Extracts from Nehemiah
Nehemiah Chapter 6
This story begins over twenty-four centuries ago in the year 445 B.C. The place is that of Judea, a minor member of the 120 provinces of the mighty Persian Empire.
The Governor is Nehemiah, called by God from high office in the Persian capital to go to Jerusalem at a time of crisis (the city's defences had been destroyed), in order to rebuild the walls. We read about this crisis in the book of Ezra, chapter four.
Nehemiah, chapter one, relates to the circumstances of Nehemiah's calling. Chapter two informs us of his return to Jerusalem and the commencement of work on the walls. Chapter three is a census of the builders. Chapters four, five and six recall attempts by the enemies of the people of God to stop the work.
Chapter four dramatically recounts an attempt to stage an insurrection which was foiled by the famous "sword and trowel" episode. Chapter five tells how Nehemiah overcame a long history of internal corruption and exploitation to unite the people at a time when the nation nearly collapsed internally. (See ‘Extracts from Nehemiah'; Voice of Revival, December 1985).
Chapter six, the chosen text for our examination, deals with the attempts to stop the rebuilding program by destroying the man who was overseeing the project - Nehemiah.
There are four attempts, distinctly classified in this manner:
- verses 1-4, Intrigue
- verses 5-9, Slander
- verses 10-14, Treachery
- verses 15-19, Subversion
By exploring the text in a thorough manner, three questions will arise. We shall consider these along with a great and wonderful promise that is given for us.
"When all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us feared and fell far in their own esteem, for they saw that this work was done by our God" (NEHEMIAH 6:16, AMP).
If we go back to the book of Ezra, we find that Tobiah and Sanballat imagined themselves as the proper servants of the God of Israel. They were most hostile when the true children of God arrived back into their rightful city. So they moved to discredit those that had returned and render them irrelevant.
They are shocked to find the wall is nearly complete; the servants of God are full of endeavour; for the division between themselves and the Gentile nations. Wherever men and women are steadfast for the whole truth of the Lord, they will feel the weight of the false professors.
Sanballat and Tobiah, having failed at everything else, plan to eliminate Nehemiah. They call him to a meeting on "neutral" territory between Jerusalem and Samaria. Nehemiah is not fooled. They mean to do him harm and he won't go. He is about the Lord's business and will not be distracted.
Sanballat examines Nehemiah's determination by threatening to misrepresent him before the Persian authorities. Open rebellion was punished suddenly and brutally in the Persian Empire. If Sanballat's story was to be believed in the Persian capital, then Nehemiah would be dead. In the heavily politicised Persian administration, with its long chain of command, there would undoubtedly be personal enemies of Nehemiah, who envied his success.
Such a story might well be believed. Had Nehemiah not been a man of God, it might have worked. His public reaction was to brush aside their lies. He knew what they were doing. Privately, the stress on him was terrible, necessitating that he draw on the only source of strength he had,
"...O GOD, strengthen my hands". There was no more that he could do.
Shemaiah invites Nehemiah to his house in order to warn him of an attack upon his person, suggesting that they flee to safety, to the security of the inner sanctum of the temple. Nehemiah is having none of this. Firstly, he is not concerned about proposed arrangements for his personal security - the old Persian security chief had already made the best arrangements possible. Furthermore, he was not going to do anything that he knew was forbidden. Only the priests were allowed in the inner sanctum of the temple. It is doubtful that he would have been killed (being the Governor), although that was the penalty under the Law. For Nehemiah to have gone into the sanctuary would certainly have destroyed his authority. He interrogates Shemaiah and discovers a plot against him, in which a group of prophets have been corrupted in an attempt to destroy him. He leaves them to the judgment of God.
Many of the people of the congregation had long-standing associations with the enemy, even as deep as family ties. There is deep personal tragedy in this, for Meshullam was one of the faithful builders (See NEHEMIAH 3:30). But there they were, sitting in judgment on the congregation, feeling free to discuss the affairs of the children of God with their enemies.
Whatever Nehemiah did was reported to Tobiah, and they lost no opportunity in telling Nehemiah what an upstanding fellow Tobiah was.
Tobiah took advantage of this to put pressure on Nehemiah, whenever he was vulnerable in the community. In other words, they made his administration an endless series of painful petty irritations. He must have felt from time to time that his enemies knew more about his affairs than he did himself.
From our investigation into the affairs of Nehemiah, some thoughtful questions arise:-
1. What is our position in the Lord? What is required of us?
Consider these two aspects of Nehemiah's story:
- He would not be provoked into doing what he knew to be against the desires of God;
- He was totally aware of the importance of the task to which he had been called, and would not be moved from it.
It is important to come to meetings and listen as the Word of God is expounded (taught to us). It is just as important to spend time reading the Word. The Lord does not want us to fall short in, nor overdo our walk with Him. We must know what He requires of us, and do precisely that.
Jesus said to His disciples,
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am" (JOHN 13:13). He then is our teacher and example.
2. How is our testimony holding up?
Nehemiah's enemies threatened to tell lies about him to people in a position of power. Would these people believe those lies? Nehemiah would not be there in person to rebuff them - he could only rely on his reputation and the memory of himself in the minds of the Persian bureaucracy. If there was any shadow of doubt over his loyalty and integrity he was finished!
How are we doing?
Do our friends at work realise that we are the servants of the Lord, the children of His Kingdom. Does our conduct uphold the honour of God? If it was a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us? There ought to be!
3. Are we supporting our brethren and the oversight in the Assemblies?
Are we critical of the assemblies in the company of people outside of the fellowship? Are we handing ammunition to people who will use it to hinder the oversight? (NEHEMIAH 6:17-19).
Shemaiah was a prophet of God, but he was prepared to compromise himself in order to hurt the man called of God to defend his brethren.
In Jude we read of three terrible men, one of whom was Balaam. He would not directly curse the children of Israel, but he did not think much of them either, and was prepared to point out their weaknesses to their enemies. The upshot of his activities was that the Moabites let loose thousands of prostitutes amongst the children of Israel and caused untold suffering and grief.
The Lord will not hold guiltless those who think themselves better than their brethren and are willing to conspire with others to harm the church. Balaam was a man who had a special relationship with God, but whose name has become a byword for evil.
The Lord's Promise
If we all join together in the work of the Lord, do our share and back our pastors and oversight, then things will happen that people will see and know that we are of God. People will be delivered from sin; be born-again into the Kingdom of God; and miraculously rebuilt in the image of, and after the likeness of Christ.
Wonderful events will take place, such as the building of the wall in 52 days (NEHEMIAH 6:15-16), and the Lord Himself will silence our enemies and they will know He is with us.
Source: ‘Voice of Revival'