Lesson 20 | Sabbath, 16 May 2020
“Every device that the prince of darkness can suggest will be employed to in- duce God’s servants to form a confederacy with the agents of Satan. Repeated solicitations will come to call them from duty; but, like Nehemiah, they should stead- fastly reply, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.’ God’s workers may safely keep on with their work, letting their efforts refute the falsehoods that malice may coin for their injury. Like the builders on the walls of Jerusalem they must refuse to be diverted from their work by threats or mockery or falsehood. Not for one moment are they to relax their watchfulness or vigilance, for enemies are continually on their track. Ever they must make their prayer to God ‘and set a watch against them day and night.’ Nehemiah 4:9.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 659.
Implied benefits of compromise equal danger
- When the walls were completely finished, what did Nehemiah’s enemies invite him to do? Having been unable to stop the work so far, what did they plan to accomplish with a different strategy?
Nehemiah 6:1, 2 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;) 2That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.
“Sanballat and his confederates dared not make open war upon the Jews; but with increasing malice they continued their secret efforts to discourage, perplex, and injure them. The wall about Jerusalem was rapidly approaching completion. When it should be finished and its gates set up, these enemies of Israel could not hope to force an entrance into the city. They were the more eager, therefore, to stop the work without further delay. At last they devised a plan by which they hoped to draw Nehemiah from his station, and while they had him in their power, to kill or imprison him.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 653.
- What did Nehemiah reply regarding this trap? What did the enemies’ persistent meddling show?
Nehemiah 6:3, 4 And I sent messengers unto them, saying, 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? 4Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.
“Pretending to desire a compromise of the opposing parties, they sought a conference with Nehemiah, and invited him to meet them in a village on the plain of Ono. But enlightened by the Holy Spirit as to their real purpose, he refused. ‘I sent messengers unto them,’ he writes, ‘saying, 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?’ But the tempters were persistent. Four times they sent a message of sim- ilar import, and each time they received the same answer.” –Prophets and Kings, pp. 653, 654.
Increasing malice requires divine wisdom and strength
- What intimidating insinuations in an open letter to Nehemiah did the enemy try to use to cause difficulties? How did Nehemiah refute the lies?
Nehemiah 6:5-8 Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; 6Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. 7And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together. 8Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.
“Finding this scheme unsuccessful, they resorted to a more daring stratagem. Sanballat sent Nehemiah a messenger bearing an open letter….
“Had the reports mentioned been actually circulated, there would have been cause for apprehension; for they would soon have been carried to the king, whom a slight suspicion might provoke to the severest measures. But Nehemiah was con- vinced that the letter was wholly false, written to arouse his fears and draw him into a snare. This conclusion was strengthened by the fact that the letter was sent open, evidently that the people might read the contents, and become alarmed and intimidated.
“He promptly returned the answer. ‘There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.’ Nehemiah was not ig- norant of Satan’s devices. He knew that these attempts were made in order to weaken the hands of the builders and thus frustrate their efforts.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 654.
- While his enemies were trying in every way to discourage and terrify Nehemiah, from whom did he receive wisdom and support? What suggesion did Shemaiah make, supposedly for the purpose of saving Nehemiah’s life?
Nehemiah 6:9, 10 For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. 10Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
“Sanballat and his companions hired men who professed to be the friends of Nehemiah, to give him evil counsel as the word of the Lord. The chief one engaged in this iniquitous work was Shemaiah, a man previously held in good repute by Nehemiah. This man shut himself up in a chamber near the sanctuary as if fearing that his life was in danger. The temple was at this time protected by walls and gates, but the gates of the city were not yet set up. Professing great concern for Nehemiah’s safety, Shemaiah advised him to seek shelter in the temple….
“Had Nehemiah followed this treacherous counsel, he would have sacrificed his faith in God, and in the eyes of the people he would have appeared cowardly and contemptible…. That one unwise move on the part of Nehemiah would have been a virtual surrender of all that had been gained.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 655.
- Through divine providence, what did Nehemiah discover about the intentions of the man who advised him to flee and hide? Who tried to frighten this brave servant of the Lord, who was firmly determined to complete Heaven’s work?
Nehemiah 6:11-14 And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. 12And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me. 14My God, think thou upon Tobiah and San- ballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
“The infamous counsel given by Shemaiah was seconded by more than one man of high reputation, who, while professing to be Nehemiah’s friends, were secretly in league with his enemies. But it was to no avail that they laid their snare. Nehemiah’s fearless answer was: ‘Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.’” – Prophets and Kings, p. 656.
Victory–the work completed
- Meanwhile, what did the builders accomplish in record time? Whose wonderful hand guided and strengthened them in completing the work?
Nehemiah 6:15, 16 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. 16And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.
“Notwithstanding the plots of enemies, open and secret, the work of building went steadily forward, and in less than two months from the time of Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem the city was girded with its defenses and the builders could walk upon the walls and look down upon their defeated and astonished foes. ‘When all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things,’ Nehemiah writes, ‘they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.’” –Prophets and Kings, p. 657.
- Even among whom were there people who sided with the enemy? In such a complicated situation of intrigue, to whom did Nehemiah and the build- ers look for hope, courage, wisdom, and strength to continue to the end?
Nehemiah 6:17-19 Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. 18For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.
Psalm 37:39, 40 But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble. 40And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
“Yet even this evidence of the Lord’s controlling hand was not sufficient to restrain discontent, rebellion, and treachery among the Israelites…. Here are seen the evil results of intermarriage with idolaters. A family of Judah had become connected with the enemies of God, and the relation had proved a snare. Many others had done the same. These, like the mixed multitude that came up with Israel from Egypt, were a source of constant trouble. They were not wholehearted in His ser- vice; and when God’s work demanded a sacrifice, they were ready to violate their solemn oath of cooperation and support….
“The nobles of Judah who had become entangled in idolatrous marriages, and who had held traitorous correspondence with Tobiah and taken oath to serve him, now represented him as a man of ability and foresight, an alliance with whom would be greatly to the advantage of the Jews. At the same time they betrayed to him Nehemiah’s plans and movements. Thus the work of God’s people was laid open to the attacks of their enemies, and opportunity was given to misconstrue Nehemiah’s words and acts, and to hinder his work.” –Prophets and Kings, pp. 657, 658.
For additional study
“When the poor and oppressed had appealed to Nehemiah for redress of their wrongs, he had stood boldly in their defense and had caused the wrongdoers to remove the reproach that rested on them. But the authority that he had exercised in behalf of his downtrodden countrymen he did not now exercise in his own be- half. His efforts had been met by some with ingratitude and treachery….
“Satan’s assaults have ever been directed against those who have sought to advance the work and cause of God. Though often baffled, he as often renews his attacks with fresh vigor, using means hitherto untried. But it is his secret working through those who avow themselves the friends of God’s work, that is most to be feared. Open opposition may be fierce and cruel, but it is fraught with far less peril to God’s cause than is the secret enmity of those who, while professing to serve God, are at heart the servants of Satan.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 658.