One of my favorite Bible stories is about Nehemiah. Nehemiah lived during a time when the nation of Israel had been defeated and many of its people taken to live in exile in Babylon. After many long years, the people had been given permission to return to their homeland and rebuild their cities. When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he found it in a sorry state, with most of the city wall broken down and the gates burned.
Nehemiah came to Jerusalem with permission to rebuild the wall. Starting the work was easy enough. Two caravans of Jews, totaling more than 50,000 people, had already returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. They had started on the wall before but then stopped in the face of strong opposition. Not long after Nehemiah got the people to work, the opposition started again—and grew. Eventually, the builders of the wall were threatened with all-out warfare if they didn’t stop the work. Nehemiah wasn’t going to let that deter them. He made a plan and encouraged the people:
“We’ll post guards all night, and during the day everyone will work with a sword at their side. Half of the people will stand guard with spears while the other half work. If everyone does their share, we can get this job done!” (Nehemiah 4:16–23, paraphrased).
They did get the job done. In 52 days, the wall around the city and all the gates were built or repaired. Such a feat would be considered amazing even in today’s advanced societies. In 445 B.C., it was nothing less than miraculous. Nehemiah knew who deserved the credit. He wrote: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16).
Without a wall of protection around them, the Jews had been forced to compromise with the surrounding nations and do things their way. The alternative was being attacked and possibly forced out of their homeland all over again. The neighboring countries liked having power over the Jews, and they were willing to fight to keep that power. Nehemiah encouraged his people to pick up their weapons and be prepared to fight back. That was the only way they would ever be able to rebuild the wall and have a secure place to live.
Nehemiah had a lot of important things going for him. He understood his enemies and what they were capable of doing. He understood what God wanted him to do. He created a detailed plan, and he encouraged his people to follow it. Most important of all, he trusted in God and in the promise God made to restore his chosen people to the land of Israel.
After the Jews had been defeated and taken away into exile, God had spoken to them through the prophet Jeremiah:
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:10–13)
Just like the people of Nehemiah’s day, we need to be ready to stand up to our enemy. To do that, we need to understand who our enemy is and what he’s up to. We need to know how to fight our battles and defend ourselves. And we need to remember that God will lead us to victory. Without that assurance we might as well give up—we’ve already been defeated.