This chapter is based on Nehemiah 6.
Sanballat and his confederates dared not make open war upon the Jews; but with increasing malice they continued their secret efforts to discourage, perplex, and injure them. The wall about Jerusalem was rapidly approaching completion. When it should be finished and its gates set up, these enemies of Israel could not hope to force an entrance into the city. They were the more eager, therefore, to stop the work without further delay. At last, they devised a plan by which they hoped to draw Nehemiah from his station, and while they had him in their power, to kill or imprison him.
Pretending to desire a compromise of the opposing parties, they sought a conference with me, Nehemiah, and invited me to meet them in a village on the plain of Ono. But enlightened by the Holy Spirit as to their real purpose, I refused.
Neh 6:3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”
Neh 6:4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
Neh 6:5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter
Finding this scheme unsuccessful, they resorted to a more daring stratagem. Sanballat sent me a messenger bearing an open letter that said:
“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
Had the reports mentioned been actually circulated, there would have been cause for apprehension; for they would soon have been carried to the king, whom a slight suspicion might provoke to the severest measures. But I was convinced that the letter was wholly false, written to arouse my fears and draw me into a snare. This conclusion was strengthened by the fact that the letter was sent open, evidently that the people might read the contents, and become alarmed and intimidated.
I promptly returned the answer. “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”
I was not ignorant of Satan’s devices. I knew that these attempts were made to weaken the hands of the builders and thus frustrate their efforts.
Again and again had Satan been defeated; and now, with deeper malice and cunning, he laid a still more subtle and dangerous snare for me, the servant of God. Sanballat and his companions hired men who professed to be my friends, to give me evil counsel as the word of the Lord.
The chief one engaged in this iniquitous work was Shemaiah, a man previously held in good repute by me. This man shut himself up in a chamber near the sanctuary as if fearing that his life was in danger. The temple was at this time protected by walls and gates, but the gates of the city were not yet set up.
Professing great concern for my safety, Shemaiah advised me to seek shelter in the temple. “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!”
Had I, Nehemiah followed this treacherous counsel, I would have sacrificed my faith in God, and in the eyes of the people I would have appeared cowardly and contemptible. In view of the important work that I had undertaken, and the confidence that I professed to have in the power of God, it would have been altogether inconsistent for me to hide as if in fear.
The alarm would have spread among the people, each would have sought his own safety, and the city would have been left unprotected, to fall prey to its enemies. That one unwise move on my part would have been a virtual surrender of all that had been gained.
I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. I was not long in penetrating the true character and object of my counsellor.
The infamous counsel given by Shemaiah was seconded by more than one man of high reputation, who, while professing to be my friends, were secretly in league with his enemies. But it was to no avail that they laid their snare. My fearless answer was: “Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.”
Notwithstanding the plots of enemies, open and secret, the work of building went steadily forward, and in less than two months from the time of my arrival in Jerusalem the city was girded with its defences and the builders could walk upon the walls and look down upon their defeated and astonished foes.
“When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah.” Here are seen the evil results of intermarriage with idolaters.
A family of Judah had become connected with the enemies of God, and the relation had proved a snare. Many others had done the same. These, like the mixed multitude that came up with Israel from Egypt, were a source of constant trouble. They were not wholehearted in His service; and when God’s work demanded a sacrifice, they were ready to violate their solemn oath of co-operation and support.
Some who had been foremost in plotting mischief against the Jews, now professed a desire to be on friendly terms with them. The nobles of Judah who had become entangled in idolatrous marriages, and who had held traitorous correspondence with Tobiah and taken oath to serve him, now represented him as a man of ability and foresight, an alliance with whom would be greatly to the advantage of the Jews. At the same time they betrayed to him my plans and movements. Thus the work of God’s people was laid open to the attacks of their enemies, and opportunity was given to misconstrue my words and acts, and to hinder his work.
When the poor and oppressed had appealed to me for redress of their wrongs, I had stood boldly in their defence and had caused the wrongdoers to remove the reproach that rested on them. But the authority that he had exercised on behalf of his downtrodden countrymen he did not now exercise in his own behalf. His efforts had been met by some with ingratitude and treachery, but he did not use his power to bring the traitors to punishment. Calmly and unselfishly, he went forward in his service for the people, never slackening his efforts or allowing his interest to grow less.
Satan’s assaults have ever been directed against those who have sought to advance the work and cause of God. Though often baffled, he as often renews his attacks with fresh vigour, using means hitherto untried.
But it is his secret working through those who avow themselves the friends of God’s work, that is most to be feared. Open opposition may be fierce and cruel, but it is fraught with far less peril to God’s cause than is the secret enmity of those who, while professing to serve God, are at heart the servants of Satan. These have it in their power to place every advantage in the hands of those who will use their knowledge to hinder the work of God and injure His servants.
Every device that the prince of darkness can suggest will be employed to induce God’s servants to form a confederacy with the agents of Satan. Repeated solicitations will come to call them from duty; but, like Nehemiah, they should steadfastly reply, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”
God’s workers may safely keep on with their work, letting their efforts refute the falsehoods that malice may coin for their injury. Like the builders on the walls of Jerusalem they must refuse to be diverted from their work by threats or mockery or falsehood. Not for one moment are they to relax their watchfulness or vigilance, for enemies are continually on their track. Ever they must make their prayer to God “and set a watch against them day and night.” Nehemiah 4:9.
As the time of the end draws near, Satan’s temptations will be brought to bear with greater power upon God’s workers. He will employ human agents to mock and revile those who “build the wall.” But should the builders come down to meet the attacks of their foes, this would but retard the work. They should endeavour to defeat the purposes of their adversaries, but they should not allow anything to call them from their work. Truth is stronger than error, and right will prevail over wrong.
Neither should they allow their enemies to gain their friendship and sympathy, and thus lure them from their post of duty. He who by any unguarded act exposes the cause of God to reproach, or weakens the hands of his fellow workers, brings upon his own character a stain not easily removed, and places a serious obstacle in the way of his future usefulness.
“They that forsake the law praise the wicked.” Proverbs 28:4. When those who are uniting with the world, yet claiming great purity, plead for union with those who have ever been the opposers of the cause of truth, we should fear and shun them as decidedly as did Nehemiah.
This chapter is based on Nehemiah 6.