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Stay on Target

Date: Jul. 21, 2013

Author: Bob Henkins

Nehemiah 6:1-7:73

Key Verse: Nehemiah 6:9a

“But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

When God calls us to do his work you can bet that Satan is going to try and stop it. If you’ve ever read the book of Job you would know what I mean. Let me ask how many of you have experienced this: When you made a decision to follow Jesus, did anyone in your life give you a hard time about it? When we make commitments to follow God’s will and live for his purpose Satan will try to hinder or stop us. He will stop at nothing because his sole purpose is to oppose God. In today’s passage, through Nehemiah, we’ll see several methods that he uses to hinder God’s people.

Take a look at verses 1-2. “When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; ” Ever since the moment Nehemiah got to Jerusalem, Sanballet & Tobiah have been a thorn in his side. Everything he did, they opposed. The opposition may have started with them but as we see now it has grown substantially. However Nehemiah didn’t let that stop him. The work was almost complete. The wall was finished and all they had left to do was to set the gates in place. This would be like not having a front door. Sure it was better than before but it’s still not safe. Nehemiah is so close to finishing his task when he gets a message to meet Sanballat in the plain of Ono. Looking at the map, Ono was about 20 miles from Jerusalem and was closer to Sanballat’s place than Nehemiah’s. If you were an optimist, you might be tempted to think that Sanballat was inviting Nehemiah to his place so that they could bury the hatchet, settle their differences, clear the air, after all they were going to be living next to each other so they will have to get along, right? But that would be just wishful thinking. More likely Sanballat planned to give Nehemiah an offer that he couldn’t refuse, Godfather style as Nehemiah alludes to at the end of verse 2.

Nehemiah responds in verse 3. “so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “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?” Nehemiah knew that he was doing God’s work, because he had God’s clear calling. God had laid this task upon his heart and it’s what kept him going through thick and thin. Not only that, Nehemiah believed that that work he was doing was great and of utmost importance. It was life changing work. Everyone that serves God must have God’s calling in their heart, if they don’t, they won’t last. It’s as simple as that. Naturally a valid question arises, what if I don’t have God’s call? Then you need to seek God will all your heart. The Bible says that if you seek God you will find him. So you need to seek him until you find him. God speaks to people through his word, through prayer and we need personal conviction of what he wants us to do otherwise we will remain as a wanderer without direction. When we find God’s calling for our lives we go from being a wanderer to a pilgrim, from a ship with no heading to one that has a destination. The path we take, that’s the adventure of life, but the heading is given to us by God. Not only that, as Christians, we must believe in the work that God called us to do and believe that it’s important work, because this sets the priority within a person’s life. God’s calling is the highest calling there is. This helps us to discern which tasks to do first. Conviction comes from God. Guilt comes from people. Some people will use guilt to try and distract us from God’s calling. (growing up Christmas Eve was a special time in our family, that was the day when our family would gather at my grandma’s house for dinner. But as a young Christian I had a hard time whenever Christmas Eve fell on Sunday – Grandma would say – you can have every other day of the year, but Christmas Eve is mine. She was very strong. At that time, I had clear conviction that Sunday was the Lord’s day and I should worship him, but I didn’t have the strength to stand up to her, so I usually snuck out when no one was looking. That was the worng thing to do. I needed to stand by my conviction) Nehemiah had God’s calling and he believed that is it was great work, thus he didn’t let things distract him from his work. He kept right on target, focused on the goal. But Sanballat & Tobiah were just as focused but for different reasons so they wouldn’t give up either. Four times they sent the same message over and over trying their best to divert Nehemiah’s attention away from what was important to him. But each time Nehemiah gave them the same answer.

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide with the same message, but this time he also carried an unsealed letter. Do you know what this means? Usually when then sent letters they sealed them with their personal seal so that the reader would know that it was official and who it exactly it was from. It was private personal message. However the open letter was dangerous. It was a public declaration meant for all to see, usually read in the town square. Today it would be like posting it on Wikileaks or better yet on Facebook where all your friends can see it, or posting it on Twitter where people begin to comment on it, or someone posts a video on Youtube ranting about it. The point of an open letter was meant to be like a smear campaign and Sanballat & Tobiah were making every effort to discredit and disgrace Nehemiah’s name. Take a look at the content of the open letter in verses 6-7. “in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” This was actually another form of diversion. We see this kind of tactic used in elections of today. Where one candidate says something negative and inflammatory about another candidate and then they get bogged down and have to spend all their time and energy trying to prove that it’s untrue. This kind of attack is designed to keep you on the defensive that way you divert your energy and attention from what is really important. Meanwhile the other candidate goes about his business making progress as if nothing is wrong.

The contents of this open letter were really dangerous. It was created to plant fear and discredit his name. Essentially Nehemiah is being accused of treason. And even in our day the punishment for treason is usually death. Especially in Nehemiah’s day treason was a big deal, the king could take his head off. It says that it was “reported among the nations,” this was a lie. There were not reports, they were the ones reporting it. They even admit it by saying Geshem says it’s true. And I guess if Geshem says it, then it must be true. (sarcasm) But Geshem was one of them! He’s on their side of course he’s going to say that it’s true. And they portray Nehemiah as if he is going to be challenging the king himself. This was basically the same accusation that the Jews used to persuade Pilate to crucify Jesus. (Jn 19:12)

So how is Nehemiah going to respond to all these lies? I imagine that it must get quite tiresome for leaders that are in the spotlight who constantly get falsely accused. But I like how he responds. Take a look at verses 8-9. “I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah basically says, “You’re crazy. Nothing like that is going on. You’re just making stuff up.” He refutes their accusations with the truth and he exposes their motives. Their goal was to make them afraid because when people become fearful, they get paralyzed and stop working. But then Nehemiah does what he does best, he prays to God. He is a man of prayer. It’s his life. It’s the source of his strength. And that’s what he prays for, strength. In this small sentence we see that he was human and no matter how strong you are, the enemy’s attacks take their toll and sometimes we all get weak. Nehemiah wasn’t a superman, he was a man that needed God and he knew it and wasn’t afraid to admit it.

Sanballat and Tobiah are really getting desperate because they know if Nehemiah completes his work, they will be able to defend themselves. So they come with their third and final attack. This one uses spiritual deception and may be the hardest to detect. Take a look at verse 10. “One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” I’m not exactly sure of who Shemaiah was, but he was probably a priest because he had access to the Temple and this gave him some credibility. He used a shut in, to draw Nehemiah to his house. A shut in was a symbolic action to indicate that his life was in danger and he used it to tell Nehemiah that his life was in danger and that he should run to the Temple for safety. If someone that you kind of trusted told you, “Someone was going to kill you tonight, you better run,” it would make you worried.

But this is where I think that Nehemiah’s prayer life really kicked in because it gave him spiritual insight, discernment and courage. He responded, “But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (v11) Nehemiah quickly realized that God hadn’t sent Shemaiah. Shemaiah was actually a hired hand that had been paid to prophesy against him. Sanballat and Tobiah were using Shemaiah to intimidate Nehemiah, using his so called spiritual influence, so that Nehemiah would do something wrong and then they would post the scandal on the front page of the news. (v12-13) It would appear on blogs all over the nation with pictures on the tabloids at the checkout registers at his local supermarket. They were trying to lure Nehemiah to go into the Temple, a place where only priests could go, then they would use that against him. It was a clever trick. But Nehemiah foils their plan because he uses discernment and tests everything against the scriptures to make sure that its right before God. This is a nasty attack by the enemy because it hits on so many fronts. First, he plants fear that his life is in danger and second, there is the outright attack to do what is wrong, but you may not catch it because it comes from a seemingly trust worthy source. And thirdly it causes distrust among people because it comes from the inside and then you begin to wonder who can you trust and this creates division among God’s people. Again we see Nehemiah respond in prayer in verse 14. “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.” We see how bad it has become where all the prophets are against him. I don’t know if they were really against him or he just felt that way because of the doubt in his heart. Either way he gives it all up to God and asks God to take care of all his enemies, because God is the only one who knows peoples real intentions. He cries out to God for justice and doesn’t try to take it into his own hands. Instead of fighting with one another God’s people should leave it up to God. This doesn’t mean that we don’t’ hold people accountable for their actions, we definitely have to do that, but we can’t let that derail us from the mission God called us to do. Nehemiah had his priorities straight.

As a result, the wall was completed in 52 days. This is amazing. In 2007 archaeologists uncovered a massive wall on the east side of Jerusalem. The wall was 16 feet thick. I’m not sure how high the wall was, I’ve read accounts that said it was between 20-50 feet tall. Imagine building a wall, 16 feet thick, 20-50 feet high and over 2 miles long in 52 days. That is pretty remarkable. It took us 3 months just to remodel the second floor of our Bible house. And we used professionals. They used ordinary men with their sons and daughters, priests, perfume makers, gold smiths and all of it was organized by a cup bearer. We can use the excuse, “Well they didn’t have to work with city officials and get permits or work in Chicago.” The real reason they could complete their work was because God helped them do it and they did their work with all their hearts. Verse 16 says, “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.”God was glorified through Nehemiah completing his work because everyone acknowledged that God did it. Even their enemies couldn’t help but acknowledge God. So much so that they became fearful and lost all their self confidence. There is the difference between Nehemiah and his enemies. Their confidence came from themselves, while his confidence came from the Lord. The enemies of God lose heart when they see God’s blessing upon his people. This is better than fight with them humanly. The victory is sweet because it belongs to God.

Another thing we see here is when times get tough, people’s true colors come out. Take a look at verses 17-19. “Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.” When times get tough – that is when you find out who people really are. If it’s easy, no problem, but when it’s hard, that when their true colors come out. We begin to find out that Tobiah is a very powerful person and he is connected to many people working with Nehemiah. He is even related to them. He is an Ammonite and his son married a Israelite which God forbid them to do. We begin to see the spiritual condition of the people of God. Therefore Nehemiah shifts his focus from building the wall to restoring the people. In 7:4 we see that the city was large and spacious but there were only a few people living in it. So Nehemiah begins to help those living there. He appoints gatekeepers, singers and Levites. He gives people a purpose with responsibilities to take care. He gives them authority with a sense of stewardship by giving them control over the gates. When we are called by God we need a sense of stewardship over the work God gave us to do. We shouldn’t need someone to tell us what to do all the time. We should take imitative and serve God with all our heart.

Nehemiah put Hanani in charge of Jerusalem and Hananiah in charge of the citadel because they were men of integrity and feared God more than other men. These days, the world wants to us to keep our faith to ourselves. You can believe what you want, but keep it to yourself. But Nehemiah wanted men who took their faith with them and applied it to their jobs as well. It because of their faith in God, that they got those jobs. We need to take our faith everywhere we go. Sometimes I think that we feel like we have to make special times so that we can share our faith. But from this text I realize that we shouldn’t separate these parts of our lives. We must live our faith and bring it with us wherever we go then we can share it with other naturally then we don’t get burnt out because it is a part of our life. I read where one pastor on his morning jog, he plans to share Jesus with just one person on his route. He integrates his life of faith into his personal activities.

Through this passage we learn that when we make a decision to follow Jesus, we’re going to run into opposition. So let’s not be surprised when it happens. Be prepared. Pray when it happens that God may give you strength. Don’t let Satan get you distracted from what is important and bog you down with unimportant things. Stay focused. Stay on target. Stick to the work that God has called you to do.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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