We left off at Nehemiah 5 with Nehemiah confronting scandal and corruption within the leadership of the Jewish remnant that were in Jerusalem and Judah. He’s been there a little over two months and he’s made a lot of progress, yet also a lot of enemies. The main characters that keep popping up in the Enemies list are Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gesham. These were important officials in neighboring regions that had a stake in keeping the Jews controlled and powerless because they were taking advantage of them. In Chapter 4 we saw that they conducted a campaign of intimidation gossip, in chapter six we see them ramp up their game to outright lies and schemes to murder Nehemiah.
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— 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages[a] on the plain of Ono.”
But they were scheming to harm me; 3 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?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
When the “schemers” hear that the work is almost done they ramp up their harassment of Nehemiah. They sent word to him that they wanted to “meet”. Now, their idea of a “meet” probably included a bunch of guys with clubs and swords and Nehemiah alone in a room getting beat on; and Nehemiah realized this and ignored them. This happens today as well, bully tactics never change. When a person is on mission and doing the thing that GOD wants them to do, the “haters” and “schemers” will do whatever it takes to distract you from what we’re called to do. High School bullies and adult bullies are pretty much the same thing, and a lot of times are the same people….high school bullies (unless something drastic happens) often turn into adult bullies. The trick to dealing with bullies is exemplified by Nehemiah’s actions in verse 4: HE IGNORED THEM. He lived his life, he continued his work and he paid them no mind. He kept an eye on them, he watched his back and had people watching his, but he paid them no mind. That’s what we need to remember. We also need to be prepared for the escalation, because bullies hate being ignored. That can be seen in what happens next.
5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written:
“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem[b] 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 7 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.”
8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”
9 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.”
Now things get serious. The “schemers and haters” have a letter they’re going to send to the king accusing Israel of rebellion. They’ve tried intimidation, now they’re going for the outright lie to the big boss. If you dig into this situation a little more and read the previous book of Ezra, you see that they had some success with this tactic before when the Jews were rebuilding the temple, but ultimately that tactic failed and the Jews were able to complete the rebuild of the temple. However, for some reason, the “schemers and haters” went back to their old tactics and tried again. The result: Nehemiah finally responded, but his response was classic- “You’re lying and making crap up”. He knew what they were trying to do. Trying to frighten the people and stress everybody out and hoping they’ll be to discouraged to continue the work. A leader sees the threats and responds accordingly. He responded with truth, with dignity, and was firm and stood his ground. The same thing that a leader today should do. Make sure you have your process and procedures documented, your “i’s” dotted and your “t’s” crossed and look the “schemers and haters” in the eye and tell them they’re crazy and keep moving and working for what you believe in. Most of all, as this section ends, stay in prayer about it, and be prepared for a change of tactic.
10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.”
11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 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.
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. 15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.
Now the “haters and schemers” get devious. It doesn’t say if this man Shemaiah was a friend of Nehemiah’s or not, but regardless, Nehemiah went to visit him. It’s probable that this man was a priest since he had access to the temple, because of his position as a priest, he was probably known to Nehemiah. When Nehemiah gets to his house, Shemaiah lays it out to him: let’s hide out in the temple, because some men are coming to kill you. So, the “hater’s and schemers” change tactics. They go for the personal approach using either a “friend” or someone fairly well-known to cause him to run and hide in the temple. If he were to do this however, his public credibility would be shot straight into the toilet, his people, both the ones loyal to him and those that were barely hanging in there and using Nehemiah’s courage to prop theres up, would see it and would lose faith in him and the work would crumble. How often does this happen even today? When an effective leader is doing the work of God, it is sometimes those closest to him that are the biggest distractions. They may mean well, but maybe they are intimidated or they lose hope, or even jealousy takes hold, whatever the reason they seek to stop or distract the leader from his mission. That’s not to say to distrust those close, but be aware of who’s in your circle. What was Nehemiah’s response? Well, it was the same as any leaders response should be today: WHY? Why should I run or stop what I’m doing if this is what GOD has placed me here? If someone close is trying to distract/disrupt/sabotage the mission GOD has you on, realize they aren’t with you and move on. Don’t be distracted from the mission and ignore the “advice”. KEEP MOVING FORWARD!! And that’s what Nehemiah does. Nehemiah’s personal note is indicative of how a leader should respond: place them in the hands of GOD, and let HIM deal with them. Don’t go on a revenge seeking campaign. MOVE FORWARD and leave them with GOD, because GOD has something special for them.
16 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.
17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
So, the wall is completed, and in record time. 52 days of construction and preparation, and the work was finally done. What’s the response from the “haters and schemers”: They were afraid and lost confidence. Did it stop them, nope. They still tried to derail and sabotage Nehemiah. They used the tried and true methods of using other people who owed them to disrupt and distract, but Nehemiah realized this and kept his focus. Today’s leaders have to be aware of that as well. There will be people who will be a part of your organization/ministry that may not fully buy into your vision or may have a conflicting vision or may just be in competition with you for whatever reason. Those people may try to distract and disrupt from the inside. Know who’s in your circle, know who is in your ministry and don’t react hastily. Take into account what is said, and “file appropriately”. Don’t let intimidation both overt or covert distract you.
This is the lesson from Nehemiah 6. I hope it made sense, let me know what you think.