The Signs of the Times



January 3, 1884

Heathen Plots Against Nehemiah


Sanballat, Tobiah, and their confederates, dared not openly make war upon the Jews; but with increasing malice they continued their secret efforts to perplex, injure, and discourage them. The wall about Jerusalem was rapidly approaching completion. When it should be finished, and its gates set up, these enemies of Israel could not hope to force an entrance into the city. Therefore they were the more eager and determined in their efforts to stop the work without delay. At last they devised a plan to draw Nehemiah from his station, and kill or imprison him while they had him in their power. ST January 3, 1884, par. 1

Pretending to desire a compromise of the opposing parties, they proposed a conference with Nehemiah, and invited him to meet them in a village on the plain of Ono. But the Spirit of God, enlightening the mind of his servant, enabled him to discern their real purpose. Says Nehemiah, “I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down; why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you?” But these emissaries of Satan were persistent. Four times they sent messages of like import, but received the same answer. ST January 3, 1884, par. 2

Finding this plan unsuccessful, they then had resort to a more dangerous stratagem. Sanballat sent to Nehemiah a messenger bearing an open letter wherein was written: “It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel; for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.” Had the reports mentioned been actually circulated, there would have been cause for apprehension; for they would soon have been carried to the ears of the king, whom a slight suspicion might provoke to the severest measures. But Nehemiah was convinced that the letter was wholly false, written to arouse his fears, and draw him into some snare prepared by his enemies. This conclusion was strengthened by the fact that the letter was sent open, evidently that the contents might be read by the people, and thus intimidate them also. ST January 3, 1884, par. 3

He therefore promptly returned the answer “There are no such things done as thou sayest; but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” He is not ignorant of Satan's devices, and he feels assured that all these attempts are made for the purpose of weakening the hands of the builders, that their work may not be accomplished. He turns to the Source of strength, with the prayer, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” ST January 3, 1884, par. 4

Satan had been defeated again and again; and now with deeper malice and greater cunning, he proceeded to devise a still more subtle and dangerous snare for the servant of God. Sanballat and his companions were moved to hire men, professing to be friends of Nehemiah, to give him evil counsel as the word of the Lord. The principal person engaged in this nefarious work was one Shemaiah, who had previously been held in good repute by Nehemiah. This man shut himself up in a chamber near the sanctuary, as if fearing that his life was in danger, and thither Nehemiah went to consult with him as one who was especially favored of God. The temple was at this time protected by walls and gates, while the gates of the city were not yet set up. This deceiver therefore professed great concern for Nehemiah's safety, and counseled him to seek shelter in the temple: “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.” The hero's fearless answer was, “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.” ST January 3, 1884, par. 5

Had Nehemiah followed that treacherous counsel, he would have sacrificed his reputation for courage, and faith in God, and would have appeared cowardly and contemptible. The alarm would have spread among the people, each would have sought his own safety, and the city would have been left unprotected, to fall a prey to their enemies. That one unwise move would have been a virtual surrender of all that had been gained. ST January 3, 1884, par. 6

Nehemiah was not long in penetrating the true character and object of his counselor; “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. 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.” ST January 3, 1884, par. 7

In view of the important work that Nehemiah had undertaken, together with the integrity of his character, and the confidence in God which he professed to feel, it would be highly inconsistent for him to hide himself as though in fear. The preservation of life itself would not be a sufficient excuse for such a course. The infamous counsel given him was seconded by more than one man of high reputation, who, while professing to be his friend, was secretly in league with his enemies. Women also, while pretending to have received great light from God, basely sold themselves to serve the cause of the heathen. Nehemiah prays that God will mark their evil designs, and reward them according to their deeds. ST January 3, 1884, par. 8

Despite all the plots of enemies, open and secret, the work of building went steadily forward, the wall rose to the proper height, and in about two months after Nehemiah's arrival at Jerusalem, the holy city was girded round with its defenses, and the builders could walk upon its walls, and look forth upon their astonished adversaries. Says Nehemiah, “When all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” ST January 3, 1884, par. 9

Yet the striking evidence that the hand of the Lord was with Nehemiah was not sufficient to restrain discontent, rebellion, and treachery. “In those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah.” Here are seen the evil results of intermarriage with idolaters. In this union, Satan had gained the victory. A family of Judah had connected themselves with the enemies of God, and the relation had proved a snare to the people. Many others also united in marriage with the heathen. These, like the mixed multitude that came up with Israel from Egypt, were a source of constant trouble. They were not whole-hearted in the service of God. When his work demanded a sacrifice, they were ready to violate their own solemn oaths of co-operation and support. All this had tended to weaken and discourage those who sought to build up the cause of God. ST January 3, 1884, par. 10

Some who had been foremost in plotting mischief against the Jews, and endeavoring by every possible means to cause their ruin, now professed great desire to be on friendly terms with them. Some of the nobles of Judah who had become entangled in idolatrous marriages, had held traitorous correspondence with Tobiah, and had taken oath to serve him. They now presumed to represent this agent of Satan as a man of ability, wisdom, and foresight, and urged that an alliance with him would be highly advantageous to the Jews. At the same time they betrayed to him Nehemiah's plans and movements. Thus the work of God was laid open to his enemies, and opportunity was given them not only to misconstrue Nehemiah's words and acts, and circulate false reports concerning him, but to lay plans to counteract his efforts and hinder his work. Yet this man, who had so boldly stood in defense of the oppressed, did not exercise the authority with which he was invested, and bring to punishment those traitors in the camp. Calmly and unselfishly he went forward in the service of his people, never dreaming of slackening his efforts though they should be repaid only with ingratitude and treachery. ST January 3, 1884, par. 11

The whole power and policy of Satan have always been aimed at those who are zealously seeking to advance the cause and work of God. Though often baffled, he as often renews his assaults. But it is when he works in secret that he is most to be feared. The advocates of unpopular truth must expect opposition from its open enemies; this is often fierce and cruel, but it is far less dangerous than the secret enmity of those who profess to be serving God while at heart they are servants of Satan. While apparently uniting in the work of God, many are connected with his foe; and if in any way crossed in their plans, or reproved for their sins, they court the favor of the enemies of truth, and open to them all the plans of God's servants and the workings of this cause. Thus they place every advantage in the hands of those who use all their knowledge to hinder the work of God and injure his people. Thus these men of two minds and two purposes pretend to serve God, and then go over to the enemy and serve him, as best suits their inclination. ST January 3, 1884, par. 12

Every device which the prince of darkness can suggest, will be employed to induce God's servants to form a compromise with the agents of Satan. Repeated solicitations will come in, to call us from duty; but, like Nehemiah, we should steadfastly reply, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” We have no time to seek the favor of the world, or even to defend ourselves from their misrepresentation and calumny. We have no time to lose in self-vindication. We should keep steadily at our work, and let that refute the falsehoods which malice may coin to our injury. Slanders will be multiplied if we stop to answer them. Should we allow our enemies to gain our friendship and sympathy, and thereby allure us from our post of duty; should we by any unguarded act, expose the cause of God to reproach, and thus weaken the hands of the workers, we should bring upon our characters a stain not easily removed, and place a serious obstacle in the way of our own future usefulness. ST January 3, 1884, par. 13

Those temptations are most dangerous which come from the professed servants of God, and from our friends. When persons who are uniting with the world, yet claiming great piety and love, counsel the faithful workers for God to be less zealous and more conservative, our answer must be an appeal to the word of God. When they plead for union with those who have been our determined opposers, we should fear and shun them as decidedly as did Nehemiah. Those who would lead away from the old landmarks to form a connection with the ungodly, cannot be sent of Heaven. Whatever may have been their former position, their present course tends to unsettle the faith of God's people. ST January 3, 1884, par. 14

Such counselors are prompted by Satan. They are time-servers. The testimonies, reproofs, and warnings of God's servants are unpalatable to them, being a reproof to their worldly, pleasure-loving propensities. We should shun this class as resolutely as did Nehemiah. ST January 3, 1884, par. 15

When plied with the arguments and suggestions of such advisers, it would be well for us each to inquire, “Should I, who am a Christian, a child of God; one called to be the light of the world, a preacher of righteousness; who have so often expressed my confidence in the truth and the way in which the Lord has led us,—should I unite my influence with those who bitterly oppose the work of God? Should I, a steward of the mysteries of God, open to his worst enemies the counsels of his people? Would not such a course embolden the wicked in their opposition to the truth of God and to his covenant-keeping people? Would not such concession prevent me from opening my lips in exhortation, warning, or entreaty, in my own family or in the church of God? If Paul or Peter were placed in similar circumstances, would he thus betray a sacred trust? Would not even men of the world despise me? Would they not scorn to be diverted from their life-work by difficulties or perils?” ST January 3, 1884, par. 16

Satan will work by any and every means which he can employ to discourage the active servants of God. If the shepherd can be beguiled from his duty, then the way is clear for wolves to scatter and devour the sheep. ST January 3, 1884, par. 17

Every success of the truth discourages the enemies of God; and they are sometimes forced to acknowledge that it is his work, while they hate it the more on that very account. False brethren will continue to increase. Those to whom God has sent warnings and reproofs, but who, rejecting the Heaven-sent message, give heed to the counsel of his enemies, are the severest trial to his faithful servants. “They that forsake the law, praise the wicked.” ST January 3, 1884, par. 18