The Word Made Fresh
1When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and our other enemies learned that I had rebuilt the wall without a gap remaining (though at that time I had not set the doors in the gates), 2they sent me this message: “Come meet with us in one of the villages in the Ono plain.” But they were planning harm, 3so I replied, “I am involved in an important project and cannot come. The work will stop if I leave it to come down to you.” 4Four times they asked me to meet, and I replied in the same way each time. 5Then Sanballat sent his attendant to me with an open letter in his hand, 6which read, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem has also said as much, that you and the Jews are building the walls because you are planning to rebel. They are saying that you are planning to become their king. 7It has also been reported that you have arranged for prophets to announce in Jerusalem that there is now a king in Judah. This will be reported to the king. So, come now, let us talk together.”
8I replied to him, “None of these accusations are true. You’re making it all up.” 9It was obvious that they were trying to frighten us and make us cease doing the work. Strengthen my hands, O God!
10One day I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah son of Mehetabel who was confined to his house. He said, “Let us go together to the temple of God and close the doors. They are coming to kill you tonight!”
11“Why should I run away?” I said. “Should a man like me hide in the temple to save his life? I will not go in there!” Then I realized God had not sent him at all, but he had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat to trick me. 13They had hired him to intimidate me and cause me to sin in this way so they could give me a bad name. 14Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, and these things they have done. Also remember the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who tried to frighten me.
15The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, having taken fifty-two days in all. 16When our enemies heard it they were all afraid, and their self-esteem was damaged because they saw that the work had been done with the help of our God. 17Back then the nobles of Judah corresponded regularly with Tobiah. 18They had an agreement with him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah. 19They praised him highly to me and reported things I said to him, and Tobiah kept sending letters to intimidate me.
1-9: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem resume their efforts to thwart the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. They invite Nehemiah to a powwow, but he smells a rat and refuses to go. After four abortive attempts to lure him out of the city they threaten him with a dangerous accusation of treason, but Nehemiah stands firm and refuses to go out to meet with them.
10-14: Nehemiah is warned by one Shemaiah (who is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible) that his enemies are coming to kill him that very night and advises him to take refuge in the temple behind closed doors. Nehemiah sees that this is a plot to damage his integrity before the people: for a lay person like him to enter the temple in such a way is a violation of the holiness code which forbids all but the priests to enter the temple.
15-19: We learn that Tobiah is married into a prominent priestly family in Jerusalem and thus has allies among the nobles of Jerusalem who have been keeping him informed of Nehemiah’s plans and actions. The plot becomes much more complicated.
We’ve said it and seen it before, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Faith in God is the only protection the people have against people who just want to be in charge.