Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. (Nehemiah 4:17)
There came a time during the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s fortifications when all of Israel’s enemies aligned themselves against the precious few who had returned to their homeland. About 50,000 Jews came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and restart the proper worship of God that had languished during the long decades of captivity in Babylon. In addition to renewing worship, Nehemiah also returned to take charge of restoring order to the city, after finding the leadership in disarray and the surrounding territory overrun.
The Bible books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the startling efforts of Zerubbabel and Ezra to bring spiritual revival to the city. The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all delivered encouragement and challenge during those years, and Nehemiah came under the Lord’s calling to restore the fortifications with authorization from the Persian king Artaxerxes. When the local rulers found out they were required to help in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, they were angered and devised several plots to undermine the efforts and dishearten the people.
Ultimately, Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites all united in a guerilla warfare campaign “to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion” (Nehemiah 4:7-8). As expected, the initial reaction among God’s people was a fearful rush to abandon the work since the enemies were too many and it seemed “impossible” to overcome their combined might. Nehemiah’s rally of the leadership and his magnificent management of the subsequent construction of the wall has been the subject of many sermons.
There Is Always Work to Be Done in the Kingdom
One of the timeless principles we can draw from this episode in history is that there will always be work to be done in the Kingdom. Projects and needs will vary with time, culture, and circumstance, but we are called to give a consistent effort to evangelize the unsaved and disciple new converts throughout every generation. If it appears there is “nothing” to do, then it is sure the people’s vision has dimmed and their spiritual life is weakening. God’s order is that we occupy ourselves with His business until He comes, significantly multiplying the “minas” or gifts that we’ve been given (Luke 19:13).1
All of us start with the gift of salvation and the complete set of instructions on “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). How we use the blessing of eternal life and the precious Word of God will determine how well we “occupy” the short space of time God has allowed us to live. Those who return tenfold and fivefold are given proportionate “real” responsibility in the eternal Kingdom just as in the parable. The “wicked servant” who does nothing with the Lord’s gift loses even his initial gift (Luke 19:22-24). The measurement was one of return.
The Lord also gives a differing amount of “talents…to each according to his own ability” (Matthew 25:15). When He does finally return and judges each of us, He will evaluate how well we have done with the opportunities, resources, and station in life that we’ve been granted. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). God’s expectation is that His servants make efficient use of all available resources to build His Kingdom.
There is always work to be done in the Kingdom.
There Are Always Enemies to Face in the Kingdom
The concept of enemies who attack and create confusion should come as no surprise to anyone involved in the work of God.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)
One of the seven churches that received letters in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation thought it was “wealthy, and [had] need of nothing” but was actually in danger of being spit—literally vomited—out of the Lord’s mouth because the church was “lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot” (Revelation 3:16-17). Perhaps we can infer that our opposition will be in direct proportion to how well we are accomplishing the work God has given us. The more we identify with the message and mission of our Lord—the more fervently we proclaim His gospel—the more we can expect enemies to attempt to thwart our efforts. Conversely, the more the world praises us, the more likely it is that we are slipping from God’s will (Luke 6:26).
One Hand on the Plow, One Hand on the Sword
For both Nehemiah and for the New Testament believer, the solution is that we must always have one hand on the “plow” and one hand on the “sword” if we are to be actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom.
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
In the context of this verse, the Lord Jesus was responding to several men who had promised allegiance to the work of Christ, but their promises were conditional—first one then another began to ask permission to delay their commitment until various worldly engagements were completed. Christ’s response is very important. Our allegiance to the Kingdom must take first priority. The Lord said it this way: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we are going to be effective and efficient in the work of the Kingdom, we cannot have a dual allegiance. “‘No servant can serve two masters’” (Luke 16:13).
But while one hand is working with the plow or building the wall in Kingdom ministry, we must also be completely armed and ready to stand when the enemy attacks. The famous passage in Ephesians illustrates the importance of wearing the armor; the belt, the breastplate, shoes, shield, and helmet are all part of the powerful defensive protection that He has provided for us.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)
The sword is a weapon that can be wielded by just one hand.
There will be seasons when our “plow” grabs most of our attention. Sometimes the ground is lumpy and has old tree roots and stones that must be worked out of the soil before planting can be done. Occasionally the project is so big that our attention is concentrated on plotting out the scope of the work before us. The danger lies in becoming so focused on the task that we let down our spiritual guard, become consumed with the process, and lose awareness of why we are plowing and what we are sowing!
There are other times, however, when we become so concerned with developing our swordsmanship that we flash and slash to the bedazzlement of all but leave the work undone. Ephesus was a church in this type of predicament. They had become doctrinally precise and were most careful to test and correct all who came through their doors but had left their “first love” and were warned that they were in danger of losing the purpose they were commissioned for; they dropped their plow and ceased to build (Revelation 2:4-5).
When the Sanballats and the Tobiahs, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites all band together to stop the work, as they will surely do if we are accomplishing anything worthwhile in the Kingdom, the “sword of the Spirit”—the very Word of God—is the only effective weapon that we have against them. We absolutely need the armor, and we must be doing the work of the Kingdom, but if we are to accomplish anything of eternal value, we must be using “two hands” at all times.
- “The mina…was worth about three months’ salary.” Footnote for Luke 19:13. 1982. The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.