COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 6:10 Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee. 11 And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. 12 And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 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.” (Neh 6:10-13)
A noble work will be confronted by unusual, cunning, and persistent opposition. Periods of peace, where godly men find favor with the people, do occur, but they are the exception rather than the rule. They certainly are not the standard by which a godly work is to be evaluated. We see this principle being lived out by Nehemiah. He no sooner overcomes one opponent than another is faced. It appears as though the enemy is coming in like a flood, yet the man of God does not waver. He remains alert and perceptive, watchful and vigilant. These are qualities the enemy cannot penetrate. Faith so arms the soul as to make one aware of the subtle approaches of the foe – the snares and traps that are laid for the righteous. On the other hand, unbelief spawns fear and discouragement, twin vices that make the wary soul vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. We will see the power and consistency of Nehemiah’s faith in this text. The repeated assaults of the enemy do not beat him down. His spiritual senses remain keen, and his determination does not waver. He knows how to answer those hired against him, and to stand in faith.
THE OBSTACLE OF SHEMAIAH, SON OF DELAIAH
“ 6:10 Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.” Open opposition has utterly failed. Mockery, reports of sneaking in among the ranks, attacks by night, and open letters have all proved futile. Now the enemy will take another approach, resorting to the hiring of a false prophet who will speak in the name of the Lord.
SHEMAIAH THE SON OF DELAIAH. There are twenty-seven men with this name in Scripture. They includes a holy prophet (1 Kgs 12:32), Levites (Neh 11:15; 1 Chron 9:16), a tabernacle gatekeeper (1 Chron 16:6-7), a chief Levite (2 Chron 35:9), a messenger for Ezra (Ezra 8:16), a priest (Neh 10:8), and a chief priest (Neh 12:6). But this Shemaiah, although he had a name associated with many holy people, was neither holy nor good. He was at the disposal of the enemy, and was no friend to Nehemiah.
Our text says he was “shut up,” or “confined at home.” NASB Another version reads “who was a secret informer.” NKJV This man may have been of the priestly order of a man named Delaiah, who is mentioned in First Chronicles 24:8. It appears that he was, in fact, a prophet, and that Nehemiah at this time trusted him. Therefore he went in Shemaiah, who was confined to his house, appearing to be giving himself to prayer or some other seemingly spiritual activity. We will find that what he appeared to be doing was not what alerted Nehemiah to his depravity. Rather, it was what he said, for prophets, whether true or false, are known for what they say..
LET US MEET TOGETHER IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. The suggestion might appear good to the spiritually uninformed. What better place to meet than in the house of God, within the confines of the temple? Shemaiah knows if he is ever going to influence Nehemiah, he will have to suggest a more favorable place than one of the villages in the plain of Ono, as Sanballat and Tobiah had previous suggested (6:2). The insinuation is that the confines of Shemaiah’s house were not safe enough for the two of them to talk. Therefore he suggests a more holy place – the Temple – into which only the priests could enter. The text may even suggest that Shemaiah, by being confined to his home, was not allowed to go into the house of God.
Here the language may be misleading. “The house of God” speaks of the Temple itself, and the word “temple” refers to the inner part of the temple, elsewhere called “the holy place.” Ezra uses the words “house of God” and “temple” in the same way (Ezra 5:14; 6:5). The “house of God” was the general temple complex, while “the temple” speaks of the place where the priests served. Thus, in my understanding, Shemaiah suggests he and Nehemiah have a meeting in an area into which only priests were to enter.
The action this treacherous man suggests is much like that of Adonijah, who exalted himself and thought to make himself king in the place of his brother Solomon, whom God had appointed to be king. He ran to the altar and took hold of its horns in hopes of obtaining mercy from Solomon (1 Kgs 1:50-51). Joab, who had turned after Adonijah, attempted the same thing, only to be slain while there (1 Kgs 2:28-34). Thus Shemaiah suggests the inner part of the house of God would afford them safety while they talked.
LET US SHUT THE DOORS OF THE TEMPLE. These were the giant doors originally made by Solomon, which separated the priestly area (1 Kgs 6:34). This treacherous man suggests the closed doors would afford them an even great degree of safety.
THEY WILL COME TO SLAY THEE. Now Shemaiah announces that there is a plot to kill Nehemiah that very night. Thus he must seek safety immediately. Other versions read, “they ARE COMING to kill you indeed, at night they will come to kill you,” NASB “because men are coming to kill you – by night they are coming to kill you,” NIV and “ for they are coming to kill you, they are coming to kill you tonight!” NJB/NLT
The pernicious suggestion of Shemaiah is that he is a friend of Nehemiah, and a supporter of his cause. Thus he suggests they meet together in the temple, as though his life was also being threatened by Sanballat and Tobiah. It is as though he said, “I am staying behind closed doors now because my life is also being threatened. I stand with you. Let us go together into the temple and shut the doors. We will be safe there from our mutual enemies.”
The fact that Nehemiah went to Shemaiah suggests he trusted him, and, at that point, was not suspicious of him. How will he react to this most cunning approach?
NEHEMIAH REFUSES THE SUBTLE ADVICE
“ 11 And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” As is Nehemiah’s consistent manner, he does not hesitate to answer appropriately. He knew how to respond to the mocking they encountered at the first (4:4-5). He immediately responded to the suggestion he come off of the wall for a caucus in the plain of Ono (6:3). He did not hesitate to respond to the suggestion they were planning a revolt against the king (6:8). Faith sharpens the senses and quickens the speech. This was nothing less than God Almighty showing him how to answer the encroachments of the evil one (Lk 12:11-12).
SHOULD SUCH A MAN AS I FLEE? Another version reads, “Should a man like me run away?” NIV By saying “a man like me,” Nehemiah refers to himself as one commissioned by the Lord to do a work (2:12). Should a man so directed run when the enemy hurls threats at him? Nehemiah also speaks of himself as one who has been underwritten by the king, duly authorized with letters for the governors and the manager of the king’s forest. Should a man like that run at the suggestion he is being opposed? He also speaks as the Governor of Judah, a leader of the people, and the superintendent of the wall project. Should a man like this run because his life is threatened? This is a time to stand up and lead the work wisely, not a time to run and cower in mortal fear.
WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING? “Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life?” NIV Now he does not speak as one commissioned to do a work. He does not speak as one supported by the king. Nor, indeed, does he speak as the Governor of Judah. Now he speaks as one who is NOT a priest – one whom God has not sanctioned to enter into the temple, or the holy place. He full well knew the law of the Lord. “Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office for every thing of the altar, and within the veil; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest's office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death” (Num 18:7). “The stranger,” in this case, was not a Gentile, but one who was not of the priestly tribe.
Nehemiah was the son of Hachaliah, of whom nothing is said that relates him to the priestly tribe or office. Nehemiah himself is distinguished from the priests by his role as Governor of Judah (5:14) – an office no Levite could hold. They were wholly dedicated to the Lord, having no inheritance in the land (Deut 10:9; 12:12; 14:27), and living off of the tithes of the people (Num 18:24). WHY, Nehemiah reasons, would a man like himself seek to take advantage of the Temple for safety, when that is not why it was established?
There is a principle to be seen here. God has appointed salvation, with all of its privileges and benefits, to prepare us for glory. The present benefits of salvation include recourse to the Lord Himself, nourishment from heaven, and blessings to sustain us in the good fight of faith. Salvation is never to be viewed as a mere relief from temporary threats and dilemmas. It is wholly out of order to use the things of God as a sort of crutch for carnal life. The things of God may only be used for their intended purpose. Ultimately, that is the “salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:9). Those who attempt to exploit the grace and power of God for other purposes are out of order. Their attempts will not be honored in heaven. Ir should be apparent that such attempts are alarmingly common in our time.
I WILL NOT GO IN. The resolve of Nehemiah comes through loud and strong. He would not come off of the wall to meet with Sanballat and Tobiah, and he will not go into the Tempe with Shemaiah. He makes no attempt to reason the matter out, but already knows the answer. He will, in New Covenant language, “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Tit 2:12). The man of God does not ponder whether or not this will be considered rude, for his mind is fully set on pleasing the Lord, not men. Like Paul he could reason, “do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). His faith would not allow him to do what Shemaiah suggested. First, it would require that he cease to trust in the Lord. Second, it would necessitate that he have an inordinate fear of his enemy. Third, he would thus be moved to violate the Law of the Lord. His heart would not allow him to do any of these things. Therefore, with all of the resolution of faith, he said, “I will not go in.” Sometimes bluntness is in order.
Determination of this sort is the product of living by faith. Such answers cannot be given by vacillating souls, who are tossed like the waves of the sea by the circumstances of life. A tremendous penalty is paid when one chooses to walk in the flesh, no matter how seemingly infrequent that may be. When we walk in the flesh, faith at once begins to fade, and is headed toward shipwreck. The enemy gains the upper hand, and men become foolish.
NEHEMIAH PERCEIVES A FALSE PROPHET
“ 12 And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 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.” Nehemiah has not spoken in haste. He now recounts precisely why he had responded with such finality, and without any regard whatsoever for how his words would be viewed by Shemaiah.
I PERCEIVED. The eyes of Nehemiah’s understanding were opened, and he realized Shemaiah was not sent from God. He does not say precisely what brought this realization, and that is not the point. His steps were being ordered by the Lord, as promised in Psalm 37:23. In the light of the Lord, he saw the real Shemaiah, and the cause for which he spoke (Psa 36:9).
Faith yields an alert and perceptive mind. Unbelief makes one dull and unable to understand critical matters. Those who are continually confused by the taunts of the enemy are not living by faith. That is why they fear men, compromise their stand, and determine to please their peers. Nehemiah perceived because he believed. He understood because he trusted in the Lord. He detected the threat because he was devoted to pleasing the Lord. Thus, God was for him, not against him. And, if God is not against us, no other person can effectually be opposed to us.
A PROPHECY AGAINST ME. Notice, the words of Shemaiah are called “this prophecy.” It was not a God-sent prophecy, but it was an evil one. Here is something you must not miss. Shemaiah appears to have been a Jew, and his house was accessible to Nehemiah. His name was an honorable name about the Jews. This is the first time one of the Jews is said to have consorted with the enemy. Previously, Jews who lived close to the enemy told of their malicious threats, even though they did not join the their adversaries (4:12). More unholy alliances like this will surface later (6:14,17-19; 13:4,5,28), but this is the first one. It is always tragic when any of God’s people side with the enemy. Such things reveal the aggressiveness of the foe, and the vacillating nature of unbelief.
By saying “against me,” Nehemiah means the whole matter was designed discredit him before his brethren, showing him to have no regard for the Law of the Lord. This, the work would be brought down as Sanballat and Tobiah wanted.
HE WAS HIRED. Indeed, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” NKJV (1 Tim 6:10). Here was a prophet who was “an hireling,” and thus he cared nothing for the sheep, or the work of God (John 10:12-13). Satan knows how to appeal to corrupt hearts. You do well not to fall into the snare of loving money and being greedy for gain. Such people have been known to betray Jesus. The stronger the appetite one has for money, the wider the door through which Satan gains access to him.
You also see how Satan will try and set your own kind against you. He has no regard for you, and thinks nothing of moving even your brethren against you if he can do so.
AFRAID AND SIN. Notice the perceived intent of Sanballat and Tobiah: “to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this.” NIV This wicked pair were not thinking in terms of Nehemiah sinning, but rather of discrediting him. Nehemiah is the one who correctly saw the prophecy of Shemaiah as a temptation to sin.
Also, it should be apparent that fear makes it easier to sin. Thus it is written, “The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov 29:25). What a remarkable contrast. Shemaiah suggests an action that will make for safety. Nehemiah sees his words as a temptation to sin. It is apparent that the thought of sinning was repulsive to Nehemiah. Even as Joseph responded to Potiphar’s wife, so Nehemiah could well have said, “how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen 39:9). The sin was entering into the temple without due regard for the Divine order, and doing so out of fear, and in order to be delivered from his enemies.
AN EVIL REPORT. The action suggested by Shemaiah would give Nehemiah “a bad name” and “discredit” him. It would show he had more regard for his own life than for the work and ordinances of the Lord. Thus, the work would be brought to a halt, for, in such a case, Nehemiah would have been perceived as corrupt, dishonest, and an exploiter. He would have desecrated the house of God and shown himself to be a despiser of the word of the Lord. Such a move would also have made it appear that he charge Nehemiah was planning a revolt against the king was true. It is no wonder, therefore, that the man of God totally rejects the proposal of Shemaiah. He knew it was an evil strategy against him.