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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 6

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-14

Nehemiah - Chapter 6

Insinuations and Threats, Verses 1-14

The day came that Nehemiah’s enemies realized the Jews really would restore the walls of Jerusalem. They were finished except for the installing of the doors in the gates. They decided on one last desperate play to scare Nehemiah into compromise with them. Sanaballat sent messages to Nehemiah implying an imperative and mysterious reason why they should have a meeting. Geshem the Arabian joined him in the invitation to meet in one of the villages in the plain of Ono. Ono was in the Mediterranean coastal area, about twenty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem. The intent was likely to get Nehemiah as far from help as possible and possibly to assassinate him. But he suspected their evil intentions and refused to go.

The message of Nehemiah to his enemies has often been applied to the work of those who refuse to be hindered from His calling today by the world’s invitations, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" There is no work greater than what is being done for the Lord. There is no good and compelling reason why such work should be interrupted for fleshly purposes. Note that 1) Nehemiah’s work was great; 2) it would stop if he acquiesced in Sanballat’s invitation; 3) he refused to stop the work. It is all very simple: recognition of the importance, perseverance in its advancement, and refusal to interrupt. Compare the admonition of 2 Peter 3:14 for today.

Sanballat and Geshem did not give up easily. Four times they repeated their insistent invitation, making the meeting appear very urgent, as indeed it was for their purpose. Every time Nehemiah answered the same. Finally they sent a letter to him in which they divulged a supposed rumor calculated to involve Nehemiah in very serious trouble. It was to the effect that it was being widely circulated among the surrounding people that Nehemiah was intending to rebel against the king of Persia and restore the kingdom of Judah with himself asking. Therefore he had built up the walls as a defensive measure.

The message was emphasized by the words, "And Gashmu saith it" (verse 6). Gashmu and Geshem were the same person, the letters of the name being written differently according to the diction of the original language. The Persian king employed a system of surveillance throughout his empire known as "the king’s eyes," whose business it was to be watchful for trouble-makers. It is believed that Geshem (or Gashmu) held that position in Judah. For that reason it could be bad for Nehemiah if he sent such a report to Artaxerxes. Surely this would frighten Nehemiah into complying with the invitation of his enemies for a meeting. The Devil increases his pressure to make one child of God fall.

Of course even this did not succeed. The prophets whom Nehemiah had purportedly set up to preach to the people the need of making Nehemiah their king were a product of the enemies’ imagination and scheme to compromise his work. Nehemiah accused them of falsehood, malicious and intentional. It appears that some had become afraid by these reports, but Nehemiah carried it to the Lord, "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands." With so much pressure, both inside and outside, he felt the need for God’s power to strengthen him to resist them.

While Nehemiah had no preachers prompting a kingship for him, Sanballat’s party did have their preachers in Jerusalem, working underhandedly to influence Nehemiah to make a fatal error. These were Jews working for the enemy. One was Shemaiah, to whose house Nehemiah came. Shemaiah proposed to Nehemiah that he was in mortal danger. He suggested that they go into the temple and shut themselves up in sanctuary, for assassins were on their way to kill Nehemiah. They planned to do their murderous deed by night, when he least expected anything.

But Nehemiah deducted from this that Shemaiah was a false prophet, not a representative of the Lord as he claimed, but of Sanballat and Tobiah. Should an innocent man flee for refuge to the temple? Would that not make him suspect in their very accusations? He deduced that the enemies had hired Shemaiah to scare Nehemiah into intruding into the sacred precincts of the temple. Had he done this he would have gained the opposition of the priests and of the Lord Himself, for he had no right there as an ordinary Jew. He must not go where only the Levitical priests were allowed.

Sanballat and Tobiah even had their spokespeople among the women, Noadiah spreading fear also. The passage closes with another of Nehemiah’s short petitions to the Lord. He asks God to take note of the evil opposition of Tobiah and Sanballat, working through Shemaiah and Noadiah and others, that their scheme would not succeed. Godly Nehemiah was doubtless acquainted with the encouraging words of the Lord through Isaiah (Isaiah 41:10).

Verses 15-19

Finished Wall, Verses 15-19

The wall of Jerusalem was erected and completed in an astonish­ingly short time, only fifty-two days after it was commenced. It seemed beyond the ability of men to have done such a monumental job in so little time. Surely it was the hand of the Lord which enabled them. The twenty­-fifth of Elul corresponds with late August in the modern calendar, so that the fifty-two days of the construction fell in the summer season of July and August, a prime time for such work. This is not sufficient however to discount the hand of God in its speedy erection. Not only did the Lord give them courage against the hindrances of enemies, but He also gave them the physical ability to perform it.

Even the heathen people who opposed the Jews and their building of the wall, when they heard it or saw it, as in the case of those living nearby, were astonished and could hardly believe it. Nehemiah saw they were much cast down in their own eyes, meaning that they were much embarrassed and chagrined that they were unable to succeed in preventing its completion. They had to admit that God had blessed the efforts of the Jews.

The position of Tobiah with reference to the Jews is somewhat claried here. He is referred to as Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:19). The appellation "servant" indicates that he was an officer in the service of the Persian king, and he was of the nation of Ammon. Thus he was held in some esteem by some of the Jews and had been accepted by them. In fact he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah, who was one of the priests (Nehemiah 12:3). Surely the rigid requirements of the priest’s family should have prevented Shechaniah from giving his daughter to this pagan Ammonite (Leviticus ch. 21). However, his son, probably a half-Jew, half-Ammonite, had also married the daughter of a leading family of the Jews. These friends of Tobiah had received his letters and used their contents in attempt to influence Nehemiah in Tobiah’s favor. Instead Nehemiah and Tobiah remained implacable enemies, because Nehemiah would not compromise God’s law (Nehemiah 13:7-9). Again Nehemiah may have found support in God’s word, from Job, "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:9).

The lessons: 1) Christians may expect the Devil to raise falsehood against them; 2) the Lord’s work is greater than any man or human project; 3) it requires strong, spiritual faith to withstand the weakness of the flesh; 4) compromise may accomplish the Devil’s purpose in the end; 5) finally, the world must know that the Lord enables His people.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/nehemiah-6.html. 1985.
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