Now it came to pass when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had built the wall…
Well, to come to the history, when Nehemiah was coming to an end, and thought he had got through all his difficulties, Sanballat and the others came wheedling and coaxing, and they said, "Come, Nehemiah, let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of One." And they sent messengers four times to try, if they could, to prevent the thorough fulfilment and accomplishing of God's work and Nehemiah's design. Anything they would do, the enemies of Nehemiah, as our enemies also would do, to diminish our zeal for God and truth and righteousness. Thus we might paraphrase the arguments used, "Now, Nehemiah, you really are a most excellent man, and, though we say it ourselves, we too are excellent men; and if we can only just meet together in a quiet little spot, we shall soon settle everything. You see, Nehemiah, we have misunderstood one another — a very common thing among good people. You thought we were against you, but there never was a greater mistake. We were misrepresented. Come now, and let us shake hands; and when we have looked into each other's faces, we shall discover amidst apparent diversity of purpose that our hearts, our aims, were really one, that we are seeking the same object." After such fashion, we can imagine they thought to draw Nehemiah from his purpose. "But they thought to do me mischief," says Nehemiah. Nehemiah says, "Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" And you will find the more you buckle to God's work — that is to say, to strive to be first of all a sterling, righteous man in lip and life, in thought, in word, and deed — and the more you try to recover the blight and disaster in London or round about you, the more you will find opposition of different kinds, and perhaps to-day the secret, sly, and cunning opposition which is to be dreaded far more than the open, the overt. I wonder how many invitations you will get to parties this week? because I want you to work for God in this coming ten days' mission. Very likely never so many as this week. "We have a nice little party this week. Come down; don't be righteous overmuch. Don't spoil yourself, and take all the pleasure out of life." Let us make up our mind and heart to work, work, work. "Why should I let the work cease, and come down to you?" Let them answer that. Why should God's work cease while I leave it, and come down to you; so as to weaken my interest in God's work, and hinder my pace in the actual doing of God's work? Here is the test and touchstone. How do these things tell upon the work? Do they lower my temperature, and take away my energies from God's work? Then they are of the devil; and to see that is to be kept right. From Nehemiah's answer (ver. 3) we see the great blessing of having pure motives and clean hands. Oh, for this whole-heartedness in the cause of God! Nehemiah said, "I will not cease doing the work, for I am sure it is not for my own personal ends, it is not for my own aggrandisement, my own vainglory. There are no such things as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart." They shot sore at poor Nehemiah, when they said, "Nehemiah, it is your own glory that leads you on in this work, not zeal for God." And don't think Nehemiah did not feel this; that message came with a thump to him. And what preserved him? His integrity and innocence. He could lift up his voice, and say, "It is a lie; it is not true. Do as you like! Say what you like! I know whom I am serving. You may try all manner of means, but you will never shake me from this, that God has sent me here, given me this work to do; and in His name I give myself to it, with singleness of heart and effort." If God promote you, and make you prominent in His work, remember it is He who does it; and you must stay at your post, do your day's work and leave your reputation in the hands of the Lord. Then comes another temptation (ver. 10). I think this man, this Shemaiah, was a man who had a particular reputation for wisdom and prudence. "Oh, Nehemiah!" he would say, "now you are wrong. You will allow me to speak plainly with you. No one rejoiced more than I did when you came from Persia, and I rejoice to see what is going on at Jerusalem. But the position is far different from what you think. And I have been here longer than you; and I know the currents of thought and feeling, which you don't know anything about. And, believe me, that sometimes the roundabout road is the nearest; and sometimes to go straight tramping on, you know, is the way never to reach what you want. You are carrying things, they think, with too high a hand. But if you would take time, stop. and let things blow over a little, you will get R done far more easily. Believe me, Nehemiah, I know the temper of this people" (and here he spoke truly), "and I tell you they are against you, and are going to seek your life. Now let us meet together in the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come and slay thee." And Nehemiah said to him, "Should such a man as I flee?" He virtually stood up and said, "What, Nehemiah fleeing after all he has gone through I Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou savourest not of the things that be of God, but those that be of men." The same temptation came to the greater than Nehemiah, to the greatest Worker that ever God sent to work and to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem," even the Lord Jesus Christ. And as with the Master, so with the servant. The servant will be tempted and seduced in every way, that the work may cease, that the temperature, the heat of our zeal may go down, and the worse may appear the better reason, and carry us away from our post. Some men go to the temple, but to them it is simply a coward's castle. This is about all that God gets from some of us. We go sneaking into our churches on the Sunday, but not to do God's work. God pity you! You never stand up for Him out there on London wall. Exactly! Well, this invitation from Shemaiah to go into the temple was not good enough for Nehemiah — and he was about as devout a man as most of us. He was a man who feared God with all his heart, didn't he? But they were going to make the temple a coward's castle. Listen l I will bring it nearer to us. There is some young fellow here hard beset with his surroundings. You are set there on that commercial bit of the wall, to be true, to be honest, to unfurl the flag there, and to work with and for God there. And the battle is thickening, and coming to you in your business; the devil as an angel of light is trying to get you to leave your work and go and study for the ministry! Go into the temple to save your life. It was that kind of thing that was happening to the early Church. Men and women were going to leave the conflict and struggle, to run away into cloisters and convents, with their "dim, religious light." And so you would go and shut yourself up, and give yourself up to a life of contemplation, you say. It is a delusion; it won't do. Let us see how Nehemiah acted when asked to go into the temple. He would have been spoiled if he had yielded to that temptation. He no doubt loved the house of God, the worship of God as we do. We love all its regular services. How sweet it is to us to meet together, to hold communion, to join in our solemn feasts and hymns of love and praise! But that is on Sabbath days. And the end for which we meet is to strengthen us for the work of testifying for God and Christ. What is that? I think I see Nehemiah with his note-book in his hand after the work was all finished, and he is turning over and going through in his mind all that he had done and suffered. And he is thinking over it all, and wondering what made all the opposition to the building of these walls. "I never could rightly understand," he would say, "why that was such a tough job, and why there were continually things coming against my legs to trip me up from unexpected quarters. I felt some one was not fighting fair, that the enemy had got into our own camp and was fighting against me unfairly." And it was the mother-in-law that was the whole secret. They — families of God's people and their enemies — were married and intermarried with each other; and so they had their grappling-irons on the Israelitish vessel. And they pulled the vessel close by this intermarriage relationship, and they got on board, and could not be kept off. By this marriage relationship Tobiah had got in with the very chief of them, and so struck hard and constantly at Nehemiah. And it was through this marriage relationship they tried to get at Nehemiah and pull him down, and thus cause God's work to cease. Says Christ, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword; to set the father against the son, and the daughter against the mother, and the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law: and a man's foes shall be those of his own household." Indeed, you will ofttimes be fairly perplexed. You say, "I feel the devil at my elbow, and he is whispering in my ear with my own flesh and blood, and would overcome me unless I set watch with vigilance." This same thing is working to-day. Now, for example, I know a young fellow, he started with great vigour in the cause of God, he started with great vigour to build the wall, especially to build the total abstinence wall. But by and by he married a daughter of a wine merchant, and that brought the building to a stop. Yes. He says now he thinks there are a great many excellent people among the brewers. Was not that the kind of thing they said to Nehemiah? "Moreover, they reported Tobiah's good deeds," and they said this and that about him. Very innocent-looking things may seduce you and take the backbone out of you. Once upon a time your friends called you old-fashioned and Puritanical, But lately you got married, and that has brought you into close contact with a class of people with whom you had little or no dealings before. You had nothing in common. And to make a long story short you were at the theatre the other evening — with your mother-in-law. She has soon called you in off the wall! Everything is altered now. And instead of your going over to carry war into the enemy's camp, they have come unto you, and have overcome you; and you have purred like a pussy-cat where before you were bold and outspoken: and the reason is the marriage, the mother-in-law; and the marrow of principle is being thereby sucked out of some of you. You need to be spoken to, and I would that my words were like fire, and would burn. Oh I that some of you would come back to your earlier faith, enthusiasm in God's work, and the blood-heat of your early zeal. For now you are as namby-pamby as the devil could wish. "I used to think," says another, "very harshly of those who didn't hold my views. But now I have learnt to be charitable. I have discovered that many things which I thought were essential are only accidental." Softly, my friend: 'twas the mother. in-law made the discovery. You have gone off on that charitable dodge. Ah, God's Word has an eye in every direction. "Also they reported his good deeds before me," and as good as said, "We know Tobiah; and, Nehemiah, you are wrong about him altogether. He is an excellent man, and he gave five shillings to this, he gave ten shillings to that; and he is a wonderful fellow altogether. He is wonderfully like yourself?' Really it is such a pity that two such good men should not meet together and shake hands. But they never could, and Nehemiah kept his hands behind his back and said, "I choose my own company. I know the hands of these fellows too well."
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;)
WEB: Now it happened, when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah, and to Geshem the Arabian, and to the rest of our enemies, that I had built the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though even to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates;)