Near the End of the Test
Nehemiah and those with him have continued to make good progress. When they have nearly completed their work, their adversaries try a few remaining tricks.
Now it came to pass when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein . . . (Nehemiah 6:1-19).
When the adversary heard about the progress (v. 1), they proposed to meet for dialogue and negotiation (v. 2). Nehemiah responded with, “Why should I do that?” (v. 3). He was doing a great work and could not be interrupted. They asked again, four times (v. 4). When that did not work, Sanballat sent an open letter (v. 5), in which Nehemiah was slandered as one aspiring to be a king (v. 6). He was also accused of having some prophets hired, waiting in the wings to declare him king (v. 7). “Now talk with us.” Nehemiah denied their charges (v. 8), and prayed to God because the intent was to sap the strength of the workers (v. 9). So then Shemaiah tried to trick Nehemiah to go into the Temple to protect himself from a threat to his life (v. 10). Nehemiah refused (v. 11). And Nehemiah then perceived that Shemaiah was a hired prophet (v. 12), and he saw what the trick was (v. 13). Nehemiah prays again for God to deal with all of this (v. 14). And so it came about that the wall was finished (v. 15). When this finally happened, Nehemiah’s adversaries were very discouraged (v. 16), because they saw that God was with the Jews. And it came about that many of the nobles of Judah corresponded heavily with Tobiah (v. 17). They had a divided allegiance because Tobiah was connected to them by marriage in several ways (v. 18). And so they muddied the waters by reporting what a good guy Tobiah was, and quoted Nehemiah to Tobiah. And Tobiah sent intimidating letters (v. 19).
The Danger of Discussion:
The first danger was discussion. Sanballat wanted to discuss, to place his concerns on the table (v. 2). The point was to do mischief of some sort to Nehemiah (v. 2). They were persistent in this, and Nehemiah was steadfast in his refusal. He refused because he was involved in doing a great work (v. 3). Note that the work was to build the wall, not to fight those who didn’t want him to build that way. He dealt with tham only to the extent necessary to enable him to continue to work on the wall. If he could work on the wall without dealing with them, then that is what he would do. He never forgot his objective.
The Danger of Dissension:
The second danger was caused by Sanballat fomenting discontent or suspicion among Nehemiah’s followers. Note how he does this. He sends an open letter, and in it he accused Nehemiah of doing what he himself was going to do (i.e. hire false prophets). He reports in that open letter what the word on the heathen street was, and topped it all off with “Gashmu saith it.” That cinches it, I guess. He not only accuses Nehemiah of wrongdoing, but he does so in the hearing of those against whom this wrong would have been directed. In other words, the accusation is not made that Nehemiah is guilty of some personal failing. Rather, the accusation is that Nehemiah is using the people to build his own personal empire, and then, when they have done all the work, Nehemiah will have himself crowned king over it. In other words, Nehemiah was accused of being treacherous toward those who were laboring for him. He even went so far as to say that Nehemiah had hired some prophets to declare that God wanted him king (v. 7). He is trying to plant a seed of suspicion, a seed that almost always grows, and especially in rocky soil.
The Danger of the Set Up:
After this, Nehemiah came to the house of Shemaiah (v. 10), a man who proposed to meet with Nehemiah in secret within the Temple. Nehemiah refused to hide himself away because it would be disgraceful to do so (v. 11). Nehemiah refused on principle, but afterwards saw that Shemaiah, a pretended friend, had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat to prophesy for hire (v. 12). If Nehemiah had fallen for this intrigue, given way to fear, and gone into the Temple, then his foes would have had a basis to reproach him, and there would have been “something” to it. Never mind that this something was something that they contrived, but God was kind to Nehemiah and spared him.
Nehemiah then prays that God would think upon Tobiah and Sanballat, along with the prophetess Noadiah, and the other prophets, who had tried to prophesy falsely in order to get Nehemiah to give way to fear. “God,” Nehemiah prays, “think upon them.” Remember what we have already learned—that imprecation is simply praying Scripture back to God, with the attitude required in Scripture.
The Wall Was Done:
And so God was kind to them, and they completed the wall, despite all the intrigues that had been developed against them (v. 15). This left Nehemiah’s enemies greatly dispirited, and they knew that God had blessed the Jews. The thing was “wrought of our God” (v. 16).
One Last Thing:
Although the wall was done, and not much could be done about it, the harassment continued. There were nobles on Nehemiah’s side of the wall who did not know what was going on. They did not understand the situation they were in at all. They were connected to Tobiah, and were sworn to him (v. 18), because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah. Moreover, Tobiah was the father-in-law of the daughter of Meshullam. In other words, Nehemiah had to deal with some of his nobles whose divided loyalty was the result of their own lack of spiritual integrity. So they had compromised, and as a result they thought Nehemiah was the one with the problem. They then set about the “helpful” process of writing a bunch of letters to Tobiah (v. 17), and they got a bunch back. And they acted like voluntary peacemakers, telling Nehemiah what a great guy Tobiah was. And they reported Nehemiah’s words back, and the implication is that the messages in this direction were not nearly so complimentary. And Tobiah wrote letters to put Nehemiah in fear.
The Need for Boldness
Nehemiah was clearly a very courageous man, and yet one of the places where they try to get him is through making him fearful. Remember that these things operate on a scale. Consider the ministry of Paul, and all the dangers he had gone through (2 Cor. 11:22-27). And consider also what his prayer request was—Ephesians 6:19.
As C.S. Lewis once observed, courage is not a separate virtue; it is the testing point for all the virtues. Do not give way to fear.