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Nehemiah 6:1-14

The Bible Teacher's Commentary

Darkness at the Gate

Paul J. Bucknell

Nehemiah Theme | Nehemiah Outline and Index| Nehemiah Historical Background

Darkness at the Gate (Nehemiah 6:1-14)

Nehemiah 6 reveals another set of attacks by the enemy on Nehemiah as he persistently leads God’s people to rebuild Jerusalem’s city wall. We can safely apply this lesson’s applications to our Christian lives and assume, as Ephesians 6:10-20 teaches, that the evil one will engineer and implement diabolical plans to impede our Christian growth and progress. When we take God’s mission seriously, we should reckon that we will, at times, face significant opposition. Our job is to be like Nehemiah, and by allowing Christ’s Spirit to abide in us we can remain unafraid fully committed to God’s purposes, trusting God to care for us and not compromising our integrity even to protect God’s work.

The Book of Nehemiah gives us great insight into these attacks. Now remind you, all these attacks, like Nehemiah, showed us we can overcome, but there are lessons we need to learn otherwise we will fall victim to the evil one’s plans and God’s work will be hindered.

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This passage certainly shows the depth of human wickedness in making false allegations against innocent people for things they strongly believe in. Our political views or personal interests, no matter how strong they be, should never usurp justice. This is the reason the Lord told us two have two witnesses rather than just one. People are willing to lie.

No one easily gives up power. There will be active attacks and even diabolical plans to stop the progress that hinders their powers, but God will build His church and even Hades will not hold back kingdom growth (Mat 16:18). God’s work, therefore, will face challenges, whether it be in our personal lives, families, church or society. If we are unconvinced of this now, hopefully, we will be convinced by the end of this message that the enemy does not like losing ground that he has secured. This is the reason one finds it extremely hard to step away from a habitual sin. Nehemiah could have written many things, but, in this case, the Lord warns us that God’s work is not always easy.

I know you and I like to have an easy life, but life is not always easy, especially the Christian life, and even more so, God’s work. God will always work with us to win, but we must endure and in His wisdom make the right decisions for victory. Nehemiah shows us how to do this. Let us first look at when this set of attacks arose.

Notice the Timing (Neh 6:1)

“Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me…” (Neh 6:1-2a).

The key word in verse 1 is “when.” Something happened that shook the enemy camp. All along they thought their attempts to hinder God’s work would succeed, but then they realized that the wall was built and only the gates needed to be built and installed. Their access to the city would be greatly hindered, and, in effect, would lose control and power (and money no doubt).

So when former attacks did not slow down the work (chapters 3-5), the realization that the walls were almost finished and able to shut them out brought panic upon the enemies (1). An enemy plan was quickly hatched and implemented (2). I am not sure they thought all three plans at once, but as one failed, they would come up with another.

Who were these enemies? Their names and positions are listed.

• Sanballat (governor of Samaria)

• Tobiah (ammonite leader)

• Geshem (Arab chief)

Did you notice they had 3 things in common: First, they were foreigners, namely Samaria, Ammonites, and the Arabs. Second, they were enemy leaders. Third, they had a vested interest in controlling Jerusalem. They wanted their power over the Israelites to continue.

Spiritually, something very good and big was happening behind the rebuilt wall. We see only the wall being rebuilt, but the wall stood for community, care, triumph, pure worship as well as the decrease of crime, and no need for bribes. A whole layer of fear and anxiety would disappear and the open hatred would be replaced with peace and joy. This is because God’s work brings a change of heart as well as habit, and like the dawn brings new hope and love.

• Light scatters darkness

• Order discharges disorder

• Cleanliness removes unkemptness

When God’s work approaches completion, the Lord’s workers become strategically targeted. Each part of God’s work is important, but some stages are more significant because they signify a special fortification. This is the reason God’s people are facing oppression and persecution around the world. God’s kingdom is growing! So the enemy becomes frantic and works from desperation because the enemy’s former plans did not work out. Satan’s worst attacks are out of desperation–his last bursts of energy, but let us remember that the increase of intensity implies (1) that the enemy is almost exhausted of its resources and (2) victory is near. In others, don’t panic—let the enemy panic. We just hold on like Nehemiah, and God will give victory.

The enemy escalated its attack at the exact point they discovered they were about to lose control. How did they discover that? Simply by observing the wall was finished and everything but the gates was completed. The places where the wall was not formed or gates not in place created access for the enemy to carry out their control. It is interesting to notice here that the enemy lodged three attacks against where they thought they could ensnare Nehemiah. Nehemiah, in contrast to many Old Testament books, is a great book to get courage from.

3 Kinds of Personal Attacks

Like all enemies, they seek out what appears to them the most vulnerable areas of our lives. The three areas that they attacked, as I understand it, preyed upon a person’s most treasured values. We all have these values of being well-liked, having our plans worked out, and being protected from danger—this is after all our only life, but these heart treasures can become idols in our lives when they hold more value than the Lord. This is where Nehemiah was tested and where we need to fortify our commitment to God.

Personal and success values

The enemies attacked Nehemiah in three vulnerable ways, trying to hinder him from completing the wall. The attacks escalated pressures against Nehemiah and increasingly pushed him into compromise so that the enemies could retain their power. Each of these challenges attacks a deep-seated vulnerable place not just in Nehemiah but in all of us for our personal image, success, and safety. Nehemiah 6 uncovers the plots and rumors set against Nehemiah to take him out of the picture. The evil one strategically utilizes such rumors to destroy godly men and women in leadership to frustrate the advance of God’s work.

The evil one is less concerned with us than destroying the overall forward movement of God’s larger program. He went after Nehemiah through these three leaders because they were threatened by God’s advancing work on the walls not because they cared about him as a person. Nehemiah was very committed to God’s work and therefore became Satan’s target.

Although there are similarities to each of these attacks from the enemy, they are strategically targeted to special weaknesses to create an entry hole for compromise. Each is carefully optimized to discover and expose a weakness in what one values. Behind each situation, a compromise is introduced, becoming the test of one’s commitment to Christ.

If our importance or significance is found in any of these areas, then we can be manipulated. Our treasure becomes more important to us than God. If, on the other hand, we reckon that these pursuits, though not bad in themselves, do not hold the key to genuine success before God, then we can let them go. We can in essence trust God with our reputation, our work, and even our lives. This was the example of Nehemiah and of Jesus, setting a great example for our lives on how to die to ourselves.

1) An Attack on Our Personal Image (2-4)

The enemies used alluring high-level discussions to forge an alliance with the Gentile enemies. The numerous formal “invitations” compelled Nehemiah to choose between his fame and God’s plan to make Jerusalem a truly safe haven for God’s people. Nehemiah chose to avoid the temptations in attending such meetings.

=> The temptation to retain or embellish our personal image often causes us to be short-sighted and foolish. “How can he/she make that foolish decision?”

6:2 “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. 3 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?” 4 And they sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.”

Nehemiah was tempted by the offer to “Let us meet” (2) with these important leaders to forge a common agreement offering peace, compromise, and prosperity. We all like things to go well, and when we are offered an opportunity to reach those goals, it is hard to resist. But the cost of such a deal is not readily apparent. We must reckon this is the reason we must clarify our purposes and mission. Otherwise, the enemy will creep in with a compromise, requiring less than what God wants for us.

If Nehemiah did not accept this offer, then they would ruthlessly persist in knocking him out of his position until what he and his family suffered caused him to drop out and lose all.

The easy way out, so it seems, is to meet with them. Here they are great leaders of the three neighboring countries. They could build some coalition; he could find some support in such leaders. A refusal to meet them meant to face increasing opposition and threats, some open while others hidden. If we are not ready to persevere, then surely we will give up. Jesus did not compromise when tempted with the easy way out during the trials in temptation. Why? Because He set out to accomplish God’s will on the cross.

Any great work of God will be challenged by the devil trying to protect his ground.

Here are five suggestions to protect oneself from focusing on one’s own personal image.

• Focus on integrity rather than on how people might think of us

• Resist the attraction to privately meet with influential people

• Trust God with your reputation

• Obey God’s Word despite what happens

• Persistently focus on God’s task at hand keeping distractions far away as possible

Personal Challenges

• Do you second guess your decisions because of trouble? Focus on God’s will and trust Him.

• Are you a people-pleaser? Instead, fix your allegiance to Jesus, His desires, and commands.

• Are you easily distracted? Commit yourself to do God’s will no matter what people might think or say of you.

Although I like people to look up to me, all that really matters is God’s choice of me and find in Him all that I need or want.

2) An Attack on Our Personal Success (6:5-9)

The enemies used false allegations in the media to push Nehemiah to “take counsel together,” almost forcing him to form a compromise with foreign leaders. The pressures threatened Nehemiah’s whole plan to make Jerusalem a holy place of worship, but Nehemiah trusted God to protect his plan rather than give into compromise.

=> The temptation to seek extra ways to ensure our personal success plan is not threatened. “How come he/she took such a risk and lost it all?”

“5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. 6 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. 7 “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.”

Nehemiah was threatened by the loss of all of his work for God and His people. He could see it all going up in smoke. Unveiled threats use fears to destabilize those who are dependent on stability to provide an essence of confidence. When these fears arise, we will either react to them or respond with faith in God to preserve His work.

The temptation to seek for extra security occurs when our personal success plan is threatened. For some of us, our significance comes from our work and the success of it. Work can be variously defined, but it can include our marriage, children, house, job, and even our ministry. When something threatens what we count to be all important, then our allegiance and devotion are being tested. Who do we love more: our work or the Lord’s will? Now, remember, often there is no obvious conflict, but the enemy engineers a test, hoping for us to fall.

For many of us, our most vulnerable area of attack is against our work which brings personal significance, stability, and success. A threat to our work is a threat against all those things that mean so much to us. Withstanding certain attacks can unleash more diabolical ones.

Did you note all the false allegations? Once opened, then it would be hard to quash the dissatisfaction with Nehemiah. The open letter was filled with lies—“Fake news!” Making us believe what they want us to believe is not necessarily the same as believing the truth!

The allegations included planning to rebel, be king, and plans to proclaim his kingship were already formed. We can see the enemies leaking such information to the emperor and he, by confirming the rumors in the town, would confirm the need to eliminate Nehemiah, a challenge to his own authority.

Nehemiah’s Reply (8-9)

“8 Then I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” 9 For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”

The rumors have spread to the people (so now many of them wonder what really is true), and so Nehemiah needs to clarify his position. People were waiting to hear. He briefly denied what the claim without evidently exposing the enemy. He recognized that the enemy’s purpose was to cause fear and stop working on the wall.

“But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” (9)

The most important part of Nehemiah’s response is found not in what he told the leaders or people, but what he privately prayed to God, “But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (6:9).

This call to “strengthen my hands” obviously is not to build the wall or for physical strength to tear apart these three enemies, but the crucial call for strength to persevere with alertness at this stage of attack. The damage has been made. He could not control the uprising sponsored by those carefully placed paid people behind the scenes fostering discontent and lies. Nehemiah sought God to impart new energy, drive, patience, and insight to persist in accomplishing what God wanted despite all the ‘false news’ ruining his name and plans that might soon give cause for evil people to chase him out of town.

Personal Challenges

• You like to see your plans for life be fulfilled and love your ministry activities to bring blessing to God and others.

• Your work is threatened but don’t compromise!

• Your significance goes beyond your work and is intimately connected to your singular purpose to please God.

• Be willing to allow the ministry to be hit hard if God allows, and put your trust in Him for the future.

Standing Beyond Temptation

The only way to get beyond this temptation is to commit your work fully to God, meaning that you are open for Him to give and take away. You can say this, “My chief work is to please you, and like Christ, I offer my life’s work and devotion up to You, trusting You to burn up and preserve what you wish.” This does not mean that you do not value your work but that you realize no work is acceptable unless it is done with the right motives and kept by God. Once we dedicate it to the Lord, then we need not worry about all the rumors and gossip, but only delight in how He will somehow care for you. Only time will tell what the Lord would do, but now that we have reassured the work is about what God wants and not us, then it becomes His work, something He often powerfully protects with His wrath.

My chief work is to please you, and like Christ, offer it up to You, trusting You to burn up or preserve what you wish.

3) An Attack on Our Personal Life (6:10-14)

The enemies sought to bait Nehemiah into an insidious plot to undermine his character by heeding the paid-off prophets falsely imploring him to find safety in the temple. He allowed God’s straightforward rules to keep him from following his first impulses.

=> The temptation to shrink back by being preoccupied taking precautions to protect one’s safety. “What happened to him? He was doing so well.”

10 And when I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, 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, and they are coming to kill you at night.” 11 But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” 12 Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 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. 14 Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.

Nehemiah’s life was threatened, hitting hard against his self-interests of survival and further confused by the prophet’s confusing advice. Was this God speaking?

We all are looking out for our lives but because of a false identification with this earthly life, we can discover an extra willingness to extend life on earth in ways that do not please our God.

When our work is threatened (#2), it hits hard against our purpose and significance in life. This threat of his life along with the cloud of confusion mushrooming from the prophet’s advice led Nehemiah into an inward attack on his instincts of survival, which only his prayers and God’s help could have helped protect him. God is the Protector and no doubt brought God’s Word to Nehemiah’s mind just when he was considering taking the advice of the holy-looking prophet.

Another Strategic Rumor

It is interesting to watch how the enemies used religious, trusted leaders to falsely lead and advise Nehemiah. They caught on quick to what Nehemiah valued—those things of God. The fear of life is natural and caused a bit of instability just when a trusted religious person was motioning for him to resolve that basic instinct to protect his life. Fears always widen the door to acceptability especially when one’s life is threatened. But God intervened. Notice carefully Nehemiah’s words, “Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (12). At first, Nehemiah apparently did not see the danger of the convincing advice, but God intervened and then perceived the problem. Let’s look closer to Nehemiah’s God-given insight.

“13 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.”

There was an incredible deep-seated plot here starting with the invisible three, far from the scenes, but their money was nearby. Nehemiah says the prophet was “hired” (13). He could discern their purpose “that I might become frightened.” And from that fright, instinctively flee into the temple to preserve his life resulting in sin. Going into the holy temple was for priests, not leaders or even prophets. He was not to put his safety ahead of respect for God’s commands. The sin would then bring up an evil report which they could use to eliminate Nehemiah’s effectiveness and probably find their own prop man to replace him.

A sharp mind was needed to timely catch these attacks and delivery came because he constantly prayed. God answered his prayer by giving him that knowledge of His Word and commands. Nehemiah was convinced prayer made a difference and it did! How we need to prioritize the importance of sincere prayer. Our common sense and education are not good enough to fight the attacks of the evil one. This is the reason Jesus quoted from God’s Word at the point of temptation (Mat 4:4). Do you value the importance of prayer for all circumstances?

My chief purpose is to find my ultimate identification with what God wants for my life even if my life must be ended.


• Satan, at times, attacks God’s people when they seriously take steps to prioritize the Kingdom of God, but this should not inhibit us from making God’s work as all important for our lives.

• Our responses to our trials and attacks reveal what or who we treasure the most. Compromisers prove they worship the idols of their hearts.

• Satan will at times endeavor to purposely distract us with rumors, threats, and gossip. These attacks are diabolical, not just natural or coincidental! Your present decisions direct your future path.

• The integrity of our lives remains the base for God’s work. Never consider your work, even your work for God, as separate from your personal commitment to Him. Our character and loyalty cannot be separated from our gifts and service.

• The needed discernment and wisdom come only from regular and sincere prayer so that we can watch God’s intervention.

Our life’s purpose and identity with our life on earth are being tested against how much our identity is with Christ and His promises.

Our life’s purpose and identity with our life on earth are being tested against how much our identity is with Christ and His promises. Our true significance derives not from our work but our faithful relationship with the Lord; it is not found in plans and dreams—no matter how good—but in God’s plan for us as seen in Christ’s work on the cross.

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12.25 esv).

Part of our trouble is realizing how much we need Jesus to save us. But the challenges of life go beyond our need for Jesus as Savior. We need Him to help give us perspective so we can trust and follow Him when we go through life’s troubles.

Thoughts on Jesus Christ

Just as Nehemiah denied his pursuit of fame, ease, security, and life itself but pursued the work God put before Him, so we see in Jesus that same spirit of self-denial, putting His commitment to the test of the cross. What people thought of Jesus, His whole work, and life all seemed to go up in smoke before Him even while suffering all sorts of threats, pain, loneliness, rejection, and death. While Nehemiah’s effort helped those Israelites back then, Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection was for us who believe. Let us remember Him who had all and gave it all up so that we could join Him in glory with Him. Let us live a similar life with our final goal to obey the Lord rather than to seek an easy life on earth.

Christ was willing to die (Nehemiah didn’t have to), putting God’s work first and devoted to prayer. The death of Christ actually became the key for God’s work to powerfully go on to establish the New Covenant.

• Nehemiah’s commitment reminds us of the difficulties of living a godly life as well as the rewards of faithfulness for God (15-16).

• Nehemiah’s integrity points to the life of Jesus who faced similar difficult times and allegations, and yet, without compromise, set His heart on the Father’s will even though it meant He would lose His life.

• Join Nehemiah and Jesus who honored God by making a clear commitment to God’s work no matter what the cost. The more committed we are, the more we will be at peace when wild onslaughts come our way.

Summary Questions

• What is one area where you tend to compromise to please someone?

• How important is your personal success to you? Share about your struggle to keep God first in your life pursuits.

• How did Nehemiah avoid distraction? How are you easily distracted from what God wants from your life? What protection have you set up to keep focused on what God wants?

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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