Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”
Nehemiah 4:1-2 New Living Translation
Whenever we try to do something worthwhile, we will have people who want to discourage us. They may feel threatened by the progress we are making and afraid of how our work will affect them. In the social media age, we often refer to these people as “trolls.” These are the people who make random comments to stir discontentment and fear among readers about something happening in the community. Sanballat, Tobiah, and their associates were old school trolls back in the days of Nehemiah. They didn’t have the internet, so they stood in earshot of the workers and used exaggerated claims and questions to get the workers to doubt the work they were doing. They, apparently, feared the completion of Nehemiah’s wall and used whatever means possible to create doubt and fear in the minds of the Judean builders.
Nehemiah took the best course of action when he heard about the mocking threats of Sanballat and Tobiah, he turned the situation over to God and continued the work. He trusted God to defend the work against the threats of his enemies. When the threats took a more specific form with rumors of physical attacks by the neighboring people, Nehemiah modified their approach to the work and created a rotating schedule where half the people would stand guard while the other half worked. They didn’t allow the threats of Sanballat and Tobiah to draw them into conflict but they were ready to defend themselves if an attack ever came. During all this time, they remained focused on their primary mission to rebuild the wall of their city, Jerusalem. They didn’t let the efforts of their detractors stop their work and they were determined to persist in the work.
We can learn from the example of Nehemiah and the workers when we are dealing with trolls in our own lives. Whenever we are doing something to improve our community or fulfill the restorative mission of God around us, there will be people who think it’s their responsibility to stop what is happening with words of discouragement and even threats. Today they can hide behind computer screens and smartphones and not even look in our faces as they make their claims. In times like this, it’s easy to give in to the temptation of getting distracted from our work and start responding in a similar manner. Instead of getting caught up in the chatter, though, we have the option to turn our concerns over to God and let Him be our defender against the attacks of others. When we do this, we can stay focused on our call and leave the protection of our plans in His hands.
Lord, help us to deal with the words of discouragement that may try to keep us from Your work. Help us to stay focused on what is really important.