Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
One of the times when we have to be most vigilant against the tricks of the devil is immediately after a great victory. The prophet Elijah had a tremendous victory over the false prophets of Baal when God displayed His awesome power on Mount Carmel. But after this, Elijah suffered from fear, discouragement, and self-pity (1 Kings 18:16–19:9). Today’s reading shows us potential vulnerability after a moment of victory.
It is amazing that in spite of the size and complexity of the project, the logistical challenges, the constant opposition from enemies, and the problems within the community, the building project is completed in a mere 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15)! The wall was 4 km long, about 12 m tall (the height of four storeys) and about 2.7 m thick. It is such an amazing feat that the enemies of the Jews and the surrounding nations who hear about it are afraid (v. 16). They realise that the powerful God of the Jews is with them, and wonder what else they are capable of.
Still, some of the enemies do not give up disturbing Nehemiah. Satan is the same; he will never rest until he is put out of the way. His aim is to disrupt, disturb, and denounce anything that has to do with God. After so great an accomplishment, there is no immediate celebration. Instead, Nehemiah has to take action to ensure there is no further danger to the people of Jerusalem.
Letters are going back and forth between the nobles of Judah and Tobiah (v. 17), who has connections with some important people in the city. Tobiah has married into the family of Shekaniah, whose father had been one of the pioneers among the returning exiles (see Ezra 8:5), and has had his son marry into the family of Meshullam, one of the key builders of the wall (Nehemiah 6:18; 3:4, 30). These nobles and their clans are beholden to Tobiah; they are probably bound by trade deals and contracts.
The Jewish nobles “kept reporting” to Nehemiah Tobiah’s “good deeds” (Nehemiah 6:19), propaganda that is intended to change Nehemiah’s view of his enemy. They try to be peacemakers and intermediaries, carrying messages back and forth. On the surface, their actions appear praiseworthy. After all, the wall has been completed, and it is time to be reconciled and to carry on. But Nehemiah knows that they are playing into the hands of the scheming Tobiah. Aware of Tobiah’s evil intentions, he notes, “Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me” (v. 19). If any of us think we are under heavy enemy fire, we should draw inspiration from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah did not have time to rest on his laurels and celebrate his victory. The enemy attacked relentlessly, using subtle forms of temptation, which one can miss in the triumphant emotions after a victory. Nehemiah teaches us how important it is to be vigilant and prayerful, especially after great achievements and victories in our lives. We are to be “alert and of sober mind” (1 Peter 5:8) because our enemy, the devil, has many subtle tricks to use against us.
What can we learn from Nehemiah about being alert and discerning?
How can well-meaning Christians be used by Satan to cause one to make ungodly compromises?