Not Fearful, but Faithful

Not Fearful, but Faithful

“Not Fearful, but Faithful”

(Nehemiah 6:1-14)

Series: REBUILD (Nehemiah)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Take your Bibles and join me in the Book of Nehemiah, chapter 6.

Nehemiah is about rebuilding, God’s rebuilding a wall and God’s rebuilding a people.  Nehemiah is the man who is leading the rebuilding of the walls around ancient Jerusalem.  He has organized a massive REBUILD project.  We’ve been reading in recent chapters about the opposition God’s people have been facing.  Their enemies have brought to them Derision, Discouragement, and Danger—and now in chapter 6 Deception and Distraction.

Adrian Rogers said, “When the people of God have a mind to work, the enemies of God have a mind to wreck.”  And Nehemiah tells us in his journal what else these enemies attempted to do in wrecking the REBUILD.  He calls them enemies there in verse 1.  Let’s read about what they’re up to now.

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

1 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 

2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.

3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.

5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. 

  • And we will pause right there.  “God, open Your Word to us and open us to Your Word, through Christ Jesus our Lord, amen.”  Please be seated.

If you Google the phrase, “The Power of Saying No,” you will find link after link after link about the many benefits of saying no.  Everyone seems to agree.  There are links to articles by Tony Robbins, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Entrepreneur and There’s a book titled, The Power of Saying No, and parenting articles as well—all esteeming the virtues of learning how to say this one powerful word: “No.” 

Somewhere, somehow, Nehemiah learned how to say no.  We just read five verses, five verses that reveal five times Nehemiah said no.  The enemies of the Israelites kept trying to get Nehemiah to come down off that all and they are desperate now.  They are trying to use fear against Nehemiah, but Nehemiah knew that “fear of God trumps fear of man.”  We’re going to expand upon that principle in today’s message: “Not Fearful, but Faithful.”  Look again at verse 1:

1 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 

God’s people are getting close to finishing the wall.  The only thing left is to hang the doors in the gates.  This causes Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, “and the rest of (the) enemies” to become desperate.  Once the doors are hung into the gates, the only way to stop them further would be to mount a siege against Israel which would be like going to war against fellow subjects of the Persian Empire.  As the gaps in the wall and the doors are going up, literally “their window of opportunity” is closing up.  Desperation sets in.  

2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.

So Sanballat and Geshem send a message to Nehemiah apparently through a messenger and the message is, “Come down from that wall and let us have a meeting out in the plain of Ono.”  This plain was located some 20 miles north of Jerusalem.  Apparently Sanballat and Geshem regard this plain a neutral territory of some sort.  Nehemiah knows though, he discerns, they mean evil.  “But they thought to do me harm.”  So Nehemiah says, “Oh, no!   I’m not going to Ono!”

You think about it, to go out to the plain of Ono would have taken a day’s journey there and back.  No telling how long the meeting would be.  It was a hostile area fraught with danger and the work on the wall would have lacked his leadership.  Productivity would slow.  Incidentally, I saw a news story this week that said the NCAA March Madness is estimated to cost employers $13.3 Billion dollars in lost productivity.  13 billion!  

Well, to Nehemiah the entire suggestion to come down from that wall sounded like a trap.  He smelled a rat.  Nehemiah said, last part of verse 2, “But they thought do do me harm.”  He could discern that they didn’t really want to meet for Nehemiah’s good.

3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

Nehemiah follows protocol and sends a message back to Sanballat.  Sanballat is, after all, the Governor of Samaria, so Nehemiah responds in proper form.  And again he says, in essence, “Oh no, I’m not going to Ono!”  More specifically in verse 3: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”

Funny how things stick in your mind.  Long before I knew who Nehemiah was I remember when I was a parole officer in Georgia years ago before I was in the ministry.  And the parole board was going through changes.  And there was a veteran employee was over our entire region, a high position of leadership.  And someone asked him if he was stressed by the changes and maybe thinking about early retirement to get out of it all.  And he said, “You know I’ve been reading in the Bible where a man is leading a bunch of people to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem and these guys keep coming to him trying to get him to come down off the wall.”  And he said, “I’m not going to come down.  I’m going to hang in here.”  And at that time I didn’t know Nehemiah from Hiawatha, but that always stuck in my mind.  Faithfulness to the task at hand.  Faithful to the job.

“I am doing a great work and I can’t come down.”  I am committed.  I won’t be bothered by distractions from the task at hand.  “Why should the work cease and I come down to you?”

This is the cry of the single mom and young mothers a thousand times a day!  The kiddos come in to the kitchen, “Can I have a…Could you get me…?”  “I am doing a great work and I can’t come down!!”  Nehemiah says no.  

4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.

No!  “I am doing a great work and I can’t come down.”  Chuck Swindoll says, “One of the marks of maturity is the ability to say no without explanation.  Committed to the task.  Faithful.

5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. 

Having failed to distract Nehemiah through face to face messengers, Sanballat seeks to bring public pressure upon Nehemiah, hoping all the Jews will hear or read this letter.  It’s a letter with a false accusation.  By the way, public shaming and bullying has been around a long time, hasn’t it?  The contents of the letter in verses 6 and 7:

6 In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. 

7 And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.

This was a page out of the old playbook.  Some tried to do the same thing years earlier in Ezra chapter 4.  This open letter charged that Nehemiah was secretly leading a rebellion and scheming to be the new king in town, appointing prophets to say, “There is a king in Judah!”  In other words, “Forget about King Artaxerxes, follow King Nehemiah!”    It wasn’t true at all.  It was all a sham, a ploy, self-generated rumors to stop the work.  

By the way, have you ever had this happen to you?  Someone approaches you with a rumor.  You note that in verse 6.  They say, “It is reported…”  There’s no source.  Fake news!  Just, “People are saying…”  I mean, “Geshem is mentioned,” but he can’t be trusted.  But note the lumping together of Geshem with “the nations.”  No names of anyone else.  Just, “It is reported among the nations.”

No source!  Like, “I’m not the only one.  A lot of other people agree with me!”  False charges.  Don’t be a party to gossip.  Don’t spread it and don’t listen to it.  

Proverbs 6 lists seven things “God Hates.”  And of the seven things that God hates, three concern the way we use our tongues (Proverbs 6:16-19).The very last one, Proverbs 6:19, God hates “one who sows discord among brethren.”

Someone approaches you to gossip about another person, immediately tell them you will not listen.  If they have a gripe with the other person tell them to do what Jesus commands in Matthew 18, go to that person privately. Period.

Before we move on, it’s hard not to note the irony of the false charge here from the enemies: “You have appointed prophets to proclaim, ‘There is a king in Judah!’”  Nehemiah was not king, Nehemiah had no designs to become king, but Nehemiah did have a messianic hope!  Nehemiah did look forward to the coming one day of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6).

In God’s covenant with David, He promised that from David’s line a king would be born who whose throne God would establish forever (2 Samuel 7:12-17).  The irony of these words coming out of Sanballat’s mouth!  In his lies, Sanballat spoke more truth than he ever could have imagined.

8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

However much Nehemiah anticipated the Messianic King, Nehemiah was loyal to King Artaxerxes.  Some of you work for an unbelieving supervisor.  Do they sense your loyalty?  Regard you as a “real” Christian, putting in an honest day’s work each day?  Don’t be among the 75 million Americans slowing productivity during March Madness!

9 For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

Nehemiah trusts God to do the work.  He prays another “arrow prayer” there: “Strengthen my hands.”  Nehemiah leans on the providence of God, the God who had turned the heart of King Artaxerxes such that he would be favorable to Nehemiah’s plan.  Nehemiah trusts God to work in such a way as to turn the enemies’ plans upon themselves!  Nehemiah says, “they all were trying to make us afraid,” they were trying to bring fear upon God’s people to dishearten them.  And God turns it upon themselves.  You’ll note that next week when you read there about the wall being finished, verse 16: “And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by God.”  They had become the very thing they wanted Nehemiah to become: fearful!  Nehemiah is not fearful, but faithful.  

One more desperate attempt on the part of those trying to stop Nehemiah, verse 10:


10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”

Apparently this guy, Shemaiah, was confined to his house.  That’s not as clear in the New King James Version where it refers to him as “a secret informer” but that seems to be the idea.  He is seems to be connected to the temple somehow he asks Nehemiah to visit him in his home and Nehemiah goes to see him—no doubt going very cautiously.  

Shemaiah says, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and close the doors.”  Then these words that probably were spoken in a prophetic way, like a poetic couplet, the last phrase there in verse 10: “For they are coming to kill you; they are coming to kill by night!”  Perhaps he was suggesting that he could foresee a bunch of bad guys surrounding Jerusalem so Nehemiah could take refuge in the temple.  Now Nehemiah can tell something isn’t right here.  

11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” 

He’s like, “What am I, a coward?!”  This phrase may be translated: “And what man such as I could go into the temple and live?”  In other words, “I’m not a priest!  I don’t belong in the temple!”  

You may remember what happened to a guy named Uzziah who went into the temple and tried to do priestly things.  King Uzziah?  Remember him?  Went into the temple and burned incense and God gave him leprosy.  You can read about it in 2 Chronicles 26 (see also Numbers 18:7).

Nehemiah knew his Scripture.  He knew that non-priests were not allowed inside the temple.  He also knew that if a person prophesied that a non-priest go into the temple, then that person must be a false prophet.  

12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 

This guy Shemaiah is a fake, an imposter!  It’s a false prophecy.  He’s foretelling things that are not so!  t’s more fake news!

13 For this reason he was hired (hired like a “hit man!”), that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me.

Nehemiah discerns that they had hoped to instill fear.  He knows that fear of God trumps fear of man.  He is not fearful, but faithful.  To give in, to “be afraid and act that way” would be to “sin” and bring some kind of “evil report” bringing “reproach” against himself and the Lord.  In essence, to be afraid would be the very opposite of having faith.  His actions would dispirit the others and bring shame upon the name of the Lord.  Again, Nehemiah is not fearful, but faithful.  So Nehemiah prays again:

14 My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.

We learn in passing that there are a bunch of other people working against Nehemiah.  Not just this fella named Shemaiah but a host of others, someone named “the prophetess Noadiah” and then Nehemiah adds, “and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.”  Who knows how many?!  God’s will often includes opposition.  Don’t assume opposition means you’re out of God’s will.  God’s will often includes opposition.

So Nehemiah prays there in verse 14.  You know, Nehemiah did not have a wife or family to go home to at the end of a long hard day.  But he had God!  He had close, communion with God.  Some of you are alone.  Others of you are hoping to fall in love and get married.  Maybe you will.  Maybe not.  In any case, know that the best relationship you have is the relationship you have with God. Deep fellowship!

Nehemiah believes in a day of reckoning, a judgment to come.  A settling of all accounts.  He trusts God to do the right thing with his enemies.  Nehemiah leaves it all in God’s hands, just like our Lord in 1 Peter 2:23, “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

**Questions to Answer:

1) Who are the “Sanballats” trying to hinder you?  

There are some who delight in construction and some who delight in destruction.  

Always remember that our enemy, the devil, will do all he can to hinder you.  He’ll do all he can to get you to “come down from the wall” of your work for the Lord.  He’ll try to instill fear in your life.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Beware of the Sanballats who try to hinder your work of sharing the gospel this week, inviting a neighbor to our special Easter services, giving away that gift bag you’re picking up today, walking in holiness, living for Jesus in purity and obedience.

2) How does your knowledge of the Bible prepare you for deception?

Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was not sent from God because Nehemiah knew his Bible.  He knew the Scriptures warned against going into the temple when you’re not a priest.  And he knew the Scriptures warned against false prophets so he was not deceived by the enemy to compromise his faith.  

Jesus, Paul, and John all promised that false prophets would come (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-31; 1 John 4:1).  There are false prophets in every age.  We need to know the Word to counter the false teachings that may hinder us and deceive us.

Someone gives you advice that goes against the Bible, don’t listen to it!  That person is a Shemaiah who does not speak for God.  But the only way you can know whether someone is giving counsel that goes against the Bible is to know—what?—to know the Bible!

God will guide you if you read His Word.  Want to know God’s will for your life?  75% of God’s will for your life is already revealed to you in the Bible.  Read it daily.  

How’s your DQ coming along?  Your Daily Quiet?  You may need to adjust in your schedule this week to spend time daily with the Lord and His Word.

3) What distractions are keeping you from God’s work and a growing relationship with Jesus Christ? How will you respond to these distractions? 

Nehemiah was “doing a great work,” not great in the eyes of the world.  The world would have valued Nehemiah’s role as the Persian King’s cupbearer as far more significant, a far greater work.  Nehemiah’s work was greater because it involved more than merely moving stone and mortar.  He was not just building a wall, he was building for the name of the Lord, using his gifts and talents in service to the Lord, building the kingdom of God.  You are doing a great work in your living for the Lord.  Nehemiah’s work would live on long after he was gone.    

And you—the work you do this week, the work for the Lord is a great work, sharing the gospel, encouraging a brother or sister in Christ, praying with a hurting friend, giving financially through your tithe to the church, giving through your a special gift to the homeless and downtrodden you meet along Highway 41.  That’s a great work.

You see it’s always about God’s name.  God’s name is at stake each week in our lives.  We bear the name of Christ.  We want to live in such a way as we adorn the gospel, that people are attracted to Christ because of our love for them.  

Beware the enemy of distraction!  Beware the multitude of Sanballats, Tobiahs, and Geshems that would distract you from the work in order somehow to bring shame upon the name of Christ.  Distractions are everywhere.  

Someone tempts you to follow them into sin you respond, “I’m doing a great work and cannot come down. (Nehemiah 6:3).”

Someone tries to gossip with you about another Christian or tries to pull you into their hatred for another church member.  You say, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?  In fact, Jesus says you should go talk to your brother or sister alone in private, not talk to me.  So go, I’ll be in prayer as you go right now to talk to her.”

When past failures distract you from your serving the Lord today, don’t quit.  Some of you may say, “Well, I goofed up you see.  Nehemiah said, “O No,” but I said, “O Yes.”  I went down “to the plain of Ono” and made a mess of my life.  Well, be encouraged!  You’re not alone!  We’ve all goofed up and have gone down to Ono a time or two.  Listen: it’s never too late for a new beginning.  Turn to the Lord.  Trust in Him.

And when the devil whispers in your ear that you’ll never make it, that you’re all washed up, that forgiveness applies to everyone else except you, you go to Jesus and you stand on the solid rock of Christ!  You tell the devil, “My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!”  And go forward not fearful, but faithful.

  • Let’s pray.  Would you stand for prayer?

Heads bowed and eyes closed.  “I’m doing a great work and can’t come down.”  You know, the greatest work ever done is the work Jesus did for us.  He lived a perfect life fulfilling all the laws we broke.  He died for us as the perfect, spotless sacrifice to atone for our sins.  His enemies railed against Him as He hung on the cross.  Christ’s commitment to die on the cross conveyed: “I’m doing a great work and can’t come down.”  And if we will but confess that we are sinners, repent and turn from our sin and turn to Him, we can have a new beginning.  Even now.  Right now.  Turn from sin and turn to Him.  

And join with Him in the work of building the kingdom.  We join Him in a work far greater than building a wall around an ancient city lying in ruins.  We join Him in building up the church, edifying and strengthening our brothers and sister, growing up, becoming more like Jesus and reaching new people for Jesus.   

“God, give us grace to turn to you, to stand upon you.  On Christ, the solid rock.  For Jesus’ sake we pray, amen.”

RESPONSE: The Solid Rock

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