HANG IN THERE

 

Week of March 29, 2009

 

Bible Verses:Nehemiah 6:1-16.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson calls you to determine to remain focused on the work until you have seen it through to completion.

 

Avoid Distraction: Nehemiah 6:1-9.

 

[1]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),[2]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.[3]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?"[4]And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.[5]In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand.[6]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.[7]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."[8]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."[9]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.[ESV]

 

[1-4]The opponents saw that there was little hope of destroying Nehemiahís work but there was still time to bring him down personally. By now they realized that he had not just come to Jerusalem to tackle an important building assignment. He was determined to establish the community as well as secure the city. So his enemies set their hearts on destroying him, and the only way to get at such a well-protected citizen was to lure him to enemy territory. Once kidnapped, they could easily dispose of him. In order to satisfy the Persian king, a plausible story could be easily fabricated attributing his death to the sudden attack of robbers. The suggested location for the meeting, about halfway between Samaria and Jerusalem, would have lured the governor into the borders of the hostile territories of Ashdod and Samaria. It would have taken him a full day to get there and, allowing a further day for the discussion and another for the return meant that, at this crucial stage, he would be away from his work for half a week. It was neither the right time nor place for a regional consultation, especially when Nehemiah knew that they were up to no good. The invitation appeared innocent but was a thinly disguised death sentence. The governor was discerning, resolute and inflexible. He was a man of prayer and unlikely to receive an invitation of this sort without taking it into Godís presence. Over the months, he had been called [1:11], strengthened [2:2], equipped [2:4-9], encouraged [4:6], protected [4:15] and guided [5:1-13] by the God of heaven. The time Nehemiah spent with God made him sensitive to divine guidance and warning. He was prompted by God to refuse the invitation, knowing that his enemies were set on his destruction. His enemies refused to take ďNoĒ for an answer. It is one thing to have a conviction; it is quite another to stand by it. Nehemiah refused to be manipulated. Once he had discerned the danger and expressed his response, nothing would move him.

 

[5-9]When Nehemiah refused the invitation for the fourth time, Sanballat knew that he must change his tactics. The suggestion about a meeting in a village on the Ono plain was repeated a fifth time, but on this occasion the messenger also carried an open letter, suggesting an agenda for the proposed conference. This open letter was virtually public property; anybody the messenger encountered was free to read it. It accused the governor of dishonorable intentions and corrupt motives in building the wall and seriously questioned his integrity as a leader. It was a subtle and treacherous ploy. The accusation that he was organizing a revolt, however untrue, could issue in his immediate recall to Susa. Sanballat and his colleagues had only to make that kind of report to the Persian authorities and the damage was done. Even though Nehemiah was not remotely guilty of such charges, it was a huge temptation to talk with them, bring everything out into the open, assert his innocence, trace the source of the scandal, demand that the unjust accusation be withdrawn and so on. They knew that a man of honor would hate the thought of libelous statements circulating in an open letter. But Nehemiah had the wisdom to discern that their allegations had no basis in fact and, far from being reported among the nations, had been voiced by nobody but themselves. Once again, this spiritually alert leader knows exactly how to respond to an accusation of that sort [8-9]. It is not easy to handle unjust accusations but Scripture offers some helpful insights. First, perhaps there is something we can learn about ourselves, even from unkind words about us. We need honestly to examine our hearts to see if there is any truth whatever in the accusation. It may be ill-intended, but that does not mean that there may not be a grain of truth in the cruel thing that has been said. Secondly, there is something we can learn from Scripture. The Bible offers us clear guidelines about our response to unkind and untruthful things which may be said against us. Godís Word forbids retaliation which only multiplies the sin, and we must not attempt to take any kind of revenge. We are to intercede for those who falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of our allegiance to Christ [Matt. 4:11]. We are also to pray for ourselves, especially for patience to absorb falsehoods either in silence or with temperate speech. If our consciences are clear, it is often best not to attempt to justify ourselves. Given time and patience, many of the worst accusations are often seen for what they are and discredit those who have perpetrated them. Thirdly, however sad the circumstances, there is always something we can learn about God. Psalm 7 tells us that when David was troubled about allegations made against him by a Benjamite named Cush, he discovered in his emotional pain that God was his refuge [1-2], judge [3-9] and shield [10-17]. In the light of these great truths he determined to shelter [1-2], search his own heart [3], trust [11] and praise [17], knowing that God alone can bring good out of evil. Those who trust God leave Him to do His own work and ask Him for the strength, patience and love to cope with such a highly unpleasant form of adversity. In this particular trouble, Nehemiah found his strength in realism, prayer and Scripture. He was realistic, knowing that verbal assault of this kind was inevitable. It was part of the enemyís intimidation campaign. There was bound to be opposition to such a worthwhile enterprise, and Nehemiah realized that a resourceful leader learns to take it in his stride. He refused to be either belittled, deflected or embittered by it. Nehemiah was helped as he prayed: O God, strengthen my hands. The strength came as well as the discernment, reliance and confidence he needed.

 

Ignore Naysayers: Nehemiah 6:10-14.

 

[10]Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night."[11]But I said, "Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in."[12]And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.[13]For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.[14]Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.[ESV]

 

Nehemiahís troubles became more sinister in form and more menacing in intensity. He visited a friend, one of Jerusalemís prophets, and had every reason to feel safe with a professed man of God. Possibly he wanted to share his problems and be assured of a godly manís support during such intense opposition. But the old friend became a new enemy. Nehemiah called on Shemaiah at a time when the prophet was confined to his home. The phrase is ambiguous, but possibly means that he had confined himself to his home pretending that he too was afraid of Nehemiahís opponents and that his own life was in danger. This would have created in Nehemiah a sense of companionship and may even account for Nehemiahís original purpose in visiting him, to encourage and support him as a godly prophet under pressure from the enemy. But it was all a phony trick. Shemaiah had been paid to initiate this next destructive plot. It was another attempt to destroy Nehemiahís character. The plan to do so on the grounds that he was a subversive revolutionary had failed miserably. The governor had seen right through it, exposed the lie, and treated it with the contempt it deserved. When they could not accuse him of being a political rebel, they tried to make him a religious transgressor. Nehemiah was not a priest, and here was this false prophet suggesting that he should go into the temple as a victim seeking asylum, misusing Godís house, and violating the templeís prohibitions which forbade access to the holy places by anyone other than priests. The prophetís suggestion about closing the temple doors suggests that Shemaiah intended either to lure the governor into an area reserved exclusively for priests or, with the doors closed, at least say that Nehemiah had violated the holiness rules. Robbed of witnesses, Nehemiahís denial of a prophetís word would count for nothing. Once more Nehemiah was sensitive to danger seeing that God had not sent Shemaiah but that Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.

 

Nehemiahís moral integrity was above reproach and his conduct in Jerusalem had been impeccable. If they could not kill him, they knew that the most damaging thing they could do against a man of honor was to defame his character. He realized that this plot to vilify him before his family, friends and colleagues was aimed at destroying his influence in Jerusalem. The enemy knew that Nehemiah was not likely to end his commitment to his people once the walls had been rebuilt. The time he had spent with them made him aware of other aspects of their moral and spiritual life in urgent need of renewal, and his heart was set on a greater task then the reconstruction of broken walls. The enemy did not want such a good work to begin, and the best way to halt the reformation was to degrade the reformer. The plan aimed at destroying his character, using fear as their primary instrument. There is a note of urgency in Shemaiahís voice: they are coming to kill you by night. But Nehemiah had confidence in a God who is sovereign [1:5; 2:4,20], wise [2:12], powerful [4:14,20], merciful [9:17], compassionate [9:19], generous [9:20,25] and patient [9:30], a Lord determined to deliver His trusting servant from the worst of dangers. Once again, help is mediated through prayer [14]. He gradually makes the discovery that Shemaiah is not the only prophet who is working against him. A prophetess named Noadiah and additional male prophets have also been manipulated by the governorís enemies and have voiced this relentless intimidation campaign. They have mobilized a destructive assault on Nehemiah but he responds, not by attacking them, but by seeking God [14]. He is determined that the righteous God shall be the judge, not Jerusalemís governor. The Lord knows their hearts, their unworthy allegiance, corrupt motives and damaging intentions, and He will deal with them all. They imagine they are devising imminent destruction for him; in reality, they are preparing a grim destiny for themselves.

 

See the Work to Completion: Nehemiah 6:15-16.

 

[15]So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.[16]And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.[ESV]

 

Despite these repeated and concerted attempts at Nehemiahís downfall, the project was brought to a highly successful conclusion. From his first discreet enquiries and midnight exploration of the broken walls, Nehemiah knew that there would be opponents, and the work should begin without delay. That meant the rebuilding program had been undertaken during the hot summer months between late July and mid-September, when hard relentless work of that character must have been desperately exhausting. But now it was done and, for centuries, even when that particular wall had been replaced, the project would remain as a unique tribute to its leaderís vision, his colleaguesí tenacity and, most of all, the Lordís help. Here was yet another testimony to the providence and protection of God.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What do we learn from Nehemiah in verses 1-9 about staying focused on the work that God has given us?

 

2.†††††††† How are we to handle false accusations against us? See the three insights from Scripture mentioned in the notes.

 

3.†††††††† Why did Nehemiah refuse to heed the advice of the prophet Shemaiah?

 

References:

Nehemiah, Mervin Breneman, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Nehemiah, Raymond Brown, Inter-Varsity Press.