Today’s reading (Nehemiah Chapter 6) begins with these fellows you might remember being mentioned in yesterday’s reading: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Who might these gentlemen be? In simple terms, enemies. But a little more context, gives us:
Sanballat: A Horonite.
Just this name makes me thinks of hornets, but apparently he was called this since he was from Beth-Horon, and was a Samaritan leader in the Persian Empire. Samaritans had mixed Judaism with pagan beliefs and intermarried with pagan societies, and had some distinct conflicts with some Jews because of this.
Tobiah: An Ammonite
If you didn’t read about the Ammonite folks earlier in the week in our II Chronicles study, I’ll tell you they were not known for their warm fuzzy tendencies. They were created via an incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughter which didn’t start things well apparently, worshipped pagan gods including Molech, and were known for infant sacrifice and cruelty. Just who Nehemiah needed hanging around on the job-site I’m sure.
Geshem: an Arab
An ally of Tobiah and Sanballat, general antagonist to Nehemiah. Did not worship the one true God.
At the start of Chapter 6, things are coming along nicely with the wall rebuilding project in Jerusalem. In fact, it sounds like pretty much just the gates were left at this point. If success was going to be prevented for Nehemiah and the Jews, it was time to act.
First, Sanballat and Geshem extend an invitation in verse 2 to hang out on the “plain of Ono.” Sounds nice enough. But, Nehemiah was able to discern this was not progressing God’s work and was a distraction at the time. He declined. And declined again. And again. And again. If a person declines your invitation to join them four times with practical reasons, you could take a hint….or ….you could disparage him or her on social media.
And that seems to be the next tactic in verses 5-7. Before the days of the internet, there were these things called papyrus scrolls, and because of obvious reasons, they were typically SEALED prior to delivery. Ahh,but this time….Sanballat must have forgotten to seal it tightly. Almost like he wanted everyone to read it and start gossiping? Sounds familiar. And in this case it wasn’t just gossiping, but information in the untruthful message could have definitely gotten Nehemiah in trouble claiming there was another king in Judah. And I had to laugh at “Geshem says it is true” in vs. 5. Certainly if Geshem “liked a post” it must credible?! I love verse 8 when Nehemiah responds because it sounds like it could be completely fitting in 2022 as well “. . .you are just making it up. . .” Nehemiah denies the claim and calls out the lie. But, he doesn’t stop there, and he doesn’t let the lie distract him from the work or from the source of sovereign guidance He needs.
Being a man of prayer, we see him in a dialogue right away with God in verse 9. He discerns what is going on and the battles around him, and asks God to strengthen his hands. (I’ve got to say, as a hand therapist, I really tried to work some fun analogy here….but I didn’t want to insert drivel into a meaningful text…and I got nothing other than. . .you want your hands strengthened, you need your upper arm/core strong to support it. If your hands are tired, you’d better make sure further up the chain is working because everything is connected. And in this case, Nehemiah knew how high up the chain to go. GOD would strengthen his hands and he didn’t even need to go buy a stress ball.)
In verse 10 our troublesome trio seems to have acquired more assistance in their unrelenting efforts to mess up Nehemiah. And this time they involve someone close enough to have access to the temple. Maybe a priest? We also see Tobiah mentioned toward the end of the chapter and get a feel for how “important” and influential he was in their community as he was actively seeking to intimidate Nehemiah also. What a mix of people, purposes, deceit, selfishness, and fear we see working against Nehemiah. And yet, how easy it is for the “church” to get caught up into politics and popular agendas, for “Christians” to be bought out and deceived, for the things of God to be muddled by the plans of man. How essential it is that we demonstrate discernment, prayer, and scripture as the source of our truth and gauge for success and ambitions like Nehemiah shows us.
Despite opposition, verse 15 tells us that in 52 days (minus Sabbaths I’d presume), the walls were re-built. With modern technology and equipment, this still seems impressive.
And while this story wasn’t my favorite to go out on with all its corruption and negativity, verse 16 is great stuff:
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.
Nehemiah’s re-built walls didn’t last either, and the Romans made sure to destroy them along with everything else they did. But, scripture tells us that the New Jerusalem, the city of God, will have walls and gates. If we seek first this city, this hope, living a life as a follower of Christ, we have a wonderful eternal promise of a city with streets of gold. And intact walls.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Have you ever been intimidated by others while you were at work for God?
- What can we learn from Nehemiah regarding how we deal with our enemies, those who want to stop us from doing God’s work?
- How do you seek first God’s kingdom?