Some think that the great men of faith like Abraham, David, Nehemiah all of a sudden had faith. We learn differently in scripture. Each one of them and us go through different trials designed by the sovereign hand so that our own faith might grow. Jesus never asks us to walk a road He hasn't walked. After speaking of His death for our sins in verse 9, Hebrews 2:10-11 continues to read,
"For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren."
If our main purpose in life is to avoid troubles, we are in for a great disappointment for we will never learn from our trials. Trials and testings are there for us to learn to be more patient and loving always trusting God to work things out for us. The Lord wants us to instead make a glorious eternity our goal so that we will rightly handle the testings on earth. If we like many around us are seeking to be happy and secure, then we will jump the ship of sanctification at great cost to our lives.
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You might be wondering why Nehemiah who is so great and kind needs to go through so many testings. We could be satisfied with a mere materialistic answer that change itself brings trouble and Nehemiah was bringing change. But we need to go behind this word 'change' to understand the real reason of distress that Nehemiah was facing. There is a clear spiritual battle going on as Ephesians 6 says there goes on at the present. The battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The enemies stand for the darkness. They persist in seeking for power and control so that they can manipulate and hurt God's people. Nehemiah represents the forces of the light. Today I hope to engage a very specific discussion on rumors. Rumors are one common means the evil one has utilized in destroying godly men and women as well as bringing God's great work to a halt. Now you must remember that it was God who called Nehemiah and sent him here. God did not just kill off these enemies. God saw these enemies and their attempts to thwart God's people as a wonderful opportunity to build up their faith, strengthen their resolve to serve the Lord and so to gain eternal rewards.
Rumors are unique in the way they try to tear a person down. I wonder how many godly men and special works of God have been attempted to shut down through rumors. Sometimes they are against a person's character. Maybe someone comes against them saying that they are an adulterer or have been seen in a liquor shop. Sometimes the accusations truly seem impossible. For example, not in a few places it has been alleged that Christians met in secret because they are cannibals and drink the blood of their victims. This is a slight variation of Holy Communion where Jesus said, "Eat my body and drink my blood." If no one has any contact with Christianity, the stories I suppose are credible.
This brings us to the focus of rumors: they are possible because there is ignorance. Rumors are lies. But they are lies against others for the purpose of tearing down a person or work of God. People tell rumors for a lot of reasons usually associated with jealousy but sometimes out of fear. I suppose that many a time they are not even aware they are spreading rumors with an evil purpose. They are too engrossed in their hate for their victim. We should not wonder that people even spread rumors about Jesus Christ Himself. If rumors have been used before to destroy a work of God, then clearly they will be used again and again. The clear remedy is for us to hold to the scriptural standard that we dismiss accusations that come from only one source. We need verification, two witnesses, to bring an accusation against an elder. Some people will come up and say in private that they know the importance of evidence, but still ask the pastor not to say who told them this thing. This goes contrary to the scriptural method! This is very wrong. If you know a wrong and feel it needs to be exposed to the elders, then you must be ready to supply your name. For who knows, maybe you yourself are the source of the rumor!
Some rumors are only petty jealousies against an individual; some are revolved are around leaders of God's work. We will look carefully into this passage of Nehemiah 6:1-19 to find the hardships that rumors can be. In a day of the internet, one can only think that a Web page can be quickly put up, pretended to be written by the author, but all for the purpose for maligning their ministry. One can send emails pretending to be written by the person charged. Now is the time for the church to be aware of the schemes of the evil one to protect that which is good, great and beautiful. It reminds me of the work to enjoy the good letters from my friends and coworkers in the Lord. I have to sort out the good from the downright evil email. I don't even dare open many emails. We sometime need to slug through the mud of the low river to get to the high ground on the other side. Nehemiah plowed through the mess. It was hard on him. But he kept his vision. He kept on going in the strength of the Lord. Let us now look at seven observations on rumors and solutions to those challenges.
#1) Rumors tend to catch us off guard. 6:1-2 Don't be surprised when they come.
I would like to begin by again clearly asserting that we should not be caught off guard. If God is doing a great work, then we should expect rumors to occur. If there is something to be jealous of, then in the context of God's work, we usually think of it to be good. In this case the wall has been rebuilt. In a remarkably short time the wall of Jerusalem was restored. The gates were not yet repaired, but the wall was. Even now the enemy could see what God was doing. They didn't need for it all to be finished to see what good was happening.
Solution If rumors arise to destroy the work of God and the people of God, then don't be alarmed by them. I am not saying they are easy to take. We will discuss this later. I am sure some of my grey hairs are from such things. But if they come, then we should perceive that something good is happening. If nothing was happening, then there would be no jealousy.
#2) Rumors will not come from your friends. 6:2 Rumors have nothing in common with love.
It is obvious but let me state it. Rumors will not come from your friends. They might pretend to be your friends and smile at you, but they will indeed be your enemies, at least for the moment. A friend does not tell lies against another. In this case the enemies were very apparent, but we must remember that often times the rumor starters come from within rather than without. We know from previous chapters that Sanballat, Tobiah and Arab had strong influence over the area even still. If they hadn't, then this message would not have meant anything. God was doing much in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was surrounded by dignitaries of other states and influential people such as this diabolic trio.
Solution In order to reduce the devastation upon our hearts and ministries, we must understand the motives of those who say such lies. Nehemiah saw through them right away and said in response, in 6:2, "But they were planning to harm me." We might be naive and at first not understand their motives. This is okay as far as trust is developed in certain relationships. But if people are persistent in their rumors, then we should be able to rather quickly see through their motives. They want to harm us. We should not get caught up in wondering how we can please them. I should put a caution here. Sometimes we might get prideful and a brother comes along to help us get a better perspective on the ministry. This is a true brother who is concerned. They are saying the truth. Only we might think what they are saying is not true because we are reacting and are too prideful to learn from those around us. Please do not confuse the two! We desperately need brothers who come alongside in love to keep us from falling into great sin. Rumors, though, are not true. They are false and come from the motive to harm and hurt.
#3) Rumors by nature are distracting. 6:3 Focus on your calling and mission.
Rumors by nature are distracting. They absorb lots of time and emotional energy. Sometimes we do not know where the source is. In Nehemiah's case we do. In fact we are not at all surprised by these guys doing such things. They are desperate to retain some of their power in this area. But when we do not know the source of the rumors, we need to trace back from person to person asking where they got that information. We cannot deal with the issue rightly until we know. Any proper defense will take the aim of the enemy into consideration. But even when we find out who the enemy is, we must spend much time trying to work through the rumor itself. We need to honestly ask if any of it is true. We need to apologize for any part of it that is true. But often times we are hurt that it is a former friend stating these things. We are hurt. And frankly, I think there is great disappointment that cannot be easily brushed aside. Rumors can easily get you daydreaming away thinking about all the various ins and outs of the different possibilities. Satan puts a nicely arranged basket of fears right next to the man of God so that at his convenience he can reach in and use to his devastation.
Solution The solution is not to spend a lot of time on them. We must spend as little time as possible. This includes formal discussion with the rumor starters as well as those times when we are by ourselves. We must refuse to let these "suppose this happens" questions go back and forth in our minds. We need to be resolute in our minds like Nehemiah who said,
"So I sent messengers to them, saying, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?"
You might wonder how can you control what you think. The key is in what Nehemiah said, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down." He focused on his ministry. Sometimes we think we must do everything that is put in front of us. This is not true. We need to keep our main calling in mind as we discern the items of priority. Of course we will need to spend time discerning each issue. This is unavoidable. But after we have decided how God wants us to respond, we must constrain ourselves from thinking about such things. I believe this is one reason that the apostles were deliberately not women. These are extremely difficult situations even for men who can stand a bit more objectively outside the situation. But for women who are entangled in such things, because of their unique and special makeup, it is very difficult, near impossible, for them to come out of such a battle without many a scar. If you cannot stand objectively outside to evaluate such an attack, then you will need to stay in the arena and fight the whole time.
#4) Rumors can take up a lot of time. 6:4 Refuse to engage in defense beyond the simple truth.
Rumors can take up a lot of time. Now this is very similar to the previous item. Because rumors demand an answer, they can easily get us off focus. We see that in verse 4 Nehemiah received messages four times. Each time they demanded an answer. But each time he refused to spend more time on the issue.
Solution Their persistence demands your persistence. Don't go thinking the whole thing through again if new information is not brought up. Answer briefly. Stay focused on the work God has given you to do. If you can be caught distracted, then you will stop evangelizing, studying God's Word and praying. Phil 4:6 is very simple, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Talk to the Lord about the problem. Ask Him to help. And thank Him for His help. The last step is important because it assures you that you have entrusted Him with the problem.
#5) Rumors might worsen before things get better. Sometimes the situation gets even worse still.
Things can get worse before they get better. Sometimes we think we are at the worst point already and ready for God to spring us loose from the trap. But no. He waits. There was this fifth letter that revealed more of their intention. This is where a person is really tested. Often we know something is being said, but we can't quite chase it down. There are distorted stories. But when its final appearance comes in full force, one is taken back. When you get a full picture, you are most likely to be dismayed because you see the absolute darkness in the hearts of others. You see the full lie staring at you. You are incredible that someone could say such a blatant lie and how others would believe it. You are shocked at why someone would hate you with such blindness. Nehemiah again received the message. We can not be sure it was the same message completely or in an updated form. Or perhaps it was different in that the letter was open so Sanballat's servant could read it. This was an indication that Sanballat was letting the rumor loose. This is what the letter said in Nehemiah 6:6-7,
"In it was written, "It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, 'A king is in Judah!' And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together."
When the full plan was shared, we find that basically the rumor was a covering for a compromise. The accusations are that Nehemiah:
1) Was rebelling against the emperor whom he loved and served for many years,
2) Had devious purposes for rebuilding the wall such as to express rebellion rather than caring for the people.
3) Had this secret ambition all along to be a self-proclaimed king.
4) Had already begun to do these things.
Should you be quiet or speak up? Should you defend yourself or ignore it? Should you speak the full truth and bring accusation against your enemies or just leave? What was Nehemiah threatened with?
Betrayal against the emperor he faithfully served for many years.
False motives in serving the people he so dearly loved and wholeheartedly gave himself.
Outright lies in his desire to be king.
All his hard work could be swallowed up in a second. The attack becomes most vicious not when our reputation is threatened, but when our work and all that we stood for and all those relationships which you have treasured, might turn into thin air. There is nothing that hurts the faithful man more than having people believe he had false motives. When we carefully compare Nehemiah with David after the Bethsheba incident, we find that at least David had done wrong. But Nehemiah gave his life, sweat, time, gifts, monies all to these people.
Solution Nehemiah responded with a simple accurate message. "Such things as you are saying have not been done." It was not an elaborate defense. It was a simple and truthful defense. But notice that Nehemiah still refused to go with the servant and discuss them further. Once he went down to their territory, he would have been admitting compromise. This is true faithfulness. A truly faithful man is one which acts faithful and true even when others misunderstand him. He does not change just to look good to others. Looking good is no good unless one is good. If one tries to look good, then there is some bad. He understands he might loose all appreciation from others for what he has done, but he has not done it for appreciation but because he cares for the people. This is the man of integrity.
#6) Rumors easily disillusion those around us. 6:5-9 We cannot always count on those around us.
We see that others around us might also be demoralized by these rumors. They were trying to frighten Nehemiah and the others into compromise. This is what Nehemiah 6:9 says. "For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, "They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done."
Sometimes we might be tempted to think, "If it was only me being attacked, that would be okay." But rumors by definition travel outside the accuser and the accused. Nehemiah had others around him that were being affected. The rumors in this case were serious charges being brought against Nehemiah and his associates who are supposedly declaring him as king. Once the letter is open; once the rumor is spread, those weaker in faith will indeed question whether Nehemiah's response is the right one. They will certainly encourage him to go down and see what the other side has to say. They might even suggest they are trying to protect Nehemiah from these charges. Or perhaps they think Nehemiah doesn't want to go down because he has things to hide. Things could get so bad that the people of Jerusalem would throw him out because the emperor might come and burn down the whole city. As the last stones were being laid on the wall, they could be tempted to forget it because the whole wall would be torn down soon anyway. Once the wall was stopped being built, then it would be hard to get going again. And one would never get them going like they were then.
Solution Nehemiah only had one solution to the quickly deteriorating circumstances. He prayed. His prayers are always recorded as short, emergency like, prayers. He said in the later part of verse 9, "But now, O God, strengthen my hands." From this statement, we can see that Nehemiah was troubled. All his dreams were apt to be thrown in his face. He didn't question God, though. He didn't go around blaming everyone for believing these rumors or not being man enough to stand against compromise. He just faithfully asked God to help him in his great time of distress. We can see this short prayer as the last words of a dying man. He had no strength to protect himself, the nation or his reputation.
#7) Rumors foster the ability to make wrong decisions. 6:10-14 Be careful when you make decisions.
Nehemiah heard the coffin nails being pounded in, one by one. Because Nehemiah failed to come to the enemy, the enemy came to him with a setup. Like Daniel from long ago, his enemies could not find moral failure in his life. The enemies set him up by passing a law that he couldn't pray. Now here, many decades later we find Nehemiah being 'framed'. We already see that he was weak. He sensed a loss of control. He hears another rumor, more threatening than the one before. The rumor was coming from a totally different direction. It was a death threat. Someone said someone was trying to kill Nehemiah. They quickly recommended that he enter the temple and close the doors. The assumption is that the enemy would not dare go in there. He would be protected in the temple. In fact the whole thing was a plot to show how presumptuous Nehemiah was to go into the temple, as if he was a priest. Once he went in, they would instantly change their story to say that Nehemiah was trying to get them to go into the temple with him and proclaim him as king, but they chose not to because it was a holy place.
Solution Nehemiah hadn't lost overall understanding of how God and Satan was working through this circumstance. First of all, his immediate sense was that it would be wrong and foolish to enter the temple. He was not a priest. After this, we find that in verse 12 that he got a clear message from God that this was a set up. God had not sent him to prophecy about his death and to warn him to flee. Had he not earlier prayed, he might not have gotten the extra perception he needed to discern this situation. If we ever get too hectic and worried to pray, we surely have written failure over our problem. In verse 13, we see the summary of this story found in verses 10-12, "He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me."
In conclusion, Nehemiah prayed one of his famous "Remember .." prayers. He did not ask God to remember him but the works of Tobiah, Sanballat and Noradiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were willing to use their gifts and offices to get things done among God's people. He did not accuse them but simply left them into God's justice. He was feeling very alone at this stage, but he refused to take personal vengeance and instead stood with God and God with him.
Summary (14-19) You might wonder what happened to all these challenges. In verses 15-19 we find first of all that these influential leaders had inroads into the lives of not a few people. Tobiah is particularly pointed out that he had in-laws there in Jerusalem. People by obligation were bound to do as he wanted. They would be the informants as well as the rumor leakers. Hey were even saying what good leaders Tobiah and Sanballat were. They became the force for their mass media campaign.
However in spite of everything and all the obstacles, we must realize that they finally finished the wall in 52 days. After this happened, the other nations were amazed and the whole spiritual climate changed. God was behind this work. Nehemiah was used, but he was himself helped by God. When everything was threatened, he did not compromise. He stood firm. He stayed truthful. He refused to compromise. He refused to be distracted from God's main mission for him. In time the truth verified itself.
Perhaps you will have rumors against yourself or against the church. Stand firm in the truth. Refuse to serve man but God and the truth. Don't compromise lest you pay for it the rest of your days. If God intends to restore your reputation, then He will do it. If he doesn't, then it will be done in heaven. God does not promise that every plot of this kind fails, but that according to His sovereign purpose the most important thing is whether we are doing the work of God because we love Him. Rumors like other trials are not pleasant but God can and does use them to help us grow as His people in our faith, our resolve to be faithful and willingness to live for Him alone. God is ever expanding our limited understandings of His greatness. This usually happens only when we are desperate and ask Him for help in difficult situations. This is why we find Nehemiah often praying. These are the critical points in his life when He saw the Lord in His power and grace in a new way. His faith was growing. I love Psalm 29:10 11 which says
"The LORD sat as King at the flood; Yes, the LORD sits as King forever. The LORD will give strength to His people; The LORD will bless His people with peace."
A flood is the most chaotic time possible. And yet it clearly says the LORD sat as king at the flood. The Lord is sovereign over every situation. He is asking us to take every circumstance, as difficult as it may be, whether rumors or other things, and to entrust it into His hands. When we start praying we will see God intervene with His wonderful grace. The purpose for all of it can be found in verse 9 of the same Psalm where it says, "In His temple everything says, "Glory!"" God is able to take the most heinous situation and show forth His glory in it. We are not living for happiness but for God's glory. And if it be for God's glory, then let us see like Nehemiah and Christ Jesus, that we can commit ourselves to God no matter what the situation be.
Biblical Foundations for Freedom