Last time I wrote about Nehemiah, we found him setting up armed men to protect against the threat from his enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah. In chapters 5 and 6, Nehemiah faces more opposition.
In the first instance, the struggles are from within (Nehemiah 5:1-6). Simply put, the laws concerning care of the poor were not being followed. There is tension among the Jews themselves, a division between rich and poor. This could very easily have put a stop to the work. Nehemiah deals with this situation quickly; another crisis averted.
The external opposition comes in two ways. First, Sanballat tries to entice Nehemiah to leave Jerusalem to see him on the Plains of Ono, a day's journey away (Nehemiah 6:1-4). Nehemiah knew they intended to do him harm, so he does not grant the request, telling them he is too busy with the work. The second attempt comes in Nehemiah 6:10. There is a supposed threat on Nehemiah's life, and Shemaiah suggests to Nehemiah that they hide in the temple. Nehemiah knows this, too, is just a ruse, and he refuses to run away like a coward and sin against God by entering the temple.
I want to look a little more closely at what Sanballat does in Nehemiah 6:5-9, and how Nehemiah responds, because it has some good instruction for us.
When Nehemiah refuses four invitations to visit him, Sanballat decides to play dirty. He sends an unsealed letter to Nehemiah:
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. And you have 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."This was serious business. An unsealed letter would be read by everyone between Ono and Jerusalem. The king would certainly hear about this report. Sanballat has done what many before him have done, and many after him will do in order to squash the work of God: use the rumor mill.
J.I. Packer in his book A Passion for Faithfulness comments on this:
Rumors spread like wildfire, for fallen human beings love to savor discreditable information about each other, and denials of rumors are not always - indeed not often - believed. What then can one do if one finds, like Nehemiah, that malicious rumors are circulating about oneself?
Nehemiah did the only two things possible: he denied the rumor in sharply matter-of-fact terms to Sanballat, its source (6:8); and he prayed, "Now strengthen my hands."Church leaders are always open to attack. The use of gossip, slander, and verbal attack is everywhere. You only have to look at social media once in a while to see what people will shamelessly say about others, including leaders. A well-timed tidbit of misinformation can be devastating.
We need to pray for our church leaders. All of us attend local churches which serve in a community. The witness of a local church can be destroyed by one strategically placed bit of gossip, and our leaders are often the first line of attack. It doesn't even matter if it's true; a tiny seed of doubt can ruin the reputation of anyone, and harm the work of God.
We need to pray not only for protection for our leaders, but that they will call upon God to strengthen their hands when they do face opposition. We must pray for them to be bold and to trust in the truth that God is the one who grants the victory. Our enemies may not be as obvious to us as Nehemiah's were, but those who are offended by God's holiness when they see it will want to see the church fail, and often starting at the top is the best way to achieve that. Let us pray for God to strengthen our hands.
Previous posts on Nehemiah: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.