The book of Nehemiah is a fascinating account of how God instills a vision for His glory and the good of His people, then how God works in Nehemiah and the surrounding circumstances to carry it out.
But challenges arose–significant challenges that could only be withstood by a man whose heart was gripped by God’s call on his life. Nehemiah’s task was to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, for the destruction of the city and its walls left it exposed to enemy threat and pilfering. When Nehemiah heard the account of Jerusalem from other Jews who had visited there, he wept and prayed (Nehemiah 1:1-11). Through this, God galvanized him in approaching the king, asking for materials and safe conduct to rebuild the wall, and to rally the troops to go help.
But those challenges. They came in the form of Five-Point Critics. How so? Nehemiah chapters 4 and 6 give a blueprint for us to spot out the Tobiahs and the Sanballats of our walk. Here’s how to spot the ungodly, selfish critics that may come our way.
- The quality of the workers. When Sanballat saw that they were moving ahead and rebuilding the wall, he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” Critics will go after your qualifications, your experience, your supposed strengths. What fuels them? Envy, jealousy, power? For Sanballat, it was anger and rage. Who knows what lies in the heart of man, except that the heart is evil and desperately wicked above all things–who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)? The end product is discouragement.
- The quantity of the work. “Will they restore it 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” (Neh. 4:2b)? Critics see the bigness of the task. Christ-followers see the bigness of Christ who calls to the task.
- The quality of the work. Tobiah chimes in: “Yes, what they are building, a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3). Self-explanatory, yes, but we see that these critics discourage by questioning the structural soundness of this wall.
- The quantity of the critics. Critics breed more critics–it’s a contagious disease, to be sure. “But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward… they were very angry … and they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:7-8). Critics come together like birds of a feather to work to undermine God’s work and will. When God continues to move regardless of their complaints, they recruit more critics to fight and confuse. They will do whatever it takes to get their way and slow down the process of the sanctifying momentum among God’s people.
- The cruelty of the critics. Nehemiah shows an enemy warned by Shemaiah that they would come to kill Nehemiah, so he should lock himself up in the Temple for protection (Neh 6:10). If they cannot frustrate the plans, they will destroy the one executing the plans–even if those plans come from God himself.
How did they respond?
- Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). (“Hear, O our God, for we are despised… .”)
- Nehemiah kept moving (4:6). (“So we built the wall.”)
- Nehemiah left the fighting to God (4:20). (“Our God will fight for us.”)
- Nehemiah remember the great work and wouldn’t come down (6:3). (“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”)
- Nehemiah held fast, even when death would possibly approach from his enemies (6:11). (“Should such a man as I run away?”)
- Nehemiah did his homework on his enemies (6:12-13). (“And I understood and saw that God had not sent him.”)
- Nehemiah prayed again (and again, and again, and again)(6:14). (“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things they did.”)
- Nehemiah persevered until completion (6:15). (“So the wall was finished… .”)
- Nehemiah used it as an opportunity to teach the people to give glory to God for His blessings (Neh 8-9). (“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave sense, so that the people understood the reading.”)
- They praised God by dedicating the wall to Him–putting into practice what they had been taught: give glory to God for His amazing grace (Nehemiah 12). (“And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”)
So much more could be said. Criticisms will come, dear Christian. God warns us about this–and gives us the prescription to respond. Praise Him for His kind providence in Christ Jesus.
[Addendum: I just noticed that 9 Marks had a blog post from a few years back on the Five Points of Criticism on how to engage in godly criticism–worth reading, I might add.]