New Living Translation (NLT)
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15 When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.
I have discovered a new appreciation for the book of Nehemiah. It's written very much like a journal. In fact, in the NLT, the subheading for the first chapter calls it his memoir. I don't really recall any other book of the Bible being written as a first person narrative. There really is a lot I could focus on, but as I read this passage, I kept thinking about how, even among Christians (maybe even especially among Christians!), the issue of self defense is hotly debated. Seriously, there are a lot of Christians out there that will come right out and state that if your home is broken into, your possessions stolen, your family brutalized, that the only defense you should use is prayer.
Now, I'm not the expert here, and I don't claim to know God's mind, but as far as I can see, that attitude is just not Biblical! And I really believe that Nehemiah's diary illustrates this point about as well as anyone could.
Let me back up and tell a little about who Nehemiah was. He was the cup-bearer for King Artexerxes of Persia, during Ezra's time. I used to think a cup-bearer really was nothing more than a royal bartender, but the truth is, being a cup-bearer was a very important position. The king had to know you personally, and completely trust you above everyone else, to appoint you to such a position. Back then, it was pretty darn common for a king's enemies to infiltrate the ranks and slip a mickey into the king's drink to poison and kill him. The cup-bearer's job was to ensure that this didn't happen, and he would sip the wine or other drink before giving it to the king. If the cup-bearer dropped dead, the king knew not to drink it. Cheery thought, isn't it? Anyway, you can imagine that someone in that position would have to have a pretty close friendship with the king.
Still, friendliness aside, he's still a servant... an employee... a subordinate. Nobody is expendable, no matter how close they think they are. So when Nehemiah found out that the wall in his homeland was in ruins, and the gates of the city were burned, he prayed that God would grant him favor before the king when he went to ask if he could quit his job and go home. Nehemiah says he was terrified, but he asked anyway. Not only did Artexerxes agree, he agreed so graciously that he sent some of his army and horsemen as escorts, with letters to the governors of the provinces to allow him safe passage, and another letter to Asaph, the manager of the king's forest, to supply him with enough timber to fortify the city of Jerusalem and build a house for himself.
And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me. Neh 2:8bEverything Nehemiah did was right in the eyes of God, and he never failed to give God the credit when things went well for him. So, time passes, Nehemiah is firmly established as the governor over Judah, and he starts getting bullied by Sanballat and some of his Samarian army buddies from nearby nations. When the gaps in the wall had all been repaired, but only to half the original height, Sanballat and his cronies plotted to attack. Nehemiah and those working on the walls prayed again. But they didn't just pray and expect God to do all the work. They took measures to protect themselves, also!
Nehemiah placed armed guards at the low points where the wall was most vulnerable to attack and stationed people to stand guard by families, armed with the most effective weapons of the day! He instructed the people not to fear the enemy, but to trust in God, who is great and glorious, as they stood their ground to fight for their families and their homes!
Did that anger God? There's a whole lot of people, Christians included, who believe that it should have. On the contrary, the enemies of Judah realized that God had thwarted their plans by making His people prepared. Nehemiah and the people continued to work on the wall, but always on the ready to defend themselves and each other. They carried their weapons in one hand and their work-load in the other. If they needed both hands to work, they strapped swords to their belts. Never were they unprepared. And yet Nehemiah makes clear that God was the one who would give them the power to overcome their enemies if necessary.
Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, "The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us." Neh. 4:19-20
Now I'm not saying everybody needs to run right out and stock their homes with guns and ammo. If you don't know how to use a gun, you darn sure don't need one in your home, or you're liable to shoot yourself instead of an intruder. But you should never feel as though it is a sin to protect yourself, your home, your family. As long as your focus is on God, and you're not just out there trying to justify your own revenge, then God's not only going to be ok with you protecting what's yours, even to the death by whatever means are necessary, He's going to help make sure you're successful