Nehemiah 6 chronicles the account of men who attempted to hinder the work of God among His people. The background for Nehemiah’s book is in the book of Ezra the scribe. The Jews have been removed from their land and taken captive by the Babylonian conqueror. During this period Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel was wrested from them due to their sin and waywardness. In the book of Ezra, Cyrus, the Persian monarch, issued a decree that allowed them to return to their homeland. As a result of this proclamation the way was opened up for the Jews of the Babylonian captivity to return and rebuild the temple. In Nehemiah 2:7-9, the letter written by Artaxerxes recognized and added to the decree of Cyrus. It granted to the returning Jews the right to resume work on the gates of the palace and the wall of the city. This was significant as it gave official sanction to their desire not only to worship in the land, but also to dwell there in peace and safety. Nehemiah 2:8 points us to the source of all the good that resulted from the earnest request of Nehemiah to Artaxerxes: “and the king granted me according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
The blessing of God and goodwill of the Medo-Persian throne were not however shared by all the citizens of Artaxerxes’ realm. “And when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem found out Nehemiah’s intent it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (Neh 2:10, 19). Nehemiah’s task seemed impossible. Not only was there the opposition of the unholy trio just mentioned, but there was the state of the city itself. “I went out by night, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire” (2:13). Nehemiah lifted his eyes above and beyond that which surrounded him and up to the One whose supply never fails, and encouraged, not only himself, but also others in the Lord. “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me.” And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” (2:18). Fortified once again, he continued the work, but not without further interference from Sanballat. When Sanballat and friends heard that the wall was being rebuilt, they were very wroth and all of them conspired together to come to war against Jerusalem, and to do it mischief (4:1, 2). No doubt Sanballat and his men were formidable foes, and the people of God under the direction of Nehemiah were no match militarily for these enemies. Their only hope was in the living God, and to Him they resorted again. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised” (4:4), and He to whom we repair in every trial and weakness did not fail to respond; proving once again that we can cast our care upon Him, “for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7); it is equally true that, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Though unsuccessful throughout at derailing the work of the Lord, the enemies were persistent. So while chapter six opens with the near completion of the wall of the city, it also begins a new chapter in the determined efforts on the part of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem to disrupt the work of God. Their first step was to attempt to distract Nehemiah and the other Jews. “Let us meet together.” Nehemiah’s thoughts provide instructive commentary on the motives behind their invitation. “But they thought to do me mischief.” He refused to yield to their distraction, and though they sent to him four times, Nehemiah’s answer never changed. It was always, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down, why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you?” He was, as Paul later wrote, “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor 15:58). We can all become easily discouraged if we don’t see immediate success as a result of our efforts in the gospel, encouragement of other believers, or whatever good to which we put our hands. Let us remember the example of Nehemiah and his coworkers who stood fast in the Lord, and keep in memory that our “labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
When their attempts at distraction proved to be unsuccessful, the enemies turned to the next weapon in their arsenal: deceit. Sanballat accused Nehemiah of political intrigue and the desire to be king himself. Nehemiah’s pointed rebuke took the wind out of Sanballat’s sails, “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” By the clarity of his conscience and the accuracy of his answer, Nehemiah is able to deflect this second arrow from the enemy’s bow. In spite of all the determined efforts to halt the work, it continued on. However, in vs. 9 the Jews come face to face with the most powerful dart yet hurled by Sanballat and friends. That enemy is fear, specifically the fear of failure. We read, “For they made us all afraid, saying, their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done.” The fear of failure can immobilize; it can freeze us in our tracks. How did Nehemiah respond? In order to overcome this obstacle he resorted to the most familiar, least exercised, most profitable, and greatest prescription against fear and discouragement known to the Lord’s dear people: he brought it to the Lord in prayer. “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” It would be well if we, likewise, could learn to come on a daily basis to the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16).
What were the results of all their dependence on God, faithful service, and patient labor? “So the wall was finished in the 25th day of the month Elul,” causing even the enemies of God to proclaim, “that this work was wrought of God.” Thank God that in 2003 His resources have not been depleted in the slightest. Though the times may be darkening, the path of the just is shining ever more brightly (Prov 14:18).