“Read More” to pursue answers in Nehemiah
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it?though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates
A vulnerable moment: Nehemiah is successful enough to scare his enemies, but not secure enough to be safe from them. Perhaps that is why they pick this time to treat:
Nehemiah, as you might expect, will have none of this:
Is he being fair? Might they in fact be sincere? His response is illuminating. He’s focused on the “work”, and he gives that as the reason he won’t “go down” to them. He says it twice, presumably for emphasis. It’s as if he’s saying, “If you genuinely want to meet with me because you -approve- of the work, then come meet me on my own ground. If you don’t, then we have nothing to talk about.” The more I think about it, the more I admire that approach! It doesn’t close the door to reconciliation, but neither does it leave him vulnerable to “mischief.”
Not that his perspicacity deters them:
Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.
It sounds so trivial, but perhaps we should not underestimate the temptation: if he had really been scared, the possibility of negotiation with an arguably superior foe would be very attractive. Of course, it seems clear that Sanballat had gravely underestimated Nehemiah. So he tries a different tack:
Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;
Ah, the infamous “open letter” of accusation.:-)
The power of rumor! You can almost hear the wheels clicking in Sanballat’s head. “If he doesn’t want to make peace with me, surely he realizes he must keep peace with the King!” For all I know, Sanballat might even believe Nehemiah has such intentions — surely that’s what S would do in N’s place! And kings of all ages are notoriously touchy about insubordination in formerly rebellious provinces..
Nehemiah, of course, has the supreme unconcern only someone with a clean conscience — and a close trust-relationship with the King — can muster:
Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.
Interestingly, his response seems dictated by his devotion to the work:
For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, [O God], strengthen my hands.
I get the sense that Nehemiah’s understanding of (and commitment to) his (and God’s) purpose is what enables him to discern properly. Ponder that for a moment. As far as we know, God hasn’t ever spoken explicitly to him. All we can see is that God has answered his prayers: first with the King, then with the people, and finally with the wall. You may think that a lot, but I know in my own life how easy it is to ascribe such providence to coincidence, especially when things get difficult. Yet Nehemiah’s faith is as unwavering as it is justified — and provides the lens for rightly interpreting everything else that happens to him.
Which is important, because the enemy is about to up the ante:
Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who [was] shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
Odd how the shut-in (detainee? bedridden?) Shemaiah tries to cloak the idea of running away in historical and religious precedent. Perhaps he think that will decrease the shame, and legitimize Nehemiah’s fear of being slain.
If so, his plan backfires:
And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who [is there], that, [being] as I [am], would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.
Nehemiah, at least, knows the difference between trusting in God and cowering behind God. And thus can discern where this word was coming from:
And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore [was] he hired , that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and [that] they might have [matter] for an evil report , that they might reproach me.
It is interesting how all these schemes are an attempt to play of Nehemiah’s fear, and offer him security against some ill-defined threat. What they fail to realize is that Nehemiah already has a greater security than they could imagine:
My God, 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.
Clearly these weren’t the only attempts, just perhaps the most brazen. Regardless, it is fascinating to see how his enemies are beating their heads against the wall (almost literally:-) in their attacks, for they cannot imagine a man without fear. Perhaps because they themselves are so consumed by it:
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth [day] of [the month] Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard [thereof], and all the heathen that [were] about us saw [these things], they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
Maybe this answers the question I was wondering about: if they really were so strong, why didn’t they just physically attack (as threatened)? I suspect the answer is that, ultimately, they are mere bullies: they only attack the weak, scared, or defenseless. They literally do not know how to cope with a Real Man of God .
Perhaps that is why Tobiah enlists others to build up his image:
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 … they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. [And] Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.
Nehemiah doesn’t even bother telling us his reaction to this. By now, we know The Man well enough to guess. 🙂
Dear God: O, to be a Man like Nehemiah! To have faith in Your calling, so that no earthly fear can shake me. To have the discernment to see through the schemes of evildoers. To manifest unstoppable courage amidst lies, rumors, and deceptions. To make the impossible seem inevitable. O God of Nehemiah, be my God too. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.
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