Introduction: Nehemiah chapters 4 through 6 summarize Satan’s various attempts to stop the Jews from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. While Chapter 4 summarized external threats, and Chapter 5 summarized internal threats, Chapter 6 concludes with a mixture of external and internal threats. Satan follows the same spiritual warfare tactics whenever you serve Jesus (2 Cor. 10:4). Thus, you can study his methods of attack to protect yourself when you serve Jesus. Here, Nehemiah defeated Satan’s renewed spiritual warfare attacks through: (1) discernment, (2) steadfastness, (3) prayer, (4) knowing God’s Word, (5) trust, (6) humility, and (7) separation.
First, Nehemiah’s enemies tried to lure him into a false peace conference where they hoped to ambush and kill him. Yet, through faith, God gave Nehemiah the ability to discern the enemy’s plans against him. God also wants you to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks through the discernment that only God can provide. Second, Nehemiah’s enemies then tried to distract him with lies. But Nehemiah was steadfast in his faith and continued in his work. Like Nehemiah, God wants you to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks by being steadfast in your faith and your service for Him. Third, Nehemiah gave over his burdens to God through prayer. God also wants you to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks through constant prayer. Fourth, Nehemiah’s enemies next tried to discredit Nehemiah by manipulating God’s Word. But Nehemiah knew the Word well enough to avoid that trap. God also wants you to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks by knowing the Word. Fifth, Nehemiah trusted God to both protect him and to avenge the wrongs against him. God also wants you to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks by putting your trust in Jesus. Sixth, when the Jews completed the walls in a mere 52 days in the face of constant attacks, Nehemiah humbly praised God for the completed work and for putting fear into the Jews’ enemies. God also wants you to protect yourself from Satan through humility and by praising Him for the good works in your life. Finally, throughout Nehemiah’s entire service for the Jews, he faced attacks from people who had both marriage and economic ties to the pagan peoples around them. Nehemiah had to separate himself from those who pursued worldly interest over God’s interests. God also wants you to separate yourself from worldly ways.
The conspiracy to ambush and kill Nehemiah. When the walls was nearly finished, Nehemiah’s enemies used the promise of peace to lure him into an ambush and kill him: “1 Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach was left in it, although at that time I had not installed the doors in the gates, 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let’s meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were plotting to harm me. 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and am unable to come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’ 4 Then they sent messages to me four times worded in this way, and I answered them with the same wording.” (Neh. 6:1-4). At this point, the walls had been built. The installation of the ten gates was the last remaining thing before the work was completed. Thus, the Samarian governor Sanballat and a high ranking Arab named Geshem believed that they needed to act immediately to stop the Jews. Because their efforts to use psychological warfare to stop the Jews had failed, they planned to lure Nehemiah into an alleged peace conference on the plain of Ono (approximately 27 miles northwest of Jerusalem) where they could ambush him and kill him. Some believe that Ono was neutral territory between the Jews and the Samaritans. Their four attempts showed their persistence. They failed only because God gave Nehemiah the ability to discern their plans. Once he realized their true wicked plans, their false messages of peace all failed.
Nehemiah’s enemies tried to trick him with false promises of peace1
God can give you the discernment to know the enemy’s plans. Although any leader should look for opportunities for peace, God gave Nehemiah the ability to discern his enemy’s evil plans: “Discernment is the ability to judge matters according to God’s view of them, and not according to their outward appearance. We are often deceived by outward appearances; For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7). Many people confuse being discerning with being negative or cynical; but discernment is just as able to see the good where others might miss it as it is at seeing bad where others might see good according to the outward appearance. Christians today suffer a great deal because they lack discernment. They follow leaders and teachers who give a good appearance, but don’t walk in the nature of Jesus. They accept things blindly because it looks good or sounds good, without carefully judging it against the whole counsel of God’s Word. We might even picture Nehemiah going to the Word of God and equipping himself with discernment. Perhaps he read Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. That passage alone would remind him to not look to outward appearances, but to judge soberly. How can we develop discernment? First, if you want to see things as God sees them, get to know His Word. Second, discernment comes through spiritual maturity; Hebrews 5:12-14 says that discernment is something spiritual babies don’t have (a baby will stick anything in his mouth). Third, discernment can be given as a gift from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). Seek Him for it. Without discernment, we can think a dangerous invitation from an enemy is really an offer of reconciliation. We can think presumption is faith. We can think our own noble desires are God’s promises. We can think God is saying “now” or “later” when He is really saying “later” or “now.” We can think someone is a great guy or a spiritual leader when they are really doing damage to God’s people.” (David Guzik on Neh. 6).2
Don’t rely upon your own wisdom or understanding to stop Satan. Discernment does not come from your own understanding or wisdom: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26). When you face a challenge, are you reading the Word and praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you?
Sanballat’s use of slander to create fear and turn the Persians against Nehemiah. After their attempts to ambush Nehemiah failed, Sanballat used slander to try to create fear that the Persians would turn on him. Nehemiah, however, remained steadfast in his efforts: “5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same way a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written: ‘It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; for that reason 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’s consult together.’ 8 Then I sent a message to him saying, ‘Nothing like these things that you are saying has been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.’” (Neh. 6:5-8). Sanballat knew that Nehemiah did not rebuild without the authority of the Persians. The Jews’ enemies previously used false rumors of a Jewish independence movement to pause the Temple rebuilding process (Ezra 4:7-24). The Persian empire suffered rebellions in Egypt and ongoing conflicts with Greeks. Thus, Sanballat planned to follow the same tactics. He believed that he could spread lies with this false letter to force a meeting. He again hoped to draw Nehemiah into an ambush both by spreading lies and by suggesting that he would rent a prophet. A normal person would be filled with rage, fear, and attack the slanderer. But Nehemiah trusted God. Thus, he simply rebuked Sanballat and continued his work.
Stay steadfast in your service to Jesus when the enemy tries to distract you. The Bible calls upon believers to “stand firm” in their faith: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 5:1). The strength to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks come from faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Eph. 6:10). If Satan can convince you to give up, he will win.
Don’t let the enemy distract you with lies. This was not the first time that Sanballat tried to distract Nehemiah from his work with false accusations. He used this same ploy when Nehemiah first arrived in Jerusalem: “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”’ (Neh. 2:19). Nehemiah learned from his enemy’s attacks. Jesus also wants you to prepare for Satan’s attacks. When you serve Jesus, don’t let Satan’s lies distract you from serving.
Satan is the father of lies and the master of deceit. Jesus called Satan the “father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden with lies (Gen. 3:4; 2 Cor. 11:3). Lies are one of Satan’s most common tools for distracting God’s people from serving: “Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, o worker of deceit.” (Ps. 52:2). “There is nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.” (Ps. 5:9). “Behold, he travails with wickedness, and he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.” (Ps. 7:14). “No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” (Is. 59:4). If you encounter lies when you serve Jesus, pray for Jesus’ protection and stay steadfast in your work for Him.
Nehemiah prays to God for strength. When the enemy tried to defeat Nehemiah through threats, lies, and discouragement, Nehemiah turned to God for the strength to continue: “9 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, God, strengthen my hands.” (Neh. 6:9). Nehemiah’s prayers were not just for himself. They included all of the faithful Jews.
With every spiritual attack, Nehemiah always turned to God for strength3
Prayer is an essential requirement for success in spiritual warfare4
Pray for God to strengthen you when you are attacked. Like Nehemiah, you will face attacks any time you serve Jesus. The enemy will try to paralyze you with fear, lies, and discouragement. When this happens, God also wants you to pray for His strength: “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” (Ps. 138:3). “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him.” (Ps. 28:7). “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.” (Ps. 3:3). If you feel defeated or discouraged, are you praying for God to strengthen you?
Sanballat’s use of a false prophet to try to stop Nehemiah. Nehemiah showed that he was a man of God. Thus, Sanballat employed a false prophet to try to deceive Nehemiah: “10 When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, ‘Let’s meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let’s close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.’ 11 But I said, ‘Should a man like me flee? And who is there like me who would go into the temple to save his own life? I will not go in.’” (Neh. 6:10-11). Shemaiah alleged that he was a prophet. He sought to gain Nehemiah’s trust by alleging that a conspiracy existed to kill him. He alleged that he could show his trust in God by leaving his rebuilding efforts and taking refuge inside of God’s Temple. The words were partially true. Thus, Nehemiah may have initially felt conflicted about whether to follow this advice. But Nehemiah knew that it was unlawful for a non-Levite to go inside the Temple. Had he followed this advice, the Jews’ enemies could have used this to defame Nehemiah. God also called him to finish building the wall. He was able to discern that Shemaiah was a false prophet because a true prophet would never tell someone to disobey God’s Word. A true prophet would have instead encouraged him.
Shemaiah the false prophet tried to trick Nehemiah5
Satan will use half-truths to twist God’s word to deceive you. Shemaiah partially spoke the truth. There was a conspiracy to kill Nehemiah. And God invites those who are under attack to take refuge in Him: “Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah.” (Ps. 64:1). Indeed, God protected the young future king Joash inside the Temple for six years when his grandmother tried to kill him: “He was hidden with them in the house of God six years while Athaliah reigned over the land.” (2 Chr. 22:12). Throughout history, Satan has twisted God’s Word with half truths to deceive believers. If you don’t know God’s Word, the enemy will twist it to draw you away from God. Are you studying God’s Word to protect yourself?
Believers who obey God are given a spirit of courage, while those who rebel flee in fear. Nehemiah questioned “Should a man like me flee?” (Neh. 6:11). He knew that a man who felt fear and the need to flee was under God’s judgment: “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Ps. 28:1; Lev. 26:17, 37). Building the walls of Jerusalem was what God commissioned Nehemiah to do. Thus, he knew that he was not under God’s judgment. Thus, there was no reason for him to flee. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). If you are afraid of anything while serving Jesus, pray for His courage.
Believers should never accept advice to violate God’s Word. Under God’s law, only the Levites could enter the Temple. The penalty for violating this law was death: “So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death.” (Nu. 3:10; 1:51; 18:7; Ex. 29:33; 33:20). King Uzziah entered the Temple without God’s permission. God then judged him with leprosy (2 Chr. 26:16-20). You should never fear or listen to an alleged prophet who contradicts God’s unchanging Word (Dt. 18:20; Is. 8:19-20; Matt. 24:3-10). Nehemiah realized that Shemaiah could not be God’s representative if he was telling him to violate God’s Word. Are you studying God’s Word to protect yourself from false doctrines and cults?
When attacked, Nehemiah put his trust in God. Instead of fighting back at the many wicked schemes against him, Nehemiah put his trust in God to protect and avenge him: “12 Then I realized that God certainly 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 would become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could taunt me. 14 Remember, my God, Tobiah and Sanballat in accordance with these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets, who were trying to frighten me.” (Neh. 10:12-14). Like Nehemiah, Jesus’ enemies repeatedly slandered Him. But rather than fighting back, He prayed and put His trust in God the Father. God also wants you to put your trust in Him.
Faith puts your trust in God for protection. Like Nehemiah, you never need to fear evil people when you are doing God’s will: “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). “Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; this I know, that God is for me.” (Ps. 56:9). If you are feeling fear when you are serving Jesus, that is not from Him. Pray for Jesus’ protection and rebuke Satan in Jesus’ name.
Faith puts your trust in God to avenge you when you are wronged. Nehemiah did not fight back against his enemies. Instead, he trusted God to avenge the wrongs against him (Neh. 10:14; 4:6). Jeremiah gave a similar prayer (Jer. 18:23). God also wants you to let Him avenge the wrongs against you: “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Prov. 20:22). “Let all their wickedness come before You; and deal with them as You have dealt with me for all my transgressions; for my groans are many and my heart is faint.” (Lam. 1:22). “How long, O God, will the adversary revile, and the enemy spurn Your name forever? . . . “And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom the reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.” (Ps. 79:10, 12). When others attack you while you are serving, trust Jesus to avenge you.
God will judge those who twist His Word and mislead people. There were many times when Satan used false prophets to deceive God’s people. God’s prophets were angry to see this. When this happened, they first rebuked the false prophets: “Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, ‘Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”’ (Jer. 28:15). The prophets then warned the people not to trust in their false claims: “Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, ‘Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie,’”’ (Jer. 29:31). When the false prophets did not repent, God’s prophets prayed for God to avenge the people by judging the false prophets: “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name . . . by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end!”’ (Jer. 14:14-15). “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration . . . Prophesy against them.” (Ezek. 13:2, 17). “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles.” (Lam. 2:14). If you are teaching God’s Word, be careful not to misrepresent it or apply your own interpretation. Are you using God’s Word to encourage others to serve as you are called to do? (1 Thess. 5:11).
Nehemiah gives God the credit when the Jews finished the walls in record time. Where a modern leader would have boasted about completing the walls in 52 days, Nehemiah praised God: “15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they realized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (Neh. 6:15-16). The walls were finished during the month of “Elul”, which translates to either August or September of 445 B.C. Because the work took only 52 days to complete (Neh. 6:15), it commenced on the fourth of the month of Ab, which translates to July or August of 445 B.C. The walls had remained in ruins for over 100 years. But, with God’s power, Jews rebuilt four miles of walls in an incredibly short time. Nehemiah was the leader who inspired this great work. But he took no credit for what God had done. Instead, he boasted that God had filled His enemies with fear.
God empowered the Jews to compete the rebuilding process in just 52 days6
God’s fulfilled Word has always filled the enemy with fear. God’s completed work caused the Jews’ enemies to become fearful (Neh. 6:16). The fear that the Jews’ enemies felt fulfilled prophecies that God’s prophets had given: “It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.” (Jer. 33:9; Is. 31:9). If you are serving Jesus, never fear your enemies.
Serve Jesus in humility, and He will exalt you. If you serve in humility like Nehemiah, Jesus will exalt you in heaven by celebrating your service: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:6; Ja. 4:10; 2:5). Do you boast about your accomplishments? Or, like Nehemiah, do you give the glory to God for His accomplishments in your life?
Tobiah also conspired with Jewish nobles against Nehemiah. During both the rebuilding process and afterwards, Nehemiah’s pagan enemies conspired with various Jewish nobles to turn them against him: “17 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 were reporting my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.” (Neh. 6:17-19). Tobiah was an Ammonite who worked with Sanballat to stop Nehemiah (Neh. 2:10, 19, 4:3, 4:7; 6:1). He also worked with various nobles to turn them against Nehemiah. Many nobles trusted Tobiah because prominent Jewish families had intermarried with the Ammonites. They further trusted Tobiah’s good deeds and the money that they made trading with him over Nehemiah’s commitment to God’s Word. “Tobiah’s friends and relatives acted as a Fifth Column. They attempted both to propagandize on behalf of Tobiah and to act as an intelligence system for him. Tobiah himself kept on trying to frighten Nehemiah.” (Frank Gaebelein, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 715). Nehemiah, however, trusted God over public opinion, and he separated himself from these influences. To protect yourself, you also need to stay separate from worldly influences.
Satan’s attacks against Nehemiah were ongoing. The final attacks listed in this chapter might seem out of place. Some might imagine that the chapter should have concluded with the building of the walls. But Satan’s attacks did not come to an end with the building of the walls. When Satan could no longer act through external enemies, he mobilized internal enemies. Throughout the course of Nehemiah’s service, he faced ongoing internal opposition. Examples included: (1) various Jewish nobles (Neh. 3:5; 6:17); (2) Jews who lived near Sanballat (Neh. 4:12); (3) Shemaiah (Neh. 6:12); (4) Noadiah (Neh. 6:14); (5) Meshullam (Neh. 6:17-19); (6) Eliashib (Neh. 13:4, 7); and (7), at a later time, the High-Priest’s grandson (Neh. 13:28). High-Priest Eliashib was among those related to Tobiah (Neh. 13:4). Nehemiah only succeeded because he was vigilant and steadfast in trusting God. He listened to God over the opinions of worldly people.
Separate yourself from worldly influences. The Jews were compromised at every level between their worldly interests and the interests of God. Thus, these conflicts were ongoing. Some might have used Nehemiah’s prior service as the cupbearer to call him a hypocrite and to justify their own desire to not upset the pagan peoples around Jerusalem: “After all, if Nehemiah was friendly with the Persians, could not they have been friendly with Tobiah? Moreover, some, like Meshullam (3:4, 30), who gave his daughter in marriage to Tobiah’s son, helped on the wall but may not have supported Nehemiah’s separatist policies. It is evidence that some people among the Jews did not support Nehemiah . . . Tobiah must have had many good traits, and some of the people were led astray by him; nevertheless, he was trying to hinder Nehemiah’s leadership. His involvement may be ‘the most sinister aspect of the story.’ Only Nehemiah’s faith and ‘clear-headed resoluteness’ equipped him for the challenge.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 214-5). Like the Jews, believers have a dual conflicting nature between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17; Ro. 7:18). If you love worldly things, you may also be pulled off your walk (1 Jo. 2:15). Do you make an effort to separate yourself from worldly influences? If not, your worldly desires will slowly pull you off of your walk.