Nehemiah 6- 2020-07-09
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6:1–7 […] News of Nehemiah’s virtual completion of the wall apparently prompts Sanballat and Geshem to request a meeting with Nehemiah outside Jerusalem (6:2). Whatever the full story may have been, Nehemiah is clearly of the conviction that his enemies’ strategy now includes the tactical deployment of deception and that Sanballat and Geshem’s desire for a meeting is less innocuous than it might seem (6:2). […]
The possible existence and probable effectiveness of rumors that Judah was rebuilding for the purposes of rebelling are of course suggested, as we have already seen, by the correspondence included in Ezra (4:6–24). Whether possible Davidic ancestry left Nehemiah particularly vulnerable to the more personally damaging allegations of coopting royal prophecy is unclear, but it does not seem improbable that prophets based in Jerusalem at this time may have been prophesying in much the same way that Haggai (2:20–23) and Zechariah (6:9–14) had done in the early days of the return. Indeed, whatever the historical sequence, Nehemiah’s self-presentation in dealing with the debt crisis (Neh 5) does little to dampen messianic enthusiasm.
6:8–9 […] Aware of the danger of allowing himself to be intimidated by false prophets/prophecies designed to cause his “hands to drop from the work,” Nehemiah reports yet another of his prayers, in which the request for God to “strengthen my hands” suggests a tighter integration of the prayer into the narrative horizon of the chapter than is the case with the prayer at the end of the last chapter (5:19) or the one toward the end of this one (6:14).
6:10–14 […] How Nehemiah’s observation that “the prophecy he spoke was about/concerning me” led him to the conclusion that Shemaiah had not been sent by God becomes clear when we remember that back in 6:7 the false prophecies were also “about” Nehemiah. Although this subsequent false prophecy (i.e., the governor is in mortal danger) is different in detail from the first (i.e., the governor has royal ambitions), their common focus on the person of Nehemiah evidently allowed him to perceive that God had not sent Shemaiah. […]
In facing down the false prophets and prophecies ranged against him in Neh 6, Nehemiah recognizes that the real weapon of his enemies—the real danger posed by the false prophets—is the fear that they might induce in him. Moreover, if Nehemiah were to have responded fearfully to the false prophets by either scaling down the work on the wall or fleeing to the temple, 6:13 suggests that he would have seen himself as compromised in the eyes of the people.
[…] As in 4:4, though with slightly less venom, Nehemiah prays for the divine remembrance of the community’s opponents “according to these things that they did,” yet the increasingly personal nature of their campaign here in Neh 6 appears to be reflected in the special place that Nehemiah reserves in his prayer for Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to “make me afraid.” […]
6:15–19 […] However, such considerations are of little interest to Nehemiah, who prefers to note that the news of the wall’s completion—and perhaps the speed of it—strikes the very fear in his enemies’ hearts (6:16) that they had been hoping to induce in him. Instead of his reputation being tarnished by a tactical retreat (6:13), Nehemiah reports that it is his enemies’ own self-confidence that dropped perceptibly. Interestingly, on Nehemiah’s view, this psychological setback for his opponents arose not as a result of their perception of the increased security of the community or the self-confidence derived from such an accomplishment—but rather their growing awareness that “this work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16), an appellation that serves to reinforce Nehemiah’s insistent claim on God’s identification with his community,but also his radical exclusion of his opponents in theological terms.
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 44-46.
Bible Text: Nehemiah 6:1-14
1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And 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 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
Questions to help us go deeper
- Nehemiah refuses Sanballat’s invitation to meet by saying that “I am doing a great work.” What is the “great work” I have been called to carry out?
- What are some distractions or fears that cause me to be drawn away from being faithful in carrying out this great work?
- From the fact that the invitation comes four times, what can I learn about temptations and distractions and how I need to respond to them?
- What enabled Nehemiah to possess such discernment to not be tricked by Sanballat’s letter (vv. 5-9) or the prophet’s suggestion?
- Notice Nehemiah’s prayer in vs. 14. To what extent would such prayers have helped Nehemiah to stay focused on his task? Are there some negative things I need to simply entrust to God through prayer so that I can stay unencumbered in my pursuit of my God-given mission?