COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 6:17 Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. 18 For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19 Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.” (Neh 6:17-19)
The wall has been completed, but contention with the enemy is not over. If Satan cannot thwart the work itself, he will use every weapon in his arsenal of deceit to bring down the heart of the workers and the people who have profited from the work. We do well to be vigilant and alert for the intrusions of the enemy. Those who wear the name of the Lord may slip into slumber, but their foes will not. That is precisely why spiritual sleep is lethal. It is, after all, called “the sleep of death” (Psa 13:3). Whatever tends to make us spiritually lethargic is like a gateway to hell. It has the potential of disqualifying us from entrance into glory. Even when we eat from the especially prepared table of the Lord, we do so “in the presence” of our “enemies” (Psa 23:5). As one might expect, the attack we will now confront is different than those before. This time some good reports will be circulated about the enemy. These will be spread because an association has been formed between the enemy of the work and those who were involved in it and profited from it. We will also find that allegiance had already been sworn to the foe because he was related to the Jews through marriage. The wall was finished in spite of this wicked alliance.
EVIL COMMUNICATIONS CORRUPT GOOD MANNERS
“ 17 Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. ” Other translations begin this verse with the word “Also,” NKJV “And further,” BBE “At the same time,” NAB “During those fifty-two days,” NLT and “During the same period.” NJB
IN THOSE DAYS. This phrase refers to the time of the building of the wall – the fifty-two days required for its culmination. It is added in order to confirm what a great work was accomplished in the completion of the wall. This is an additional encumbrance under which the work was done.
THE NOBLES SENT LETTERS. There were not just a few letters that the nobles sent to Tobiah, but “many letters.” These were sent to Tobiah by the “nobles,” “principal men,” DOUAY “chiefs,” BBE or “officials of Judah.” NLT One version reads “the nobles of Judah kept sending letter after letter to Tobiah.” NJB The contents of these letters are not declared, but it could not have been good. It might have been that they kept Tobiah up to date on the progress of the building, in addition to what Nehemiah was saying. We will learn from the next verse the letters were of a kind sort, and were not argumentative.
THE LETTERS OF TOBIAH. A lot of letters were also sent by Tobiah to the nobles, so that a regular line of communication was taking place during the building of the wall. By means of these letters, it is apparent that Tobiah was craftily attempting to stop the work on the wall. He certainly means no good by his communication, for Nehemiah has made quite clear he was an opponent from the very beginning.
Tobiah is mentioned fourteen times in the book of Nehemiah. Up to this time, here is what was said of him. 1. He was grieved to hear a Nehemiah had come, seeking the welfare of the children of Israel (2:10). 2. He laughed the workers to scorn and scoffed them (2:19). 3. He said a fox would be able to break down the wall (4:3). 4. He was angry to hear that the breaches in the wall had been repaired (4:7). 5. He was classed among Nehemiah’s enemies (6:1). 6. He hired a false prophet to prophesy against Nehemiah (6:12).
In spite of all of this, the nobles continued to write him letters, communicating frequently with him. They were able to brush his chiding and mocking aside as though it had not happened at all. Nehemiah asked the Lord to think upon Tobiah because of his consistent opposition of the work (6:14). The nobles took it upon themselves to befriend Tobiah with their “many letters.”
Thus, all through the building of the wall, the nobles of Judah were sending letters to Tobiah – keeping the lines of communication open with an opponent of the work. Although Nehemiah does not comment on the effects of the nobles’ letters to Tobiah, they must have had an adverse effect. That is no doubt why he mentioned them.
AN APPLICATION. The nobles of Judah were not the last people to engage in regular communication with the enemy. To this very day, there is a sort of naivety within the Christian community that allows the godly to regularly dialog with those who actually oppose the work of the Lord. It is well for the people of God to remember the Spirit’s solemn reminder: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor 15:33). Other versions read, “Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits,” NKJV “Bad company corrupts good morals,” NASB “Bad company corrupts good character,” NIV and “evil company does damage to good behavior.” BBE
Nearly every defection from the faith, backsliding, or retrogression into the flesh can be traced back to “evil communications” – directly to friendly contact with those who have no heart for the Lord and His work. We are categorically told that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9). When such people become the best friends of those who wear the name of Jesus, their evil behavior will begin to contaminate the lives of the professed believer. Elsewhere the Spirit warns, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” NKJV (1 Cor 5:6). Again, Solomon writes “a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Prov 13:20). Paul said of the erroneous teachings of false prophets, “their talk will spread like gangrene” NASB (2 Tim 2:17). That is not mere rhetoric, but something that does happen.
Most faithful followers of Jesus have known people who have left their first love, waxed cold in their love for Jesus, or otherwise went backward instead of forward. In every case, some form of regular contact with the ungodly can be found. Friendships have been maintained that should have been severed, or new ones have been made that ought to have been shunned. Those who refuse to take these texts seriously have opened themselves to corrupting influences.
INTERMINGLING WITH THE ENEMY
“ 18 For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.” Other versions say many in Judah were “pledged to him,” NKJV “bound by an oath to him,” NASB “made an agreement by oath to him,” BBE “were in league with him,” NAB “sworn allegiance to him,” NLT and “sworn to his interest.” NJB
Thus the nobles of Judah were actually seeking the interest of their enemy – promoting his welfare, and perhaps even doing as he advised them. Here is a classic example of an “unequal yoke” (2 Cor 6:14). These nobles had violated the truth of the first Psalm. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa 1:1).
HE WAS THE SON-LAW OF SHECHANIAH. Tobiah had married the Jewish daughter of Shechaniah, son of Arah, who was a respected person in the Ezra’s time (Ezra 2:5; Neh 7:10). Tobiah was an Ammonite (Neh 4:3), a people noted for their idolatry (1 Kgs 11:5). They had formerly came against the people of God in war (2 Chron 20:1). In Ezra’s day, there had been considerable intermarriage with the Ammonites – marriages that moved the Jews to “do according to their abominations” (Ezra 9:1).
This expressly contradicted the Law given to Israel. “And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son” (Deut 7:2-3). In Ezra’s day, after he had found the Jews had intermarried with the heathen, he confessed to God that the people had broken this very law (Ezra 9:10-12).
Who is able to measure the damage that has been done to the causes of God because of unwise marriages? To this very day, this remains a fundamental weakness among those professing the name of the Lord. Many professed believers give less thought to their marriage than they do to choosing their vocation, or where they will go to school.
Here we have a case where the work of God was opposed by a person who had gained friends among the Jews because of his marriage. Even though the Law had said, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever” (Deu 23:3), here is an Ammonite that did enter among God’s people. Shechaniah gave his daughter to him in violation of the Law. His daughter consented to the arrangement in violation of the Law. Now, because of the disregard for the Law, the work of the Lord has an opponent who is close at hand.
HIS SON JOHANAN. Having himself broken down some measure of resistance among the Jews, Tobiah’s son now marries “the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.” Meshullam was a respected worker on the wall project, which was opposed by Tobiah (3:4). But before he had worked on the wall, he had given his daughter to Tobiah’s son. Now, the effects of that marriage is being realized in the mockery, threats, and despite of Tobiah the Ammonite! O, the tragedies that have fallen out of foolish love.
BECAUSE . . . Why had the nobles of Judah sworn to seek the interests of Tobiah? Why were they sending letters to him, and receiving answers back? It was “BECAUSE he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.” Those marriages had forged friendships and alliances from which no good could come. They had opened the door for the devil and his colleagues to enter among God’s people.
Enough cannot be said about this matter in a day when God’s Word is too easily pushed aside in preference for lust and affection. The word to those who are redeemed is, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6:14-16). Such marriages are nothing less than an attempt to merge righteousness and unrighteousness. They are seen as an effort to put light and darkness together, and wed Jesus with the devil. A believer and an unbeliever cannot be profitably yoked together. Such is an “unequal yoke,” and trouble is sure to come from it. Let the people of God learn from this text not to forget the Lord when they are seeking a husband or wife.
REPORTED GOOD DEEDS, BUT THREATENING LETTERS
“ 19 Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.” Other versions read, “Also they reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me,” NKJV and “Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.” NIV The idea is that as a direct result of Tobiah’s correspondence with Judah’s nobles, he sent intimidating letters to Nehemiah.
THEY REPORTED HIS GOOD DEEDS TO ME. According to the nobles of Judah, Tobiah had been doing a lot of good things – and they were faithful to report that to Nehemiah. Perhaps they thought to influence the man of God to look more favorably upon Tobiah. Possibly Shechaniah and Meshullam had told him how good Tobiah and his son had been to their daughters. Perhaps they were good fathers, and provided well for their families. Maybe they had even given gifts to the two families into which they had married. No doubt the nobles suggested Tobiah’s counsel would be valuable, and it would be to Nehemiah’s advantage to be friendly with him.
It is always a point of concern when those who reject the Son of God, despise the Gospel of Christ, disdain the Word of God, and have no interest in what God is doing, are spoken of as though they were “good” people. Such reports are the result of judging according to the flesh, an activity that is strictly forbidden by Jesus (John 7:24). Our Lord reminded us that it simply is not possible for a corrupt tree to bring forth good fruit (Matt 7:18). I understand that Cornelius was of “good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). However, that was because he was “just, and one that feared God.” Tobiah was not such a man! He was in quest of God, not opposed to Him
THEY UTTERED MY WORDS TO HIM. These nobles of Judah reported Nehemiah’s words to Tobiah, keeping him up to date, as it were, on all things. They were like spies, bringing update reports to the enemy. Other versions read, “they told him everything I said,” NLT and “they reported what I said back to him.” NJB Thus, while the wall was being built, Tobiah had a regular pipeline into all that Nehemiah was saying. He must have known about his defensive strategies (4:16), the people being urged to move into the city of Jerusalem (4:22), and other things.
Yet, with all of the information Tobiah received, he was impotent to stop the work on the wall. He no doubt shared his knowledge with Sanballat and others, but the wall was still completed in fifty-two days. “If God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31).
TOBIAH SENT LETTERS TO ME. This is the first reference to any letters from Tobiah – but they had been coming to Nehemiah regularly. The purpose behind these letters was to cause fear to erupt in the man of God. Other versions say these letters were intended to “put me in fear,” DARBY “to terrify me,” Septuagint “intimidate me,” NLT and “to terroize me.” NJB They were like invading hornets, yet had no stingers. They could not accomplish what they were intended to do – cause fear.
The fact that Nehemiah does not particularize the contents of Tobiah’s letters confirms they had no adverse effect upon him. He had devoted himself to the completion of the task God has put into his heart, and would not be diverted from that work. We know from this book that he often resorted to the Lord in prayer (1:5,11; 2:4; 4:4,9; 5:19; 6:9,14). I can only conclude that Nehemiah took Tobiah’s letters to the Lord also, refusing to be distracted by them.
Thus we see another aspect of this work that was not formerly made known to us. It was completed while a lot of interchange was going on between the nobles of Judah and Tobiah the Ammonite. Also, all through those fifty-two days, Nehemiah was receiving intimidating letters from his enemy – letters designed to cause him to be afraid.
Nehemiah could say of the work God put into is heart what Paul said about the opportunities opened to him. “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:9). However, the One who moved the man of God to work was greater than the enemies who sought to have him stop. The point to be seen is that Nehemiah knew this while the work was in progress. It is one thing to look back on your labors and know that God has been for you. It is quite another thing to be aware of Divine favor while the work is going on and the enemy is harassing you.
Let every person who labors for the Lord be encouraged to walk by faith, being more aware of the blessing and presence f the Lord that the words, letters, and actions of the enemy. That task will not be as easy as appears at the first . Yet, it is altogether possible.