NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 6
Opposition to Rebuilding Continues
– When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that no gaps remained (although at that time I had not installed the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent me the following message: “Come, let’s meet together at Kephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to harm me.
– On Kephirim, ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Though not certain, this may be the village of Kafr Ana, just southeast of Jaffa. Lod (Lydda), Hadid, and Ono (mentioned in Ezra 2:33; Neh 7:37) formed a Jewish district surrounded by Samaritans and Philistines.”
– ESV Study Bible adds, “With the wall almost complete, Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and the rest of our enemies…turn in desperation to trickery, knowing that they cannot overcome the Jews by direct assault…Nehemiah sees it as a conspiracy against him, since he knows they want to frustrate his work.”
– So I sent messengers to them with the following reply, “I am engaged in an important work and unable to come down. Why should the work halt while I leave it and come down to you?” They sent me the same message four times, and each time I gave them the same answer.
– ESV Study Bible remarks, “Nehemiah would not divert time and effort from the Lord’s work for discussions with his enemies that he knew would be fruitless at best and probably dangerous to him as well. Nehemiah follows diplomatic protocol in exchange of letters. Sanballat was, after all, the governor of Samaria, and relations with him would ultimately be important.”
– The fifth time, Sanballat sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand, and this is what it said: “There is rumor among the surrounding nations, and Geshem says it is true, that you and the Jews intend to revolt, and that is why you’re rebuilding this wall. Furthermore, according to these rumors, you are to become their king, and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ These rumors will get back to the king. So come, let’s talk about this.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible explains, “A written letter may have seemed more official. Letters were usually written on papyrus scrolls, rolled up, and tied with a string secured by a clay seal; by sending it openly, Sanballat violated the laws of courtesy, clearly intending to intimidate Nehemiah.”
– ESV Study Bible adds, “…it’s public nature intended to exert extra pressure on Nehemiah, perhaps by creating fear within his own community that his actions could lead to disaster. In the letter, Sanballat takes up the old allegation of rebellion against Persia (see Era 4:12-13) and claims to have testimony to it among the nations…i.e., in the surrounding Persian provinces…If this charge were true [i.e., you wish to become their king] it would certainly inflame the Persians. And there was truth, of course, in the Jewish expectation of a coming Davidic king, based on prophetic promises (see Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5-6). A century earlier, Zerubbabel may have excited messianic expectations…Sanballat portrays himself as loyal to Persia and also as the Jews’ friend, offering to defuse the danger posed by these alleged rumors…This is, of course, a veiled threat.”
– I sent him this reply: “We are not engaged in these activities you are describing. You are inventing them in your own mind.”
– They were all trying to intimidate us, thinking, “They will become discouraged in the work, and it will never be finished.” But I continued the work with even greater determination.
– NET Bible points out, “The statement ‘So now, strengthen my hands’ is frequently understood as an implied prayer, but is taken differently by NAB (‘But instead, I now redoubled my efforts’).”
– Then I went to Shemaiah’s house, his father was Delaiah and his grandfather was Mehetabel. Shemaiah was confined to his home. He said, “Let’s meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and close the temple doors because men are coming to kill you. They will surely come to kill you at night.”
– ESV Study Bible writes, “Shemaiah is not otherwise known, but may have been a priest, which explains his proposal for meeting in the temple (perhaps a second meeting from the one mentioned here). This possible translation of a difficult Hebrew word [i.e., confined to his home] tries to explain why Nehemiah went to this man’s house. It is not clear why he had been confined to his home…This ‘warning’ suggests a plot by Sanballat and other enemies. Shemaiah proposes that Nehemiah simply take refuge in the temple.”
– NET Bible offers the following theory, “The reason for his confinement is not stated. BDB 783 s.v…suggests that it had to do with the fulfillment of a vow or was related to an issue of ceremonial uncleanness.”
– HCSB points out, “The existence of the temple prior to the completion of the walls provides additional support for the biblical order of the return to Jerusalem as Zerubbabel-Ezra- Nehemiah, rather than Zerubabbel- Nehemiah- Ezra as some have suggested. Zerubabbel led the people to build the temple; Nehemiah led them to build the wall.”
– But I replied, “Should a man like me run away? Would someone in my position flee to the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I recognized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired to intimidate me so that I would do as he suggested. In doing so I would be committing a sin. In this way they would bring reproach on me and I would be discredited.
– ESV Study Bible says, “Nehemiah responds that such an act would be cowardly, and possibly sacrilegious. Shemaiah was pretending to speak with prophetic authority, but Nehemiah sees that his prophesy was false. To be afraid would be in this case the opposite of having faith, and hence sin (see Deut 1:28-33…). This sort of unbelief would enable his enemies to taunt Nehemiah…and thus undermine his authority.”
– O my God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat because of what they have done. Also remember the prophetess Noadiah, and the other prophets who wanted to intimidate me.
– ESV Study Bible notes, “Nehemiah thinks again of prayer, calling on God to remember those who had tried to turn him (and therefore also his fellow Jews) from faith (cf Matt 18:6). This ‘remember’ is typical of Nehemiah’s prayers (Neh 1:8…), which always seek God’s justice, whether for blessing or for judgment. Tobiah is placed first again here, but the circle of Nehemiah’s enemies, including the prophetess Noadiah and other prophets, must have been considerable. Perhaps there were many incidents such as the one recorded here.”
The Wall Is Completed
– The wall was completed on the 25th day of Elul, in just 52 days. When all of our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about this, they were afraid and lost confidence, because they knew this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
– ESV Study Bible remarks, “Elul was the sixth month (August-September), so it has been less than six months since Nehemiah spoke to the king. No doubt the speed of the building itself contributed to the fear now felt by the enemies…If God had helped the people of Judah so remarkably in this way, the nations feared that this same God would turn Judah into a powerful nation that would be a threat to them.”
– In those days Judah’s nobles repeatedly sent letters to Tobiah, and responses from Tobiah were repeatedly coming back to them. This was due to the fact that many in Judah had sworn an oath of allegiance to him because he was Shekaniah’s son-in- law. Shekaniah was Arah’s son. Also, Tobiah’s son Jehohanan had married Meshullum’s daughter. Meshullum was Berekiah’s son. Moreover, they kept reporting his good deeds to me and telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
– ESV Study Bible writes, “The complicity of the nobles of Judah with Tobiah now strongly emerges; it is an alliance based on the marriages of Tobiah, an ‘Ammonite’…and his son into families of the Jewish nobility. It is ironic that Tobiah is so highly regarded among the Israelites, in view of the measures Ezra had taken against intermarriage (Ezra 9-10). This perhaps explains Tobiah’s hostility to Nehemiah’s work, which was seen as being in continuity with Ezra’s work.”