"I Am Doing a Great Work and I Cannot Come Down" (Nehemiah 6)

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. That is the one quality of his character that comes through quite clearly in the book bearing his name. Throughout his account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, he interjects one prayer after another, not only for himself but also for Jerusalem, for his people, and even for his enemies.

Among Nehemiah’s enemies are the persistently annoying Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab. They are determined to undermine Nehemiah’s work, no matter what amount of deceit and dishonesty they have to employ to do so. Sanballat and Geshem resort to the age old tactic of feigning a peace conference, sending an “invitation” to Nehemiah to “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono” (Nehemiah 6:2). Their deception is quite transparent and Nehemiah sees right through it. They intend to distract him from his work, lure him into hostile territory, and dispose of him and put an end to his plans for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah, however, will not be distracted and sends back his reply, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (v. 3). In other words, Nehemiah is telling his enemies, “If you want to talk to me, come up here. I won’t be distracted by coming down to you.” This happens four times, reports Nehemiah, and four times his response is the same.

Thus rebuffed, Nehemiah’s adversaries resort to threats and intimidation. Sanballat sends his servant with an open letter reading, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall; and you wish to become their king, according to this report. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So now come, let us take counsel together" (vv. 6-7).

Sometimes, ancient history sounds a lot like contemporary history. This is one such instance. Out of thin air, Nehemiah’s adversaries have created a crisis by misrepresenting his intentions and then insisting that only he can diffuse it by clarifying his position. But Nehemiah, once again, is undeterred. “No such things as you say have been done,” he replies, “for you are inventing them out of your own mind” (v. 8).

Nehemiah could not be distracted from his work because he was constantly cultivating an intimate relationship with God through prayer. No matter how intense the opposition, he knew he could always rely on God to strengthen his hand (v. 9). God had anointed him to do a great work, and there was nothing his enemies could do to bring him down because he never wavered from looking upward toward heaven and keeping his focus on the work God had called him to accomplish.

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