We can easily misinterpret an abused woman’s inattention, words, or actions when we fail to actively listen and come alongside her in her suffering. (i.e. see this article for more information on the correlation between autoimmune diseases and PTSD). Fear and stress, especially when chronic, affect us physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The example of the Nehemiah and the people of God models worship and a deep response to God and His Word after safety. Certainly there was dependence and worship before, but free, tender, unhindered corporate worship is not possible in an unsafe environment.
The book of Nehemiah does not specifically refer to, or pretend to address, domestic abuse, nor does it mimic the secret oppression that happens in marriages ruled by pride, but it does give insight into conflict, ungodly manipulation, and godly responses. A previous post lists dominating, abusive behaviors found in the book of Nehemiah. This post describes Nehemiah’s response.
- Nehemiah acknowledged the problem. (Nehemiah 1:3)
It is not unusual for women to think their marriage is “normal” or maybe just “difficult” before coming to the conclusion that their husband is habitually, repeatedly taking advantage of and using them instead of living with and alongside them. Facing the fact that one is repeatedly, habitually used for another’s benefit is a hard truth to acknowledge, but it is the beginning of change. It is a work of God.
- Nehemiah prayed.
– He began with truth about God. God is the Ruler of all. God ordains, works, and provides. God is able:
“I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of … Your servants…” (Nehemiah 1:5-7)– He voiced the truth about himself and his situation.
“I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses…” (Nehemiah 1:6-7)– Then he asked God for direction and help.
“O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
- When his physical appearance betrayed his concern, even in the face of fear, Nehemiah trusted God and responded honestly.
“So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid…. So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:2,4)
- Nehemiah took time and made the effort to gain objectivity.
“So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire.” (Nehemiah 2:11-13)
This is very difficult, perhaps impossible, when you live with an abuser. It requires help from someone outside your situation. It could require separation for a time.
- Nehemiah presented the situation to those in leadership.
“[the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials]… I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” (Nehemiah 2:16-17)
- The community worked to provide protection for one another.
This is where domestic abuse situations in the church usually fall apart. Instead of utilizing the local church to care for each member, leaders point fingers or play hide-the-sin. Instead, God calls His people to protect and build up one another with concern for each individual’s relationship with God and others (Nehemiah 3).
- Nehemiah pushed through ridicule with prayer, continuing to do right, trusting God to intervene and judge.
“Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (Nehemiah 4:4-5)
- Nehemiah did not neglect practical means of protection.
“But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.” (Nehemiah 4:9)
Authority–all authority–is given by God and has limits. A husband who misuses headship should be taken care of in the church, by the church. But when the church fails to do God’s work, He has provided government offices to intervene and address unlawful behavior (Romans 13:1-4).
- Nehemiah addressed repeated threats, from multiple sources, with both truth and action.
“When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)
As God’s ambassadors, we are called to represent God accurately. Excusing sinful behavior is not godly. Ignoring habitual sin is not godly. God calls us to risk threat of danger, anger, outbursts, and potential loss of income for the sake of His name and those He loves.
- The people continued, weapons in hand, despite resistance.
“Then our enemies heard that it was known to us.. that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.” (Nehemiah 4:15-18) “So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.” (Nehemiah 4:23)Note: many women live this way day in and day out, for months, even years, without relief.
- Nehemiah not only addressed threats from without, he addressed sin from within.
“…behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” (Nehemiah 5:5)
It is not unusual for those within the church to heap condemnation, judgement, blame, and criticism on women who are already carrying that of an abuser. We called to come alongside and help. Yes, she, too, is a sinner, but as God extends mercy and grace, so should we. One’s sin is never an excuse for another’s (Romans 12:17, 21).
- Nehemiah didn’t give in to repeated ploys.
“Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.” (Nehemiah 6:2-4).
- Nehemiah confronted lies and distortions with truth and prayer.
“I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”
- Nehemiah saw through manipulation, trusting God with the outcome.
“I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.” (Nehemiah 6:12-14)
It is so important to trust the woman who has been abused. She knows her husband better than anyone ever will. She can often see his manipulation and ploys when church leadership, co-workers and family members do not. Listen to her. Hear her. Believe her.
- Although he perceived secret alliances, he understood they were out of his hand and entrusted them to God.
“I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.” (Nehemiah 6:17-19)
- Nehemiah knew better than to let down his guard. Trust is given when earned.
“Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.”
- Safety preceded wholehearted, heartfelt conviction and worship.
“Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
“…all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ …all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” (Nehemiah 8:5-6, 9-10, 12)
- When sin returned, Nehemiah took strong action.
“I… learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense.” (Nehemiah 13:7-9)
Even after intervention, it is necessary to guard against further, or repeated, sinful behavior. God is not in favor of harboring, protecting, and providing for sinners in His temple.
The narrative of Nehemiah, while often used to teach church leadership principles, can also be used to help us understand a godly response to opposition and oppression, even in marriage.