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Nehemiah 6: Opposition Part 2

Built by God: The Book of Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Intro & Review

Opening illustration outline:
Nehemiah 4 - External pressures // Nehemiah 5 - Internal pressures // Nehemiah 6 - Personal attacks
Started with vicious threats, alliances, ambush; God delivered the people
Then the people cry out against the oppression they’re experiencing from their own Jewish brothers. Nehemiah puts a stop to it, points the people back to the Lord, and then Nehemiah tells us how he lived out his own convictions as a governor who truly pursued the welfare of his people.
In Nehemiah 6, the external and internal problems turn out to be connected.
Chapter 6 gives us a taste of just how deceptive, manipulative, and dangerous Sanballat and his cronies really are.
ILLUST: I wonder if you’ve ever had someone in your life who treats the whole world like a chessboard? If they can convince that pawn over there to move in that direction, maybe convince this group over here about this thing, and before you know it, the whole world around them is in chaos or falling apart, but somehow it benefited them?
Nehemiah is smack in the middle of a ruthless game of political chess with Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem.
The way Nehemiah responds is helpful to us for a few reasons.
First, at some point, we will all have to deal with manipulators and people who intend to harm us through deceit, possibly slander, maybe even worse. HOW we respond should be shaped by God’s Word and our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Second, we have a spiritual enemy who uses deceit and manipulation to frighten us so that, as Nehemiah says in verse 9, “our hands will drop from the work.” Our response to spiritual attacks should be shaped by God’s Word, too.
Finally, when we consider the mission that Jesus has set before us as a church, the events of Nehemiah 6 help to point us back to Christ Himself, both as our example and as our victorious King.
The big lie that Satan wants you to believe is that you have to fight your own battles, and that the Lord won’t be with you.
So when we look at Nehemiah’s courage in this chapter, we’re reminded once again that Nehemiah knew he wasn’t alone. And his dependence upon God helps us answer the question:
Q: What should we do when the enemy’s attacks become personal?
Org. Sentences: We’ll take chapter 6 in 4 parts, and close with some additional application.

I. God is still working! Don’t be distracted by the enemy (vv1-4)

First, in vv1-4, notice the names that have resurfaced.
The last time we saw Sanballat, in chapter 4, he had built an alliance and planned an attack against Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 4:15 ESV
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.
Now, the breaches in the wall have been closed. For the first time, instead of aiming at the people, they aim directly for the leader.
Deeply manipulative. Sanballat and Geshem ask Nehemiah for a meeting in v2
The letters look like diplomacy - “We picked a neutral spot halfway between us and you. Come meet with us.” The plain of Ono was about as far from Jerusalem as you could get without leaving Nehemiah’s territory.
But Nehemiah knows it’s a trap. They send the same message 4 times, and he sends the same response each time: <<READ v3>>
Nehemiah cuts through the lies. By repeating the word “work” twice in his response, he gets right to the heart of the matter: The work - the wall - that’s what he’s there for, that’s what they want to stop, and he won’t step away.
They’re expecting Nehemiah to think like they would - to bargain, to manipulate, like they do.
But Nehemiah refused to be distracted by the enemy.
Notice their persistence. They don’t take no for an answer. And it must have been exhausting, now toward the end of the building project, after so many other challenges.
This isn’t the only time we see the enemies of God’s plan show up in a time of exhaustion with needling words and temptations to abandon the mission.
In Matthew 4, we see the temptation of Jesus. v2 - after fasting 40 days & 40 nights, Jesus is hungry. That’s when the tempter shows up and starts the deception.
If you’ve been a Christian for very long, you’ve probably noticed the same pattern. Temptation rears its ugly head when you’re least equipped to withstand it.
But Jesus was victorious in the wilderness. When the tempter says “If you’re the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,”
Matthew 4:4 ESV
4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Satan says, “Ok, if you’re going to use Scripture, I will too,” and he tries again, and
Matthew 4:7 ESV
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
But Satan isn’t finished. He claims to be able to give all the nations to him, if Jesus will fall down and worship him.
Matthew 4:10 ESV
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”
Every one of the Scriptures he quoted had God’s will at the center. Elsewhere:
John 4:34 ESV
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
Jesus would not abandon the work the Father had given Him to do, and that’s good news for us, because our enemy is just as persistent today as he was then.
1 Peter 5:8–11 ESV
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

II. God is still King! Don’t be discouraged by lies (vv5-9)

<<READ v5>>
In verses 5-9, Sanballat steps up the intimidation. This time he sends an open letter - this is gossip and slander. By the time the letter reaches Nehemiah, it's been read by who-knows-how-many people. The damage is done.
It reads like a letter of “concern,” but it’s really a bullying tactic. Like a not-so-accidentally leaked email, “Dear friend Nehemiah, fellow governor, I don’t know if you know it, but I keep hearing from people that everyone says the Jews are preparing to rebel, and that’s why you’re so obsessed with the wall, because you’re planning to be the king, and you’ve already got prophets proclaiming that 'There’s a king in Judah.’
I’m just concerned, because if I’VE heard about it from everyone, even my dear friend Geshem the Arab, I mean, if it’s already made it that far, it’s definitely going to make it back to King Artaxerxes...
But, if you come and join our thing, I’m sure we can figure out a way to settle these rumors down.”
Nehemiah’s response is absolutely direct in verse 8:
“No one is saying these things, no one is doing these things; it’s all coming from you, Sanballat.” And Nehemiah knew why: Verse 9: “They all wanted to frighten us.”
Fear comes up here, and again in verse 13, verse 14, and verse 19 as the enemies’ goal.
They thought they could scare Nehemiah and the Jews with the threat that Artaxerxes was going to hear their slander and come flatten the city.
Just like before, they assume Nehemiah thinks like they do. They don’t realize that Nehemiah is not only the king’s cupbearer-turned-governor. Remember how Nehemiah prayed before he went in and asked the king for permission to rebuild the city,
Nehemiah 1:11 ESV
11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king.
And in Nehemiah 2:8, “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”
When Sanballat threatens that the king will hear his slander, he doesn’t know what Nehemiah knows: The King of kings already gave Nehemiah success with the king. The king didn’t send Nehemiah; the King of kings did.
That’s why Nehemiah’s response is immediately followed by a prayer in verse 9: “They thought to frighten us, so our hands would drop from the work, but now O God, strengthen my hand.”
Nehemiah remembered, and so should we: God is still King! Don’t be discouraged by lies!
The enemy uses slander and gossip to manipulate. Satan slandered God in the Garden of Eden; Potiphar’s wife slandered Joseph; the Pharisees produced lying witnesses to accuse Jesus; slander and lies followed Paul from Thessalonica to Ephesus to Jerusalem.
We shouldn’t be surprised when the enemies of Christ’s church stoop to manipulation and lies. When the Pharisees began accusing Jesus in John 8,
John 8:44–45 ESV
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
So what should we do when we encounter slander and gossip?
Remember that God is still King, and your status and reputation with Him doesn’t change when people lie about you. Human opinions change faster than aspen leaves. But your status before God is dependent on one thing only: the righteousness of Jesus, credited to you through faith in Him.
Sanballat thought that if he lied, he could divide.
Proverbs 16:28 ESV
28 A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
Look in verses 8-9. Nehemiah didn’t try to outwit Sanballat, didn’t try to trap him back, didn’t try to play his game. He told the TRUTH and trusted God for the result.
The King of kings can’t be swayed by lies, so don’t be discouraged by the threat of slander.
But these guys don’t know when to give up, so they try again in verses 10-14:

III. God is still steadfast! Don’t be deceived into sin (vv10-14)

Shemaiah, confined to his home. Nehemiah goes to his house, and he tells Nehemiah a prophecy. He couches it in poetry, to make it seem like an authentic prophecy: (my version of v10)
“We’ll meet in the house of God // inside the temple // and we’ll close the doors of the temple // for they’re coming to kill you // in the night // they’re coming to kill you”
Nehemiah 6:11–12 ESV
11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
How did Nehemiah know that Shemaiah was a false prophet?
He knew Deuteronomy 13, which tells us that if a prophet tries to draw you away from God, he’s no prophet. God never sends a prophet to tell God’s people to sin.
An Israelite could enter the Temple courtyard, but no Israelite could go into the Temple except the Levites and the priests.
Numbers 18:7 ESV
7 And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
Once again, the purpose was to cause fear, hoping fear would cause Nehemiah to sin in a way that they could use against him.
But it doesn’t work, because Nehemiah knows that God hasn’t changed his mind.
APPLY: Think back again to Jesus’s victory over temptation in the wilderness, in Matthew 4. Just as Satan tried to use Scripture to convince Jesus to sin, he will try to confuse or scare us into sinful responses, even using false teachers or twisting Scripture
But God is steadfast - don’t be scared into sin!
Once again, Sanballat and Tobiah had made plans around the idea that Nehemiah would react like them. But Nehemiah’s starting place was God’s strength.
Psalm 28:7 ESV
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
This is especially important for us today, because I regularly hear people who have fallen under the spell of a so-called teacher or other influential person who subtly undermines God’s Word, and tries to convince Christians that we must disobey God in order to do God’s work.
It sounds crazy when I say it like that, doesn’t it?
The false teacher often pays lip-service to Scripture. But then they say things like, “But we can’t really stand on that Biblical principle in the public square, or else we’ll lose our place in society!”
They want you to HIDE in the Temple. They want you to have a secretly Biblical worldview. They want your public face to look inoffensive and worldly, and then, when everything’s safe, and you can go back to the mission.
It’s a lie intended to make you unfruitful.
Jesus came to reconcile us to God, to bring peace within His Body. But He did not come so that everything would be peachy keen with the perishing world.
Matthew 10:32–34 ESV
32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
And that’s not a reason for us to be afraid. Kingdom people, you belong to the King of kings, who abounds in steadfast love.
Matthew 6:31–33 ESV
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Walk in faithful, Christlike love and do not fear. Like Nehemiah, remember what God’s Word says. Look what the Holy Spirit says through Paul in Romans 8:
Romans 8:31–39 ESV
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

IV. God is still winning! You can depend upon him (vv15-19)

Look at verses 17-19.
Here, at the end of the chapter, we find out what Tobiah was doing while Sanballat and Geshem were writing letters.
He was writing letters, too.
He’s got connections by marriage to the nobles and the priests, and oath-bound relationships.
And as a result, Nehemiah says, they were talking all about Tobiah, all about his good deeds. And all the while, they’re letting their good pal Tobiah know whatever Nehemiah said.
The chapter ends with the ominous note in verse 19: “And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.”
Do you see the next-level manipulation going on?
But we skipped a couple verses to get here.
In the middle of all the intrigue, all the intimidation, look what happened in vv15-16 <<READ 15-16>>
That’s right: The wall got built. Remember how Sanballat accused Nehemiah of hiring false prophets, and then he hired false prophets to frighten Nehemiah?
They wanted to make Nehemiah afraid, but instead, God made them afraid.
Notice that it wasn’t Nehemiah. It was God.
In the middle of this cold war, God was still winning, and Nehemiah knew he could depend on the Lord. So can you.
There are a number of lessons we can take away from this chapter.
When the enemy attempts to distract you from the mission that the Lord has given us, remember the faithfulness of Jesus.
Your strength indeed is small, the song goes. But the same Holy Spirit who led Jesus into that wilderness, the same Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead, His very own Spirit now dwells in each one who believes in Him, and HE is able to stand even when you’re exhausted. <<v16>> - the MISSION He’s doing in the world will be accomplished through His Spirit in YOU.
Philippians 2:13 ESV
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When the enemy tried to frighten Nehemiah so his hands would drop from the work, Nehemiah responded by praying <<v9>>
Nehemiah knew he could depend on God. So can you.
Nehemiah’s enemies expected him to respond the way they would - with fear, manipulation, deception. It’s possible that Nehemiah would have lost the game of chess. So he refused to play their game. So can you.
When the enemy throws persistent temptation, lies, slander, and manipulation your way,
Like Christ in the wilderness, cut through the deceitfulness of temptation with God’s Word.
Don’t try to out-manipulate the manipulator. Answer directly, simply, truthfully, and trust God for the result.
Romans 12:21 ESV
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
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