Nehemiah 6 – The Walls Completed
A. Nehemiah is attacked in three phases.
1. (1-4) The snare of the enemy’s friendship.
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.” 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.
a. Our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall: The wall was almost finished – the gaps were closed, but the gates were not yet hung. For the enemies of Nehemiah, and the work of God, this was a “now-or-never” time. If they didn’t do something immediately to stop the work, the walls would be completely finished.
b. Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono: At this time, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem tried to arrange a meeting with Nehemiah – by all appearances, a friendly meeting, perhaps even a reconciliation or a vacation. Their invitation may have had the sense of a break for a few days of rest and relaxation out on the plain of Ono.
c. But they thought to do me harm: Nehemiah was able to see through the outward appearance, and to understand what Sanballat’s friendly offer was all about.
i. “Whether you be a pastor or a teacher or evangelist or Sunday school leader, or whatever your position may be in Christian leadership, let me say that there will always be those who are friendly to your face, but plan your downfall behind your back. Beware of the fawning, flattering Christian who is always fluttering around you, and who behind your back will be the first to rejoice when you go down.” (Redpath)
d. But they thought to do me harm: Nehemiah was equipped with discernment.
i. Discernment is the ability to judge matters according to God’s view of them, and not according to their outward appearance. We are often deceived by outward appearances; For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
ii. Many people confuse being discerning with being negative or cynical. Discernment is just as able to see the good where others might miss it as it is to see the bad where others are deceived by appearances.
iii. Christians today suffer a great deal because they lack discernment. They follow leaders and teachers who have a good appearance, but don’t walk in the nature of Jesus. They accept something blindly because it looks good or sounds good, without carefully judging it against the whole counsel of God’s word. We might even picture Nehemiah going to the word of God and equipping himself with discernment. Perhaps he read Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. That passage alone would remind him to not look to outward appearances, but to judge soberly.
iv. How can we develop discernment? First, if you want to see things as God sees them, get to know His word. Second, develop spiritual maturity; Hebrews 5:12-14 says that discernment is something spiritual babies don’t have (a baby will stick anything in his mouth). Third, discernment can be given as a gift from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). Seek Him for it.
v. Without discernment, we can think a dangerous invitation from an enemy is really an offer of reconciliation. We can think presumption is faith. We can think our own noble desires are God’s promises. We can think God is saying “now” when He is saying “later” or that He is saying “later” when He is saying “now.” We can think someone is a person of character or a spiritual leader when they are doing damage to God’s people.
e. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you? Using discernment, Nehemiah would not only escape their trap; he won’t even be distracted from his work.
i. If the enemy can distract God’s people, then he has won; if we can start majoring on minors, and minoring on majors, we’ve lost our effectiveness for the work of the LORD.
ii. Nehemiah was persistent in his discernment; the request came four times, and each time Nehemiah stood fast and didn’t fall for it.
f. 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? Discernment gave Nehemiah focus; he knew what God wanted him to be doing and he did it. He wouldn’t be sidetracked by things that sounded good but weren’t of the LORD for him.
i. Anyone doing a work for God must contend with a hundred different noble causes, and a hundred things that might look good – and be good – but they are not what they are called to do at that time. Discernment gives us focus.
2. (5-9) The subtlety of the enemy’s slander.
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.
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.
a. It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says: Sanballat’s slander began the way many verbal attacks do, as a report of what others have reportedly said.
i. Vague accusations often sound like “Everyone is talking about” or, “A number of people are saying.” Such vague words can very easily give the wrong impression.
ii. What Sanballat accused Nehemiah of was false. If a thousand nations reported it, it would not make it true. A popular lie may be more dangerous, but it is not truer because it is popular.
b. The Jews plan to rebel…that you may be their king…. you have also appointed prophets to proclaim: These lies probably outraged Nehemiah. He had worked hard and trusted God greatly, so this work would be done with the blessing of the king. Also, Nehemiah had accepted great personal sacrifice to demonstrate that he was not in this for himself. The idea of “appointing prophets” to say what the leader wanted to hear was offensive to Nehemiah. He was being accused of the very things he sacrificed to be blameless regarding.
i. The enemy of our souls knows which accusations will annoy and bother us the most. Often, we can’t stop such attacks, but we can learn how to defend against them and deal with them.
c. These matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together. Now Sanballat made a plain threat. Nehemiah wouldn’t be deceived into coming to this meeting (he had too much discernment for that); so now he tried slander against Nehemiah.
d. You invent them in your own heart: Nehemiah replied by calmly and straightforwardly telling Sanballat that he was a liar, and by carrying on with the work.
i. Nehemiah did not mount an elaborate defense, trying to prove Sanballat wrong point by point. He wasn’t going to waste his time. You don’t satisfy men like Sanballat with facts, explanations, and evidence. You satisfy them by giving in to their demands, and Nehemiah refused to do this.
ii. Sanballat would not be defeated by being told he was a liar. He didn’t care if the whole world thought he was a liar if he could only cause the work to stop. Thankfully, Nehemiah was steadfast.
e. They all were trying to make us afraid: Nehemiah had the discernment to see the slander strategy was all about fear, and he wouldn’t give in to it. No enemy can make us afraid; all they can do is try to make us choose fear – but it is up to us to refuse it.
i. Many people live paralyzed by the fear of what others are saying about them, or what they might say about them. Instead, we should forget about what they think. In these situations. People will talk anyway and there is little you can do about it, other than be determined that they will not make you afraid.
ii. One of Benjamin Franklin’s proverbs from Poor Richard’s Almanac wisely says: “Since I cannot govern my own tongue, tho’ within my own teeth, how can I hope to govern the tongues of others?”
iii. “No man can lead a work of God if he allows himself to be governed by what other people think. He is to secure help, fellowship, prayer, advice, and he is foolish not to take it; but if his ultimate decisions are based on popular opinion he is going to fail.” (Redpath)
f. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands: We must do what Nehemiah did – pray for God’s strength, His power in our lives. We cannot overcome slander and our fear of our enemies in our own strength. It will be said, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God.
3. (10-14) The scandal of the enemy’s religion.
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.” 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.
a. Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah: This man Shemaiah was said to be a prophet (he pronounced this prophecy), but he was not. Shemaiah offered Nehemiah a protected place in the temple. The idea was that though Nehemiah was said to be threatened, he could find refuge in the temple.
i. It may sound reasonable – and one might even take some Scripture to support it: Psalm 61:4 says, I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Nehemiah needed discernment now more than ever.
b. Should such a man as I flee? Nehemiah, knowing the heart of God as it is revealed in the whole counsel of God’s word, had discernment. Shemaiah tried to create fear in Nehemiah and tried to get him to disobey God based on this fear.
i. Only priests were allowed in the temple, and Nehemiah was not a priest. He would have been disobeying God if he had done what Shemaiah suggested. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah – who was not a priest – went into the temple, and God instantly struck him with leprosy.
ii. “He seeks to persuade Nehemiah into an easy-going, compromising religion that will shirk persecution, that will carry no cross, and that is governed by fear of the opinions of other people.” (Redpath)
c. Let us meet together in the house of God: Shemaiah knew how to use religious talk, but it was still a trap. If Nehemiah had believed Shemaiah’s religious talk, he would have sinned and given others something to find fault with and discredit him with.
d. And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in: Nehemiah stood bravely against this religious deception. In his commitment to obedience, God revealed to him the heart of Shemaiah – who was no true prophet. Instead, he was on Sanballat’s payroll.
e. My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat: Best of all, instead of lashing out against Shemaiah and his fellow false-religionists, he simply committed these wicked men – and the situation – to God. If God could take good care of Nehemiah, then He could also take care of Shemaiah according to divine wisdom.
i. Nehemiah’s response to the three-fold attack of pretended friendship, slander, and false religion makes us admire him as a leader. But we can love and admire Jesus far more.
ii. “Come down to the plain of Ono,” they said to Nehemiah. They also they said to Jesus, “come down from the cross.” But Jesus was doing a great work – the greatest work – on the cross and would not be stopped.
iii. They slandered Nehemiah, but he didn’t defend himself. He spoke the truth and trusted in God. Jesus was also slandered and did not challenge His critics – He spoke the truth and trusted in His Father in heaven.
iv. A false prophet offered Nehemiah an easy way out – but it was a way of fear and disobedience. Nehemiah would have none of it. Jesus was also offered a way out of crucifixion – if Jesus would just worship Satan, all the kingdoms of the world would be delivered to Him. Jesus rejected this seemingly easier way.
B. Completion of the wall.
1. (15-16) The wall is completed in 52 days.
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.
a. So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days: The amount of time it took to finish the job was remarkably short. The walls were in ruins for more than 100 years, and then they were set right in a period of only 52 days.
i. Why wasn’t the job done in the more than 100 years before? It wasn’t that no one saw the problem; it wasn’t that walls were not wanted. Many people saw broken walls and knew how they ruined the lives of the people of Jerusalem, but no one got past the place of just wishing Jerusalem had walls.
ii. Finally, there came a man who did more than wish Jerusalem had walls; he grieved, he ached, he prayed, he planned, he asked boldly, he went, he fought, he encouraged, he stood strong, and he saw the job through to completion. But he also had people around him with the same kind of heart.
iii. We have such small ideas of how God can use us. God used a man named Nehemiah to set right a 100-year-old problem in less than two months – and the same God sits on a throne in heaven and works through you today.
b. In fifty-two days: At the beginning, when he saw the need, Nehemiah prayed for four months (the difference in time between Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1). But the work itself took less than two months. Nehemiah worked longer in prayer than they needed to work to do the job.
i. This shows the spiritual battle was greater than the material battle. We are often told this, but it can be hard to believe.
c. And all the nations around us saw these things…they were very disheartened in their own eyes: When the wall was finished, their enemies were very disheartened. It is a glorious thing to dishearten the enemies of God’s people and to let them be discouraged for a while.
i. The battles were hard; the work was big; there were challenges from within and without. But the job was now finished, and victory was sweet.
d. They perceived that this work was done by our God: Their enemies were disheartened not just because the wall was finished, but especially because it was evident that God did the work. When something has the fingerprints of God on it, all our enemies notice it also.
i. The enemy is only disheartened when God does the work. If it is the product of man’s efforts, they just laugh. Men might be fooled, and see a work of man and be impressed, but angels in heaven (and every demon in hell) know what things have been done by man and what things have been done by God.
ii. A strong, secure people of Jerusalem were a witness to surrounding nations. Many of us live Christian lives that no one takes notice of, because our walls are broken down. Let the LORD do a building work, and others will notice.
2. (17-19) The work is finished despite some who were friends with the enemy Tobiah.
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.
a. Also in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah: Tobiah was the man who had opposed the rebuilding work with Sanballat. In Nehemiah 2:10 he was disturbed that Nehemiah came to rebuild the walls. In Nehemiah 2:19 and 4:3 he mocked Nehemiah’s work. In Nehemiah 4:7 he was angry that the work was being done. In Nehemiah 6:1-2 he was one of the men who tried to get Nehemiah to stop the work and come to the plain of Ono where he could be attacked.
b. For many in Judah were pledged to him: Yet, the nobles of Judah had no trouble being friends to such a man – because he had family ties to many in the tribe of Judah. In fact, they tried to recommend him to Nehemiah (they reported his good deeds before me).
i. These Jewish brothers of Nehemiah could not see what was so plain to Nehemiah. Perhaps they did not see much of the evil work of Tobiah first-hand, so they had a hard time believing it. We imagine them saying, “He’s always been nice to us; look at all the good he has done.”
ii. It is also possible they just didn’t have the shepherd’s heart, and shepherd’s eyes Nehemiah had. Nehemiah was called of God to protect God’s people and God’s work; he was watching and on guard in a way that others were not.
iii. Also, in the case of these nobles, there was self-interest at work. They had financial dealings with Tobiah that they wanted to protect. “His numerous binding agreements (pledged to him) within the Jewish community were probably trading contracts, facilitated by marriage connections.” (Kidner)
c. They reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him: Undoubtedly, they saw Nehemiah as the guilty party. They thought that Tobiah’s deeds were good, and Nehemiah spoke against Tobiah without cause. For example, in Nehemiah 4:4, Nehemiah prayed that the evil Tobiah had planned would be turned back upon him, and that Tobiah would be captured and carried away.
i. Nehemiah had to be willing to be seen (by some) as the guilty party in order to do what was right by the people of God. He could see what the nobles of Judah could not. He knew that Tobiah’s good deeds were not the whole story – all the while, Tobiah was sending frightening letters to Nehemiah. Those letters were not one of Tobiah’s good deeds.
ii. “Tobiah’s friends acted as a Fifth Column. They attempted both to propagandize on behalf of Tobiah and to act as an intelligence system for him. Tobiah himself kept on trying to frighten Nehemiah.” (Yamauchi)
d. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me: Nehemiah wrote no more about this situation. He wasn’t going to demand that the nobles change their minds about Tobiah but neither would he deny what he knew to be true about Tobiah. He seems willing to let it go and let God take care of it.
i. Nehemiah had a work to do, and that work was not really going out to attack people like Tobiah. He could leave the Tobiahs alone, as long as they weren’t attacking the work of God.