After Nehemiah inspected the condition of the wall, he challenged the people to unite and work together. With high enthusiasm, the people began the work of repairing the wall of Jerusalem. But the work of repairing the wall would not be easy. There was much opposition by some of the governors in the provinces. These people were working against Nehemiah and their goal was to stop the work. Nehemiah faced many threats, but his response was to pray to God and keep the people’s morale high.
The people who opposed Nehemiah were Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. These opponents of Nehemiah were local governmental officials of the Persian provinces. In addition, Nehemiah mentions “the rest of our enemies” (Nehemiah 6:1), probably a reference to others who opposed the construction of the wall (Nehemiah 4:7).
These local officials opposed the rebuilding of the wall. One of them, Sanballat, “was angry and greatly enraged” and he mocked the people by asking sarcastically, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish – and burned ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:1-2). Tobiah showed his contempt by saying “That stone wall they are building – any fox going up on it would break it down!” (Nehemiah 4:3). Both Sanballat and Tobiah were belittling Nehemiah’s efforts to repair the wall.
The people who opposed Nehemiah “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.” In response, Nehemiah prayed to God and set guards to protect the workers against their enemies both day and night. In addition, Nehemiah “stationed the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows” (Nehemiah 4:13).
Nehemiah’s enemies tried to use psychological warfare to stop him and scare the people. In this psychological warfare, their goal was to plant negative thoughts in the minds of the people in order to defeat them and stop the rebuilding of the wall. To Nehemiah, the struggle against their opponents was a spiritual struggle since his opponents were determined to stop the work and hinder the rebuilding of the wall.
This is the reason Nehemiah prayed to God, “we made our prayer unto our God” (Nehemiah 4:9). Nehemiah prayed to God six times, each time asking God to help him and the people in their work. So confident was Nehemiah that God was on their side that he told the workers, “Do not be afraid of them” (Nehemiah 4:14).
Nehemiah was the leader of the people. The attack on Nehemiah was an attack on the people. For this reason, the opponents of the people made several attempts to discredit Nehemiah and to remove him from leading the people in repairing the wall of Jerusalem.
The First Attempt: Distraction
The threats to Nehemiah and to the workers failed to stop the rebuilding of the wall. Now their opponents tried to discredit Nehemiah. As Williamson wrote, “The work was now so far advanced that they must have realized that their taunts and threats had not succeeded; they therefore changed their tactics and concentrated instead on eliminating Nehemiah from the scene.”
The first attempt at stopping Nehemiah was by distracting him from his work. They did so by proposing a meeting with Nehemiah: “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” Nehemiah’s opponents do not explain the purpose for the meeting. It is possible they are inviting Nehemiah to come to a peace conference or to confer with other leaders of the government about how to solve the impasse. However, Nehemiah believed his opponents were planning to harm him, “they intended to do me harm” (Nehemiah 6:2).
The invitation to participate in this meeting was intended to distract Nehemiah and stop the construction of the wall. This is the reason Nehemiah 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 to come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Nehemiah was “doing a great work” and he could not be distracted from completing the work. The meeting could have lessened the animosity between both parties, but Nehemiah’s priority was to finish the wall, so he could not stop the work to attend the meeting.
Nehemiah knew that the rebuilding of the wall was a great project. So, when Nehemiah was invited to a meeting with the local governors, Nehemiah had to make a choice; he chose the work of the Lord (Nehemiah 3:5) rather than to be with political leaders. Nehemiah said “no” to the things that would stop him from completing the work of rebuilding and said “yes” to a project that he knew would bring glory to God.
The Second Attempt: Accusation
When Sanballat and the other leaders could not convince Nehemiah to meet with them, they decided to change their tactics. Their second attempt at discrediting Nehemiah was by accusing him of rebellion against the king of Persia in order to discourage him and the people from finishing the work of rebuilding the wall.
Sanballat sent four messages to Nehemiah inviting him to meet with the local leaders and four times Nehemiah refused the invitation to meet. Then, Sanballat sent a fifth message to Nehemiah, this time by one of his servants who carried an open letter in his hand. The message read: “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 this report you wish to become their king” (Nehemiah 6:4-6).
The letter makes three accusations against Nehemiah. First, that Nehemiah and the people were planning to rebel against the king of Persia. Second, that the people are building the wall in order to protect themselves from the Persian army. Third, that Nehemiah wants to become the king of the Jewish people.
Nehemiah was a loyal servant of the King of Persia. He worked for the king and enjoyed the king’s confidence. But now, Sanballat was accusing Nehemiah of being disloyal to the king and dishonest in his motives.
There was a little truth in what Sanballat wrote; Nehemiah was building the wall, but the accusations made against him were false: Nehemiah was not planning to revolt against the king, nor did he wish to be the king of the Jewish people. Sanballat was using these false accusations to destroy Nehemiah and to stop the rebuilding of the wall.
Nehemiah denied the charges against him. He said that there was no revolt and that he had no desire to become a king. He said, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind.” Nehemiah knew that their goal was to stop him, “they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’” Once again Nehemiah prayed to God: “But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:8-9).
The Third Attempt: Temptation
Since Sanballat and his allies failed to convince Nehemiah to meet with them, they made a third attempt at forcing Nehemiah to commit an act that would disqualify him as the leader of the community and place his life in jeopardy.
One day Nehemiah went into the house of Shemaiah a man who was under house arrest. Although no reason is given for Nehemiah’s visit, it is clear that Shemaiah wanted to speak to Nehemiah. He said to Nehemiah, “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, tonight they are coming to kill you” (Nehemiah 6:10).
The text does not say whether Shemaiah was a prophet or a priest. He told Nehemiah to hide himself in the temple where they would close the doors and protect Nehemiah from those who were seeking his life. But Nehemiah was suspicious that the invitation was a trap. Nehemiah was not a priest and he was being asked to do something against the will of God.
Nehemiah told Shemaiah, “‘Should a man like me run away? Would a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!’ Then I perceived and saw that God had not sent him at all, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this purpose, to intimidate me and make me sin by acting in this way, and so they could give me a bad name, in order to taunt me” (Nehemiah 6:11-13).
Shemaiah was hired to deceive Nehemiah. Shemaiah’s request was innocent, but the invitation was a temptation to run away from his work and to discredit him before the people.
Notwithstanding all the opposition from his enemies and the trials and tribulation Nehemiah and the people faced, the work was accomplished and the wall was rebuilt in record time: “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6:15).
In the end, Nehemiah prevailed. His opponents tried to distract him from his work, but they were not successful. His opponents accused him of sedition, but their threats and accusations failed. His opponents tempted Nehemiah by asking him to hide himself and save his life, but it did not work. Nehemiah was a man of prayer, devoted to God and to his work. His devotion to God strengthened him and provided the motivation to accomplish his work.
The video below is the sermon Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois, preached on November 10, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Nehemiah: Devotion.” The text for the sermon was Nehemiah 6:1-15. The above post is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff began his sermon by speaking about the spiritual struggles Christians face in serving God. Christians face an adversary who lies in order to accomplish his work, and an adversary who uses human beings to destroy the work of God.
Jeff used Nehemiah and his work in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem as a role model for Christians when they face opposition. Nehemiah was opposed in his work, but nothing significant is accomplished without struggles. Jeff emphasized that Christians must demonstrate tenacity and persistence in the face of opposition. Jeff reminded the congregation that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4 KJV).
Sermon: “Nehemiah: Devotion” by Jeff Griffin
Studies on Nehemiah
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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