Sir Godfrey Gregg D. Div, OHPM, ROMC
III. When distracted by fear of the future, obey the Lord in the present (Nehemiah 6:10-14).
There is another trick up the enemies’ sleeve. These enemies are relentless, but Nehemiah perseveres through it all. The latest attack will come from his own people. We meet a so-called prophet named Shemaiah in Nehemiah 6:10. The phrase “was confined to his home” is hard to interpret. Most likely, it might mean that he felt like Nehemiah’s opponents were out to get him as well and so he locks himself at his house.
At any rate, Nehemiah visits him, with every reason to feel safe with a professed man of God. So he thinks! He may hear about the prophet (he may have been a priest as well) hiding in his home and wanted to encourage him as well as to share his own problems. We are not sure, but Nehemiah was there. Shemaiah then says, “Look, Nehemiah, there is a plot on your life tonight. We need you to get to the temple (where according to the law, no one is allowed to touch someone while in the Temple).” The only problem with Nehemiah doing this was that he was not a priest. Only priests were allowed into the area of the temple that housed the altar (Numbers 18:7). To do this was a sin. To violate the temple in this way would discredit him among his people. With no witnesses of this conversation, this was an ingenious plot to stop the work of God. You can picture Nehemiah running up to the altar in fear of his life and then Shemaiah calling the Jews to the temple and in catching Nehemiah committing this great sin, discrediting him and ultimately undermining his authority as a leader.
There was an exception to the rule regarding only priests in the temple. If you accidentally killed somebody and you had a relative of the victim wanting to take revenge, you were allowed to run to the temple for refuge, whether you were a priest or not. Then you would wait there until a judge could hear the case (Numbers 35:6-15). However, this was not one of those circumstances.
This was a trick to make him look like a religious transgressor because trying to make him look like a political rebel didn’t work. It played on Nehemiah’s fear. Notice the words “frighten” and “be afraid” used several times here (Nehemiah 6:9, 13, 14). Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real. What if you die, Nehemiah? What if the wall, having come this far, never gets completed? What if your opponents win? What if you fail? A series of “what if” questions thrown at him like darts to distract him by paralyzing him in fear. Look at his response in Nehemiah 6:11: “I will not go in!” I will not go down (Nehemiah 6:3), he said earlier. Now he says, ”Or go in! I’m not going anywhere!” I think he had come to a place now that not only did he embrace God’s calling in his life, but the calling had embraced him. It had so consumed him that he does not even want to protect his own life anymore. There is something bigger here than his safety. “Should a man like me, a man who has been given this sacred responsibility—this divine assignment—abandon the task to save his own life?” I’m not going to sin because I am afraid of the future. I am going to obey the Lord now in the present, even if it means my life is in danger.
Nehemiah figured out he was a false prophet in Nehemiah 6:12, because a true prophet would not contradict the Word of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22). He figured out even more that Sanballat and Tobiah hired Shemaiah. Notice Nehemiah 6:14 that there were other people involved too, like Noadiah a prophetess and other prophets. Nehemiah was outnumbered, but he held his ground. Because when you are with God, you are always in the majority. A coward gets scared and quits. A hero gets scared but moves on. Nehemiah was that hero. He was a layman opposed by a body of “professionals,” yet he refused to give in. He prayed about them and left the matter with the Lord. Notice another prayer recorded in Nehemiah 6:14. He had asked God to remember him, which meant, think upon him and act justly. Now he asks God to think upon these enemies and act justly. He again commits himself to God, trusts Him for his future and moves on.
Beloved in life, we will always struggle with elements of the unknown and fear of the future. What if I never find a job? What if I never find the right person? He’s not exactly what I’m looking for, but what if nobody else comes along? I need to say no, but what if it costs me my bonus? What if I can’t have children? What if this church never grows? What if I fail? On and on it goes. Fear is a form of focus. We can get so focused on what might be that we lose sight of what could and should be. If we start to let these fears in, we come down from the wall and run to protect ourselves. God would have you obey Him in the present. Stay on the wall. God has worked for us here to do. Do what is in front of you, realizing this is a divine appointment for you at this time.