Summary: The work on the wall is nearly done, so we see their four acts of desperation to defeat God’s work: 1. Assassination plot (1-4); 2. Scandalous rumor (5-7); 3. Trap to violate the Temple (10-14); 4. Threat letters (15-19)...and truth to follow when we fac
Our public schools have been dealing with the serious problem of bullying. Bullies are nothing new; we see examples of them in the Book of Nehemiah. As Nehemiah gets closer to completing the work on the wall of Jerusalem, the pressure and intimidation intensifies. The work was nearly done; all that was left was the hanging of the massive doors. Once the doors are secure, life could begin to return to normal: the people could move back in the city, build homes, and go about their business, without fear of attack. The bullies aren’t happy…so in this chapter we see their four acts of desperation to defeat God’s work…
Outline: 1. Assassination plot (1-4); 2. Scandalous rumor (5-7); 3. Trap to violate the Temple (10-14); 4. Threat letters (15-19)
1. Assassination plot….The enemies of Israel have been unsuccessful with their threats, so they try to eliminate the individual responsible for the project: Nehemiah. “Sack the quarterback.” Four times they send “invitations,” verses 1-4, trying to lure him to discuss their opposition to his efforts, under the guise of a summit conference; maybe even a concession speech? Not likely. Nehemiah rebuffs them each time: “No, no, no, no!” Was this rude? He was busy, and knew it was a trap. He’s not naive. He knew they were up to no good. And even if it wasn’t a trap, he’s wasn’t about to be deterred from the task God has given him. He’s not going to get off track in order to defend his work to unbelievers. There’s a time for dialogue; this wasn’t it! There’s nothing to negotiate. They’re not worth his time, and he knows they’re not trying to be his friends. Nothing these bullies might say to him was as important as the work he was directing. To respond would require a shift of focus and priorities. The only exception we discussed last time--the plight of the poor (chapter 5).
It’s obvious there’s a hidden agenda here; that Nehemiah would not return alive from such a meeting. The Valley of Ono was 27 miles NW of Jerusalem; neutral territory near Joppa, and an ideal place for assassination. Nehemiah’s response was to say “Oh, no” to Ono! When we’re trying to live for God we can expect hostile resistance and distractions that seek to consume our attention and keep us from what we should be doing.
2. Scandalous rumor….By the fourth request, Sanballat realizes the futility of his tactic, and also how his anxiety was becoming more evident…so he changes tact and sends a letter, accusing Nehemiah of treason, verses 5-7. They couldn’t murder Nehemiah, so they attempt to assassinate his reputation. Sanballat was threatening to report Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes--“political hardball.” It’s doubtful that the king of Persia would believe such lies, yet these bullies would stop at nothing to undermine the work of God. If the king had believed such a report, Nehemiah would’ve been recalled and executed. Yet Nehemiah isn’t easily intimidated or diverted from his mission.
Note that this was an unsealed, “open letter” which was not the custom of the day. “It has been reported among the nations…” Normally letters were written upon a scroll, rolled up, and sealed with wax; and an insignia was imprinted in the wax, so the recipient would know who it was from and that the letter hadn’t been tampered with or seen by anyone else. But this letter was virtually public property; it could be read by anyone, spreading the false rumor that Nehemiah wanted to become king of Israel and was allegedly bribing prophets to support him in this ambition. That’s treason. The bullies wanted Nehemiah to know that he wasn’t the only one reading this. People tend to believe the worst; their first inclination upon hearing a rumor is to believe it…and then repeat it. Rumors are the oldest form of mass media. Nehemiah knew the “source” of these rumors and replies in verses 8-9 that the letter was an utter fabrication and that their motives were to frighten the people so they’d stop working on the wall…smear campaigns are the tactics of bullies. Nehemiah prays for strength to keep on going.
3. Trap to violate the Temple….Failing to entice Nehemiah to leave the city, a plot is made to discredit him, verses 10-14. Shemaiah, claiming to be a prophet, urges Nehemiah to escape an assassination attempt by seeking the refuge of the Temple. He hopes to fill Nehemiah with fear and get him to do something unwise. But Nehemiah sees through this sly deception. He was being advised to put his own safety ahead of the work and to violate God’s law to save his life. As a layman, Nehemiah would not be permitted to enter the most sacred part of the Temple. The word translated “temple” in verse 10 indicates the inner Holy Place. It would be dishonorable to misuse God’s house for personal protection. This seeking of sanctuary was pagan thinking. Shemaiah wasn’t listening to God but to Israel’s enemies. He’s a prophet-for-hire. But Nehemiah refuses to compromise his standards. He’s not doing this work because it’s in his best interests, but because of his love for God and God’s people.