The Enemy’s Stealth Attacks

Nehemiah 6:1—9

Believe it or not, it took slightly less than two months to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. But in those 52 days, Nehemiah faced every form of opposition imaginable. After the account in chapter 5 of the social problems among the Jews, we return to the continuing account of the opposition of Nehemiah’s enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Try as they might, they had been unable to frighten Nehemiah with the threat of an armed attack, so now they will try a more subtle approach.

It’s interesting to read these ancient accounts through the lens of heaven. Of course, it was Satan who was trying to stymie Nehemiah in his efforts to do the work of God. We have to give God’s man some credit here; he held up admirably under all of Satan’s attacks. Satan does exactly the same thing today to believers as they try to live for Christ. The difference between Nehemiah and Christians today is that we generally fail and Satan succeeds. However, God does not want us to fail. God does not want us to stumble and fumble in our journey to Heaven, and He has made it possible for us to triumph over Satan all the time. We need not fail. We need not succumb to Satan’s tricks.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

James makes a very matter-of-fact statement here. Believers can resist the devil. You can overcome every temptation. You can be a complete success as a Christian. The key, however, is not in resisting, but in submitting to God. Christians must re-learn what it means to be in submission to God.

Nehemiah was in total submission to God. Here he was, a cupbearer, doing the work of God in less-than-ideal circumstances. By this time, the wall was almost finished:

…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…(verse 1)

We have to admire this man’s honesty. Nehemiah must have been a lot like Nathaniel, of whom Jesus remarked,

Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47)

There was no cleverness or subtlety in Nehemiah. He didn’t exaggerate his accomplishments. He was simply honest. Now, he will face two more temptations designed to stop him from hanging those doors.

1. The compromise temptation, verse 2

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

Word had reached the enemies that the wall was all but finished. Now, they will try a different approach. They tried a show of strength and a threat of violence, but now, with a show of friendship, they sent messengers to Nehemiah with what appeared to be friendly, reasonable request.

In theological circles, this temptation is called, “When you can’t fight them, join them.” Satan has more success with this particular temptation today than any other. It takes many forms: the ecumenical movement; the church growth movement; the tolerance movement; and so on. Any time the Church of Jesus Christ is seen compromising on basic Biblical principles, she’s yielding to this trick of Satan’s.

Nehemiah, though was on his toes. He said, “On NO” to Ono. Here’s how he faced this temptation:

A. He knew his mind.

I…cannot come down… (verse 3)

Notice what he did not say:

  • I’ll pray about it.

  • I need to think about it.

  • God doesn’t want me to go down.

  • My advisors are telling me not to go down.

  • You come up and see me here.

Here was a man who knew his own mind; here was a man of conviction, entirely devoted to the work of the Lord. He didn’t need to consider their tricky request, his moral compass pointed in one direction and he could not be dissuaded, even by this innocuous request. He knew what he believed, so much so that his whole being revolted against the enemy’s proposal.

This was a man with the moral authority to lead the people in the right direction. A leader has authority based entirely on his worldview. When that worldview is rooted in the Bible, rooted in Godly ideals and righteousness, the people he is leading are content. When a leader has no moral compass, has no godly convictions, he will come down on the wrong side of every issue. This is true of church leaders and civic leaders.

Nehemiah’s feelings were like those of Peter and John when they said,

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)

Just like those New Testament evangelists, Nehemiah’s calling had become part of his being; he wasn’t a man doing the work of God, he was God’s man doing his job.

B. He knew his work.

I am carrying on a great project… (verse 3)

Nehemiah had been entrusted by God with a job. Nehemiah’s loyalty was to God, first and foremost. This reply, “I am doing the work of God” should be what we all say when we are tempted to compromise the truth of Christ. Nehemiah was not confused by the messengers. He was a “separated man.” He was a holy man, doing a holy work. He didn’t need to hear anything his enemies had to say. They had no role to play in his work. God gave him a job to do. God gave him the plan to complete that job. Why would he have to listen anybody not following God?

Nehemiah, sold out completely to God, was focused on what God gave him to do. He couldn’t be tricked by these godless Samaritans. They were enemies of God and Nehemiah would have nothing to do with them.

C. He knew the danger of compromise.

Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? (verse 3)

Four times the Samaritans pestered Nehemiah with a request to meet, and four times he gave them the exact same answer. Satan is nothing if not persistent. Nehemiah held firm. Do you? Nehemiah knew the danger of compromising. Do you?

It would have been easy to meet with these Samaritans. They were tricky people; hard to figure out sometimes. They were, in reality, God’s enemies, but they pretended to serve Him. They spoke the right words. To some, they might have appeared to be believers.

They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. (2 Kings 17:33)

Only somebody with real discernment, and guts, could make the right call. A true and faithful believer should have nothing to do with anybody as phony as the Samaritans were. A true believer needs to remain faithful to his calling and his God; guarding that which has been entrusted to him. Whenever a true Christian never mixes with deceitful people like the Samaritans, for he knows he will lose what he himself has.

What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:25)

2. The gossip temptation, verses 5—7

The Samaritans were certainly persistent. Satan always is. Of course they didn’t want to be friends with the Jews. They didn’t want to compromise with Nehemiah; they wanted Nehemiah to compromise and come over to their side.  They weren’t trying to help these poor Jews out. The next letter sent to Nehemiah was written in very polite language, but it was really a hook with bait attached to it.

And it was a terrible threat. It was essentially a letter full of lies, but most people are quick to believe a lie. It was also a dangerous threat, because if this groundless gossip ever got back to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah would be neck-deep in boiling hot water!

Notice what Nehemiah was being accused of. The Samaritans were pretending to warn Nehemiah that other people (not themselves, of course) believed the Jews to be rebelling against the King; that Nehemiah was essentially leading a nation-wide revolt against the Persians; that he himself was trying to make himself king over the Jews. In short, the enemy was accusing God’s man of being full of pride and self-seeking.

This is a pretty common accusation. Human beings are basically selfish and even Christians sometimes have a difficult time understanding how a true person of God can do what they do simply to glorify God. Very often as we seek to live for Christ, our motives will be questioned and our actions misinterpreted by those with carnal minds.

Nehemiah met this challenge head on with a two-pronged approach.

A. He rebuked them.

Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” (verse 8)

Nehemiah did not mince any words! He came right out and called this letter a lie, which it was. This took courage, because he called the integrity of one of his enemies into question:

It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true… (verse 6)

Geshem was a total gossip, but he was also a man with power. Nehemiah called him out; he called him a liar who was full of delusions. The phrase, “making it up” comes from Hebrew word meaning, “something from deep inside.” The KJV renders verse 8 like this:

There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.

It’s hard to fight against gossip when it comes “from deep inside” a person. Jeremiah teaches that the human heart is deceitful above all things; it cannot be trusted.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Nehemiah had to sternly rebuke these liars. It was customary to read these letters aloud so the whole community and beyond could hear them. When the lies were read aloud, who knows how many people would have believed them; Nehemiah’s entire leadership could have been compromised by this gossip. He had no choice but to fight back with the unvarnished truth. The one who would be faithful to God can’t always speak in a politic way, and his words won’t always be easy to take. Mealy-mouthed ministers never accomplish much for the Kingdom of Heaven. A true Christian leader, a true and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, will sometimes rebuke and reprove, as well as exhort.

B. He prayed.

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Nehemiah did what a godly leader should do. Sensing the urgency of the situation, he went to the Lord in prayer. And he knew it was an urgent situation. He could see right through these Samaritans and he knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing:

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” (verse 9)

The phrase “their hands will get too weak” is a way to translate a Hebrew verb that means “to become slack.”  It’s a word that is used to describe “demoralization” and “discouragement.” Nehemiah, with laser-like focus, knew the tactics. He also knew that these tactics, as transparent as they were, had the potential to actually work. So that’s why he went to prayer.

There is a great lesson here. For some of us, our faith may be strong and we may be right in the mainstream of God’s will and we may be exercising spiritual discernment night and day. But we still need to lean on God. Paul understood this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

No believer is so spiritual that there is no chance he’ll ever mess up! We all need to do what Nehemiah did. We should always pray for strength, whether we think we need it or not. Nehemiah had everything under control, but the Hebrew behind his prayer is imperative. The word “strengthen” is written with great energy behind it. His prayer was an energetic prayer. He needed strong hands to finish the job. Hands that hung down were useless hands. Nehemiah knew a deep spiritual truth long before Paul put it in words:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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