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Plots And Snares
Again our attention is directed to the opposition of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem (or Gashmu) with the rest of Judah’s enemies. Every move within the city was reported to them without, and no doubt they had felt a sense of deep satisfaction when the news of internal strife had reached them. This may account for our having heard nothing of them in the last chapter. If God’s people get quarrelling among themselves, the enemy from without can afford to rest in his tents, but as soon as things get right within he actively bestirs himself.
Word having reached the adversaries that the wall was builded and no breach left in it (although the doors had not yet been set up on the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent an apparently friendly message to Nehemiah, saying, “Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono” (ver. 2). They would lure him unto neutral ground, outside the wall, as though to confer on matters of importance; but he recognized the evil purpose of their hearts; he inwardly knew their thought was to do him mischief.
His reply is worthy of the man, and should have a voice for any in our day who are tempted to take neutral ground where the truth of Christ is in question. “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?” He had been entrusted by God with a commission “to restore and build Jerusalem,” and he will brook nothing that would for a moment turn him aside from this. A separated man, he would have no part in the surrounding confusion where the word of God was rejected and His people despised. Notice here: it was no question of ministering to, or caring for the children of God scattered abroad that was before him. These Samaritans were the enemies of God’s truth, while pretending to serve Him. “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33). They represent, as we have seen, unreal professors, yet presuming to have full title to the name and place of worshipers. With such the faithful servant can have no fellowship. He must maintain and guard what has been committed to him, and if he attempts to mix with these “deceitful workers” he will only lose what he himself has.
Four times Sanballat and Geshem sent to Nehemiah “after this sort,” and four times he returned the same answer.
Then they changed their tactics. They had tried conciliatory methods and failed to corrupt him. Now they would use a scandalous report with intent to intimidate him. There is nothing new under the sun. Satan’s wiles are such that the man of God must not be ignorant of his devices.
The fifth time Sanballat sends his servant with “an open letter in his hand.” Oh, these “open letters!” How often, while fairly worded, have they been penned only to gender strife. This one contained a covert insinuation to the effect that all Nehemiah’s work had been unauthorized, and a direct charge that his object was self-aggrandizement and rebellion against the king. Themselves in rebellion against God, they charge God’s servant with their own sin. The “open letter” reads somewhat graciously, but the object of its writer was to occupy the Jews with his apparently gracious spirit in order to poison their minds against Nehemiah. “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah; and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now, therefore, and let us take counsel together” (vers. 6, 7). Such were the contents of the open letter, and we are not told what impression, if any, it made on the Jews. It was so worded as to intimate that Sanballat’s only desire was to clear Nehemiah of the charges whispered about, and yet so cunningly phrased that any disaffected ones within might readily charge the governor with fearing an investigation if he did not go down to confer with Sanballat.
But Nehemiah is not at all concerned about this. He knows he is personally right with God and he fears not suspicion and idle tales. “There are no such things done as thou sayest,” he retorts boldly, “but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.”
So was it also when evil workers sought to undermine the apostle Paul’s influence, and so has it ever been when the truth was hated. To discredit, by fair means or foul, the messenger, is one of Satan’s cunning devices in order to discredit the message. To do this, his tools often affect great humility themselves; and pretending to be zealous for the liberty of the people of God, they cry “Pope!” “Diotrephes!” “Heretic!” when any servant of Christ and the Church seeks to stand steadfastly against iniquity, hoping thereby to throw dust in the eyes of simple believers, in order to gain their own unrighteous ends.
Trials like these are not easy to bear. To have one’s good evil-spoken of, to be called a “lord over God s heritage” when trying to serve in lowliness, is painful indeed to any sensitive soul. But it is well not to retaliate, nor even to explain, but just to refuse the cowardly charge and leave results with God.
Nehemiah’s conscience was free, so he could throw the accusation back upon the man who made it; and knowing it was only done to weaken their hands from the work, he looks heavenward and cries, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (ver. 9).
But Satan has not yet exhausted his ammunition. A man is found within the city to act for Sanballat and Tobiah, upon the payment of a bribe. Shemaiah, the son of Delaiah, is said to have been “shut up.” This probably means that he was ill, or confined to his house, and unable to take his place among the workers on the wall. Such a man, if not in fellowship with God as to His then present ways, would prove a ready tool for the conspirators. Nehemiah called upon him, and Shemaiah warned him with pretended sincerity of danger to his life, counselling that he should flee to the temple, there to seek security by hiding in the sanctuary. To do so would have at once spread fear and distrust among the people, and this was just what Sanballat desired.
But God’s devoted servant again rose, strong in faith, superior to the situation. “Should such a man as I flee?” he asks, “and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in” (ver. 11). To desert the rest, and act as though panic-stricken, would ill become one in his position, one who also had confessed his faith in God so boldly. He realized that he was again face to face with evidence of the plots of his enemies, and that God had not sent Shemaiah with such a message, but that he was hired by Tobiah and Sanballat to give this unworthy counsel. With these were others who shared in the conspiracy; one, a prophetess named Noadiah, and several unnamed men, also in the prophetic office. Sad and solemn it is when those who take the place of speaking for God are found in sympathy with the adversaries of His truth, thus hindering the work He has committed to His loyal servants.
Nehemiah, in his customary way, brings the whole matter at once to God, and puts the case in His hands. “My God,” he prays,” think Thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear” (ver. 14). It is no longer a matter between Nehemiah and the conspirators, but it is now an affair between God and these unholy plotters. And in His own time He can be depended upon to settle all righteously.
At last, despite every effort to frustrate the work, “the wall was finished” in fifty-two days from the time they began to labor. When this was manifest to the surrounding nations “they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God” (ver. 16). With what different feelings would the Jewish remnant contemplate the completed wall! Praise and thanksgiving would well up in their breasts, that Jerusalem was once more a protected city.
No doubt the enemy hated such “narrow exclusiveness,” and would search eagerly for some small breach whereby to force an entrance, or pass in by night. Judah’s exclusiveness was their security. So long as the spirit of the people within answered to the strong wall without, they were safe. Their position was now clearly defined. The next question was, Would their condition answer to it? Alas, the very next verse manifests a bad state. With some at least, the separation was only outward-not of heart and conscience. How often has this been repeated in the history of God’s people!
A position may be taken which outwardly is fully in accord with Scripture; yet the heart may not go with it at all. People talk of separation, priding themselves on being in a certain ecclesiastical circle, apart from sects of man’s devising, while yet in their homes and in business-life going on with the world as though never separated at all. This is of the very essence of Phariseeism-an outward position rigidly maintained, while inwardly corruption holds sway.
Inside the walls of Jerusalem it was far from being in accord with the position taken. “Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear” (vers. 17-19). It was a complete overturning of divine order. God had said, “The people shall dwell alone, they shall not be reckoned among the nations.” And to so abide was to be strong and be under His protecting hand. But the unequal yoke had been entered into. Mixed marriages, despite the bitter lesson in Ezra’s day, were still tolerated and excused; and so conscience was broken down and the nobles of Judah lost all power of discrimination. The wall might separate between them and ungodly Tobiah, but there was no separation in spirit, so they easily found means of communication with the haters of God’s truth.
To Nehemiah they prated of the good qualities and benevolence of “brother Tobiah,” and to the latter they spoke complainingly of the unnecessary strictness of the governor. They were traitors and hinderers, though occupying posi- tions of prominence among the Jews. “Discerning of spirits” is a gift to be coveted; for dullness of sight is becoming increasingly characteristic of many who once were counted upon as able to discern between good and evil.
When the heart goes with the world and worldly religiousness, all kinds of excuses will be made for those who go on with the mixed condition. Their position and actions-no matter how unscriptural-will be palliated and explained away; while those who truly go on with God will be subjected to the extremes of criticism, and every word and deed viewed as unfavorably as possible. Hence the need of being deeply exercised as to the inward state, as well as carefully walking in the path outlined in the word of God.
The chapter we have been considering is full of warnings for our own times. Happy those who have ears to hear and hearts to understand.
Mere outward separation, with its accompaniment of breaking bread in scriptural simplicity on the first day of each week, will avail for nothing, if there be not heart-detachment from the world and heart-attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ, leading to holiness of life and self-judgment. Only thus can we keep in any measure the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
7 See “Notes on the Book of Ezra”by the same.
8 On this subject I have frequently quoted from the published notes of an address I gave on this chapter some years ago. Being my own, I have not marked such quotations.
9 Archibald Brown, of London.
10 The verse is really an exclamatory rather than a declarative sentence: “Remember Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, raised from the dead according to my gospel!”
11 This little word “so” is quite characteristic of Nehemiah. It is found about twenty times.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent