The sixth chapter of Nehemiah opens with three names that we have read before. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are the leaders of the opposition against Nehemiah and the people. We first read about them in Nehemiah 2:10,19 as they jeered at the idea of the people rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and were displeased that Nehemiah had returned for the welfare of the people. In Nehemiah 4 we read about them stirring up more opposition as Nehemiah and the people are working on rebuilding the walls. But the opposition is not done in trying to thwart the plans of the people. They are going to continue to be a problem for Nehemiah and for this work that God wants accomplished.
Nehemiah 6:1 reveals that the work on the walls is nearing completion. The gaps in the walls have been repaired. All that is left is the put the large doors up at the various gates of the city and it appears the work will be complete. The opposition is going to try to stop that from happening. Notice what they do in verse 2. They send a message saying that they want to have a meeting with Nehemiah in the plain of Ono. This seems innocent enough on the surface. Let’s have a meeting about everything that is going on. But you will notice at the end of verse 2 that Nehemiah knows these guys. He knows that the intention of these men is to slow down the work. Nehemiah knows that these men have been trying to harm him and the people of Judah.
Focus, Not Talk (6:1-4)
Notice Nehemiah’s answer in verse 3. Nehemiah proclaimed that he is doing an important, great work and cannot come down from the walls to have a meeting. Listen to what he says. “Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah’s answer is that we have a work to do and the work should not stop for a discussion. I want you to see the focus of Nehemiah. His response is pretty simple. What do we have to talk about? I am doing an important work. I am doing God’s work. We should not be stopping the work for discussions and meetings. These men are persistent. Four times they sent the same proposal to Nehemiah (6:4). But each time Nehemiah gave the same reply. We do not need to have a meeting. We are doing an important work.
Now I want us to think about this response from a few points of view. One way to stop the work that God wants us to do as his people is to talk it to death. Always talk about it but never do anything about it. Always have meetings about what we should do and what we are going to do but never do it. You may have experienced this when you have been at other churches. There is one consistent terrible outcome that occurs in church business meetings. If you do not know what these are, these are meetings that the church has to make decisions when there are not elders to lead the church. There is one consistent outcome that I have seen in business meetings. Everything gets talked about but nothing ever gets done. No one feels like they can do the work because someone will call them out for doing something. So a meeting is called to talk about if we can do some particular work. What often happens at the end of those meetings is the issue or work is talked about, no solution is determined, and so it is tabled until next month so it can be talked out again. It is a terrible cycle that can happen. What we might miss is that this is a tool that can be used to keep the work from happening. Nehemiah says we need to get on the wall and do the work. We are not going to stop to have a meeting about it. I made this point in the last lesson and I want to make it again because it is so important. You do not need church permission to do what God has called for you to do. You do not need to have a meeting to start Bible studies, teach others, serve others, help others, or do any work that God has called us to do. All of us are part of this body with different gifts and abilities. Use your gifts to do the work you can do.
I think there is another important lesson for the church. The work can come to a stop when the flock is taking attention away from the work for more talk and more meetings. Now please listen carefully to what I am saying. I am NOT saying that the flock should not go to their spiritual leaders for spiritual help and direction. Here is what I am wanting us to think about. If every family in the church is making sinful decisions and hurting their lives and hurting others, then the work will come to a complete stop as the shepherds have to go around solving problems. Let me state the idea more broadly. We cannot be effective in reaching out to the lost if we are causing problems within the flock. If we are causing internal problems, then we cannot effectively reach out to the world. The reason is that we become embroiled with our own problems and do not have time or energy to push the work forward. So Nehemiah just tells these men that we are not going to talk all this out. The work is too important for talking it out.
Focus, Not Fear (6:5-9)
Since Nehemiah was focused and was unwilling to stop the work for meetings, the opposition presses even harder. Notice what they do in verses 5-7. They write an open letter. This means that this is a letter that is going to be circulated for all to read. It is not a private message. Here is what the open letter said. It is reported and we have confirmation from Geshem that you are planning a rebellion and are going to make yourself king. You even have prophets prepared to proclaim you king of Judah when the walls are finished. We are going to send this back to the king of Persia. So you need to meet with us because this is what we are going to tell people.
Look at Nehemiah’s response in verse 8-9. First, he sends a simple message back. These are all lies. You are making them up in your head. There is no truth to the rumors you are spreading. They are lies. Second, Nehemiah prays for strength. Nehemiah is going to depend on the Lord through prayer and not succumb to his fears of what his opposition is trying to do against him.
Now think about what Sanballet is doing. He is going to stop this work by dragging Nehemiah’s name through the mud. In doing so, his hope is that Nehemiah will stop doing the work so that he will have to take this meeting. Nehemiah will have to defend himself and go around put down these rumors and lies rather than doing the work. But Nehemiah does not cave in. Nehemiah continues to do the work. He simply declares that these are vicious lies and prays to the Lord for strength. We need to consider what we learn about the opponents and Nehemiah’s response from this paragraph.
First, we need to be aware that there will be people who will make up lies and use rumors to stop the work. I want us to notice that Sanballet makes this letter credible. He says that the nations are reporting this to be true. He also says that Geshem is agreeing that this is true. It all seems so credible but it is a lie. This is an important reminder. We must always go to the person and not believe a story that someone tells. It is possible that it is a simple misunderstanding. It is possible that there are darker motives behind what is going on. So we need to exercise great caution and make sure to take any concerns directly to the person and not spread it around. This is gossip which is condemned as sin by our Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29; 1 Timothy 5:13). I think this also the reason why the apostle Paul commanded to Timothy to not receive a charge against an elder without two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). Paul knew that a way to stop the work would be to attack the leaders. So Paul tells Timothy to not receive it unless it can be confirmed by others.
Second, notice that Nehemiah does not stop the work to squash the rumors and lies. He does not stop what he is doing and try to combat this open letter that is going to be spread against him. He simply prays, trusting in the Lord to handle the situation, and continues to do the work. We cannot stop the work because of our fears. We cannot stop the work because of what people say about us. Rather than stopping, opposition must strengthen our hands all the more to do the work God has given to us. This is what Nehemiah prays. Strengthen my hands to plow through this obstacle and keep doing your work. There is a determination that we must have for doing the work that God has for us. Your opposition can come from unexpected places. People can lie about who you are and what your motivation is. Do not lose heart. Do not give up. Strengthen your hands and continue to follow Jesus.
Focus, Not Sin (6:10-14)
One more attempt to stop the work on the walls is recorded in verses 10-14. Nehemiah meets with the prophet Shemaiah. The prophet tells Nehemiah that he needs to hide himself in the temple because his enemies are coming to kill him at night. This certainly sounds plausible that these enemies are going to come at night and try to kill Nehemiah. But listen to Nehemiah’s response in verse 11. First, he is not going to run away. This is exactly what the opposition would have wanted. The work would slow down or stop if Nehemiah runs for his life. Second, he is not going to hide in the temple because he is not allowed to go into the temple. It would be a sin for him to do that. Nehemiah continues to show an unwavering commitment to the work even when his life is threatened.
But notice what Nehemiah figures out in verse 12. Nehemiah understands that God had not sent this prophecy to him but this prophet had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat. How did Nehemiah know this? Nehemiah could know this because the prophecy told him to break God’s law. God never sent prophets with messages that were contrary to God’s word. That was a major lesson that was learned in 1 Kings 13 where an old prophet lies to the young prophet. You know what the word of God says and you must never violate it, no matter what anyone else says. The apostle Paul made a similar proclamation in Galatians 1 when he said that he did not care if an angel from heaven appeared, if that angel tells you something different that the revealed word of God, then let him be accursed. We follow the word of the Lord, not people.
Look at what Nehemiah understands further in verse 13. His opponents were trying to make him afraid by intimidating him. The fear was to cause him to sin and then they could tell everyone about Nehemiah’s sin. They were going to discredit Nehemiah by ruining his reputation by trying to get him to sin. So how does Nehemiah handle this? Nehemiah does what he always does. He trusts in the Lord by turning in prayer. It is important to see that our opponents are going to try to provoke us to sin so that they can discredit us. They are going to try to rile us up so that we will sin. They are going to tempt us so that we will sin. They will do whatever they can to discredit you. You might remember that Paul warned Timothy about this while he was doing his work.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:12–13 NIV)
Paul told Timothy to not give anyone a reason to despise his age. Live as an example before them in every way and devote yourself to the word of God. It is the same for us. Focus, and do not sin.
Focus On Success (6:15-19)
In verse 15 we are told that the people succeed in completing the rebuilding of the city wall. You will notice that the work required 52 days. As we read this you might have thought that years are going by while all of these difficulties are happening. Rather, it has been an intense two month period. But because the people had a mind to work and because they were focused on not stopping, the wall was finished in 52 days. Notice what their success showed, according to verse 16. The nations were afraid because they realized that this work had been accomplished by God’s help. God was the reason for the success. God was why they could overcome all of these obstacles. God was with them. Focus on the goal and focus on the fact that God can get us to the finish line.
But we would want this chapter to end with the completion of the walls and a great celebration. We want this to end with a “they lived happily ever after line.” But notice what else has happened to conclude the picture of this work. Tobiah has inside connections (6:17-18). Listen to verse 19. “Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.” Tobiah is one of the main opponents against Nehemiah and against the work. But do you see what was happening? The people had no idea. They are talking about what a wonderful person Tobiah is and all the good works he is doing. Can you imagine Nehemiah hearing people tell you how wonderful Tobiah is? It must have been stunning for him to hear people praising him. Nobody was seeing what Tobiah was doing. But God did see. It is okay if no one knows what others have done to you or put you through. They might have high respect for them. Focus on the success that God can grant to the work. Keep focused on the work. Nehemiah remains focused because he knows he is doing a great work that he cannot leave. We must have a mind that the work must not stop and that we will overcome any obstacle by God’s help to keep the work going.