Every good story needs an antagonist. What would Obiwan Kenobi be without Darth Vader? Or Batman without the Joker? Or David without Goliath? Or Nehemiah without Sanballat?
We could read Nehemiah 3 and assume everything went smoothly with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, but that's not the case. They faced tremendous opposition from three main antagonists: Sanballat (the Horonite Babylonian official from Syria), Tobiah (the Ammonite), and Geshen (from Arabia). These guys were total pains in Nehemiah's...
They taunted and harassed Nehemiah, bullied and intimidated him -- even threatening his life. I can't imagine the pressure he must have been under from the 'trinity of opposition'. I admit I don't do well with people who are trying to cut me off at the knees, but I've come to realize opposition is a normal part of life.
[Read Nehemiah 4]
Here's what we can learn from Nehemiah and the opposition he faced:
1] If you live in the will of God, you will be opposed. People will despise you for it. You will be judged, insulted, intimidated, and even hurt by those closest to you. Jesus recognized the Christian life is a conflict ("I did not come to bring peace but a sword"). He didn't mean a literal sword, but he acknowledges the conflict between good and evil and light and darkness. He reminds us that even our closest family members may resent us for our faith.
Nehemiah faced it all from his antagonists: raging anger, insults and humiliation, intimidation and threats, and schemes and plots to destroy him. On top of all that, his own people complained against him and tried to go over his head.
So how do we respond to opposition?
2] Always respond to opposition with prayer, determination, and faithfulness. That's what Nehemiah did. He prayed. He pressed on. He remained faithful to what God called him to do. And he remained alert. That's good advice for all of us.
One more thing...
3] Don't confuse ordinary every day conflict for opposition. They are not the same. We don't need to be looking for an antagonist or adversary around every corner. Instead, we need to make room for mercy, grace, and forgiveness in our lives -- to 'be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.' We should ask God to teach us how to respond to others who are difficult for us to deal with.
My wife and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. As usual, I went to the shop to buy flowers for her, but what happened next was very unusual. While I was entering my pin to complete my purchase, the man in line behind me began chewing me out for destroying nature by buying flowers. He didn't strike me as the typical eco-warrior (the 6 Snicker bars on the belt gave me my clue), and I was caught off guard by his verbal assault.
What I wanted to do and what I did were two different things. So I simply took my receipt, thanked the clerk, and walked out the door with my wife's dastardly flowers.
Not everyone has to be an adversary. Sometimes they are just hurting people.
Like Nehemiah, we can probably name those people who have been the major antagonists in our lives. The thing is, a lot of those who have been our antagonists probably thought they were being the protagonist. We must remember Jesus never said we won't have antagonists in our lives (he calls them enemies), but he does say we should love our antagonists -- and then carry on with the good work Jesus has called us to.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem -- the trinity of opposition -- could not stop what God was doing. Keep that in perspective when the heat is on.