I was speaking at the annual convention of a friend's church two years ago when I heard him tell the following story of a member of the church. One day during one of their special meetings, a visitor said to the member of his church, “I do not know where you might be travelling to, but God says I should pay your fare for your next trip. You will get the money tomorrow.” The member was glad. For years, she had been stranded in the country, unable to return to England. That was answered prayer.
Tomorrow came, but the money was nowhere. Every attempt to redeem the promise met an inscrutable reluctance. About two months or so later, the stranger and the pastor met in Europe, and the rest of the story got told. The night after he had made the promise to the lady, a spirit appeared to him in the dream and threatened that he would have troubles if he did not leave that woman alone. “Did she beg you for a ticket?” he was queried. He did not want any trouble, so he refrained. Much later, though, out of a sense of duty and integrity, after being encouraged by the pastor, he 'wisely' gave the money 'to' the pastor. If the pastor proceeded to give it to the woman, then it was his own trouble.
It occurred to the pastor at once that that was not the first time something like that had happened to the same member. Sometime earlier, someone had promised to pay the rent for an office space for her business, and had asked her to see him the following day for the money. When she met the man the following day, he denied ever making her such a promise, and asked her to quickly leave him alone.
That member's story reads somewhat like that of the scanty returnees from Babylon's exile, who lived within the ruins of Jerusalem in 444BC:
When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite,heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel (Nehemiah 2:10).
There are those who love you so long as your miseries last; who secretly rejoice to see you suffer. The day helpers begin to show up to change your situation, their 'love' disappears. It pains them that anybody arises to seek your welfare. It pains them whenever you have good and helpful friends. Let's call these people (or spirits) “Sanballat and Tobiah.”
While Jerusalem lay in ruins, they seemed to have loved the people and the place. The reproach that made Nehemiahs mourn gladdened them. They fraternized with the clergy, and seemed very active in the politics of the land while it lay in ruins and languished in its reproaches; but soon as “there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel,” it did not only grieve them, “it grieved them exceedingly.”
What makes my progress so painful in the eyes of some? Why does it churn their belies that someone has promised me a car to end my endless treks? While I jumped from one tenancy to the other, and occasionally begged them for my rents, they seemed so 'helpful,’ yet the day Nehemiah came to build me a house so that I will beg nobody anymore for a roof over my head, they were enraged, even though they were going to make no input to the project.
Why do Sanballats and Tobiahs rejoice that I languish? Why does my misery delight them? Why would they be happier for me to meet wasters than for me to meet helpers? Why do they 'love' me so much in my ruins, but hate those who show interest in improving me?
Sanballat and Tobiah made no contribution themselves to rebuilding the walls, yet they sought to hinder those who came to build. They were no helpers themselves, yet they fought the helpers who came voluntarily, in response to a burden in their souls and to the voice of God that they had heard.
To cut off the helpers from the desolate people of Jerusalem, those evil noble men used all kinds of devices: blackmail (Nehemiah 6:5-7), threats (2:19), scorn (2:18; 4:1-3), outright confrontation (4:7-8), hired false prophets and false visions (6:10-14), pretended friendship, divide and rule tactics (6:17-18), subterfuge, infiltration (6:17-18;13:28), doubtful spirituality, dubious offers of support, distraction (6:2), and so on.
In all that these haters do, their goal is simple: by every possible means to make you an island of desolation, with no bridge connecting you to your helpers, or connecting the helpers to you. In ministry, in family, in career, they let no help to reach you, and they let you reach no help. They lay a siege around you with their 'love' that calls Nehemiahs by every imaginable evil name, while they pose as your only lifeline. Those they cannot drive away, they kill; those they cannot kill, they blackmail; those they cannot blackmail, they corrupt; those they cannot corrupt, they threaten.
There is a wind that blows in devouring locusts, but drives away helpers. It is the wind called Sanballat and Tobiah. While you wallow in your shame, that wind is all friendly, but soon as helpers begin to arise for you, it threatens them and you. Pray that God will judge that wind.
Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach
upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of
captivity (Nehemiah 4:4). Amen.
From The Preacher's diary.