So we labored in the work; and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.
It was not until the year 539 B.C. that the Persian king Cyrus decreed that Jews and other captives could return to their homelands after a long Babylonian captivity. Wave after wave of expatriates made the journey back to a beleaguered land of promise. While yet captive, however, the news came to Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem had never been repaired since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. Brigands and robbers could attack the city at will. Nehemiah was distressed and became terribly burdened for his home town. He secured the necessary papers from Artaxerxes, the Persian king at that time, to return to his homeland and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.
In 444 B.C. Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem and soon afterwards went by night on an inspection tour of the city walls. He elicited help to rebuild the ruined fortification both from residents and returnees. Volunteers quickly came to his side, but so did villains. Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite heard that Nehemiah had come to rebuild the walls and "it grieved them exceedingly that there was a man come to seek the welfare of the children of Israel" (Nehemiah 2:10).
At first Sanballat and Tobiah had only scorned the idea that these feeble Jews would fortify their city. But now they had become seriously alarmed. A conspiracy was formed of the Arabians, Ammonites, and Philistines of Ashdod. The enemies of Nehemiah were ready to attack Jerusalem before the fortifications could be completed.
When Nehemiah heard the news of this conspiracy, he made proper response. Nehemiah 4:9 says, "Nevertheless, we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them." Nehemiah immediately turned to God in prayer but just as immediately made preparations to defend himself. This is the delicate balance between faith and works which is needed in each of our lives. With a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other the workmen continued to rebuild the walls. They would both watch and pray. The end result was summed up in Nehemiah's words, "So we labored in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared" (Nehemiah 4:21). With each one doing his part, the task was finished in record time to the glory of the Lord.
The story could have been much different if, for example, those who worked complained that those who watched were not doing their fair share. Nehemiah's workmen had to recognize they were all laborers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9), as we must today if we are going to accomplish anything for God.
The following parable illustrates this principle. A carpenter's tools were having a conference. Brother Hammer was presiding, but the others informed him that he'd have to leave because he was too noisy. "All right," he said, "I'll go, but Brother Plane must withdraw too. There's no depth to his work. It's always on the surface." Brother Plane responded, "Well, Brother Rule will also have to go. He's constantly measuring people as if he were the only one who's right." Brother Rule complained about Brother Sandpaper, saying, "He's always rubbing people the wrong way." In the midst of the discussion the Carpenter of Nazareth entered. He went to His workbench to make a pulpit from which He would preach the gospel. He used the hammer, the plane, the rule and the sandpaper. All were important in their own way.
If Christians criticize one another, insult one another, and refuse to work together for God, the task of gleaning the whitened harvest fields will never be completed for His glory. Though differences remain between believers, let us always recognize who the true enemy really is. It is Satan. Each of us possesses different gifts and abilities, but none of us is unimportant in the work of the Lord. Let's defeat our common enemy this day.
MORNING HYMN To the work! to the work! we are servants of God, Let us follow the path that our Master has trod; With the balm of His counsel our strength to renew, Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.
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