TODAY AS WE LOOK AT CH 6 IN NEHEMIAH- WE WILL SEE HOW THE ENEMY DISTRACTS US.Do you have any unfinished projects lying around ? It’s so easy to get sidetracked isn’t it? It takes tenacity to finish what we start because there are always so many distractions. One thing that WE clearly SEE our study in the Book of Nehemiah is that life is a battle from beginning to end. In Ephesians 6:12 the Apostle Paul New International Version (NIV)12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We meet these powers of darkness in our text today.
Here in Nehemiah 6, as in many other places in Scripture, we learn that the devil has two main ways of working.
The first tactic is fear. Satan is prowling around, as Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, New International Version (NIV)8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. “like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
2. But he has another battle plan as well. He not only uses fear, he also utilizes flattery. 2 Corinthians 11:14New International Version (NIV)14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” He comes with enticing promises and flattering words, assuring us that what he proposes will cost us nothing.
Whatever method HE USES, whether it's fear or flattery, his aim is to distract and destroy us.We need to be on guard against each of these approaches.
That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11 New Living Translation (NLT)11 so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. “We are not unaware of his schemes.” We need to be on guard because Satan is both a lion that devours and a serpent that deceives. And yet there are some very instructive things we find here regarding how we need to deal with the very real threat of becoming distracted from doing what God has called us to do.
I. Distracting Dangers Nehemiah Faced:
Let’s look at these :
A. A Plot to Distract- vs 1-4Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.
These enemies suddenly pretend to become Nehemiah’s friends and invite him to a conference down on the plain of Ono. The first four verses look like a political concession speech they want to meet with Nehemiah and cut their losses or so it seems.Ono is located on the seacoast near the Gaza strip. It was a beautiful resort area. But Nehemiah senses danger: “they were scheming to harm me.” So Nehemiah said, “Oh, no!” to Ono.The enemies were now desperate. AND THEY SEND THE SAME MESSAGE 4 TIMES, 4 TIMES. they still held out hope that the project could be stopped, or at least that Nehemiah’s leadership could be rendered ineffective. Hanging the doors, the work which yet remained, was a difficult task . These doors would have to be custom-made; heavy scaffolding would have to be put into place. The work wasn’t finished yet; there might still be time to ruin it, at least in part. And so they make what looks like a political concession speech: “Nehemiah, it’s no use pretending that we haven’t been opposed to your project—we have. But you have succeeded in spite of us, and now there is no use to carry on our opposition. ( REMEMBER SATAN'S 2ND STRATEGY- FLATTERY) Let’s meet for a summit conference to figure out how.” THIS AMY have sounded reasonable—but Nehemiah saw through it all. He understood what their intent was: “to harm me!”he knew that the Ono plain, a full day’s travel from Jerusalem, was on the edge of Samaria and Ashdod (and remember, we said a few weeks back that Jerusalem was literally surrounded by enemies). Violence could easily be arranged , and could even be blamed on an accident .
In her book, “A Practical Guide to Prayer,” Dorothy Haskins tells about a noted concert violinist who was asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. This is what she said, “There are many things that used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret to my success.”SHE PLANNED AND PRIORITIZED- PLAN YOUR WORK, WORK YOUR PLAN.
If we don’t practice some “planned neglect” of SOME things, even good things, we’ll be distracted from God’s best. That’s what Nehemiah does. He’s involved in a great work, and he’s not going to forsake it for anything less.
THE 2ND PLOT WAS
B. A Plot to Malign - :5-9
When the enemy cannot accomplish his purpose by offering peace, he switches back to his original scheme of sinister threats. He moves from political softball to political hardball. Take a look at verses 5-7: 5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written:It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. 7 And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.
This arm-twisting tactic is designed to pressure Nehemiah to yield to their request, and fall into their trap. But he resists because he sees it for what it really is, an enticement based upon lies. Notice that it was an “unsealed letter.” In other words, it was designed for everyone to read, so that the lie would be spread around that Nehemiah was trying to make himself king. Have you ever noticed that rumors cite people of distinction as sources? That’s what happened here “and Geshem says its true.” Someone has said that gossip is news you have to hurry to tell somebody else before you find out isn’t true!Nehemiah responded three different ways 1. he denied the rumor, 2. he prayed to God for strength, 3.and he went back to work.
Look at verse 8: “I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’” That’s the best way to respond to a charge like this -- just a flat denial. He doesn’t try to disprove the accusation but merely states, “That is a lie. There is no truth in it.” And then, Nehemiah , as was his practice, he responds with another “quick prayer” in verse 9 : 9 For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.”Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
The enemies tactics were to get the people to think that Nehemiah had some hidden motive -- -- for rebuilding the wall, hoping that the workers would become discouraged and quit. Nehemiah simply prays, “Lord, do not let that happen. Strengthen me to work all the harder.” They were near the finish line of the work on the wall. Nehemiah took care of his character and trusted God to take care of his reputation.
C. A Plot to Discredit - vs 10-14 10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” Shemaiah has been paid off by Nehemiah’s enemies to do their "dirty' work. It is difficult to understand what they were trying to do here without understanding the OT law. The area where they were going to take Nehemiah was off limits to everyone except the priest. We know this from the book of Numbers 18: 6-7. New Living Translation (NLT)6 I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the LORD for service in the Tabernacle. 7 But you and your sons, the priests, must personally handle all the priestly rituals associated with the altar and with everything behind the inner curtain. I am giving you the priesthood as your special privilege of service. Any unauthorized person who comes too near the sanctuary will be put to death.”
Shemaiah was suggesting their meeting take place in God’s house, with the doors closed and no witnesses. So if they can get Nehemiah to go into the temple, and then tell everyone what he did- his leadership would be in question and he would be put to death. Nehemiah’s enemies try to distract Nehemiah and the people through a series of devious maneuvers.
Having right priorities gave Nehemiah the courage to do what was right. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but instead it’s the tenacity to do what is right no matter how much we’re afraid. You see, it’s not just a matter of saying ‘no’ to distractions. We have to first say ‘yes’ to the right things, so that our priorities match up with God’s priorities. As we keep the main thing the main thing, we’ll be able to deal with distractions the way Nehemiah did.
God gives Nehemiah some insight in verses 12-13:12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. It was all part of a plan to discourage and distract the people from following Nehemiah’s lead. Fueled by jealousy and ambition, these enemies slandered him and tried to trick him into yielding to their demands.
ILLUS- There is a fictional report of a worldwide convention that Satan and his demons participated in. In the devil’s opening address to his followers, he said, “We can’t keep Christians from going to church but we can steal their time. Let’s keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds…keep them busy, busy, busy! And when they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled consciences and unsettled emotions. Let’s crowd their lives with so many good things that they have no time to seek the best things.”
We must be aware of this kind of attack in our lives as well. Don’t take someone’s advice or do what a friend asks you to do just because they seem like a nice person. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from God’s priorities. The best response to such an approach is what Nehemiah uses here -- He falls back upon his clear understanding of who he is and what his priorities are. He is a believer in the Living God and doesn't need to resort to trickery to save his life.
Nehemiah meets this attack of the enemy by going to prayer once again in verse 14: 14 My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.
“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also that prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.”
This brings us to the end of this first phase of Nehemiah’s work in verses 15-16: So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God. Even their enemies had to admit that God was at work! This entire project was finished in just 52 days! Now let’s answer the important question here III. How Nehemiah Dealt with the Problems -- And how we must as well:
1. He kept working!
He had his answer right there in front of him; when they asked him to meet on the plains of Ono, the answer was simple: “O no!”
2. His Priorities were right.
“What we are doing here is a great work, because it is God’s work!” There are a whole lot of things which threatened to distract Nehemiah and us, but his priority was doing the work God had called him to do. Just as no amount of theoretical learning will help the golfer who won’t keep his eye on the ball , so no amount of wisdom will make a leader if he will not keep his priorities in view!
3. His Discernment was keen.
Verse 3 indicates that he understood their real motive was to harm him and to put a stop to his leadership and work . He knew these guys well enough to know that "a leopard doesn't change its spots.". He smelled a trap because his God-given discernment was keen.
4. His response was courageous.
Some of these threats were fear-inducing, but Nehemiah had established a pattern early on. Remember how, in Chapter 2, he said that he was fearful when he stood before King Artaxerxes? This had been a make-or-break moment for him; when the king asked him what was wrong, he could have said, “Oh, nothing king, never mind. I’m fine!” But he didn’t. Though he was fearful, he prayed and proceeded on with what he had planned. He acted with courage in the face of fear, and that enabled him to do it over and over again. The issue in dealing with fear is not whether or not you feel fearful about things, but what you do in response to that fear. Nehemiah had courage.
5. He asked God for strength!
We see this in verse 9. He knew that he couldn’t do it alone. He asked God for the strength to keep him from giving in to the distractions that threatened him.
6. He trusted God to vindicate him in the end!
We see this in his final prayer in verse 14; this is a constant theme, asking God to judge rightly regarding those who have opposed the work. There are lessons here for us as individuals as well as a church. Don't allow ourselves to be distracted from God’s purpose for us as individuals, or as a church.
As we close this morning, let’s ask God to apply this passage to our lives. I see at least two action steps:
1. Practice saying, “yes” to God’s priorities. The best way not to be distracted is by being attracted to those things that are on the heart of God. Once we’re aware of what those are, we need to commit ourselves to a life of full devotion and complete commitment.
2. Practice saying, “no” to the devil’s distractions. I don’t know what distractions you’re faced with but it might be television. I read this week that the average American spends three hours and 46 minutes watching TV every day. That equals 52 days of nonstop TV watching per year. By the age of 65, the average American will have spent nearly nine years glued to the tube.
Let’s take some time right now and ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify those things that are distracting you from God’s priorities. Is it a friend? An activity? Your money? Your possessions? Your thought life? Your career? When the Spirit makes it clear, decide how you can begin to say “no” to those things that are derailing you from what’s most important. Maybe you can practice saying, “no” like Nehemiah did “I will not come down” and “I will not go in.”
The enemy will act to distract you. But while he blasts away, God is building His kingdom. Satan is subtle but God is sufficient. Remember, when God’s priorities become our priorities, God’s work will advance. When the wall was completed, verse 16 says, “…All the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” May that be said of us!