Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
A good American football player needs determination to overcome opposition that will come from all sides. He has to deftly avoid opponent team players or skilfully push them away, and fight his way forward to score a touchdown.
So far, Nehemiah has had to deal with relentless opposition and he has persevered. The rebuilding work is almost complete; all that remains is to place the doors on the new gates (Nehemiah 6:1). Out of desperation, Sanballat, Tobiah, and their partners try a new trick: they send a diplomatic letter inviting Nehemiah to a meeting (v. 2). Such a letter may have seemed flattering to a lesser man, but Nehemiah is not enticed. He senses that the offer is insincere. It is a delaying technique, intended to destroy Nehemiah's reputation-if he accepts, what would people think about his previous insistence on being focused and not compromising with enemies? Nehemiah's reply shows where his heart is: ″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?″ (v. 3).
The enemies send the same invitation three more times, but each time, Nehemiah gives the same reply (v. 4); he does not waste time composing new responses. Then, they change tactics and send a fifth letter, unsealed so that the contents are made public (vv. 5-7). They say that rumours are circulating that Nehemiah and the Jews are plotting to revolt against the Persian king, and offer to help. The unsealed letter is meant to spread the fake news. It is intended to strike fear in Nehemiah's heart and force him to negotiate with them. This would destroy everything he has built.
Nehemiah, however, flatly denies all the insinuations (v. 8). Whether he feels any fear is not known to us. It is not whether we experience fear that is important, for fearlessness can also mean foolhardiness. What is important is what we do with our fears. Whatever the case may have been in Nehemiah's situation, he does something in keeping with his character and faith, something that is always helpful whether we feel fear or not-he prays (v. 9).
Writing about Satan's numerous tricks against God's people, the Puritan writer Thomas Brooks noted that we should not be discouraged because we have in the Bible ″precious remedies against Satan's devices″20. Some of us may suffer Satan's attacks, which can be either openly hostile or subtle; this is often the case if we are in positions of spiritual leadership (including parents and Sunday school teachers) or if we are doing something important for the Lord. We must not be distracted or discouraged in such circumstances, but learn to keep our eyes on the Lord rather than on the traps of our spiritual opponents (see Psalm 141:8-9).
How does it feel to be falsely accused? What are some common reactions? What lessons can we learn from Nehemiah's actions?
Nehemiah's prayer focused not on removing the difficult circumstances, but asked for strength to face them (Nehemiah 6:9, see also Acts 4:29). Does this shed light on how you can respond to a difficult situation you may be facing?