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Nehemiah 6:1-7:3 – Nehemiah as the Object of Reproach

Summary

As the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls nears completion, Sanballat and his associates turn from reproach of the city or those engaged in the rebuilding project to an attack of Nehemiah himself, but to no avail.

Analysis

The reproach that described the sorry state of Jerusalem and its inhabitants (1:3; 2:17) and then narrowed to attack the builders seeking to rectify the situation (4:4) now is centered on Nehemiah himself (6:13). Three building reports (6:1, 15-16; 7:1) alternate with three schemes of intimidation (6:2-9, 10-14, 17-19) aimed at Nehemiah.

All three schemes end with a rare form of a verb meaning "to frighten" (6:9, 14, 19). The first two share a common progression in which the occasion (vv. 1, 10a) is followed by the scheme and Nehemiah's response (vv. 2-8, 10b-12), intimidation as the reason for the scheme (vv. 9a, 13), and a prayer (vv. 9b, 14). The final scheme (6:17-19) reads more like a summary of the process as a whole. The schemes seek to attack Nehemiah at the level of his basic loyalties. The first charges Nehemiah with sedition and thus challenges his loyalty to Artaxerxes, the Persian king. The second, by trying to lure Nehemiah, a layperson, into inappropriate use of the temple, challenges his loyalty to God. The third seeks to drive a wedge between Nehemiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Through it all, Nehemiah remained loyal to his king and faithful to his God. In the following chapters we will see him dedicate himself to the administration of his charges.

Stashed away in the midst of the three rather dull building reports is the spectacular announcement, modestly made almost in passing, that the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Elul (probably October 2, 445 B.C.E.), in a mere fifty-two days (6:15)! The message is clear. In the midst of the villainous attempts to discredit Nehemiah and frustrate the project, God remained faithful to the promise, an assurance Nehemiah never lost sight of. Our strength lies in this faith, not in the securities that we construct ourselves.

Nehemiah 6:1-7:3

Intrigues of Enemies Foiled

6Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they intended to do me harm. 3So 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 to come down to you?’ 4They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations—and Geshem* also says it—that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall; and according to this report you wish to become their king. 7You have also set up prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, “There is a king in Judah!” And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So come, therefore, and let us confer together.’ 8Then I sent to him, saying, ‘No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind’ 9—for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

10 One day when I went into the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his house, 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; indeed, tonight they are coming to kill you.’ 11But I said, ‘Should a man like me run away? Would a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!’ 12Then I perceived and saw that God had not sent him at all, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13He was hired for this purpose, to intimidate me and make me sin by acting in this way, and so they could give me a bad name, in order to taunt me. 14Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

The Wall Completed

15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid* and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18For many in Judah were bound by oath to 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. 19Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence, and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

7Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, 2I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. 3And I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot; while the gatekeepers* are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their watch-posts, and others before their own houses.’

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10 February 2011

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