When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he exploded in anger, vilifying the Jews.
In the company of his Samaritan cronies and military he let loose: "What are these miserable Jews doing? Do they think they can get everything back to normal overnight? Make building stones out of make-believe?"
At his side, Tobiah the Ammonite jumped in and said, "That's right! What do they think they're building? Why, if a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight."
Nehemiah prayed, "Oh listen to us, dear God. We're so despised: Boomerang their ridicule on their heads; have their enemies cart them off as war trophies to a land of no return;
don't forgive their iniquity, don't wipe away their sin - they've insulted the builders!"
We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the work.
When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well - that the breaks in the wall were being fixed - they were absolutely furious.
They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could.
We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.
But soon word was going around in Judah, The builders are pooped, the rubbish piles up; We're in over our heads, we can't build this wall.
And all this time our enemies were saying, "They won't know what hit them. Before they know it we'll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!"
The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, "They have us surrounded; they're going to attack!" If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.
So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows.
After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: "Don't be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."
Our enemies learned that we knew all about their plan and that God had frustrated it. And we went back to the wall and went to work.
From then on half of my young men worked while the other half stood guard with lances, shields, bows, and mail armor. Military officers served as backup for everyone in Judah who was at work rebuilding the wall.
The common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other.
Each of the builders had a sword strapped to his side as he worked. I kept the trumpeter at my side to sound the alert.
Then I spoke to the nobles and officials and everyone else: "There's a lot of work going on and we are spread out all along the wall, separated from each other.
When you hear the trumpet call, join us there; our God will fight for us."
And so we kept working, from first light until the stars came out, half of us holding lances.
I also instructed the people, "Each person and his helper is to stay inside Jerusalem - guards by night and workmen by day."
We all slept in our clothes - I, my brothers, my workmen, and the guards backing me up. And each one kept his spear in his hand, even when getting water.
A great protest was mounted by the people, including the wives, against their fellow Jews.
Some said, "We have big families, and we need food just to survive."
Others said, "We're having to mortgage our fields and vineyards and homes to get enough grain to keep from starving."
And others said, "We're having to borrow money to pay the royal tax on our fields and vineyards.
Look: We're the same flesh and blood as our brothers here; our children are just as good as theirs. Yet here we are having to sell our children off as slaves - some of our daughters have already been sold - and we can't do anything about it because our fields and vineyards are owned by somebody else."
I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints.
After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet. I said, "Each one of you is gouging his brother."
I told them, "We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners. And now you're selling these same brothers back into debt slavery! Does that mean that we have to buy them back again?" They said nothing. What could they say?
"What you're doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don't you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?
"I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop.
Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil."
They said, "We'll give it all back. We won't make any more demands on them. We'll do everything you say."
Then I emptied my pockets, turning them inside out, and said, "So may God empty the pockets and house of everyone who doesn't keep this promise - turned inside out and emptied." Everyone gave a wholehearted "Yes, we'll do it!" and praised God. And the people did what they promised. "Remember in My Favor, O My God"
From the time King Artaxerxes appointed me as their governor in the land of Judah - from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of his reign, twelve years - neither I nor my brothers used the governor's food allowance.
Governors who had preceded me had oppressed the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver (about a pound) a day for food and wine while their underlings bullied the people unmercifully. But out of fear of God I did none of that.
I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn't have time to line our own pockets.
I fed one hundred and fifty Jews and officials at my table in addition to those who showed up from the surrounding nations.
One ox, six choice sheep, and some chickens were prepared for me daily, and every ten days a large supply of wine was delivered. Even so, I didn't use the food allowance provided for the governor - the people had it hard enough as it was.
Remember in my favor, O my God, Everything I've done for these people.
When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it - even though I hadn't yet installed the gates
- Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: "Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono."
so I sent messengers back with this: "I'm doing a great work; I can't come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?"
Four times they sent this message and four times I gave them my answer.
The fifth time - same messenger, same message - Sanballat sent an unsealed letter
with this message:
and that you have appointed prophets to announce in Jerusalem, 'There's a king in Judah!' The king is going to be told all this - don't you think we should sit down and have a talk?"
I sent him back this: "There's nothing to what you're saying. You've made it all up."
They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, "They'll give up; they'll never finish it." I prayed, "Give me strength."
Then I met secretly with Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, at his house. He said: Let's meet at the house of God, inside The Temple; Let's find safety behind locked doors because they're coming to kill you, Yes, coming by night to kill you.
I said, "Why would a man like me run for cover? And why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won't do it."
I sensed that God hadn't sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him.
He had been hired to scare me off - trick me - a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.
"O my God, don't let Tobiah and Sanballat get by with all the mischief they've done. And the same goes for the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who have been trying to undermine my confidence."
The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. It had taken fifty-two days.
When all our enemies heard the news and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies totally lost their nerve. They knew that God was behind this work.
All during this time letters were going back and forth constantly between the nobles of Judah and Tobiah.
Many of the nobles had ties to him because he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah.
They kept telling me all the good things he did and then would report back to him anything I would say. And then Tobiah would send letters to intimidate me.
"Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you - the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge -
this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him.
But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.
David said it all: I saw God before me for all time. Nothing can shake me; he's right by my side.
I'm glad from the inside out, ecstatic; I've pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I know you'll never dump me in Hades; I'll never even smell the stench of death.
You've got my feet on the life-path, with your face shining sun-joy all around.
"Dear friends, let me be completely frank with you. Our ancestor David is dead and buried - his tomb is in plain sight today.
But being also a prophet and knowing that God had solemnly sworn that a descendant of his would rule his kingdom,
seeing far ahead, he talked of the resurrection of the Messiah - 'no trip to Hades, no stench of death.'
This Jesus, God raised up. And every one of us here is a witness to it.
Then, raised to the heights at the right hand of God and receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he poured out the Spirit he had just received. That is what you see and hear.
For David himself did not ascend to heaven, but he did say, God said to my Master, "Sit at my right hand
Until I make your enemies a stool for resting your feet."
"All Israel, then, know this: There's no longer room for doubt - God made him Master and Messiah, this Jesus whom you killed on a cross."
Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?"
Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away - whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."
He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!"
That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up.
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Everyone around was in awe - all those wonders and signs done through the apostles!
And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common.
They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful,
as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)