February 5, 2020
5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written:
“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”
9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”
But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
Our story of Nehemiah takes a dramatic turn in these 5 verses. What had at first been political maneuvering suddenly becomes outright threats to Nehemiah and the people working in Jerusalem. Sanballat sends a fifth letter requesting to meet but adds an addendum stating his intentions to spread false rumors to King Artaxerxes. Remember Artaxerxes from the beginning of our story? He was literally the most powerful man to have ever lived up to that time. Now Sanballat threatens to spread the lie that Nehemiah is undermining the King’s power and rebel against his rule. Were Artaxerxes to believe the rumors, it would have meant certain death for Nehemiah, and probably the utter destruction (again!) of the city of Jerusalem.
Once again Nehemiah is embroiled in conflict, although this conflict is of a different type—and quite possibly one that we, in 2020 are more familiar with. Few of us are under physical threat by our enemies. Few of us carry weapons while we work. Conversely, most of us have been the victims of false rumors or outright lies. Can you recall a time that someone told a lie about you? Or can you remember when someone accused you of having malicious intentions?
I remember hearing, through the closed door of my boss’s office, an angry co-worker tell numerous lies about me in an attempt to cover up her own poor performance. She called me hypocritical—said that I pretended to be a good employee but was dishonest and a slacker. How do you even begin fighting back against that?
Nehemiah demonstrates a twofold response. First, and most directly, he calls out the lies for what they are. But that’s all. He doesn’t try to explain, negotiate, or disprove. He just moves on. His second response should be no surprise at this point. He turns to prayer. His prayer is very specific this time. Nehemiah prays that God will give him strength to complete the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.
In this twofold response, Nehemiah demonstrates an extraordinary amount of faith and conviction. He plans to be proven correct in his actions, not his words. In the conflicts in your life, can you let your actions speak in place of your words? What would that look like in your marriage? Your workplace? Your family? Ask God to strengthen you for the hard tasks of reconciliation and righteousness. Look for opportunities to let your life speak God’s truth.