Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Dealing with Satanic opposition from outside the church is difficult, but dealing with subtle opposition arising from within the church is worse. Shemaiah (probably a priest) invites Nehemiah to meet him at the temple, claiming that assassins are coming to kill Nehemiah at night. Shemaiah offers the temple as a safe place (Nehemiah 6:10). Such a message would make anyone panic, especially if it came in the form of a religious prophecy. But Nehemiah is unmoved for various reasons.
First, he discerns that Shemaiah is not sent by God (v. 12). Second, he recognises that Shemaiah is a traitor working for Tobiah and Sanballat (v. 12). Third, he knows his enemies are trying to intimidate him (v. 13).
Tobiah and Sanballat want Nehemiah to panic and hide inside the temple, going where only priests are allowed to go (Numbers 18:7). If he had followed Shemaiah’s suggestion, he would have been guilty of disobeying God’s law. Nehemiah must have known that in the history of Israel, King Uzziah—who was not a priest—had gone into the temple to burn incense in an area restricted only to priests, and God had instantly struck him with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16–20). Though Nehemiah has no intention of offering incense, he is not willing to sin against God by entering an area prohibited to non-priests, even if his life is in danger (Nehemiah 6:13).
Nehemiah knows well the battle plan of the enemies (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). So he tells Shemaiah off, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (Nehemiah 6:11). Resolute as ever, he refuses to be hoodwinked.
True to form, Nehemiah again turns to God in prayer (v. 14). He prays for God to judge his enemies, who include opponents inside the walls of Jerusalem. Some of them are religious figures: Nehemiah mentions a prophetess and other prophets who are working in collusion with the enemies outside and have become their hirelings (v. 14). He is in an unenviable position, but God is with him.
There are some important lessons for all of us. First, we should remember that God’s work must be done according to God’s ways. Paul described the Christian disciple as an athlete who competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). Just as an athlete running a race would be disqualified if he broke the rules, so a Christian displeases the Lord when he tries to do God’s work but not keep His rules, for example, by not being honest, fair, and kind. Our character and obedience are important to God. Second, wicked suggestions can come even from people we think are religious. We need to be prayerful and discerning in determining when a suggestion is pleasing to the Lord and when it is not.
What are common ways in which Christians may break God’s rules even when doing God’s work? How can we avoid this?
What thoughts and habits within us work in opposition to what God is doing in us? How do they work in collusion with the devil and the sinful world? What can we do about them?