Lord, Do Not Forgive Them, For They Know Exactly What They Are Doing
Nehemiah 4:1-5 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building–if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
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. 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.
Christ prayed from the cross that His Father might forgive those who crucified Him. That was probably a pretty good sized crowd, by the way. All the mockers and scorners there. Later on the Day of Pentecost, Peter would tell the crowd that they crucified Christ by the hands of wicked men. And then it was from that crowd that some 3,000 were saved. I suspect this would not have happened had not Christ prayed for His elect from the cross. He prayed for them — for they know not what they do. Similarly, Paul told Timothy that the Lord showed him mercy because he acted ignorantly in unbelief when he persecuted Christ’s church.
But here in Nehemiah 4, another godly man is being jeered and persecuted by wicked men. And he prays for them as well. Only his prayer is much different – Return their reproach on their own heads…give them up for plunder…do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You…. What is this all about? Maybe Nehemiah was being too human and thus unkind and unforgiving?
Nehemiah’s prayer was a good and righteous prayer. The context makes that clear. When wicked, evil people set out to destroy the work of the Lord, and they do so knowing full well that it is the work of the Lord, it is right to pray that the Lord judge them. Nehemiah’s prayer was just like the many imprecatory Psalms that are prayers calling upon the Lord to destroy His enemies. And I would maintain that victims of abusers have every right before God to pray these very kinds of prayers when they feel moved to do so. We should ALL be praying these kinds of prayers regularly. Let’s face up to it — evil people abound within our churches. They hide behind their facades while they carry out their wickedness unseen. Sexual abusers of children. Abusers of their spouses. Power and control hungry Diotrephes types looking to lure the whole flock into following them. The Word of God has some pretty rough words for these kind:
Jude 1:12-13,” These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; (13) wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”
There are people who are worse than your average sinner. Without conscience. Charming. And very dangerous to our souls.
So why is it not quite appropriate then for all of us, including pastors in their pastoral prayers in the worship service, to be praying — “Lord, do not forgive such people who lurk about as hidden reefs in the fellowship of Your people. Rise up, O Lord! Expose them and bring them to nothing. Bring their evil down upon their own heads and give us the wisdom to recognize it when You do so.” We should all pray for our churches that the Light of the world would bring hidden things to light.
We sing “Shine, Jesus, Shine!” Do we really understand the implications of that prayer? When the Light of Christ shines among us, it has a way of turning things upside down.