Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together. Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. Nehemiah 6:5-9 (NKJV)
They repeatedly sent Nehemiah the same message and he ignored it each time. Finally they sent a letter that basically said, “Nehemiah, rumor has it…” Personally I doubt he really heard these stories. If anything he was the one starting the rumors.
The rumor they were starting was that Nehemiah was setting himself up to be king. If this had been true it would have been a major blow to the integrity of Nehemiah. He had come under the authority of the king to rebuild the wall and was then supposed to go back and resume his work for the king. To come under the authority of the king to rebuild the wall only to rebel against the king would have been treason. As a general rule treason was punishable by death.
It’s important to notice that this came as an open letter. Normally when a letter was sent at this time it was folded and sealed with a wax seal that had some sort of an imprint in it. This was to ensure that no one but the intended recipient read the letter and that it would be obvious if someone had tampered with it. An open letter meant that anyone could read it. The letter was almost certainly sent open on purpose so that other people would read it. Human nature such as it is would lead most who read it to assume it was true regardless of any facts.
The rumors again attacked the character of Nehemiah but they had a purpose other than to attack his character. The goal of the defamation was to intimidate Nehemiah. It seems that what he was hoping is that Nehemiah would be so intimidated by these rumors that he would go and meet with Sanballat and then Sanballat could kill him. Or he was hoping that Nehemiah would be so intimidated by these rumors that he would stop the work and return home so the king didn’t find out and think he was seeking to rebel. He was starting and/or spreading gossip for the purpose of defaming and intimidating Nehemiah into quitting the work of God.
Nehemiah recognized what was going on and did not quit the work of God. He knew that these things weren’t being said because he knew he was acting with integrity despite the defamation and intimidation. So he sent them a letter telling them that these things weren’t being said and then prayed and asked God to give him the strength necessary to persevere in the work.
When we are opposed with the tactics of defamation the thing we will want to do the most is to defend ourselves in some way. There may be times where responding to critics is the appropriate thing to do, but I don’t think that it always is. A story goes that Abraham Lincoln was told by his associates that he should make a statement to attempt to minimize the damage of criticism made against him and he replied, “I will not give an answer to these fools. My enemies will not believe my answer and my friends do not need it.”
While that attitude may not always be the best, I think it is often the right way to go. If you’ve ever been attacked through people saying things about you, then you know that what Lincoln said is generally true. Generally those who oppose us and are spreading the rumors aren’t going to listen to anything we say and so we waste our breath trying. At the same time, as a general rule those who are our friends don’t need us to and defend ourselves. I think one of the most interesting passages that talks about this in the Bible is in the book of Proverbs.
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.” (Proverbs 26:4 NKJV)
Once in a discussion about arguments a friend of mine told me, “Never wrestle with a pig because you get muddy and the pig likes it.” That is a part of the idea here. There is a time when it is not wise to answer the accusations because when we do we will end up acting like the person making the accusations.
However the next verse goes on to say…
“Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NKJV)
It seems that there are also times when we need to answer the accusations so that the accuser doesn’t think they’ve hit on something that is true. Many times accusations are wild shots in the dark that the accusers think or hope might be true and could seem plausible to an observer. To not answer at these times could be seen as an admission of guilt.
This seems to be what is going on in Nehemiah’s case. It is plausible that the person who came to Jerusalem, became governor and seeks to rebuild the wall could be setting himself up to become king. This accusation is not only plausible but it is also historically consistent with how the nation of Israel has acted when they were ruled by foreign kings in the past. For Nehemiah not to answer this accusation could be construed as stalling for time. If word was to get to the king, the king would send and army that would raze the city first and ask questions later.
The trick is to know which accusations must be answered and which once should be let go. This takes lots of wisdom and will often go against the grain of our personality. Some of us want to respond to each and every accusation. This isn’t wise and will keep us from the work of God. Once the enemy realizes that we respond to everything they will just continually make accusations. We will end up spending all our time responding and none of our time doing the work of God.
Others don’t ever want to respond to any accusations. This is also unwise and will eventually keep us from the work of God. When plausible, but false, accusations are allowed to continue over a period of time they take on a life of their own. When this goes on long enough and we are finally forced to respond we may often find that we have waited too long and this accusation has become so entrenched in the minds of those around us that no amount of denial, or even facts, will refute it. We’ve all seen this happen before. If nothing else we’ve seen this happen with celebrities. In the end this does more to slow down or stop the work of God than taking the time to refute the accusation ever would have. We need wisdom and perseverance to complete the work of God when faced with the opposition of defamation and intimidation.
For further study read James 1:2-8.
Could opposition be considered a trial?
What are we to do when we lack wisdom?
How will God respond?
How do we have to ask?
What does it mean to be a double minded person?