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Beyond the walls

An unseen battle rages behind world events—in Nehemiah’s time and ours

Beyond the walls

<em>The Rebuilding of the Temple</em> by Gustave Doré (Gustave Dore/AKG-Images/Newscom)

What believers know that unbelievers don’t is that there is an unseen spiritual battle behind all activity under heaven. On July 30, 1588, a shift of wind forced the ships of the Spanish Armada northward and changed the tide of war to England’s favor. The Sabeans’ raid of Job’s herds was more than a case of wanton sheep-stealing by Yemen’s rapacious ancestors. Daniel’s book draws back the curtain on demonic armies opposing God’s purposes in specific localities on earth (10:10-21).

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah concern the rebuilding of the Temple and the toppled walls of Jerusalem, respectively, by returnees from Persian exile in the 5th century B.C. But it was God’s project, not man’s, so we should not be surprised that all the forces of hell arrayed themselves against it. What follows is the CliffsNotes version. Note the twists and turns, the poisoned arrows from left field—and the strangely familiar resonance to our present American political season.

When the Temple foundation is laid, hell’s opening salvo is discouragement among the old men who remember nostalgically the surpassing glory of Solomon’s Temple (Ezra 3:11-12). Non-Israelite neighbors pretending to be friends offer to help, but it’s a trap (4:1-3). Unsuccessful with feigned encouragement, they turn to discouragement (4:4); they also hire counselors against the Jews (4:5). Next they pen a letter of accusation to the Persian king, full of lies and flattery (4:6-16), to persuade Artaxerxes that Jews make bad citizens (4:12) and do not pay taxes (4:13). With these ploys, evil men manage to stymie work on the Temple (4:21-24).

It was God’s project, not man’s, so we should not be surprised that all the forces of hell arrayed themselves against it.

A few hardy Israelites take up the trowel and sword again, and resistance predictably resumes too. A legal challenge to the Jews by their adversaries backfires when the former present their case and a new king, Darius, checks the records and agrees with them (Ezra 5). The Temple is finally completed (6:14). There is a dedication ceremony amid much celebration, and it seems like all’s well that ends well, when suddenly it is discovered that there has been marital unfaithfulness in the Israelite camp (Ezra 10). The problem is swiftly and courageously dealt with, with significant prayer and fasting, and so ends the book of Ezra.

But we are not out of the woods yet. With the new project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem comes a resurgence of opposition set on fire by hell. The new villains are led by locals named Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite (good villain names). Not taking Nehemiah’s work crew particularly seriously at first, they content themselves to stand by the building site filing their nails while tossing off light mockery: “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” (Nehemiah 4:3).

When the work proceeds apace and it isn’t funny anymore, laughter turns to threats (4:7). As in the days of Ezra’s oversight, the response is more prayer and hard work (4:9). The next problem is physical burnout and more demoralization at the daunting dimensions of the job (4:10). Nehemiah delivers a rousing pep talk, with reminders of the greatness of God and of the mission (4:14).  

Internal corruption, of all things, is the next speed bump. An economic crisis has resulted in the mortgaging of property for food, and a system of borrowers and lenders and usurious interest rates. Who knew? And angry governor Nehemiah rebukes the guilty who, to their credit, cease their exploitation (5:1-19). The Sanballat gang tries to reinvent themselves as good guys (6:1-3), and when Nehemiah sees right through it, revert to intimidation. The wall is at last completed, but crafty enemies have been busy working another angle, cozying up to the more gullible types behind Nehemiah’s back (6:17-19). There is a season of national repentance and rededication, followed by the anticlimactic discovery of scattered pockets of moral compromise (Chapters 9-13). The book ends strangely inconclusively.

If this present American presidential campaign has been the most unpredictable and crazy season you have ever seen—lies, libel, slander, dirty tricks, curveballs, improbable twists—you must consider that we are not dealing with flesh and blood but with rulers and authorities in unseen places. May the sons of light gird their loins for the fight.

Email aseupeterson@wng.org

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  •  bwsmith's picture
    bwsmith
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    Thank you -- Believing the battle is the Lord's doesn't ever mean I can step out of the battle -- esp. the internal corruption IN me. :-(    Have heard three sermons on staying focused on God, Psalm 25; clean up my own shortcomings, Romans 12:14-21; and go to those folks who may be outside my social circle with good news, Acts 8:26-40.  

  •  Soldier for the King's picture
    Soldier for the King
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    “A sheep in the midst of wolves is safe compared with the Christian in the midst of ungodly men.” ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon  May it be so to our Lord s honor and glory !

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    @Sawgunner, that's what ahm tahking 'bout.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Sawgunner
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    I woulda built a wall and made the heathen Filisteens, perezites, Amalekites, Jebusites, Termites etc pay for the whole thing!

  •  Bruce's picture
    Bruce
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    I also have trouble trying to equate the current affairs of American politics and the apparent increasing corruption of American culture and polity to the attack of Satanic forces in the spiritual realm against the people of Israel.  American Christendom, much less American as a national entity, is not the sole or best representation of the Kingdom of God.However, regarding whether or not there are such attacks driving these events and that they are at least intended to prevent fruitfulness, frustrate prayerfulness, and inspire hopelessness, that is not even in question among followers of the King.  We must indeed take up the spiritual armor of the Lord.  Upon personal reflection, I have neglected for too long to consider that picture of what the Lord has made available to us.  We do well, I think, to wield what political influence we can have to decry evil and immoral principles in our culture, but maybe we should emphasize the personal work of making disciples, being ambassadors, and bearing crosses regardless of the flurry of political and social turmoil.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    re: "An unseen battle rages behind world events"- totally agree, but I think we're to the point where world events are coordinated, then spoon fed to the masses via CNN, etc. I still think the 2008 economic crisis was triggered by Machiavellian forces, to coincide with the Presidential election. Benghazi in 2012 should have torpedoed Obama's 2nd term, but the beast dutifully reported that it was "an internet video" that caused the deaths of 4 Americans.So for this year, with Mr. Trump leading the parade, and the bad guys calling the shots, look for more "timely" events that influence the election.

  • Florida Cracker's picture
    Florida Cracker
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    Is God sovereign over the nations? No doubt yes. Is God working in the history of the U.S. as he did working out his plans and purposes of redemption in the history of the covenant people the Old Testament?  No doubt no. It is foolishness and  hubris to try to read the purposes of God in the twists and turns of the American Presidential election. Israel was unique in the purposes of God. The U.S. is not. No Christian should spend so much as a moment trying to figure out what is going on in the heavenlies or give the slightest credence to such speculations, whether one's own or another's, as a basis of decision or action.

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    True words Andree'.  Though we live in discomforting times as has oft been repeated in history, God has not missed a beat in His sovereign nature.  We must remember  that Daniel prayed.  God has chosen to release His power through the earnest prayers of His people.  So, pray we must in all earnestness and faith to the One whose battle it is!

  • Slamet
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    No doubt many in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra feared for their future and the future of their nation.  It is easy for us to do the same, forgetting that it is not the voters who guide history, but the God of history who guides us.  This is a great source of encouragement and peace - God is in control.  Much of the time, I can't discern where His hand is moving or where He is taking events, but I know He is in control.  "“But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?  He does whatever he pleases." (Job 23:13

  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Hits the nail dead center.