One day a farmer, who was a Quaker, was having trouble with his mule. He was trying to plow his field, and the mule was being unusually stubborn. He wouldn’t move. So, the Quaker decided to talk to him ‘reasonably’. “Thou knowest that I am a Quaker. Thou knowest that I canst not curse thee. Thou knowest that I canst not whip thee. What thou dost not know is that I can sell thee to my neighbor down the road. He is no Quaker, and he can beat the living daylights out of thee.”
All of us can identify with that Quaker. We face opposition. There are things we would like to say or do. Then there are things that we can do and still call ourselves Christians.
Nehemiah chapters four thru six are a study in how to deal with opposition. The first six verses of chapter four teach us three things about handling that antagonism.
Antagonism often manifests as ridicule. All of us are vulnerable to it because all of us have glaring weaknesses. Shine the light on them and we get discouraged. Nehemiah’s enemies pointed to five: their competence, their faith, their hope, their resources, and their potential.
All of us feel incompetent at some time or other. Never more than when we’re about to try something new. And we fear the name “fanatic” because it isolates us from our peers. Every task feels bigger when our hope is undermined. We’re easily intimidated when our resources are thin. And our confidence is shaky when we the risks of failure are high.
What to do when we face that kind of antagonism?
Let me give you an encouraging thought here. When someone is ridiculing your work it probably means that they are afraid you might succeed. The best thing that you can do then is…succeed!
Notice Nehemiah’s threefold reaction.
He Does Not Respond in Kind
We can waste a lot of energy trying to right every wrong that is spoken of us. Or we can take the same energy and invest it in doing good work and let the work speak for itself. Keep reminding yourself that people ridicule you because they are afraid of your success.
And what a prayer! “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives.” But what a problem for Christians! Aren’t we supposed to pray for our enemies, offer blessings instead of curses? Yes. But we live with two realities that Nehemiah did not have: The death of Christ and the life to come. We know that we too are sinners, capable of injustice and slander. And we know for certain, because Jesus promise was validated by his resurrection, that all injustices will be made right by God in the end. So it is not wrong to pray for justice as long as we leave its execution to God.
The final thing Nehemiah did is the most powerful thing anyone can do in the face of ridicule.
He Got on With It
On September 18,1939 the British radio public began hearing a steady stream of ridicule from Lord Haw Haw. He was actually William Joyce, an American born Irishman who as a senior member of the British Union of Fascists, had escaped to Germany before he could be jailed. Every evening Joyce, broadcasting from Hamburg with the voice of an upper-class Englishman, ridiculed Great Britain’s losses to Germany, her lack of preparation, her hopeless situation before Germany’s superior military might. Many British subjects fell under his spell. But most did not. Most believed and followed Churchill.
Lord Haw Haw kept right on broadcasting until April 30, 1945, when British soldiers overran Hamburg.
The British did what Nehemiah and the Israelites did. They ignored the ridicule, went to work, and finished the job.
You know what happened to the Nazis. And William Joyce? They hanged him for treason on January 3, 1946.
What to do in the face of ridicule?
- Do not return evil for evil
- Pray, allowing God to sort through your emotions and guide your convictions.
- Ignore their words and do your work – perseverance pays dividends in the end.
 Boice, James Montgomery; Commentary on Nehemiah, pg. 50
 Brown, Raymond; The Message of Nehemiah; The Bible Speaks Today Commentary pg. 74.