Return from exile: Courage in the face of threats

  • January 24, 2012 | Nehemiah 4

In the movie Braveheart, the Scottish knight William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) delivered a memorable speech. An outnumbered and frightened Scottish army faced the English, and Wallace rallied the army before leading them to victory: “Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live—at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

Nehemiah gave a motivational speech to the exiles who had returned from Judah. The work before them was daunting. The city of Jerusalem lay in rubble, and they were rebuilding the walls. The enemies ridiculed their efforts at first, trying to discourage them to stop building. When those efforts failed, their enemiesplotted more violent opposition.

Nehemiah showed courageous leadership when the people were tempted to give up. The dangers and threats were real, but his confidence was rooted in what he believed to be true of God. He believed God to be a God who sees and cares, and that truth inspired him to pray boldly, even asking for divine retribution on his enemies.

Notice how the prayer is embedded in the text. This probably mirrors what Nehemiah’s prayer life must have been like: a kind of natural, almost involuntary, reflex. Nehemiah was a man who made it his habit to cry out to God!

Nehemiah called the people to trust God and remember His power. They needed to remember that they were not alone—God would fight for them. But it didn’t mean that they should do nothing: Nehemiah also called them to take action. Keep at the work and be prepared for attacks.

Apply the Word

Nehemiah’s words to the exiles contain a tension that is true in all of our Christian lives. The Israelites needed to realize that God was fighting for them, and yet they were commanded to prepare themselves. Even though we are always called to rely upon God for everything, that doesn’t mean that we sit idly by, doing nothing. We are to see our work and our efforts as an obedient response to God who’s in ultimate control.

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel or you can find her at

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