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— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:1-9
Effective Leaders do Not Get Intimidated
Chapter 6 chronicles the continued attempt by the enemies of the Jews to disrupt the repair of the wall. At this point, the repair was almost done. Verse 1 tells us that not a gap was left in it, but the gates were not yet finished. This was the last opportunity for the enemies of Nehemiah to stop the work. This was their “now-or-never” time to stop the repair. If the doors and gates are done it will be too late to stop the rebuilding of the wall. Why were the enemies of Nehemiah so desperate to stop the repair of the wall? A finished wall makes Jerusalem an impenetrable city. That type of protection could bolster the religious fervor of the Jews and make them more obstinate in their desire for self-rule as the people of God. Indeed, the people of Jerusalem were known for their rebelliousness against other nations. With the repaired wall, the people of Jerusalem will be able to resist any attempt by foreign powers to conquer their city and take the people into captivity.
Out of desperation, Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to Nehemiah to request a meeting on the plain of Ono (v. 2). The plain of Ono lay about 25 miles west and a little north of Jerusalem near Ashdod and Judah’s border with Samaria. It was in a kind of no man's land between Judah and Samaria. If Nehemiah had accepted this invitation, he would have been many miles from Jerusalem for at least two days (Thomas Constable). This would have allowed the enemies of the Jews to attack the men who were working on the wall. And without the presence of Nehemiah to lead them into any resistance against their enemies, Jerusalem could have easily fallen.
Nehemiah easily discerned they were plotting to harm him. Therefore, he rejected their offer and sent them a message that he was not going to stop working on the wall to meet with anyone. Nehemiah’s response irritated his enemies who saw their opportunity to stop the repair on the wall fading away. They tried four times to lure Nehemiah away from Jerusalem so they can harm him and destroy the repair. But all their attempts failed. Finally, they sent a messenger to Nehemiah with an unsealed letter where they made baseless accusations against Nehemiah (v. 5).
Though their accusations were vague, they were intended to create fear and panic in the heart of Nehemiah. First, it claimed that Nehemiah was plotting a revolt against the king of Judah. Second, it alleged that Nehemiah had proclaimed himself king of Judah and appointed prophets to pronounce him as was customary in those days. The letter concludes with yet another invitation to Nehemiah to meet with Sanballat and Geshem so they won’t report him to the king of Judah. By threatening to tell the king of Judah about Nehemiah, they were hoping to scare him into meeting with them so they can harm him. Nehemiah did not take their bait. He yet rejected their invitation to meet and sent words back to Sanballat and Geshem they were conjuring up lies to intimidate him. Nehemiah prayed for God to strengthen his hand so he can continue the repair on the wall. He knew the God who gave him favor with the king of Babylon would give him victory over his enemies. Though he did not know how his enemies were going to react to his response, he trusted God to deliver him against any attempt of his enemies.
Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the devil has been desperate to destroy our relationship with God. He has used a variety of weapons in his arsenal to lead us astray including fear, deception, division, false accusation, and intimidation. Whenever we set out to repair the broken walls in our lives, our spiritual enemy sends us reminders about our failures and our inadequacies to shame us into surrender.
Nehemiah teaches us not to back down against our enemies when we are on the righteous path. Believers will be afforded many seemingly attractive opportunities to forsake our kingdom service so we can enjoy the pleasures of the world. However, we need to pray for the discerning spirit not to be distracted from our kingdom work. Our distraction can have a detrimental impact on our families, our ministries, and our communities. I have seen many marriages ruined because one of the partners was distracted.
Nehemiah kept his eyes on the prize and his mind on his God-given assignment despite the pressure from his enemies. Most believers will face pressure to compromise their faith and their relationship with God. This pressure can be subtle, like working extra hours to climb the corporate ladder and not spending enough time with family, and being too busy to do Christian service. The challenge for us is to set our priorities straight so we can rebuke the pressures and not get distracted.
When distraction did not work, Nehemiah’s enemies tried intimidation and deception. As long as we remain on the path of godliness, we do not have to be intimidated by our enemies. Our God is a faithful friend and a deliverer. He will fight our battles and give us victory over our enemies. Nehemiah was not intimidated by his enemies because he prayed for God to strengthen his hand so he can finish his assignment. We have to finish our God-given assignment despite the affliction we may endure.
Holy Father, please give me the boldness to reject any attempt by the enemy to intimidate and distract me from doing your kingdom work.