I love a good psychological thriller like The Sixth Sense and The Quiet Place. Something that makes my heart race and my palms sweat. For most of these movies the key factor is the slow build up of our anticipation.
While many of us find these kind of movies entertaining, we would hate to face them in real life. That’s what the FX show Scare Tactics tried to do. It aired for five seasons between 2003 and 2013. The premise was essentially a smashup of a psychological thriller with a hidden camera prank show. Someone would set up a close friend who is then faced with a terrifying situation.
As Nehemiah and his volunteers near the end of their work, the external opposition raises their heads above the wall again, attempting to disrupt it. In each scene of this passage there is an attempt to strike fear into the heart of Nehemiah in order to get him to stop the work.
The enemies of God are persistent in their efforts to destroy the kingdom of God through deception. The perseverance of the saints involves the consistent dismissal of the enemies scare tactics.
Read Nehemiah 6:1-14.
False Intentions (1-4)
Everything except the doors in the gates has been completed. All the breaches of the wall have been closed in. Only the final touches remain. Nehemiah’s enemies had failed to put a stop to the work, so now they seek to neutralize him.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were persistent in their opposition. Previously, we have seen them employing mockery, anger, and threats of war to put an end to the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Now they keep their harmful intentions hidden, but Nehemiah can see that they’re up to no good.
Four times they sent the same request asking for a meeting in Ono, a walled city located twenty-seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. Ono was at the uppermost tip of the border of Judah and Samaria, where Sanballat governed. Some believe it was within Judah’s precincts, while others believe it was in a neutral territory between Ashdod and Samaria. Regardless, it seems the purpose was to lure Nehemiah away from the protection of Jerusalem into a region more hostile to his presence (Fensham).
In addition, it would have taken Nehemiah away from his work for several days. At this crucial juncture in the project, he did not have time to spare for undefined meetings. Each time Nehemiah rejected their request because of the “great work” that he did not want to leave.
The finishing touches at the end of a long project are oftentimes the hardest to complete. I’ll speak for myself here. The flooring in our home is installed, but the baseboards are still at Lowe’s. We completely redesigned the backyard sprinkler system, but the sprinkler wires are still dangling loosely from the ceiling.
It is when the bulk of the project is done that my energy seems to be the most drained. After putting in so many long hours of manual labor, I can’t find the time to put in another second. This also happens to be when my will power is at its weakest point. I simply don’t have the desire to pick up the tools.
If Nehemiah is anything like me, then this temptation to “stop the work” and go to an important leadership meeting seems to arrive at the best possible moment. A break would certainly be justified.
Perseverance will involve consistently guarding against the schemes of the evil one. We cannot be sidetracked from the “great work” God has called us to accomplish. But we also need to realize that perseverance won’t look the same for everyone.
There are a seemingly infinite number of ways in which the enemy can distract us, but the tactic that is highlighted here is the dripping faucet approach. Repetitive bumper sticker slogans become so ubiquitous that the vast majority of people think resistance is futile.
This can happen on a small or large scale. The later approach has been taken by government authorities around the world for almost two years now. Do I even need to mention the kinds of phrases that incessantly called us to isolate?
• “We’re all in this together” – was meant to keep us separated from one another.
• “Trust the science.” – was meant to convey a consensus among the medical community that never really existed.
And now, many churches are left figuring out if they even have the resources—people, finances, energy—to continue on with the mission. Again, I’m not suggesting there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. But, whatever approach a church takes, shutting down is clearly not the goal.
We are called to consistently reject the opposition for the sake of the mission. It can be tremendously difficult to resist an overwhelming onslaught of a persistent opposition. But, we have received confidence from a higher authority than any individual, organization, or corporation in this world.
We serve a Savior who was not only betrayed by a close companion, but by the civil authorities and religious leaders as well.
Jesus doesn’t abandon us in our fear, but he enables us—by his Spirit—to consistently respond with courage.
› When false intentions are discovered, they are often replaced with…
False Accusations (5-9)
On his fifth request, Sanballat decides to explain that a rumor was spreading regarding the rebellious intent of the Jews. This rumor involved the idea that Nehemiah planned to become their king. He allegedly prepared prophets to declare him to be Judah’s king. That is why they wanted to meet and “take counsel together.”
Nehemiah denied the rumors and accused Sanballat of inventing them. This was nothing more than an attempt to slander his good reputation among both Persian and Judean leaders. He understood that his enemies were trying to keep them from completing the work by frightening them.
The verb “to frighten” is found again in verses 13, 14, and 19—translated “make me afraid.” This was their goal. They sought to strike fear into Nehemiah, because a fearful leadership is a weak opponent.
It might seem too simplistic. Sure, if Nehemiah becomes consumed by fear, that could spill over into the population of Jerusalem. But, what could fearpossibly do to the people of Judah? You couldn’t actually control an entire nation with fear could you?
Of course, I’m being facetious. We know firsthand the impact that fear can have on an entire world. Psychological warfare is just as paralyzing and manipulative as physically restraining people with unjust laws.
The scene concludes with Nehemiah’s brief prayer for strength. We know he has the will to bring the work to completion, but he also needs the physical strength to finish.
What about when we are the recipient of false accusations? We may need to repent of any kernel of truth in the claim. We may be better off simply ignoring the false accusations and letting the truth come to light in time. But, on some occasions, we will need to defend our reputation and contend for the truth. We should respond in a calm and controlled manner. Nehemiah’s response was brief and clear. He doesn’t try to debate with his enemies. He simply rejects their accusations and gets back to work.
You may be accused of all kinds of false accusations because of your faith. You will be called a bigot for holding to a biblical sexual ethic. You will be called a racist for holding to a biblical view of justice. You will be called selfish for prioritizing the gathering of the saints, which God has told us not to forsake doing. How should we respond to each accusation? Reject the false label and move on.
On those occasions where genuine conversation can be pursued, use your discernment. Respond to false accusations with confidence in order to preserve the truth. Once the truth has been compromised, there is little hope of enjoying the unity that accomplishing the mission demands.
There came a point when our Lord remained silent, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7). But prior to those final moments, Jesus boldly rebuked and called out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders who had compromised the truth of God’s word.
We may not know exactly how to respond to every accusation. We might not know the best way to articulate our answer. But Jesus assured his followers that they would receive help when the time comes.
Luke 12:11–12 ESV
And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
› When false intentions and false accusations fail, the enemy will continue to strategize…
False Machinations (10-14)
We do not know why Nehemiah enters the home of Shemaiah, but he immediately detects foul play. Shemaiah had been hired to lead Nehemiah to the temple. He would suggest that they could find refuge for a private meeting while also thwarting an assassination attempt.
It would have been permissible for Nehemiah to enter the courtyard of the temple (Ex 21:12-14), but only priests could go into the temple itself (Num 18:7). We find a similar example when Joab, a military commander, entered the tabernacle and grasped the horns of the altar for protection (1 Kings 2:28). In other words, the sacred space was viewed as asylum. By suggesting that the doors should be closed, Shemaiah could accuse Nehemiah of anything he wanted. He most certainly would have been charged with violating the ceremonial law.
If God had not struck him down, he would have immediately received criticism from the chief priest. Tobiah and Sanballat may have hoped to get Nehemiah killed, or at the very least, to stir up conflict between him and the religious leaders. If Delaiah is the same person mentioned in 1 Chr 24:18 (see also Ezra 2:60), then Shemaiah was a priest. They also would have mocked his fear in order to discredit his leadership. But Nehemiah knew this direction was not from God.
Once again, the scene concludes in prayer. Nehemiah prays another prayer of judgment upon his enemies. We’ve talked about this previously comparing it to the many imprecatory psalms. We see similar prayers from the prophets (Jer 18:21-23). Prayers for justice may sound harsh to our modern sensitivities, but they are not incompatible with a compassionate and loving God.
Although we know nothing about “the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets”, the mention of them indicates just how plausible the enemies scare tactics had become, and just how widespread Nehemiah’s opposition had extended.
Every section of this passage includes a deceptive tactic from Nehemiah’s enemies that was meant to intimidate him into submission. This text does not provide a clear response to every scenario we will ever face. Many of our early church fathers suffered martyrdom, and several heroes of the Reformation did likewise. On the other hand, Nehemiah was able to continue his work.
Prepare for the worst case scenario. Like Nehemiah, determine to be the kind of man, woman, or child who does not run away or compromise the revealed will of God. Stand firm against those who seek to intimidate or embarrass you. Be courageous like Paul, who was “ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
You may not have people plotting to destroy you and your work (or maybe you do). Whether you realize it or not, you do have an enemy who is seeking to silence your faith and discredit your work.
1 Peter 5:8 ESV
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
I don’t know where you need to be emboldened. We all face various challenges where we need to be reminded that we are not the kind of people who run away. Don’t back down! Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Make sure that your convictions are biblically consistent, then stand firm for them in the face of opposition.
We’ve got to be convinced that the mission is worth suffering to preserve. There is no sacrifice greater than that of our Savior’s.
Jesus was not deceived by the wicked plotting of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. Rather, he willingly laid down his life and he calls us to do the same (1 Jn 3:16).
It is apparent throughout the book of Nehemiah where his perseverance came from. He was dependent upon the Lord. He received his boldness and strength through consistent prayer. He didn’t have the angry rants of political pundits to stir him up. He didn’t rely upon the civil authorities to rescue him, even though he likely could have done so.
Instead, Nehemiah routinely took his circumstances to the Lord in prayer. Whether he was fasting and praying for months at a time, or sending a quick—almost imperceptible thought upward—he revealed a steadfast faithfulness before his opposition.
If it is our routine to fall silent before opposition, could it be that we have not developed the habit of falling on our knees before the throne of grace?