The Sword and The Trowel

The Sword and The Trowel

What is a sword for? Fighting.  What is a trowel for? For building.  That is what is happening in Nehemiah 4 this morning. The sword and the trowel are the tools by which we accomplish our tasks.

Charles Spurgeon and the metropolitan tabernacle had a publication, a magazine, in the 1800’s titled the Sword and the Trowel.  Its primary aims were twofold. 1 to defend the truth of God’s word against false teaching.   And 2.  To build up the kingdom of God.  Here is a quote from it’s very first publication:

Our chief aim will be to arouse believers to action, and to suggest to them plans by which the kingdom of Jesus may be extended. To widen the bounds of Zion and gather together the outcasts of Israel is our heart’s desire. We would sound the trumpet, and lead our comrades to the fight. We would ply the Trowel with untiring hand for the building up of Jerusalem’s dilapidated walls, and wield the Sword with vigor and valor against the enemies of the truth.

The name of the publication was taken from the book of Nehemiah 4 as the Israelites built the walls of Jerusalem with a sword in one hand, and a trowel in the other. 

Nehemiah 4:1-23

 Sanballat and Tobiah 

These guys are terrible. They hate God and His people. They are going to show up as the villains of the story all throughout the book.  They are going to be the face of the organized opposition to the entire life and ministry of Nehemiah.  They are introduced in (Chapter 2:10 & 19) where it says that they were angry that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.  Can you imagine? Someone has come to help the needy? HOW DARE THEY!

This is the face of spiritual warfare in the book.  It doesn’t go away, these guys don’t give up or give in.  They actually escalate throughout the course of the book.  They lobby other rulers and kings against the Israelites, and the opposition grows from a minority to a mob. 

Sanballat was a Horonite and Tobiah was an Ammonite… two of the people groups God had driven from the Promised Land for the Israelites in Joshua’s day. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were regional governors serving under the king of Persia. Sanballat was likely a ruler of a city north of Jerusalem. Tobiah the Ammonite was governing an area east of the Jordan River. Geshem the Arab was most likely from the region south of Judah.

They were surrounded, north, south, and east, by people who hated them.  

  • Much like Israel today as well.

But here is a universal truth.  Every time you try to advance the cause of God, someone is going to try and stop you from advancing the cause of God.  We must not be ignorant of that reality.  If you are going to advance the kingdom of God individually, as a church, in the culture. You are going to need to fight for it. 


Do Not Operate Out of Fear

  • Explain
    • Vs 1 – Sanballat was angry and greatly enraged… Think of the guy yelling at the helpless girl behind the counter at a coffee shop because his drink order is wrong. Like a petulant child, Sanballat is pitching a fit.  It’s one thing when a child does it, it is another thing when an adult does it, and yet another thing when a ruler, with an army, does it.  Now not all anger is evil, but this anger is unfounded, unrighteous, and is in fact, evil.
      • So what do the Israelites do?  They begin to be afraid.  They grow fearful of what this is going to mean for them.
        • Vs 10 – Judah “we can’t do it!”
        • Vs 11 – Their enemies, “we are going to kill them
        • Vs 12 – Came from all around and said, “flee Jerusalem, it is too dangerous!”
      • Now there is a leadership lesson here. Something that I am learning both from the scriptures and from personal experience. And that is that not everyone is going to be happy with your decisions.
        • When a leader sets a direction, it will bring criticism. Especially for a large group of people. Especially when you must change things that are loved, and are working already
          • I can think of several situations and ministries in our church where this has been the case.
            • People who love the idea of planting churches. And people who hate it.  There are people who love the idea of 3 services, and people who hate it, People who love the idea of building a new building, people who hate it.  People who love our model of celebration groups, people who hate it. 
              • And I am not calling anyone out.  Look I get it.  But my point is that…
        • But a good shepherd will sometimes need to up their tolerance for conflict. Leading through and pulling people along in the mission. Because the alternative is that nothing would ever happen! You gather 4 of us in a room, you are going to have 5 opinions. 
        • This is not an excuse to ignore concerns or complaints, (Nehemiah didn’t ignore but addressed them)
        • But we cannot allow the fear of conflict, the fear of man to derail the mission of God! Because we work for the lord and not for men! 
        • Chapter and verse
      • But here is the challenge, you will almost never make a good decision while operating out of fear.  
  • Prove
    • 2nd Timothy 1:7 – for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
    • 1 John 4:18a – There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
  • Apply
    • Do you live by faith, or by fear?
      • Scary things are going to happen! You will have trouble.  For you it may be enemies and opposition like Nehemiah had. Or perhaps it is a cancer diagnosis, you lose your life savings, your house burns down, you get in a terrible accident.  Whatever it may be. Trouble is coming.  But the moment you let that trouble dominate and have dominion over you, you will no longer be able to live by faith. 
    • The only thing in the Bible we are told to fear is the Lord.  The fear of anyone or anything else, leads to bad decisions. 
      • Do you know someone that you are afraid of?  Most of us have someone.  Maybe its someone you have to constantly try to please? Maybe someone who has a temper, maybe its someone you have to walk on eggshells around.  Or someone who you just give into their demands because it would be easier than trying to stand up to them.  
        • Nehemiah was afraid, but He did not give up or give in.  He acted wisely and sought the help of God while continuing the mission of God. 


Remember that God Goes Before You (Vs 4, 5, 14, 20)

  • Explain
    • The enemies of God are always – Offended, Angry, Enraged, Jeering, Plotting against God’s people.  But remember that their battle is with the Lord of Hosts
    • The Lord of Hosts, the God who breaks the bow and shatters the spear (Psalm 46:9), who melts the mountains like wax (Psalm 97:5), who created the world and everything in it. (Acts 18-24).  Who holds together the very atoms of all creation by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3).  That is their enemy, and He is the one who goes before the Israelites.
      • Vs 4-5 – Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
      • 14a – And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome
      • 20b – Our God will fight for us.
    • God always goes before His people.  He is mighty to save.
      • The Egyptians at the Red Sea, The Fall of Jericho, the words of David before goliath- “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
  • Prove
    • Deuteronomy 31:8 – It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
  • Apply
    • First you must make sure that you are in fact on the Lord’s side.  God is not going to bless everything you do, especially when what you are doing is sinful, or against His word and will.
      • If you are not submitted to God and to Christ, if you are not trusting His goodness and faithfulness, if you are not actively pursuing God’s kingdom, but pursuing your own agenda, God isn’t going to bless you, because you are on the wrong side. 
      • Pray!!!
    • Second, you have to be willing to fight for it.


Build and Fight

  • Explain
    • Why were Sanballat and Tobiah so angry that Nehemiah came and rebuilt the walls?  It is because if Nehemiah succeeds, their own agenda will be thwarted. 
      • Rebuilding the wall will protect the people and create a safe place for God’s people to dwell. The law of God will be enforced again, and justice and goodness will be upheld.  But Sanballat and Tobiah are not interested in justice and goodness.  They would rather exploit the weakness and vulnerability of the Israelite people for selfish gain.
    • These two agendas cannot be reconciled. Nehemiah is seeking the good of others, Sanballat and Tobiah are seeking selfish gain at the expense of others.  
      • So the Israelites had to defend themselves.  Always being ready for a fight.  Always being willing to defend what God is building.
  • Prove
    • Ephesians 6:13-17 – Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
  • Apply
    • I think of the enemies of Christianity in our world today… people who have an agenda that is completely at odds to God and His people.  People who want to tear down law, especially God’s law.  People who don’t want God to define what Marriage is.  People who don’t want God to define gender and sexuality.  People who don’t what God to be in charge of when life begins.  People who want to place themselves on the throne instead of God, and force their worldview on you, all the way down to how your elementary school children are educated and mutilated. 
    • We must prepare, we must stand guard. Do not be blind to the opposition that is coming!
      • Sometimes we know there is opposition coming, the enemies are many, yet we leave our defenses down.  We do not stand guard, We bury our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t  happening. “We don’t want to be mean to anyone”, “It’s too much trouble to call that sin out, or defend this gate”, It is too much trouble to read my bible and put on my armor.  
        • Church today is the day. No more hiding, no more excuses, no more fear of what might be. Let’s rise up and build, never giving up, and always being ready to defend each day what God is doing



God has enemies, so do you.  We are worshiping a guy who was murdered.  You are on the team of the hated.  We need to accept it, and embrace it.  It doesn’t mean we have to love it, but we have to be able to handle it.  Matthew 10:22 says that you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  They didn’t treat Nehemiah well, they didn’t treat Jesus well, they won’t treat you well either.  But even so, we must pick up our sword in one hand, and pick up our trowel in the other, and build the kingdom of God.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.