The Jews’ enemies leave no stone unturned, no way untried, to take Nehemiah off from building the wall about Jerusalem. In order to this they had tried to fetch him into the country to them, but in vain; now they try to drive him into the temple for his own safety; let him be any where but at his work. Observing him to be a cautious man, they will endeavour to gain their point by making him cowardly. Observe,
I. How basely the enemies managed this temptation.
1. That which they designed was to bring Nehemiah to do a foolish thing, that they might laugh at him, and insult over him for doing it, and so lessen his interest and influence (Neh. 6:13): That I should be afraid, and so they might have matter for an evil report, and might reproach me. This was indeed doing the devil’s work, who is men’s tempter that he may be their accuser, draws men to sin that he may glory in their shame. The greatest mischief our enemies can do us is to frighten us from our duty and bring us to do what is sinful.
2. The tools they made use of were a pretended prophet and prophetess, whom they hired to persuade Nehemiah to quit his work and retire for his own safety. The pretended prophet was Shemaiah, of whom it is said that he was shut up in his own house, either under pretence of retirement for meditation and to consult the mind of God or to give Nehemiah a sign in like manner to make himself a recluse. It should seem, Nehemiah had a value for him, for he went to his house to consult him, Neh. 6:10. Other prophets there were, and one prophetess, Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), that were in the interest of the Jews’ enemies, pensioners to them and traitors to their country. Whether they pretended to inspiration does not appear; they do not say, Thus saith the Lord, as the false prophets of old did; if not so, yet they would be thought to excel in divine knowledge, and human prudence, and to have uncommon measures of insight and foresight, and were therefore consulted in difficult cases, as prophets had been. These the enemies feed to be of counsel for them. Let us hence take occasion to lament, (1.) The wickedness of such bad men as these prophets, that ever any should be so perfidious as to betray the cause of God and their country even under the pretence of communion with God and concern for their country. (2.) The unhappiness of such good men as Nehemiah, who are in danger of being imposed upon by such cheats, and to whom no temptation comes with more force than that which comes under a colour of religion, of revelation and devotion, and is brought by the hand of prophets.
3. The pretence was plausible. These prophets suggested to Nehemiah that the enemies would come and slay him, in the night they would slay him, which he had reason enough to believe was true; they would, if they could, if they durst. They pretended to be much concerned for his safety. The people would be all undone if any harm should come to him; and therefore they very gravely advised him to hide himself in the temple till the danger was over; that was a strong and sacred place, where he would be under the special protection of Heaven, Ps. 27:5. If Nehemiah had been prevailed upon to do this, immediately the people would both have left off their work and thrown down their arms, and every one would have shifted for his own safety; and then the enemies might easily, and without opposition, have demolished the works, broken down the wall again, and so gained their point. Though self-preservation is a fundamental principle of the law of nature, yet that is not always the best and wisest counsel which pretends to go upon that principle.
II. See how bravely Nehemiah vanquished this temptation, and came off a conqueror.
1. He immediately resolved not to yield to it, Neh. 6:11. See here, (1.) What his reasonings are: “Should such a man as I flee? Shall I desert God’s work, or discourage my own workmen whom I have employed and encouraged? Shall I be over-credulous of report, and over-solicitous about my own life? I that am the governor, on whom so many eyes are, both of friends and foes? Another might flee, but not I. Who is there that being as I am, in my post of honour, and power, and trust, would go into the temple, and lurk there, when business is to be done, yea, though it were to save his life?” Note, When we are tempted to sin we should remember who and what we are, that we may not do any thing unbecoming us, and the profession we make. It is not for kings, O Lemuel! Prov. 31:4. (2.) What was the result of his reasonings. He is at a point: “I will not go in. I will rather die at my work than live in an inglorious retreat from it.” Note, Holy courage and magnanimity will engage us, whatever it cost us, never to decline a good work, nor ever to do a bad one.
2. He was immediately aware of what was the rise of it (Neh. 6:12): “I perceived that God had not sent him, that he gave this advice, not by any divine direction, ordinary or extraordinary, but with a design against me.” The wickedness of such mercenary wretches will sooner or later be brought to light. Two things Nehemiah says he dreaded in that which he was advised to:—(1.) Offending God: That I should be afraid, and do so, and sin. Note, Sin is that which above any thing we should dread; and a good preservative it is against sin to be afraid of nothing but sin. (2.) Shaming himself: That they might reproach me. Note, Next to the sinfulness of sin we should dread the scandalousness of it.
3. He humbly begs of God to reckon with them for their base designs upon him (Neh. 6:14): My God, think thou upon Tobiah, and the rest of them, according to their works. As, when he had mentioned his own good services, he did not covetously or ambitiously prescribe to God what reward he should give him, but modestly prayed, Think upon me, my God (Neh. 5:19), so here he does not revengefully imprecate any particular judgment upon his enemies, but refers the matter to God. “Thou knowest their hearts, and art the avenger of falsehood and wrong; take cognizance of this cause; judge between me and them, and take what way and time thou mayest please to call them to an account for it.” Note, Whatever injuries are done us we must not avenge ourselves, but commit our cause to him that judgeth righteously.
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