“Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.”
Last time we watched Tobiah the Ammonite throw in on the mockery toward the builders of Jerusalem’s city wall. Today we get to hear the first part of Nehemiah’s reply.
Nehemiah turns directly to Yahweh. “Hear us, O our God…” Hear is Shama – to announce, completely comprehend, diligently discern, proclaim, witness. I’ve been looking at different commentaries and versions of these verses, and haven’t found for certain whether Nehemiah’s prayer is out loud in the presence of the builders, or if he is alone and praying on everyone’s behalf.
The word shama makes me think this is more of a corporate prayer…and proclamation. We’ve looked before at a similar Hebrew word shema and its connection to corporate and private declaration of Yahweh:
“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one…”
If you were a governor trying to rally your people to build despite opposition, wouldn’t you use a sort of public declaration to encourage their flagging hearts? Sanballat and Tobiah hit below the belt on their insults. Any possible way to discourage, they took. I think Nehemiah used his prayer as a retort to their enemies and the enemies of God’s purposes for Jerusalem.
Whether Sanballat and Tobiah were privy to Nehemiah’s words or not, I think his men were comforted by them. Honestly? If we don’t do something with our strong feelings at hurt or injustice or shame, they will come out in other ways. The absolute best place to spew them is before the LORD Who already knows they’re there and can handle them.
What do you do with strong feelings? Rage at others? Shove them down and get ill from it? Eat or drink or sleep or gamble? We all do something. Probably best to follow Nehemiah’s example and lay them in the lap of God. It’s the only way for healing to emerge.
The cool thing about all this is it puts we as Believers in a position to obey the command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Until we’ve dealt with the sting of persecution before God, it is unlikely we can obey this command from our hearts. But once we’ve tattled on them to God, and are sufficiently abiding in His approval, His Spirit in us can take over. He can change our heart toward our persecutors. Remind us the enemy is never flesh and blood. Help us die to our selves, take up our crosses, and follow the way of agape love.
But something in which I’ve found some relief? We don’t have to get to a place of love and acceptance toward our true enemy. We can turn his destruction toward us and others into righteous indignation. We can pray these very things Nehemiah prayed: “Take what the enemy said and turn it back on his evil head. What he tried to destroy, God please restore that we may plunder this situation for your glory.”
There is a lot of shaming, blaming, contempt and hate out there. And, oh, it matters. Know He cares and doesn’t take it lightly. Dump your understandable emotions into His hands. Then as the people of God’s eternal Kingdom, let’s advance in good and love and forgiveness and joy.
Because one day the enemy of all our souls will be given over to a land of captivity, never to harm God’s people again.