The sign of success

Success in Sight!, Nehemiah 6:10—16

Among the great sayings of Italian journalist and politician—the Soul of Italy—Giuseppe Mazzini, was “Action is the Word of God; thought is but His shadow.” There is a lot of truth in those words because actions always speak louder than words; the runner is not crowned unless he runs the race and and actually crosses the finish line.

Nehemiah was a man with a plan. It was God’s plan, given to him by the Spirit of God, but it was Nehemiah’s plan nonetheless. His intention was leave his cushy job in the palace of Persian king Artaxerxes, travel to Jerusalem, and once there, muster a volunteer workforce to rebuild the walls around that city. His intentions were good and honorable and because he put actions behind his thoughts, the walls were all but standing now. Success was all but assured.

The many trials and temptations Nehemiah faced during that rebuilding project were to him a refiner’s fire, or a lapidary’s wheel to the diamond. The purity of his character was polished and brightened through the ordeal of suffering. This godly man’s experience reminds us of what is written in the book of Job:

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10, KJV)

Even though success was within his grasp, Nehemiah’s “ordeal by fire” was not yet over. Here we have—

1. One more temptation to evil, verse 10

The Samaritans had tried to stop the Jews from rebuilding the walls by using what amounted to “psychological warfare.” They tried intimidation, by stationing the entire Samaritan army around Jerusalem so that everybody in town could see them. They tried the threat of violence. They tried to discourage the workers by telling them the work was too much for them. They tried to frustrate the workers by telling them that their leaders didn’t know what they were doing. They tried to bribe the citizens with offers of food and drink if only they would stop building those walls. They sought to trick Nehemiah by making friends with him, only to spread gossip about his leadership and planting the seeds of dissent among the people.

Now an attempt would made to seduce Nehemiah through a false prophet who lived in Jerusalem.

One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. (verse 10a)

We know almost nothing about this man Shemaiah, except that since he had access to the Temple, he was probably a priest in addition to being a prophet. Some scholars think he was friendly with Tobiah, one of the three people, along with Sanballat and Geshem, who was trying to stop Nehemiah from finishing the wall.

The wording of this sentence suggests something was not right with this man, and Nehemiah, who has already shown he had great discernment from the Lord, obviously picked up on it. The phrase, “was shut in” means “ shut up” or “imprisoned.” We can’t be sure why Shemaiah was quarantined in his house, but the context suggests it was all a clever ruse; he was “hiding out” at home, pretending to be afraid to go out.  He was trying to trick Nehemiah into doing something Nehemiah knew to be wrong by making his lie look plausible.

Here we have evil masquerading as a friend; the most subtle temptation of all. Shemaiah, hired to pose as Nehemiah’s friend and spiritual advisor, was, in reality, no friend at all.

He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because some people are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” (verse 10b)

He was no friend; he was an outright liar. Nobody was coming to kill Nehemiah. This so-called prophet had told an expedient lie in order to get Nehemiah into the Temple. Do you see how tricky and insidious this temptation was? The lie probably made complete sense to Nehemiah, who was, after all, in real danger from the Samaritans. It could well have been true! We could not find fault with Nehemiah had be believed it. The suggestion to seek refuge in the Temple also sounded good, and given Shemaiah’s position as a priest and prophet, it also made sense. A man of God would suggest seeking refuge in the House of God. But that’s not what Shemaiah was suggesting, because this was no man of God. His plot was a lot more complex. Given Nehemiah’s reaction to the suggestion, and the phrase “close the temple doors” it seem that the prophet wanted Nehemiah to go into the Temple, and not just hide there, but to literally commandeer and take possession of it. This was what made Nehemiah so upset.

Once again we see how Satan operates, even to this very day. He takes the common and stretches it; he uses the people we respect to catch us off guard; he takes common sense a step too far, and if we’re not careful, we’ll buy his lie. The Devil’s last chance is to appear as an angel of light.

2. One more steadfast resistance, verse 11

But I said, “Should someone like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!”

We have to admire Nehemiah’s determination and his discernment and his incredible courage! Even if his life was genuinely threatened, this mild mannered cupbearer was no coward who would run away and hide! Nor would he break God’s law to save his life. He was adamant in his refusal to listen to this false prophet, even though he appeared to be friend.

The phrase “should someone like me run away” is a powerful indication of what Nehemiah thought of himself and his job. How could a man of God show fear? How could a leader stop working to save his hide while others kept on? How could a believer in God show fear?

It’s good to remember to whom we belong if we call ourselves Christians! Before we act or when we are considering a decision, it’s important to remember who our God is. In the hour of temptation, it’s good to remember whom we serve. Why in the world should believers be blown about by every wind of doctrine and believe ever one of the Devil’s lies? All Christians would do well to be a little more like Nehemiah and little less timid and indecisive in the face of the enemy! What is truly sad in our modern age is that real personal influence for the cause of Jesus Christ is often compromised on the altar of fear. We fear people; we fear the Devil, and our influence for the kingdom of Heaven is rendered useless.

3. One more defeat for the enemy, verses 12, 13

One would think that by now, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab would be used to this.

I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. (verse 12)

Fear doesn’t have to turn into sin if a child of God can keep a grip on his mind and exercise godly discernment like Nehemiah did. Nehemiah reasoned that this so-called prophet did not come in the name of God; that this whole elaborate thing was a hoax. A lot rested on Nehemiah exercising discernment and maintaining his integrity and his honor. Had he been taken in by this false prophet, his leadership would have been called into question or discredited all together. Imagine the morale of an entire nation resting on the shoulders of one man!

Shemaiah’s objective was to fill Nehemiah with fear. Why? Because fear paralyzes and that’s what the Samaritans wanted; they wanted Nehemiah to stop all his work for the Lord.

He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. (verse 13)

Even though fear is a natural emotion and a natural response to a personal threat, a Christian, like Nehemiah, does not have to give into it. Fear is not a sin, but it can become a sin. Fear becomes sin:

  • When it distracts us from our God-given tasks
  • When we are afraid of charges based on lies
  • When we would use our faith as an excuse to spare ourselves from doing God’s work.

God’s enemies were defeated this day when their dastardly plan was exposed by a godly man.

4. Another prayer, verse 14

Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.

This verse adds a whole new dimension to Jesus’ admonition to pray for those who persecute you! Nehemiah mentions another prophet, Noadiah, and we are given a glimpse of what he was up against. Even the religious establishment of his day opposed his work! Can you imagine that? This man was truly standing alone; he had no support from any of the “prophets” of Jerusalem.

But this prayer was not prayed in a spirit of anger or revenge. He knew that judgment rested with God, so he turned these poor excuses for believers over to Him. Paul did exactly the same thing with a man named Alexander:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (2 Timothy 4:14)

In dealing with people and situations like this, we not only have Biblical precedent, but we have the example of Jesus:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

5. Another triumph for faith, verses 15, 16

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.

What an incredible feat! Nehemiah, like Jesus Christ after Him, could say:

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

In spite of all the difficulties the people encountered, the wall was finished in just under a month. The completion of this building project dealt a signal blow to the morale of Judah’s enemies:

When all our enemies heard about this, 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.

What goes around, comes around. You reap what you sow. The Law of Reciprocity. Whatever it’s called, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab experienced it, full force. Where there is steadfast, unwavering faith in God, success is guaranteed. But notice, the success was in what Nehemiah accomplished—what he did—not what he thought. Now, we have no evidence of this, but there may have been times when Nehemiah had his doubts; he was only human, after all. But, if this was the case, he never let his emotions dictate his actions. Nehemiah and his volunteers did the work, and God’s enemies realized that God had helped them.

What do we learn from this part of Nehemiah’s life? There are a couple of lessons, and the first one has its roots back in verse 3:

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?”

God’s work, whether building a wall, building a congregation, building a reputation, or building a godly family, must be given preference over all other occupations that may demand our attention. Doing the work of the Lord is the absolute most important thing in the world for the Christian for three reasons:

  • Because God has commanded it;
  • Because the Bible authorizes it;
  • Because we have received a specific call to do it.

Nehemiah understood this. Do you?

The last lesson is found in the last sentence of chapter 6.

And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me. (verse 19b)

There will always be a threat to you when you are devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ. There will always be that one person who discourages you, frustrates you, or, in the case of Nehemiah and Tobiah, tries to intimidate you. God’s people must always be on their guard, even in times of success and great blessing. The enemy of our souls has agents everywhere, sleepers in our midst, just waiting to catch us in a moment of inattention.  If you can believe this, Tobiah, Nehemiah’s enemy, was actually admitted into Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s absence, and given a room in the Temple:

Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests. (13:4, 5)

How sneaky is the Devil? He never gives up. He is always looking for an opportunity to trip you up; he is always looking for that empty room in your heart in which to take up residence. Make sure that Jesus owns your whole heart.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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