Recently, I have been teaching a series on leadership insights that can be gained from the book of Nehemiah. And right in the middle of the exciting part (the rebuilding of the wall), Nehemiah faces a boatload of criticism.
The complainers were local civil leaders who were likely to lose some power and influence if Nehemiah completed his tasks. They were threatened by change. So Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem and others launched a three-fold attack.
They first tried ridicule. That Hebrew word means to stammer or stutter. It’s the idea of words just running out of a mouth, spitting venom and personal attacks. When that didn’t cause Nehemiah and his men to stop working on the wall, the criticizers tried to entice Nehemiah to lower his standards.
And then they resorted to silly innuendos and intimidation. They slyly observed that the negative report they were compiling would make it all the way back to the King of Babylon and Nehemiah would surely lose favor with him.
They started their attacks at the beginning of the project, doubled down their confrontations as the wall progressed and then made a last ditch effort to smear his good name just as the wall was completed.
The lessons to be learned are many. First, we all need to remember that opposition (of any kind) is a part of the human experience. All of us will suffer the arrows of deceitful reports. All of us will ruffle the feathers of someone as we start a project, work to complete it or during the celebrations when it is done. We should expect the opposition rather than be surprised by it.
Secondly, we need to be aware of the reality that critics attract critics. They run in packs. No one ever complains by reporting “And I am the only one (in the family, the office or the neighborhood) that feels this way.” They always say, “And there are many of us who have the same opinion.” They believe there is strength in numbers.
So what does the Godly man or woman do to deal with this kind of opposition and the discouragement that inevitably comes with it? I have two suggestions for this week.
One, don’t let yourself be unprepared. Every worthwhile endeavor garners criticism. Nehemiah recognized that the workers were “widely separated from each other along the wall,” so he made sure they had a trowel and a sword handy. They were prepared to deal with the opposition.
And secondly, don’t let the critics sidetrack you from the vision you began with. It doesn’t matter is it is a family reunion you are planning or a major trade show for a multi-level corporation. Stay focused on your dream or plan.
Nehemiah remarked that “…there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” But he didn’t let that distract him. He saw what could be, not just the rubble that existed right in front of him.
Criticism, discouragement and opposition are an integral part of our every day life. But this week, let’s be prepared to deal with it.