Every individual has a set of beliefs about themselves which they hold dear. It is part of the self-identity grounded in a variety of different fields. As mentioned before, Sanballat attacked Nehemiah’s identity/culture, ability, religion/conviction, experience, knowledge/education, and quality of work, hoping to get some reaction out of him. As the anecdote goes, if someone were to stumble into you while you were holding a full mug, what would spill out? This is the ultimate goal of the intimidators—they want to “expose” what they assume will be your negative emotions. Sanballat was so petrified and irate about the wall project and through his attacks, he attempted to push Nehemiah into spilling those same emotions.
But what spills out of Nehemiah? He is not perturbed by the personal attacks. In place of reactionary retaliation, self-justification, or denial, he instead finds a conduit for his emotional response through prayer (4:4, 5). Instead of justifying his years of experience as a courtier or legal documentation, what immediately spills out is his concern for the glory of God.
Imprecatory prayers, those that curse others, can be difficult to explain, especially in the light of Jesus’ teachings. But they are found in Scripture, especially in the writings of David, a man after God’s own heart, (Ps. 5:10; 10:15; 28:4; 31:17, 18; 35:4–6; 40:14, 15; 58:6–11; 69:22–28; 109:6–15; 139:19–22; 140:9, 10). In these passages, the emotion that drives the prayer is not anger and self-justification. Instead, the praying makes the prayer-er so identify with God and His work that they forget themselves. In Nehemiah’s case, the project was so much more than the insults of Sanballat, the walls of Jerusalem, or the geo-political dynamics of that time. There were universal and salvific repercussions to it and Nehemiah knew where he stood in salvation history. In prayer, he was at one with God, seeking to remove any deterrent to the plan of salvation.
Christians fluctuate from being confidently presumptuous in God’s ability, discounting trials and tribulations altogether as petty, to being anxiously nervous, thinking that the entire plan of salvation is dependent on us! Both can appear to be zealous and faithful, but both are selfish and even negate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross! Instead of egotistically weighing our role and the capability of the opposition, it is the simple relationship with the Lord and being in the middle of His will through prayer that enables us to have the victory. When Nehemiah was stumbled into, it was this relationship that was concerned for God’s glory, which spilled out.