When you come across Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the unnamed others of Nehemiah six, you can’t help but be struck by how timeless some things are. The book of Nehemiah recounts the great construction project led one of the Bible’s great leaders, Nehemiah. In fact, this Bible book is a great instruction manual on great traits of leadership. Despite his skill, though, Nehemiah faced several obstacles. He had overcome poverty, internal strife, and discouragement, only to encounter the opposition of troublemakers at this stage of the work. Notice what they did and how great leaders respond to such tactics.
He faced insincerity (1-3,10-12). The aforementioned men tried to pull Nehemiah away from wall-building under the guise of a “meeting.” Yet, the text says they sought him harm. Later, we see that these troublemakers have hired an associate of Nehemiah’s, who fabricates a story meant to frighten him. Both times, Nehemiah saw through the deception. His answer was to focus on the work, refusing to leave it to become trapped in their snare. When we are engaged in great works for Christ, there will be those, either out of jealousy or their own heart problems, who don’t want it to succeed. Perhaps even despite an air of piety or “righteous concern,” they are willing to twist the truth to undermine our work. Like Nehemiah, we must refuse to leave the work to be dragged into unproductive distractions.
He faced insistence (4). They sent this same message at least five times! Imagine Nehemiah and the others, up on the wall, finishing the job as the troublemakers keep pestering them with the same mantra. Look at what Nehemiah does. He sticks to his guns. What grit and determination! We should know that troublemakers often have nothing better to do. They aren’t working on their own “walls,” so they choose to do nothing better than try to tear down the walls of others. We must be prepared to keep working, however much they pester.
He faced insinuation and invention (5-7). This is a favorite weapon in the troublemaker’s arsenal. They used talebearing, slander, gossip, and the like to try and undermine the work. You can imagine the sneaky, slithery way in which they did it, can’t you? “It is reported.” “Gesham says.” “We’re going to report you to the king.” What Nehemiah did in response is such a lesson for us. He didn’t wring his hands or spend a lot of time with counterarguments. He had truth on his side and did not feel compelled to wallow in the mud with the mudslingers. He knew he was doing right, and he simply told them so.
He faced intimidation (9). God gives us insight into the motivation of the troublemakers. Nehemiah says, “They all were trying to make us afraid.” Why these mean-minded men were so obsessed with halting the work is not exactly clear, but pride and self-importance seem to play a part. Nehemiah counteracts their bullying by going way over their head! He took it to God, praying for strength to overcome their pressures and threats. Obviously, as we read, God answered Nehemiah’s noble prayer. When we face such intimidation, we have access to the same power! That’s the first place we should turn when bullied by troublemakers.
How incredible that something which happened 2500 years ago can be so relevant to us today. The old adage attributed to Aristotle is true: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Well, for Christians trying to do God’s work today, “nothing” is not an option. We must be ever at work building His kingdom. Thus, expect trouble and troublemakers. Then, look to Nehemiah for the strategy to overcome them! It still works.