Satan’s strategy (5)



[Nehemiah 4:1-3]



In the church, who do people ridicule?  They usually ridicule a person who believes in the Lord well and is faithful to Him.  So, to a person who is well-believing and faithful, they ridicule by saying, ‘Should you believe in Jesus like that?  Do you have to go to church on a Sunday like that?  To whom are you trying to impress with being so faithful?’  Therefore, in the last days, the members of the church will be hurt by other members of the church (Internet).


In Nehemiah 4:1-3, we see Nehemiah and the people of Judah being ridiculed.  Who ridiculed them?  These were Sanballat (vv. 1-2) and Tobiah the Ammonite (v. 3).  When Sanballat heard that Nehemiah and the people of Judah were building the city of Jerusalem, Sanballat became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews (v. 1).  Tobiah the Ammonite, along with Sanballat, mocked and despised Nehemiah and the people of Judah (2:19).  This suggests that Sanballat and Tobiah are engaged in a vile psychological warfare as operatives to thwart the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem.  What was the purpose?  It was to instill disappointment and fear in Nehemiah and the people of Judah (White).  In other words, the purpose was to destroy the morale of the builders to prevent the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem (Packer).  These adversaries tried to stop Nehemiah and the people of Judah by taking advantage of the psychological weaknesses of those rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.  Today, as I meditate on Sanballat’s ridicule (v. 2) and Tobiah’s ridicule (v. 3), I would like to think of Satan’s strategies in six ways.  Therefore, we can all know Satan's strategies, realize how deceived we are by Satan's temptations, turn to God, look and rely on Him, so that we can rededicate ourselves and be faithful in building the church, the body of the Lord, with the power that the Lord gives us.


The first thing I would like to meditate on is the ridicule of Sanballat.


Look at Nehemiah 4:2 – “He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing?  Are they going to restore it for themselves?  Can they offer sacrifices?  Can they finish in a day?  Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?’”  We find five satanic strategies in his five ridicule questions.

(1)   Sanballat's first ridiculed question was, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (v. 2a).


At the heart of Sanballat's ridicule here were the workers of Judah.  He called them “these feeble Jews.”  In psychological warfare, you can either point at the opponent's weakness or tell them one fact that the opponent reacts sensitively.  Sanballat called the people of Judah “feeble Jews” because he knew how sensitive the Jews would be to their poor and humiliating situation in front of his brothers, the Samaritans and the army.  By “feeble Jews” here we mean “Miserable Jews”, that is the wretched or unhappy Jews.  The root of the word ‘mll’ is used in two ways in the Old Testament: (a) It is used to refer to a tree that is disappearing or withers, (b) also to those who have no hope (Isa. 19:8; Hos. 4:3).  Calling “feeble Jews” in the text is a mockery of how the Jews can do anything worthwhile or good because they are useless people like a withering tree.


I have fallen for this Satan's strategy countless times, and I still fall for it often.  Just as Sanballat called the people of Judah “feeble Jews,” Satan keeps making me to say to myself, ‘James, you lack, you are weak, you do not deserve to be a pastor, you are useless’ and so on.  I often mistook Satan's voice for the voice of God.  In other words, I was mistaken for humility to say that to myself.  Satan's clever strategy is to make me look at myself more than looking at God.  To be more precise, Satan makes me to look only at myself.  In particular, Satan makes me to look only at my weaknesses, my shortcomings, and my sins.  And then Satan makes me unable to look to God, so I am disappointed with myself and even despair.  True self-examination is to get to know God by getting to know ourselves.  But Satan prevents us from knowing God and allows us to only get to know ourselves.  Therefore, in the end, Satan prevents us from holding onto 1 Corinthians 1:27-28: “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are.”  Satan keeps us from looking at this God and only makes us focus on our foolishness and weakness, our lowliness, our despised points and our nothingness.  So Satan is trying to discourage us from doing the Lord's work by disappointing and frustrating us.


(2)   Sanballat's second ridiculed question was, “Are they going to restore it for themselves?” (Neh. 5:2b).


At the heart of Sanballat's ridicule in the second question here was the work itself, the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem.  To paraphrase this ridicule, ‘Do they really know what they started with?’ says John White, while J. I. Packer says, 'Rebuilding the city of Jerusalem is clearly beyond their capabilities.'  For example, people who ridicule our Victory Presbyterian Church are pointing at us and asking, 'How can a church with such small numbers and weakness as you do to rebuild Victory Presbyterian Church?'  It is the same ridicule as continuing to criticize our weakness and insufficiency with taunting questions.  Such mockery can be fatal when we are weary and weak in our ministry.  The fragility of the Jews in Nehemiah 4:10, “Thus in Judah it was said, ‘The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable To rebuild the wall,’” as John White says, ‘It is the most disgusting thing to hear someone else tell you of the fear you already feel when you are about to have doubts about something you have started’ (White).  Already the people of Judah were exhausted.  There was still a lot of work left, but they were exhausted.  And they wondered if they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem.  Then this second mockery of Sanballat, “Are they going to restore it for themselves?” (v. 2) was fatal.


I think this satanic strategy is truly terrifying.  The reason is because Satan first magnifies how weak we are and then shows us how great our work is.  In other words, Satan's strategy is to magnify the greatness of our work and our smallness in order to make us think, 'How can a weak and insufficient person like me do such a great work for the Lord?'  By doing so, Satan makes us to be discouraged and be frustrated.  The reason why we are so discouraged and frustrated is that Satan, through all these delusions, prevents us from looking to God with faith.  No matter how weak and lacking we are, if God is with us and He gives us strength and allows us to bear it, no matter what great things we do.  Thus, we will try with faith for the Lord, but Satan tries to stop us from even starting at all.  And by magnifying the great thing, Satan makes us see ourselves smaller and smaller.  Also, he makes us unable to see God with faith, who is greater than the great thing, so that we become discouraged, frustrated, and even despair.


(3)   Sanballat's third ridiculed question was, “Can they offer sacrifices?” (v. 2c)


This third ridicule may not make sense clearly.  As John White says, Sanballat is ridiculing their [the people of Judah] faith in God (White).  It’s like saying, ‘Do they really think that prayer can elevate walls?’”  What a terrifying ridicule of Sanballat?  He ridiculed the people of Judah, ridiculed their work, ridiculed the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and now ridiculed their faith.  Not only was Sanballat denying that God was helping His people, but also he was blaspheming God.

Now Satan attacks our faith.  He first attacks our weakness, then what we want to do.  Thus, Satan attacks even our faith and puts us into doubt.  Satan ridicules us by making us to think, 'What good is prayer?  Would prayer and worship came makes us to build the Lord's church?'  For example, how would you react if you were ridiculed about the use of intercessory prayer for evangelism meetings and for non-believers whom you try to reach out?  Maybe you fall into Satan’s strategy and ask yourself, ‘Will God really answer my prayers?’  Will you not doubt that your non-believers will accept the gospel?  Satan makes us abandon our faith and walk the path of doubt.  Satan creates disbelief in us.  And in the end he leads us to unfaithfulness in unbelief.


(4)   Sanballat's fourth ridiculed question was, “Can they finish in a day?” (v. 2d)


At the heart of this fourth ridicule is the ability to complete the task, namely, ‘Can you rebuild the city of Jerusalem in a short time?’  To the people of Judah who were still weary of strength (v. 10) and were saying, ‘We cannot rebuild the wall,’ Sanballat intends to further discourage them by ridiculing them, how long it will take to finish such a great and difficult task.  In the end, Sanballat attacked the incapacity of the people of Judah and tried to force them to give up on rebuilding the city of Jerusalem while they were exhausted.  To the tired and weary people of Judah, they could not endure any longer, but they acknowledged the limits of their patience and wanted to stop this great work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.


This is Satan's ridicule and temptation.  Satan tries to make us impatient and give up in doing the Lord's will by making the things we have to do seem so great and at the same time too small for us to handle the great thing.  In particular, Satan magnifies how short our time is, which causes us to stop serving the Lord when we are tired and exhausted.  While Satan emphasizes our inability and the size of the work we have to do, he makes us think that we don't have enough time.  So in the end, he makes us to say, ‘Lord, I can't do it,’ and makes us give up on the work of the Lord.


(5)   Sanballat's fifth and last ridiculed question was, “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?” (v.2e)


The key to Sanballat's ridicule here was the building materials.  He said that the stones necessary for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem have already been burned and are of no use.  But the burned stones around Jerusalem at that time were still good building materials (White).  Packer also says that the gates were extinguished at the time and that the walls had been demolished.  As a result, almost all the stones were reusable.  But in order to disappoint the people of Judah, Sanballat spit out the wrong words (burned stones were useful) as well as the right words (burned gate materials were not useful) (Packer).


This ridiculed question of Sanballat made me realize more clearly that Satan indeed tempts us with a mixture of truth and lies.  Just as Satan quoted the Old Testament with a twist when tempting Jesus, Satan does not tempt us with unconditional lies, but with lies plus truth (truth + lies).  Consider the church as an example, and Satan often causes us to say: ‘There are no workers in our church.’  Even though we are serving the body of the Lord according to the gifts we have been given, Satan makes us think and say things like, ‘There is no one who serves outside of me’ like Elijah.  God has prepared 7,000 people other than Elijah who did not bow down to Baal.  But When Elijah was exhausted from fear and discouragement, he did not know that fact.  By making us focus on things like lack of resources with the church since the church is small in order to discourage us and stop us from serving the church.  Indeed, Satan's strategy is clever.


            After these five ridicules of Sanballat, Nehemiah 4:3 shows the ridicule of Tobiah the Ammonite.  This is the second and last thing we want to meditate on.


Tobiah’s ridicule was this: “What they are building--if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” (v. 3)


The key to Tobiah's ridicule here was the finished product, the city of Jerusalem.  He is ridiculing that even if the wall of Jerusalem, which Nehemiah and the people of Judah are building, is completed, it is too weak and will soon collapse even if a fox climbs on it.  The Hebrew word for 'to break down' here means 'a breach in (wall)'.  In other words, even if the fox climbed up, there would be cracks in the walls of Jerusalem.


            I will never forget this Tobiah's ridicule.  The reason is because about 5 years ago, the Lord led me back to Victory Presbyterian Church and led me to meditate and preach on the Book of Nehemiah, and showed me many breaches in my life through this Tobiah’s ridicule.  As I received that grace, I was convinced in my heart that the Lord wanted to build me as the senior pastor of the church first in fulfilling the promise of Matthew 16:18 that He will build His own church, Victory Presbyterian Church.  With the thought that ‘I, as a pastor, must be properly build first,’ and I couldn’t understand why the Lord is trying to build Victory Presbyterian Church by raising such man like me who had many breaches.  So I could not but praised the hymn “I know not why God's wondrous grace To me He hath made Known, Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love Redeemed me for His own” (v. 1 of the hymn “I Know not Why God’s Wondrous Grace”).  Then, about five years later, as I meditate on this text again, God is showing me my breaches and how much I am exposed to Satan through these five ridicule questions of Sanballat.


            But I am not discouraged.  The reason is because God is giving me strength again with the word of His promise.  God is giving me strength by making me see His strength and power in the midst of my own weakness.  Also, God is making us bold by making me to look to God, who is bigger than the size of the work of building Victory Presbyterian Church, which is the body of the Lord.  God has given me the wisdom to distinguish between Satan's voice and God's voice, so that I can listen to His voice and move forward in faith.  Also, He is allowing me to persevere and participate in the Lord's work of building the body of the Lord even in the midst of against all hope.  And God is giving me strength by letting me see the faithful workers the Lord is building for me, who complains about the lack of workers.


            In building the Lord’s church, we must hold on to the word of the Lord's promise, 'I will build my church' (Mt. 16:18), and do not be shaken by the ridicule of any adversary.   Let's serve the Lord and His church faithfully together.  Although our adversaries ridicule us for our shortcomings and weakness, our work and our abilities and resources, let us all participate in building the body of the Lord.  Even even if they further ridicule and challenge our faith and patience, let us all participate in building the Lord’s church.  I hope and pray that we will all be able to glorify God by doing the Lord's will completely.