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THE WILES OF THE DEVIL
Nehemiah has faced, and triumphed over, the open opposition of the enemy: he has met too the corruptions of the flesh: now he is called upon to "stand against the wiles of the devil." Under the guise of friendly interest in Nehemiah and his work, the enemy will seek, by subtlety, to beguile him from the simplicity of faith in God, and so bring the work to nought by encompassing the fall of the leader in the work.
First, Nehemiah is called upon to face the wile of the friendly conference (2, 3). "Come let us meet together," are the words of the enemy. And in reply the natural mind might suggest that, though actuated by very different motives, courtesy would at least demand that Nehemiah should accede to this request and hear what they have to say. There surely can be no harm in listening to their suggestions even if it be impossible to agree. However, no such arguments, if used, avail with Nehemiah. He realises that Sanballat and Geshem are entirely opposed to the principles by which he is governed. In such circumstances a meeting would hardly help Sanballat, and would certainly end in "mischief" to Nehemiah. He escapes the snare by the realisation of the greatness of the work that he is doing. Thus his answer is "I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down."
Having escaped this snare, Nehemiah is now called upon to meet the wile of importunity (4). Not to be put off by Nehemiah's firm answer, the enemy repeats his request "four times." It was by this wile that Satan encompassed the fall of Samson in an earlier day. Delilah "pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death." Finally Samson falls before the importunity of his treacherous wife and "told her all his heart." In result he was robbed of his strength, the Lord departed from him, and he fell a prey to his enemies ( Jdg_16:15-21 ). The devil knows the weakness of human nature and under persistent pressure it will often betray the saint to give way from sheer weariness. Nehemiah escapes this wile by simply repeating his former answer, as he says, "I answered them after the same manner." He is occupied with a great work and he is not prepared to discuss it with those who are well known to be opposed to the work.
The third snare Is the wile of the "open letter" (6, 7). It is couched in friendly terms and affects great concern for Nehemiah's reputation, which it is feared will suffer from certain derogatory reports concerning Nehemiah and his work. But being an "open letter" it is purposely designed to damage Nehemiah by spreading abroad evil reports. If true the charges would indeed be serious. For it is said that Nehemiah - the cupbearer and appointed governor of the king - is going to "rebel." This is truly alarming for rebellion is an ugly word. Moreover a witness can be produced to support the charge for "Gashmu saith it." Further it is said that Nehemiah's ultimate aim, in building the walls, is to exalt himself to the throne as king. And finally, report has it, that Nehemiah has appointed prophets to preach in Jerusalem, and thus endeavour to substantiate his claim to royalty by a professed word from God.
Nehemiah declines to be drawn into any argument with the tempter, or give any explanation of his work or motives. With great wisdom and restraint he simply denies the accusation, and exposes the origin of these evil reports. He sees, too, that the real aim of the "open letter" is to terrify the people by leading them to suppose they are linked up with one who is a rebel plotting against the king. Thus terrified their hands would be "weakened from the work." But, as ever with Nehemiah, God was his resource. The enemy attacked Nehemiah to weaken the hands of the people, Nehemiah turns to God to strengthen his hands that he might support the people (8, 9).
The wile of the open letter is followed by a fourth and more subtle snare. For now Nehemiah has to meet the wile of the false friend (10-14). Alas there were those within the city who professed great friendship for Nehemiah and yet were in the hire of the enemy without. Under the guise of friendship Shemaiah would associate with Nehemiah in order to betray him to his enemies. His words are "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple: and let us shut the door of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee." Such language might lead the unsuspecting to conclude that Shemaiah was a real friend seeking to frustrate the enemy's evil designs and secure the safety of Nehemiah. But in the eyes of this God-fearing man the very methods suggested to secure his safety, arouse his suspicions. For it is suggested that Nehemiah - the leader in the work should flee from the work that God has put into his heart to do. Like David, in an earlier day, he could say, "In the Lord I put my trust: now say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain" ( Psa_11:1 ). Moreover it is suggested that he should do what was unlawful (being neither a priest nor a Levite) in order to save his life. With the usual directness of this simple-hearted man, Nehemiah says, "I will not go in."
Having withstood this snare, the whole evil of the wile stands revealed to Nehemiah. He detects that Shemaiah, though a prophet, was not sent from God, but was in the hire of the enemy, and therefore working for the enemy under the guise of friendship for Nehemiah. With Shemaiah also were associated "the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets." To the profession of friendship they would add the weight of a professed prophetic utterance from God. What more terrible wile than for one who is in league with the enemy to approach a godly man, professing to be a warm friend with a message from God.
In the former wile the enemy falsely charges Nehemiah with using prophets for an evil purpose. In this wile the enemy does in fact use the prophets for his own evil ends. By means of gold he acquires an unholy influence over the very men, who by reason of their prophetic office, should have been the first to help in the Lord's work by communicating the Lord's mind.
Having received the gold of those opposed to the work they cease to be the mouthpiece of the Lord, or a help to His people, and their efforts are all directed to stopping the work by ruining the character of the man who was leading in the work. This Nehemiah clearly perceives for he says of Shemaiah, "Therefore was he hired that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me" (13).
In the presence of this terrible wile, now fully exposed to Nehemiah, God is his unfailing resource (14). He makes no open attack upon the enemy, and apparently takes no active measures against his tools, but he spreads the matter before God, mentioning the names of the enemies without, and the woman within who is working behind the scenes. As one has said, "There are many forms of evil which cannot be openly assailed without damage to ourselves and to others, and many evil workers in the church of God that must be left alone. To attack them would only serve the cause of the enemy; but our resource in such circumstances is to cry to God against them."
Such an appeal to God, is owned by God; for in spite of the wiles of the enemy, the work proceeds and the wall is finished. The fact that it was accomplished by a people so weak outwardly, in the presence of enemies so strong actually, becomes a witness even to the enemy "that the work was wrought of our God" (15, 16).
But there is one more wile that Nehemiah is called to meet, the wile of the good report (17-19). There were those amongst the remnant within, who were for ever sounding the praises of the enemy without. "They reported" the "good deeds" of Tobiah before Nehemiah. Doubtless they would argue "'Tobiah does not see eye to eye with us, as to the necessity of building the wall, but he is such a good man," and in proof "they reported his good deeds." But while praising the enemy without to Nehemiah, they were equally ready to belittle Nehemiah before the enemy, for, says Nehemiah, "They uttered my words to him." It would appear from these nobles of Judah, that Tobiah was marked by good works, while Nehemiah at best was only a man of "words." However, the solemn fact was that those who were so forward to praise the enemy were in constant communication with the enemy, and sworn to him by reason of alliances with him. Thus, in different measures, it ever is, with those who, whilst professing to be at one with those who seek to build the wall, are, at the same time, loud in the praises of those who are opposed to the wall.
In all the conflicts of God's people, who, In these last days, have sought to maintain separation, have they not again and again been faced by these different wiles? Have we not known the wile of the friendly conference between those who hold opposing principles about which there can be no compromise: the wile of importunity which may lead the godly into a doubtful course for the sake of peace; the wile of the open letter - courteous in tone but malicious in motive; the wile of the false friend - who professes to give warnings from God though actually in the hire of those opposed to the truth; and finally the wile of the good report as to those without, from the lips of some within?
In all these wiles It Is noticeable that the efforts of the enemy are in the main directed against individuals. In Nehemiah's day the enemy, wrongly or rightly, believed that if once the fall of Nehemiah could be encompassed it would be comparatively easy to overcome the mass of the people and stop the work. They might indeed be right in thinking that the mass are easily led into a wrong course, but they are entirely wrong inasmuch as they leave God out, and are ignorant of God's ways. They do not see that it is usually God's way to stem the tide of evil by one or two men, and that if they have done their work, or if they fail, or are overcome by the enemy, God can raise up others to carry on His work.
Nehemiah triumphed through knowing God and bringing God into all his difficulties. The enemy failed through ignorance of God, and leaving God out of all his calculations.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 6". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter