v1 Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the *Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had finished the wall. There were no gaps in it, but I had not yet put the doors in the gates.
v2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message, ‘Let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain called Ono.’
But they were plotting to hurt me. v3 So I sent some men to say to them, ‘I am doing an important task. I cannot go down there. The work should not stop, so that I can go down to meet you.’ v4 Sanballat and the men who were with him sent me the same message 4 times. Each time I gave them the same answer.
Nehemiah had solved the problem that caused the poor people to complain. The people had built the wall, but they had not finished the gates. But the enemies of the people did not give up. They still tried to stop the work.
Sanballat and his friends sent messages to Nehemiah. They invited him to meet them. They pretended that they wanted to make peace with the *Jews. If that had been the truth, then it would have been good news for the *Jews. But Sanballat and his friends did not really want to make peace with the *Jews. Instead, they wanted to attack Nehemiah. Perhaps if they hurt him, he would be unable to continue to lead the people. Although the people had built the wall, they still needed Nehemiah to lead them. He would help them to become a proper nation again.
Nehemiah knew that his enemies were telling lies. He found out that they wanted to hurt him. He also knew that it was not wise for him to go to the meeting with his enemies. Ono was near to the land of his enemies, so it was a dangerous place. He would have to walk for a day to get there. After the meeting, he would have to walk for another day to get back to Jerusalem. While he travelled, he would not be able to lead the people. And the work was too important to permit any delay. Nehemiah knew that it was essential to finish the work on the gates of the city. So Nehemiah told his enemies that he was too busy to meet them. They sent the same message 4 times and he gave them the same answer.
v5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me again. This was the 5th time that he came with the same message. The servant was carrying a letter in his hand. Sanballat had not closed the letter. v6 The letter said, ‘There is a report that you and the *Jews are plotting a revolution. That is why you are building the wall. This report is well-known in the nations round you. And Geshem says that it is true. People are also saying that you want to become the *Jews’ king. v7 They say that you have appointed *prophets. And these *prophets will declare the news about you in Jerusalem. These *prophets intend to say, “There is a king in *Judah.” People will tell the king about this. So come and let us discuss this.’
v8 I sent this reply to Sanballat, ‘What you are saying is not true. You are making it all up.’
v9 Sanballat and the men with him were all trying to frighten us. They thought, ‘The *Jews will be so afraid that they will stop the work. Then they will be unable to complete their task.’
But I prayed to God, ‘Make me strong.’
Sanballat sent another message to Nehemiah. It was a letter, but Sanballat did not close it. It was open so that anyone could read it. Sanballat did not want this letter to be secret. He wanted all the people to know what he had written. In the letter, he pretended to be the friend of Nehemiah, but again Sanballat told lies. He said that some people had accused Nehemiah. They had said that the *Jews were plotting a revolution against the king. Sanballat probably invented this story. Nehemiah was always very loyal to the king. Nobody thought that Nehemiah would stop obeying the king. But Sanballat wanted the *Jews to be afraid. Perhaps Nehemiah himself might worry about the king’s reaction to such a report. The *Jews might delay in order to work out what to do. If there was a pause, Nehemiah’s workmen might have to return home. The wall was almost complete. But without gates, there would still be no security for the people who lived in the city.
Of course, Nehemiah knew that Sanballat’s words were lies. Nehemiah had no such plans. He knew that Sanballat was trying to frighten the people and to stop the work. Again Nehemiah prayed and he asked God to make him strong.
v10 One day I went to Shemaiah’s house. He was the son of Delaiah and was the grandson of Mehetabel. Shemaiah had shut his door and he would not go out of his house. He said, ‘Let us meet in God’s house, in the inner *temple. Let us close the *temple’s doors. Men are coming to kill you. They are coming by night to kill you.’
v11 But I said, ‘A man like me should not run away! I cannot go into the *temple to save my life. I will not go!’
v12 I realised that God had not sent Shemaiah. Shemaiah had pretended to give me a message from God because Tobiah and Sanballat had paid him. v13 They paid him in order to frighten me. They wanted to make me do what was wrong. Then Tobiah and Sanballat could make people think bad things about me. They could make me ashamed.
One day Nehemiah went to visit Shemaiah. Shemaiah may have been a priest (Ezra 2:60; Nehemiah 10:8). We do not know why Nehemiah visited him. Perhaps Nehemiah wanted Shemaiah to pray with him. Nehemiah thought that he could trust Shemaiah.
It seems that Shemaiah was a *prophet (see verses 12 and 14). Perhaps Nehemiah was hoping that Shemaiah would give him (Nehemiah) a message from God. And Shemaiah did pretend that he had a message from God. But in fact, this message really came from Nehemiah’s enemies.
Shemaiah would not go out of his house, but he offered to go to the *temple with Nehemiah. Shemaiah pretended that he wanted to protect Nehemiah. Shemaiah told Nehemiah that men were coming to kill Nehemiah. But the *temple was a strong building. If they closed the *temple doors, Nehemiah would be safe inside.
Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had given him bad advice. God’s law said that only priests could enter the inner *temple. Nehemiah was not a priest, so he could not go there. Such an action would be a *sin.
Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had received money from Tobiah and Sanballat. They wanted Nehemiah not to obey God’s commands. Then they would be able to accuse Nehemiah. And the people would not continue to respect him.
Nehemiah refused to do what Shemaiah advised. But Shemaiah was not the only *prophet who tried to frighten Nehemiah. The *prophets should have supported God’s work. But instead, like Balaam (Numbers chapter 22), they accepted money to oppose God’s work.
v14 I prayed, ‘God, you know the bad things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And you know about Noadiah, the female *prophet, and the other *prophets who have tried to frighten me.’
Again, Nehemiah prayed to God for help. We can see from his prayer that he had other enemies as well as Tobiah and Sanballat. Some of the *prophets were trying to frighten him also. But Nehemiah trusted God. Nehemiah could not stop what his enemies were doing. But God could stop them. Nehemiah’s enemies were also God’s enemies and the enemies of the *Jews. So Nehemiah asked God to deal with all the enemies.
v15 We finished the wall on the 25th day of the month called Elul. It took 52 days to rebuild the wall. v16 Our enemies heard that we had finished. All the nations round us became afraid, and they felt less important. They realised that God had done the work.
Although their enemies tried to stop the work, the people built the walls of Jerusalem in just 52 days. The people had worked very hard.
Nehemiah always knew that the *Jews were doing God’s work. Now even the enemies of the *Jews knew that God had helped the people to build the walls. So the nations round *Judah became afraid of the *Jews. The God of the *Jews is the only real God. But the other nations served false gods. False gods are not real gods, so they have no power. But God is powerful.
v17 During the time while we were working on the wall, the chief men of *Judah sent many letters to Tobiah. And Tobiah replied many times to them. v18 The chief men sent letters to Tobiah because many of them had promised to be loyal to him. This was because Tobiah was married to Shecaniah’s daughter. Shecaniah was the son of Arah. Also Jehohanan, Tobiah’s son, had married Meshullam’s daughter. Meshullam was the son of Berekiah. v19 Those chief men also told me about good things that Tobiah did. Also they told Tobiah what I replied to them. And Tobiah sent letters in order to scare me.
The *Jews had many enemies while they were building the wall. But even some of the chief men in *Judah were helping their enemies. Some of these chief men had promised to be loyal to Tobiah.
Tobiah and his son had both married women from *Judah. Tobiah was also a relative of Eliashib the priest (Nehemiah 13:4). God had told the *Jews not to marry foreigners, but many *Jews did not obey him.
In the past, when *Jews married foreign wives, these wives tempted them to *worship false gods. This even happened to King Solomon although he was a very wise man (1 Kings 11:1-8). God had sent the *Jews into *exile because they *worshipped false gods. Now God had brought the *Jews back from *exile to *Judah, but many *Jews were still not obeying his commands. When Ezra returned to *Judah, many leaders of the *Jews married foreign women (Ezra chapters 9 and 10). This made Ezra very sad and angry.
Now, while Nehemiah was the ruler, the leaders of the *Jews were again marrying foreign wives. Also, they were allowing their daughters to marry foreign men. These leaders were not loyal to Nehemiah and their own people. Instead, they were loyal to Tobiah, because of their foreign wives. They believed Tobiah’s lies. And they told Nehemiah about the good things that Tobiah did. They also told Tobiah what Nehemiah said to them. This probably helped Tobiah as he tried to frighten Nehemiah.
The devil always opposes God’s work. But God wanted the *Jews to become a nation again. He had a plan to save the world by means of a *Jew. That *Jew was Jesus Christ.
People were willing to work with the devil in order to oppose God’s work. That is very sad. The devil sent enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah to the *Jews from the nations near them. The devil also caused trouble among the *Jews themselves. And the devil used the *Jews who had become Tobiah’s relatives. Then those *Jews believed Tobiah’s lies. And they told him what Nehemiah was saying. But God helped Nehemiah and the *Jews who worked with him. And so they finished the construction of the wall.