Our response to the threats of the opposition says everything about our commitment to God and the work He has called us to do.
We begin chapter six as the wall is being built. In spite of previous problems from within to the workers as well as opposition from those around Jerusalem, we now see this opposition intensify. Let’s see what Nehemiah does in response to the threats and learn what we should do when those who oppose the work of God try to lure us to places we shouldn’t be.
Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So 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?” They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way. Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. Nehemiah 6:1-5 NASB
We’ve seen previously that Sanballat and Tobiah have thrown verbal stones at the workers and Nehemiah when they began to make some progress in reestablishing the walls around Jerusalem. When that didn’t work Sanballat and Tobiah changed tactics. Their plot unfolds here in chapter six.
They, with their various allies, began to entice Nehemiah to a meeting in a place that is pretty far from Jerusalem. Chepherim in the plain of Ono is located west and slightly north of Jerusalem. It is approximately 30 miles or so from Jerusalem. If Nehemiah met these men there, he would have been away from Jerusalem for at least three days; and that is a very short estimate.
Nehemiah was truthful in his response but that did not deter them as they sent four more letters in the same manner. They were begging Nehemiah to come 30 or so miles away from the other workers to meet them for what Sanballat and Tobiah portrayed as a friendly meeting. Evidently Nehemiah knew their plan was more than a friendly meeting. Was it in the letter? Was it in their tone? Maybe the place? Perhaps it was something else that tipped Nehemiah off to the danger here. Maybe, just maybe, Nehemiah was tipped off by history.
Remember earlier how both Sanballat and Tobiah reacted to the rebuilding project? They were critical of the efforts to make the wall stand again. They hurled insults and threats at the workers. They massed armies and tried to intimidate Nehemiah. And then they send a letter saying “Hey, let’s get together and have a cup of coffee together!” and expected Nehemiah to meet with them.
When the enemy of God’s work suddenly become friendly we should take note and remember history.
The Letter and Lie
In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.” Nehemiah 6:6-7 NASB
We now begin to see what the enemies of God’s work believe. They say to Nehemiah that they have read that the Jews are planning to rebel against the king. This is the very king who allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. These lies no doubt were told to subtly suggest that the king would be notified of the rumor. I’m sure these enemies wanted Nehemiah to think of the ways that the king would react.
Imagine for a moment you are the most powerful person on the planet. You can do whatever you want without fear of being opposed. I guess you can be opposed, but you know you have the means and attitude necessary to annihilate the opposition. How would you feel is someone whom you granted a major favor decided to rebel? Wouldn’t you feel betrayed? Wouldn’t you want to slam that person? If left to myself in that type of situation, I know I would. It is the way of the world – might makes right.
The motives of Sanballat and his allies are becoming clearer. They sent these threats through an open letter. That type of letter could be read by anyone. They were trying their best to discredit Nehemiah and the workers to the very person who granted them leave to do the work they were doing. The king even gave letters to protect the workers as they worked and supplies to get the work started. They were also trying to scare the workers. Yikes, these guys play dirty and play for keeps.
“Come on, Nehemiah” they said. “Let’s get together and talk about this.” The not so subtle threat is clear: meet with us or else. Nehemiah didn’t take the bait. Wow, that takes some serious guts to dent their request. Why do you think Nehemiah refused to meet? I can think of a few.
Then I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. Nehemiah 6:8-9 NASB
Nehemiah expressly denies the lies in the letter. This is important. When those who oppose the work we do for the Kingdom of God threaten us with lies designed to discredit us, we need to stand firm in the knowledge of the truth. Nehemiah saw through their threats. He knew that his opposition wanted the work to stop. The opposition wanted desperately to keep things as they were before Nehemiah showed up. Perhaps the presence of Nehemiah, rebuilt walls, another temple and a restored people to Jerusalem reminded the opposition that there is a God who will judge. I’m sure that wasn’t too comfortable for the opposition.
Isn’t this true of those who oppose the work of God today? They lie about us. They try to intimidate us. The opposition – who is really Satan and not those he sues – have not changes tactics in many thousands of years.And why should they? Sometimes they achieve their goal of getting us to stop doing what is right so that we will be safe.