Book of Nehemiah Chapter Six Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Keep On Building
Nehemiah Chapter 6 presents a man who was called by the Lord to a specific ministry, as He often does. The man said "Yes" to the call, but experienced incessant opposition as a result. We'll see that this man, Nehemiah, was intelligent and determined, which is good, but he was also a man of faith, led by the Holy Spirit, which is better. Actually, responding to the call of God is the very best we can do in our lives.
Verses 1-2: "Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, 2 then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, 'Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.' But they were planning to harm me." This chapter contains words from Nehemiah's journal of events at the time, and notice that he had sources of information, spies if you will, that reported the words and intentions of his enemies to him. And like everybody who has ever lived, Nehemiah had cause for fear—even though the city's walls were built as seen here and in the previous chapter, the gates were wide open and Jerusalem was vulverable to attack.
Verses 3-4: "So I sent messengers to them, saying, 'I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?' 4 They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way." We saw in Verse 2 that Nehemiah had received word that Sanballat and Geshem were trying to draw him out into an isolated place where they could attack and likely kill this man of God. His replies contained the wisdom of God's Holy Spirit, in which he essentially said, "I'm too busy...I can't meet with you at this time."
Notice here in Verses 5 the persistence of the enemy: "Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand." We can, to our credit, resist temptation, but then in relief let our guard down, which is a big mistake because the enemy is not done and likely will attack us at our weak point, time and time again. We have seen that Nehemiah was a man of faith, a man of prayer, and we must become like him. If we are tempted to give in, it's time to pray.
In Sanballat's letter, we find once more the lie of Sanballat, where, in places like Nehemiah 2:19, he accused Nehemiah of rebellion against the Persian king, which couldn't be further from the truth. Verses 6-7 quote Sanballat's letter: "In it was written, 'It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports.' 7 You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.'" Sanballat had spies of his own. Gashmu was an Arabian leader, one of the many who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Note the lie that the prophets who were urging the Jews to continue building, were inspired by the wishes of Nehemiah. The truth is otherwise—the prophets spoken of here were men and women of God, sent by God to encourage His people. The words of the enemy are designed to unsettle us and stop God's work. These are times for you and me to pray, regain our strength, and then begin the work once more.
Nehemiah was very direct in his response, as seen in Verse 8: "Then I sent a message to him saying, 'Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind." Sanballat's words were a lie and Nehemiah told him so in his answer. He very directly told his enemy: "You made it up." And in Verse 9, Nehemiah showed that he understood exactly what his enemies were up to: "For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, 'They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.' But now, O God, strengthen my hands." Nehemiah, the man of prayer, was given the gift of wisdom, showing him what to pray for and directing him in how to pray. At the moment he needed courage to resist lies about his own character, and strength to keep on building.
Verse 10: "When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, 'Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.'" The Shemaiah of this verse was a Levite, as also seen in 1 Chronicles 9:14 and he was one of the first exiles to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:13). He was named by Ezra as one of the priests who had "married pagan wives" in opposition to God's intention (Ezra 10:18,21). He was "confined at home" because of advanced age, but was influential and sought to take Nehemiah into hiding, which would effectively stop the work of defending Jerusalem. Among Nehemiah's own people were those who were trying to stop God's work.
Because Nehemiah was a man who had faith in the Lord, his life was a continual prayer, which means not only speaking to God, but also receiving God's revelation about our need of the moment. Verses 11-13: "But I said, 'Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.' 12 Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me." A priest who was hired by the enemy to betray his own people! Nehemiah looked to the Lord who breathed understanding into his heart, revealing that he should not go and hide in the temple as this priest wanted. Life is so much more than our own safety—it's about the call of God and the people we are to serve. Nehemiah saw that the priest's words were false—the man had been hired by the enemies of the Jews in an attempt to discredit Nehemiah and stop the work God called him to finish.
The Book of Nehemiah was written by Ezra, but it is based on the entries within Nehemiah's journal, written by his own hand, and here is the prayer of Nehemiah in Verse 14: "Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me." It is good to listen to the advice, the prophesies of those who purport to be God's people, but we also must listen to the Lord about what is said. As Paul the Apostle would later say in 1 Thessalonians 5:20—"Do not despise prophesies," but he continued in Verse 21, "Test all things; hold fast what is good." LISTEN to other people, but even more, LISTEN to God.
God had picked his man, Nehemiah, perfectly. As God led him, he was sent into slavery along with many other Jews who survived the invasion of his nation. It was a terrible fate, but through God's further leading, he became cupbearer to the Persian king who subsequently supplied him and sent him back to Jerusalem. Disasters can bring new beginnings. Here's the result of his life, his efforts, in Verse 15: "So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days." The days were, from his perspective, fifty-two miserable, wonderful, frightening and successful days, which is not unlike the testimony of many who have said "Yes" to the call of God. Trouble will come, but the Lord Himself is with us in the work we are called to do.
Verse 16: "When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God." Don't be discouraged when you find opposition to the call of God in your life. He will take us in unexpected directions and it will not be easy, but He who has called us is with us, and He, the Builder, will bring us through. Your work will be "accomplished with the help of our God." It is your enemies who will lose their confidence.
Verses 17-19: "Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19 Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me." Places like Deuteronomy 7:3 reveal God's will for His people that they were not to marry outside of Israel, and with that, it's important to catch a glimpse of Nehemiah's enemies as seen in this chapter. Tobiah was an Ammonite half-Jew, who, along with Sanballat, tried to stop the work (Nehemiah 2:10,19, 13:4). Shecaniah, son of Arah, was the father-in-law of Tobiah. Arah's granddaughter was married to Tobiah. And there were many other intermarriages that brought divided loyalties among God's people. Meshullam, son of Berechiah, is seen in Nehemiah 3:4,30, as someone who built two sections of the wall. Some built but also betrayed, and it was the LORD who enabled Nehemiah to see through all this and keep on building. Finally the walls were complete, but the opposition of Tobiah and others like him did not stop.
God told Israel to not intermarry with the nations of the land of promise. When Israel first arrived in that land, the place was rife with idolatry and filled with venereal disease. And now we see that intermarriage caused divided loyalties. Opposition will occur, often from friends and allies, but take heart as you participate in the work God has led you to. Keep on encouraging those who build with you, and always—pray, listen to God, and have the faith to understand that He is with you.
Lord, I say YES to the call of God in my life. I will follow You in what You want me to do. Fill my heart with prayer in all circumstances, that I may continue in the midst of opposition. I am Yours. I love You and will serve You. In Jesus Name. Amen.