Feedback Versus Setback

Day 10 – Nehemiah 4:1-3

When we carry out God’s work, we can expect difficulties and discouragement; Satan is never happy when God is obeyed and His work done.

As Nehemiah and the Jews rebuild the walls, they encounter Satan’s attacks as Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite, leaders in neighbouring Samaria, make disparaging comments to discourage the builders. This is intensive psychological warfare. As he sees the steady progress of the work, Sanballat ″became angry″ and is ″greatly incensed″ (Nehemiah 4:1). He starts mocking the Jews within earshot of his friends and the army of Samaria (v. 2), as he wants the others to join him in his mocking game-the more the merrier. He is aiming to cause maximum distress by increasing the volume of his taunts.

Sanballat asks a number of sarcastic questions designed to erode the determination of the Jews: ″What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble-burned as they are?″ (v. 2). He expresses doubt that they, being weak, will ever succeed in the building project that they have undertaken, for it is complex and massive. He suggests that even if the Jews appeal to God by offering sacrifices, they will not be able to restore the wall.

Tobiah, Sanballat’s sidekick, joins in with a joke about the quality of the work of the Jews. He says, ″What they are building-even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!″ (v. 3). Archaeological findings, however, show that Nehemiah’s wall was about nine feet thick, a formidable wall indeed.17 Tobiah’s snide remarks are as flimsy as the wall he claims Nehemiah is building.

The relentless onslaught of such insulting words can shake the confidence of even the bravest and strongest of us. It can be deeply discouraging and painful. We need to develop the ability to recognise the difference between feedback from friends who care for us, and hostile criticism from those whose aim is to dissuade and discourage us. If we are not able to discern the difference, we may end up ignoring friendly feedback when it is actually meant to help us improve and prevent mistakes. Or, we may get so worked up by the critical words of those who are against us that we fall prey to their tactics and give up the work that God has called us to do.

17 Jonathan Lamb, Faith in the Face of Danger: An Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah (Milton Keynes: Keswick Ministries and Authentic Media, 2004), 60.

Think Through:

What is the difference between friendly feedback (Proverbs 27:6) and adversarial criticism (Matthew 12:24; 2 Corinthians 10:10)? How should we respond to these?

Christians may be mocked by those who wish to attack their faith. What are some examples of this? How should Christians handle such attacks?

Taken from Journey Through Ezra & Nehemiah: 60 Devotional Insights by Robert M. Solomon.