver them from the hands of their enemies, but he understood that it takes an active participation from the people, too! Nehemiah was not going to fall for the common blunder that God would deliver regardless of what he or the other Jews did. This is very much like the attitude Paul had, as he explains it in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. While we, as Christians, may never be obliged to arm ourselves with physical weapons as Nehemiah did, we have an obligation the fight the spiritual battle. By keeping the faith and fighting the good fight, we make ourselves an active participant in the war between good and evil.
Our Enemies Use Craft
When verbal abuse and physical force both fail, the enemies of the Lord must move on to their last option, craftiness. This is the last option because it takes the greatest amount of work and planning, but can sometimes break even the strongest defenders of goodness. If Sanballat and Tobiah had been able to stop the work of Nehemiah and the Jews with only words, they would have preferred that over fabricating a complex plot to ensnare the good governor. We read about several of these plots in Nehemiah 6, the first of which occurs in 6:1-4.
From the first verse it is clear that the enemies of God often know as much as the servants of God – they knew when the walls were completed, but were keenly aware that no doors were yet hung on the gates. Their chance for success was still open, if they worked fast and with stealth!
But to the keen follower of God, the plots of our enemies are as apparent as day light. Nehemiah knew that no good could come from a meeting with Sanballat and his oily friends. With great confidence and dignity, Nehemiah simply explains, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” If only believers from every generation had as much courage in their response to temptation!
In our own lives, the distractions of our enemies are everywhere. People are constantly trying to convince us to miss worship services for something “important.” Whether it is a football game, a business trip, embarrassment because of the scorn of an unbeliever, a fishing trip, or perhaps even the pressures of a certain habitual sin in your life – we are being pulled on all sides by the world. Paul put it best in 2 Corinthians 7:5, “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.” But when all of these try to pull us away from the service of the Lord, perhaps we should remember the way Nehemiah responded, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” There may come a time when every single person at my job is an unbeliever, and they are ridiculing me because of my beliefs. Perhaps instead of being embarrassed at my faith and consenting to follow the “crowd” I should simply exclaim that the worship of God is such a great work that I have no time for sin!
Next, Sanballat attempts to openly discredit Nehemiah to lure him into the trap. With a letter that is open (the fact that it was open meant that anybody could read it), Sanballat explains to the governor that there is a rumor going about that speaks of an impending Jewish rebellion. Essentially, Sanballat is saying, “Nehemiah, I’ve heard of some trouble, but I don’t believe it. I’m on your side! Let us meet together and work this out. I simply want the facts straightened out.” I like the way Sanballat puts it, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says. . .” (6:6). Often, our enemies will use unreliable information to report things that are just not true.
Nehemiah’s response is essentially the same as before. He says in 6:8, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” There is a lesson to be learned here. It is always from the mind of man that cruel and crafty plots are formed, as well as lies, rumors, gossip, and other immoral uses of the tongue. People invent these lies, not God. “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble” (Proverbs 24:1-2).
The third and final attempt at deception is the most sobering. From the text, Nehemiah 6:10-14, we find that some of Nehemiah’s own brethren had been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to discourage Nehemiah, convincing him that he should hide from the plots of assassins, and flee for his life. Just imagine the discouragement of the tired and fearful Jewish builders, seeking out their governor only to find him hiding in the temple. Of course, Nehemiah’s response reflects the inner character of this man of God, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in” (6:11). The truly sad part about this account is that it is often our own brethren who deceive the easiest. Few things hurt more than being stabbed in the back, though. I have always appreciated the statements made by the psalmist in Psalm 55:12-14. Pain and suffering are bearable if they come from our enemies – but when the source of my afflictions is my friend and companion, the same person who served with me on the Lord’s table, the same man who was there when I was baptized, the same woman who taught my children in Bible class – the hurt of that betrayal is almost immeasurable. One writer notes, “It seems an awful thing to say, yet it is true, that there are betrayers like Shemaiah and Noadiah in most Christian congregations today – men and women who have professed conversion to Christ, who share in the fellowship and labors of the saints, who nevertheless seem to find a cruel pleasure in the fall of a Christian leader” (Baxter, 241). Perhaps it was jealousy that drove these Jews to sell-out. Perhaps it was simply greed. But what is important to see is how Nehemiah responds; he just keeps working!
As we close the lesson, read Nehemiah 6:15-16. Through all of the efforts of his enemies, Nehemiah managed to complete the work for God. It was not easy, but Nehemiah had one great thing going for him that no betrayer or deceitful politician could ever have. He had God. When troubles hit, he prayed. When things fell apart, he trusted. When even his own life seemed in danger, he kept on working, one brick at a time, one day at a time. I hope that this lesson is encouraging to all of us as we face all the enemies of this world. The apostle Paul understood that the work of the church always needs to get done, in good times and bad times. He explains in 2 Corinthians 6:8 that Christians can succeed by both evil report and good report – which is exactly the way Nehemiah had to operate.
Going back to my mention of the great warrior Sun Tzu Wu, he mentions in his book that knowing our enemies is the key to winning the day. When we know the weaknesses, the tactics and the methods of our aggressors, we are more mentally equipped to deal with them successfully.
The enemies of God have many weapons at their disposal. The three discussed in this lesson only scratch the surface of Satan’s mighty arsenal. But as impressive as the devil may seem to be at times, we must remember this one, simple question; “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Satan has no power over Christ, and when we choose to be a part of God’s army, we can be confident that it will be the army that always wins! Consider 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
The invitation is simple. If you have heard the message tonight, and believed it with all your heart – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1 John 3:23); if you will confess that believe before God and man (Romans 10:9-10); if you repent and live a life that is renewed and in the strength of God (Luke 3:8); and if you will be baptized for the removal of your sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6), then why will you not obey the invitation? God calls to us from His Word, just as it says in our invitation song. Listen to Him. Heed Him. Obey Him. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).