Stephen Caswell © 2000
A melon farmer's crop of melons were disappearing fast from his field. Thieves were continually stealing the melons under the cover of night's darkness. The farmer became desperate and in an attempt to save his crop from the vandals he decided to put up a sign. The sign had on it a skull and crossbones, and it read: One of these melons is poisoned. Only the farmer knew that it was not true. Sure enough, for two nights not a melon was missing. But, after the third night, the farmer noticed that the sign had been altered. Someone had scratched out the word one and replaced it with another word so the sign now read, Two of these melons are poisoned. Thinking to save his crop through deception, he lost it all!
People in places of spiritual leadership not only have the pressures that all leaders face, but they must also battle an infernal enemy who is a master deceiver and a murderer. Satan comes either as a serpent who deceives or a lion who devours, and Christian leaders must be alert and spiritually equipped to oppose him. It behooves God’s people to pray earnestly, not only for those in civil authority, but also for those in places of spiritual authority. If Satan can defeat a Christian leader, he can cripple a whole ministry and discredit the cause of Christ. The enemy’s main purpose was to generate fear in the heart of Nehemiah and his workers knowing that fear destroys faith and paralyzes life. Nehemiah. 6:9, 13–14 & 19 refer to fear.
Last Sunday we saw the enemy within; greed. This time his attack was directed at God's leader, Nehemiah. In chapter 6 we see four different scheme's. Each scheme involved lies and deception. They are:
I. Subtilty II. Slander III. Scare Tactics IV. Spies
a. Sanballat's Request
Nehemiah 6:1-2a Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.
Up to this point in the building program, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem opposed everything that the Jews did; but now they offered to cooperate and help the Jews build the wall. But they were lying. They offered to meet Nehemiah in a village halfway between Jerusalem and Samaria, a quiet place where they could make plans on how to work together. We’re willing to meet you halfway, was their approach. Now, don’t be an unfriendly neighbor! Sanballat and Geshem requested Nehemiah to meet them in a village out of town. Surely this was not an unreasonable request. He wanted to talk things over with Nehemiah. They hadn't gotten on together until now, but it was time to bury the hatchet now. Of course, the enemy’s strategy was, If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em—and then take over! Once the enemy gets a foothold in a ministry, he starts to weaken the work from within; and ultimately, the work will fail.
While cooperation in the Lord’s work is a noble thing, leaders must take care that they cooperate with the right people at the right time for the right purpose; otherwise they may end up cooperating with the enemy. When you invite the devil to join your team, expect him to change the rules and the goals; and expect to be defeated. Sanballat used the subtle approach against Nehemiah this time. Satan often tempts us this way. 2 Corinthians 11:3 says: But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his subtilty, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
b. Nehemiah's Response
Nehemiah 2b-4 But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you? But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.
1. He Knew They Meant To Harm Him
When your enemy pretends to be your friend, look out! Nehemiah had the kind of spiritual discernment that leaders must possess if they are going to detect the enemy’s strategy and defeat it. Nehemiah saw through Sanballat's scheme. He was not deceived by the serpents subtilty. He remembered how Sanballat had threatened himself and the Jews just a few weeks earlier. Why should he trust him now?
2. He Was Convinced He Was Doing A Great Work
Second, he was convinced of the greatness of the work God had given him to do. If Nehemiah allowed himself to be distracted and detoured from the work God had called him to do, where would his people go for leadership? A leaderless project is an aimless project and eventually falls apart. Leaders must be good examples and stay on the job.
3. He Had Nothing In Common With The Enemy
They had nothing in common with Sanballat and his crowd, so there could be no basis for cooperation. Nehemiah had made that clear at the very outset of the project when he said to Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, you have no heritage, or right or memorial in Jerusalem, but we will rise up and build. Neh 2:20 God’s people are different from the people of the world and must maintain their separated position. If Nehemiah had cooperated with Sanballat and his allies, how could he have led the nation to separate itself from the foreigners in the land? He would have been inconsistent. 2 Cor 6:14-15 says: Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
Appearance Of Goodness - Friedrich Nietzsche
To win certain people over, it is first necessary to give it a gloss of love of humanity, nobility, gentleness, self-sacrifice; and there is nothing you can't get them to swallow. Beware of the serpent he is subtle and gently calls us to compromise.
The enemy offered to work together on the wall. Couldn't Nehemiah meet them half way? Nehemiah wouldn't compromise with the enemy! Do you compromise your convictions when asked to smoke or drink or go to immoral movies? Do you meet them half way so that you will be accepted? Be careful when people ask you to compromise your Christian standards. One small compromise always leads to another. Nehemiah saw the enemy's subtilty. We must be alert to Satan's subtle attacks too. Compromise always hurts us. Are you careful when the enemy pretends to be on your side? You must be.
Nehemiah was doing a great work for God. Why should the work stop while he left it? Are you committed to God's work here or are you divided in your Church attendance? Unless you commit yourself to one Church how can you use your gifts and get involved? You will become a spectator, not a participator. God wants people who will work on the wall, not go from one building site to another.
Nehemiah also recognized that he had nothing in common with the enemy. We too must realize that compromise always harms our witness for God. Our usefulness to God will cease if we join in with the enemy. Compromise is a very subtle attack that Satan uses well.
a. Sanballat's Rumors
Nehemiah 6:5-7 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah! Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.
The fifth time the enemy approached Nehemiah, it was with an open letter accusing him of sedition. They had hinted at Jewish insurrection before the project had even begun. Neh 2:19 They probably borrowed the idea from the people who had stopped the building of the temple years before. It would be considered a serious charge in Nehemiah’s day, because Persian kings tolerated no resistance from their subjects. Any hint of rebellion was immediately and ruthlessly put down. An open letter to a royal governor would be both intimidating and insulting. Letters to officials were rolled up and secured with seals so that only those with authority could open and read them.
Sanballat wanted the public to know the contents of the letter because he hoped to undermine Nehemiah’s reputation and authority. If some of the Jewish workers believed what was in the letter, Sanballat could organize them and create division within the ranks. It was a splendid opportunity for the enemy to divide and conquer. Not only did his enemies falsely accuse Nehemiah of fomenting a rebellion, but they also said he was planning to make himself king and had prophets prepared to announce his coronation. If this report got back to the Persian king, there would be immediate reprisal; and that would be the end of the Jerusalem project.
Statements like it’s been reported and they say have caused trouble in many local churches and other ministries. In every organization, there are gossip-mongers, hovering like vultures, just waiting for tidbits of slander that they can chew, swallow, and then regurgitate. An anonymous wit has defined gossip as news you have to hurry and tell somebody else before you find out it isn’t true!
b. Nehemiah's Response - Denial, Prayer & Work
Nehemiah 6:8-9 Then I sent to him, saying, No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart. For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
Christian leaders must know how to handle false accusations, vicious letters, unfounded press reports, and gossip. Otherwise, these devilish weapons will so upset them that they will lose their perspective and spend so much time defending themselves that they will neglect their work. Nehemiah didn’t make that mistake. He simply denied the reports.
Nehemiah also prayed to God for strength. He didn't want the enemy to weaken him through slander. He knew that his character was such that no honest person would believe the false reports. If we take care of our character, we can trust God to take care of our reputation. So, Nehemiah got on with the work in God's strength.
How G. Campbell Morgan Dealt With Gossip
On more than one occasion, Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan was the target of savage gossip that accused him of unfaithfulness to the Christian faith. His usual approach was to say, It will blow over. Meanwhile, I go quietly on with my work. Nehemiah would have approved of his approach.
After four attempts to get Nehemiah to compromise had failed Sanballat tried slander. This scheme was also based upon lies. How did Nehemiah handle it? Firstly he denied it. Secondly he prayed for renewed strength and thirdly he got on with the wall. How should we respond to slander? We should follow Nehemiah's example. If we defend our integrity every time the enemy speaks lies against us God's work will be neglected.
Thirdly Scare Tactics
a. Shemaiah's Scheme
Nehemiah 6:10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.
This third scheme was cunning. Shemaiah seemed very concerned about Nehemiah who did have enemies seeking his life. He devised a clever plan to trap Nehemiah. He shut himself up in his house and gave the impression that, like Nehemiah, his life was in danger. When Nehemiah came to see him, Shemaiah suggested that they both take refuge in the temple, where the enemy couldn’t reach them. But in reality, Shemaiah was a hireling prophet. His words were very threatening: They are coming to kill you. Since he had access to the temple, it’s possible that Shemaiah was of priestly descent; but even this didn’t influence Nehemiah’s decision. Shemaiah's plan was based on fear. The enemy appeared this time as a roaring lion seeking to frighten Nehemiah. The word fear is used in verses 13 and 14.
1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour: Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brethren in the world.
b. Nehemiah's Stand
Nehemiah 6:11-14 And I said, Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in! Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.
Nehemiah was a true shepherd and not a hireling like Shemaiah. If he had run away and hidden in the temple, it would have ruined his reputation forever. Nehemiah rejected Shemaiah’s proposal because it was contrary to the Law of Moses. It was forbidden for a layman to go beyond the altar of burnt offering at the temple. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death. When King Uzziah tried to invade the holy precincts, God smote him with leprosy. Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was a false prophet because the message he delivered was contradictory to the Word of God. He later found out that Shemaiah was a secret informer that had been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to scare him into sin. But Nehemiah saw through this scheme. He saw that Shemaiah's advice was contrary to God's Word and based upon fear; not faith. He rejected it and prayed that God would punish them.
Nehemiah 6:14 indicates that there was a conspiracy against Nehemiah among the prophets, including a prophetess named Noadiah. This created a great deal of pressure for Nehemiah, for the Jews had great respect for their prophets. Nehemiah was outnumbered, yet he stood his ground. He was a layman opposed by a body of professionals, yet he refused to give in. He prayed about them and left the matter with the Lord. In verses 9 and 14, we have the fifth and sixth of Nehemiah’s telegraph prayers that he sent to the Lord in times of crisis. Of course, behind these brief intermittent prayers was a life of prayer that gave them strength.
Fear - Harry Emerson Fosdick
Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable-and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.
The enemy's third attack was also based on lies. He pretended to be concerned for Nehemiah's life, when in fact he sought to ruin his reputation. We must be careful when people pretending to care for us advise us to disobey God's Word. God will never call us to do anything contrary to His Word. Be alert to false prophets who seek to motivate us into action through fear rather than faith! Beware when the enemy roars like a lion to frighten us!
Nehemiah 6:15-16 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
With God's help and Nehemiah's determination Israel completed the task. They took only 52 days to do it and through the heat of summer too. Daniel 9:25 foretold that the street and the wall would be rebuilt 49 years after Cyrus' decree allowing the Jews to return. Daniel said that the wall would be rebuilt in troublesome times. This had now come to pass. Israel's enemies became disheartened because they recognized that God had done this work. Did they give up? No they didn't; they worked with even more cunning.
Nehemiah 6:17-19 Also in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them. For many in Judah were pledged to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Also they reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.
Satan is not a quitter but stays on the field even after it looks as if he has lost the battle. Many a careless Christian has won the war but afterward lost the victory. Satan is always looking for an opportune time to attack the victors and turn them into victims. We need to heed the counsel of that saintly Scottish minister Andrew A. Bonar, who said, Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle. If you can’t see Satan working, it’s probably because he has gone underground. Although the wall had been finished the enemy was still active.
Tobiah kept sending letters to his informers, and they in turn kept telling people to change their allegiance before Jerusalem was taken by the Gentiles. He had people working for him on the inside. The nobles of Judah weren’t satisfied just to get their information and directions from Tobiah, but they felt it necessary to tell Tobiah everything Nehemiah said! No doubt they were hoping to win Tobiah’s favor and thus earn a greater reward when Tobiah and his friends took over Jerusalem. In every sense, they were traitors to the nation and to the Lord. Meshullam was one of the workers on the wall, and yet his family was undermining the very work he was doing. But these traitors went even further: They repeatedly told Nehemiah what a fine man Tobiah really was! This was totally untrue!
Tobiah was related to influential people and this no doubt led people to join him. They had believed his lies and were now spreading them! The Apostle Paul had problems with false brethren and we still do today. There are false believers who side with the enemy. Not every preacher, Christian musician or Church goer is actually saved. Jesus said to beware of wolves dressed up in sheep's clothing. He said we would identify them by their fruit, not their words or gifts. We must look out for them lest they lead us astray through deceit. Watch and pray was certainly one of Nehemiah’s chief admonitions to his people. Nehemiah ignored the letters and threats and kept on working until the job was completed. After all, his work was wrought of our God and when God begins a work, He completes it.
False Teachers -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There are no greater foes to sheep than wild dogs. In some regions, sheep were no longer to be found because these fierce creatures utterly devoured the flocks. The church has never had worse enemies than false teachers. Infidels and persecutors do but mild injury to her, but her heretical preachers have been as evening wolves.
The Church today has become very gullible. Often, we believe anyone who claims to be a Christian. Satan loves to work from inside the Church. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve, yet a traitor. And many others since him have done the same thing. How can we know true preachers and Christian musicians from the false? By looking at their fruit to see if it is good or bad! Only as we watch, pray and work can we stand against the enemy inside.
Today we have seen the warning, beware of the enemy he is a liar! He used four different attacks against Nehemiah. Each one involved lies.
I. Subtilty - The first attack was subtle. They sought to get Nehemiah to compromise. They wanted Nehemiah to meet them half way. Nehemiah wouldn't leave God's work.
II. Slander - The second attack involved lies about Nehemiah's character and motives. Nehemiah denied it, prayed, then got on with the work.
III. Scare Tactics - The third attack involved fear. False prophets tried to scare Nehemiah into sin. They tried to get him to break God's Law. Nehemiah obeyed God's Word!
IV. Spies - After the wall was finished the enemy didn't quit. He went underground. The enemy had men inside Jerusalem. Nehemiah was aware of them and withstood him in prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.