Enemies from Without and Within

Week Thirty: Ezra 1; 3–7; Nehemiah 2; 4–6; 8

Nehemiah was a Jewish leader who helped rebuild Jerusalem in the mid-5th century BC. He had been the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes I, which was a coveted and influential governmental position. As cupbearer, Nehemiah was always by the king’s side, listening to political news and conversations. He was also charged with making sure no poison was placed in the king’s cup. Because of his position, Nehemiah heard about the problems his people were having in building Jerusalem’s walls. Palestine was being repopulated by Jews released from exile in Babylonia. Coming back home had not been easy for the Jewish community because they were defenseless against their non-Jewish neighbors who were not happy about their return. The Jews were trying to rebuild the wall around the city for a defense against attack and to protect the newly constructed temple. Nehemiah obtained permission from Artaxerxes to help rebuild Jerusalem, the land of his ancestors, but a land he had never seen before. He served as governor of Judea for 12 years, battling against enemies from without the Jewish community as well as against enemies from within their community. This battle had begun with Zerubbabel and Ezra.[1]  

After being under Babylonian captivity for about 70 years, many of the Jews had stopped living the Law and did not remember the Lord their God nor worship Him. Nehemiah not only rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls, but he also rebuilt the faith of the Jewish refugees who were resettling in the Promised Land. He instituted moral and social reforms, rededicating his people to Yahweh. He reminded the Jews to keep the Sabbath day holy; he reminded those who were wealthy to help the poor by setting an example of sharing his own wealth. He strengthened his people to live righteously so that they could repopulate Jerusalem and rebuild the city as a Jewish center of worship and faith.

The battle against enemies from without and enemies from within is familiar to us today. We can learn a lot from Nehemiah.

First, Nehemiah realized that he needed to work in the world, while always remembering who he was as a covenant son of God, what his heritage was as a child of Israel, how his ancestors worshipped and followed the laws of Yahweh, and what righteous traditions he needed to bring back into his life and the lives of his people. Nehemiah was obviously a trusted advisor of the Persian king who was the most powerful man in that part of the world at this time. He was given documents, an escort, and the help of Persian officials in Palestine when he came to Jerusalem. As governor, he had power to accomplish the work of the world. Yet, he realized that this was not enough. Nehemiah used his expertise, wisdom, and knowledge of the world to also pursue and accomplish righteous purposes.

Elder Paul B. Pieper said: “The world constantly competes with the sacred for our attention and priorities. Knowledge of the secular is essential for our daily temporal living. The Lord instructs us to seek learning and wisdom, to study and learn out of the best books, and to become acquainted with languages, tongues, and people (see D&C 88:118; 90:15). Therefore, the choice to place the sacred above the secular is one of relative priority, not exclusivity…”[2]

How should we prioritize our secular and religious pursuits?

Second, Nehemiah knew that his people needed to build a wall around the city of Jerusalem to protect them from outside enemies and future battles. When the Arabians, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, and other neighboring peoples heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being rebuilt they were angry and came together to fight against Jerusalem to stop their building of the walls.[3]

The fighting became so intense that Nehemiah set a watch against the wall day and night. Everyone who helped build the wall had one hand in the work and the other hand holding a weapon. “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side”[4] while they patched up the wall.

The people were afraid and worried about being able to accomplish this task while fighting against their enemies. Nehemiah told the people: “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”[5] Nehemiah described working day and night: “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.”[6]

As we battle in our homes against the adversary, we too must be as vigilant and hard working. In a broadcast commemorating the 100th anniversary of seminary, Elder Boyd K. Packer talked about how to survive in enemy territory: “[T]he adversary has infiltrated the world around you. He is in homes, entertainment, the media, language—everything around you.”[7]

Elder Packer offered counsel about how to survive: “The key word is discipline—self-discipline. The word discipline comes from the word disciple or follower. Be a disciple/follower of the Savior, and you will be safe. You can resist temptation.”[8]

The wall we need to build around us is our testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We must build that foundational wall in our lives one rock at a time, just like the Jews did under Nehemiah’s leadership. Every day, we must be watchful and careful, with our weapons of scripture study, prayer, and temple worship. These are the weapons that will help us win against our enemies from without and strengthen us from within.

When Nephite dissenters from within and Lamanite forces from without were battling against the Nephites just 30 years before the birth of Christ, Nephi and Lehi remembered the words of their father, Helaman, bringing them strength against their adversaries: “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”[9]

Third, and most importantly, Nehemiah knew that the most important enemy the Jews needed to battle was the enemy within themselves – their selfishness, their greed, their ingratitude, and their pride. The people living in Jerusalem were mostly refugees. There were some Jews who had returned earlier and been there longer who had already established themselves. Some of them used their standing as leaders in the community to take advantage of the poor and to make themselves wealthier by making these newcomers pay taxes and mortgages on their homes; many of these poorer families had to have their family members go into indentured service to pay for these taxes. Nehemiah, as the governor, called out these Jewish leaders and rebuked them saying: “It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God…. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, and their houses… Then said they, we will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest.”[10]

Nehemiah also reminded the nobles and priests that as governor he had power to exact taxes from them, yet he had not. The previous governors, appointed by the king, had exacted bread, wine, and silver from the people. Nehemiah and his servants “<did> not <eat> the bread of the governor.”[11] He did not exact this wealth from the people because of his “fear of God.”[12]

Nehemiah was a ruler like King Benjamin of the Book of Mormon who also taught his people through his example by not exacting from them food and riches to sustain him as king. King Benjamin said: “I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you.”[13]

Both Nehemiah and King Benjamin reminded their people of the enemy within – the battle against the natural man inside each one of us. “For the natural man is an enemy to God…unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ, the Lord….”[14]

While building the wall and counseling his people to repent, Nehemiah prayed fervently to Heavenly Father and asked: “Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”[15] After we have done all that we can do to battle our enemies from without and within, we too can say a similar pray to our Heavenly Father, asking for strength and help in our continual struggles. As we do, He will remember us!

May we find joy in the Lord as we become victorious, through His power, in life’s battles.

[1] Nehemiah: Jewish leader, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nehemiah.

[2] To Hold Sacred, GC April 2014.

[3] Nehemiah 4:7-8

[4] Nehemiah 4:17-18

[5] Nehemiah 4:14

[6] Nehemiah 4:23

[7] Boyd K. Packer, “How to survive in enemy territory,” The 100th Anniversary of Seminary.

[8] Boyd K. Packer, “How to survive in enemy territory,” The 100th Anniversary of Seminary.

[9] Helaman 5:12

[10] Nehemiah 5:9-12

[11] Nehemiah 5:14

[12] Nehemiah 5:15

[13] Mosiah 2:12

[14] Mosiah 3:19

[15] Nehemiah 5:19

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