Faithlife Sermons

Sermon Tone Analysis

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After at least six thousand years of human history, one would think that the world would get tired of bothering Christians.
Who knows how many world leaders have tried to trample the faith into the dust only to suffer God’s righteous judgment themselves?
Satan assumes that, since he got his foot in the door when Adam sinned, that gives him the right to harass the church from then on.
Yet, the church continues to advance in its mission of calling men and women to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the book of Nehemiah, Sanballat and Tobiah are the world’s ambassadors of persecution.
It is they who, by mockery, threats and building a coalition of the surrounding nations, sought to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and had lain in ruins for almost a century and a half.
By the time we come to chapter 6, the wall was almost done.
All the breaches had been closed in and secured.
The only thing left was to hang the gates.
This took a little bit longer than the wall itself because the gates had to be covered with metal to protect them against fire in case of a siege.
But the fact that the wall was almost done did not discourage God’s enemies.
To the contrary, it encouraged it.
Sanballat and Tobiah had made it their business to destroy the wall, and they refused to give up until the rebuilding of the wall stopped completely forever.
This time they chose to use new tactics, focusing their animosity more toward Nehemiah than anything else.
The had to prevent Nehemiah’s success at all costs.
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“Let’s Be Friends”
The first strategy that Sanballat and Geshem employed, which we find in verse 2, was to convince Nehemiah that they were really his friends.
They invited him to a truce, claiming that they could leave the past behind and establish a new friendship.
They even agreed to meet in /one of the villages in the plain of Ono/, which was located in Benjamin’s territory just across the border of Samaria.
They wanted to show, in other words, that they were willing to meet him part way.
But Sanballat and Geshem were really using one of the oldest tricks in the world.
Remember how the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden?
He convinced her that God really wasn’t her friend, since he was supposedly withholding the fact that eating the forbidden fruit would open her eyes so that she would become like God, knowing good and evil.
The implication here is that the serpent was her friend since he was cluing her in to God’s little secret.
In the New Testament, Jesus also warned his followers about false prophets who would try to deceive the elect with similar assurances (Matt.
24:24), and Paul noted that Satan often transforms himself into an angel of light in order to undermine the preaching of the gospel (II Cor.
11:13–14).
No less than four times Sanballat and Geshem sent the same message to Nehemiah.
Their persistence would be commendable if their goal was to do good, but persistence in evil only compounds one’s culpability.
Think, for example, of the persistence of those who sought to turn the godly man aside in Psalm 1.
They began by asking him to walk with them in their ungodliness.
Had he agreed to this, they would have coaxed him into taking a stand in sin.
Then, they would have invited him to sit in the seat of the scornful.
Little by little they wanted to pull him away from trusting and serving God.
The psalm says that they are /like the chaff which the wind driveth away/.
They cannot stand themselves and will ultimately perish under the just judgment of God.
But the godly man chose instead to persist in the law of the Lord, which he made his delight day and night, and he was like a tree planted by the rivers of water.
Today the world will still try to convince you that it wants to be your friend and that it has your best interest at heart.
But remember what James wrote, viz., /that the friendship of the world is enmity with God/ (Jas.
4:4).
There is no such thing as neutrality and we don’t have the option of playing tiddlywinks with the world when it seems convenient.
We must, like the man in Psalm 1, persist in righteousness no matter how much the world persists in inviting us to do evil.
Lke Jesus, we must answer its saccharine invitations to friendship but the words of Scripture.
Why?
Because the way that seems right to man ends in death (Prov.
14:12; 16:25), but the way of the Lord brings life.
John wrote, /And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever/ (I John 2:17).
Nehemiah was not deceived by the persistence of his enemies.
He knew exactly what they were up to, and he refused even to consider their offer.
Sanballat and Geshem wanted Nehemiah to travel a day’s journey from Jerusalem for two reasons.
First, the absence of a leader in Jerusalem would delay the completion of the wall at least three days work — a day traveling to Ono, a day or more of meeting with Sanballat and Geshem to work out the details of a truce, and another day traveling back to Jerusalem.
With the work on the wall so close to completion, Nehemiah could see no reason for letting this happen.
Second, if they were able to get him alone, it isn’t hard to imagine that they would kill him, thus leaving the work without any oversight at all.
Nehemiah knew that Sanballat and Geshem planned mischief because they had made it perfectly clear throughout their contact with him that they stood against the Lord.
In fact, in chapter 4 Nehemiah prayed that God would /turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity/.
He asked God not to cover their sin, but to remember it forever.
Thus, each of Sanballat and Geshem’s requests were met with exactly the same answer.
This shows that Nehemiah’s priorities were exactly right.
He chose to complete the work that God had given him rather than make friends with God’s enemies.
This wasn’t a matter that Nehemiah was willing to debate with them.
He didn’t even consider it necessary to defend his decision.
He simply declared that he would not meet with them.
There is an important lesson here for us: if we admit the possibility that the enemy can improve our ability to serve the Lord, we’ve already taken the first step to defeat.
God’s Word alone must rule our life in all things.
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Blackmail
When Sanballat and Geshem’s offer of friendship failed, they developed a second strategy.
They threatened to report Nehemiah to the Persian king.
But wasn’t it the Persian king who had sent Nehemiah on this mission and even provided for his safe travel along the way?
Of course it was.
But Sanballat and Geshem threatened to accuse Nehemiah of going beyond the original mission.
They would charge him with rebelling against Persia, trying to establish his own little kingdom in Jerusalem and hiring prophets to convince the people of Judah to join his rebellion.
Sanballat and Geshem knew that the charges were false, but they also knew that they were plausible enough to win a hearing.
They threatened to prosecute these charges unless Nehemiah agreed to meet with them to put the rumors to rest.
Look at what they’ve done, though.
They carefully crafted their blackmail to make it look as though they had Nehemiah’s best interest at heart.
They offered to settle the matter before word of it reached the king’s ears.
It isn’t very likely that Sanballat and Geshem really planned to take their false accusations to the king.
Considering the speed with which the wall was being built and the fact that so little was left to be done, they must have known that they could not possibly get word to the king before the work was done.
Their threat was not meant for the king at all.
It was meant for the people that Nehemiah worked with.
Note that they sent their threat, according to verse 5, in an /open letter/, i.e., a letter that was left unsealed for anyone to read.
They were counting on rumor and falsehood to win the people.
After all, men love to hear and believe bad reports about good people.
They were also hoping that the officials of Jerusalem, some of whom had already sided with Tobiah according to verse 17 and 18, would read this letter and remove Nehemiah from his position.
By discouraging the people and turning the leaders against Nehemiah, the work on the wall would come to an end.
A similar plan had succeeded earlier in the days of Ezra (Ezra 4), so Sanballat and Geshem had every expectation that it would work here as well.
This tactic is called the /ad baculum /strategy or the bully approach.
A less refined bully would simply say, “Do what I tell you or I’ll beat you up!” Nefarious governments use the same strategy to persecute the church.
The Roman government used it in the first century when it said that /no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name/ (Rev.
13:17).
Threats of economic impoverishment are just as bully-ish as are threats of torture and imprisonment.
But the book of Revelation shows in two particular cases — pagan Jerusalem and pagan Rome — how God deals with bullies who assault his church.
A more contemporary example comes from the 1970s.
Christian parents, concerned about the increase in drugs, sex, violence and a pervasive humanistic philosophy in the public schools, established Christian schools to train their children in the admonition of the gospel.
But the state of Georgia, for example, informed such parents that their schools were illegal and threatened to take away their children and impose a jail sentence if they did not close them immediately.
A few parents were imprisoned before Georgia recognized the right of Christian parents to choose appropriate education for their children.
But Nehemiah was not deceived.
Instead of giving in to Sanballat and Geshem’s attempted blackmail, he faced their charges head-on.
First, he flatly denied that there was any truth in them.
He said, /There are no such things done as thou sayest/ (v.
8).
Second, he said that Sanballat and company just made these things up in their own heads to intimidate him (v.
8).
Third, he gathered the people together and explained exactly what was going on.
He told them that the open letter that they may have seen or heard of was intended only to inspire fear so that they would stop working.
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