Chapter 6:1-9 (ESV) - Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And 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?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
Question to consider: Why did Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem wish to harm Nehemiah?
Jesus warned His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) He knew that they would face persecution and be dragged into courts and flogged in the synagogues for their association with Him so they should be aware of the devil’s schemes and act accordingly. Peter gave a similar warning to the church in his first epistle, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Even though Nehemiah lived hundreds of years before the Son of God came in flesh, he understood that ever since the rebellion of Adam and Eve, the devil has been hell bent on trying to destroy the people of God and the work He was doing through them. The devil was perfectly fine with the people living in Jerusalem with burned up walls and no temple. The devil was perfectly fine with one group taking advantage of the other or Israelites marrying women from the surrounding nations and worshiping after other gods.
Seeing Israel repent and send away their unbelieving wives or eating in unity as they finished the walls and temple was more than the devil could bear, and so his servants, Sanballet, Tobiah and Geshem tried to lure Nehemiah outside of the holy city to murder him and stop the work. I find it interesting that there was not even a gate on the walls, and yet they sought to lure him outside of the city rather than trying to come in and get him. Certainly, having people building with swords at the ready was one deterrent, but more than anything, demons did not wish to tread into areas where God’s Spirit dwelt.
Nehemiah’s response showed that he understood the devil’s schemes, and yet he was wise enough to not antagonize them.
When their murder plot failed, they took to spreading rumors that Nehemiah desired to become king and rise up against Artaxerxes. Of course, Nehemiah had always been someone of impeccable character, and the king knew this so it meant something when Nehemiah denied the accusations. As Peter also advised the church, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The gospel is enough of an offense on its own. We should not act in a way that adds to it.
Dear heavenly father, please help us to grow in the grace and wisdom of Christ so that we may be able to navigate a world that seeks our destruction. As Nehemiah prayed, “Lord strengthen our hands,” so that we may act in a way that loves and honors You. Amen.