10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”
11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!”
12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
13 For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me.
14 My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.
Nehemiah was hardly the kind of guy you would have chosen for a big project like rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem in the middle of enemies who wanted the city to remain in rubble. After all, Nehemiah was just a personal servant to the king of Babylon, a cupbearer, a slave. But God had laid upon that slave’s heart to rebuild the city of David, and God moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah the cupbearer to become Nehemiah the rebuilder of Jerusalem.
Of course, there were those around Jerusalem who did not want to see her restored. Regional governors and powerful Persian nobles wanted the Jews to remain in the dust, and the last thing they wanted to happen is for Jerusalem to become a power once again. Yet Nehemiah returned to the city and began rebuilding. Working diligently near their own homes and places of work – and often carrying a brick in one hand and a sword in the other (Nehemiah 4:17) – the remnant of the Jews rebuilt the wall in just fifty-two days. But just before the completion of the wall, Jerusalem’s enemies tried several different times to scare off Nehemiah and stop the work. They plotted to lure Nehemiah out of safety and then kill him. They sent him threatening letters. And finally they bribed a prophet to tell Nehemiah to lock himself away in the temple.
For most people who have been threatened with death, a temple might seem like a safe haven, a place to avoid the bloodshed. The insidious nature of that false prophecy was how sensible it seemed. Why doubt someone who seemed to advise caution and safety? Nehemiah, however, understood that hiding in the temple was perhaps the last thing God wanted him to do.
Psalms 27:1 A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
The Lord God had not brought Nehemiah out of Babylon and into the midst of enemies just to cower in fear of his life. The Lord had not given a palace slave the insight to direct the rebuilding of the wall of a great city, only to have that man hide in a temple. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not sent Nehemiah to bring glory to His name only to have him hide from his enemies and from his fellow Jews at their greatest hour of need.
21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Fear of death is a thing of men, not a thing of God. That is not to say that prudence and common sense should not guide us to safety when the threat is great. But when we are about the work of God, there is a time when good-intentioned people like Peter or bad-intentioned people like Shemaiah will advise us to turn away from danger, to abandon our work and avoid God’s plain will for us. Such advice is not from God, but from God’s enemies – whether Satan or man. That is when we should join David in saying, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalms 56:9)
Today, examine your path in the will of God. Look at the good works He has prepared for you, and ask yourself if there are some who advise you against those things. They say you will fail, or they tell you it’s not safe, or they say you don’t have the means to accomplish those things. Test the spirits of those negative advisors by asking plainly if they seek the will of God in Christ, or if they are just speaking from their flesh and their worldly point of view. That is where Satan works, twisting common sense into fear and reluctance, compounding the truth of danger with lies of fear. We WILL face danger in doing the will of God, and for Christ’s name we WILL be persecuted.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Would we give our souls for safety? Would we trade our fear of God for fear of men? Would we shun obedience and embrace profit and personal gain? Should we “be afraid and act that way and sin”?
Stand up today for what is right in the eyes of God. Do not fear the reproach of men, nor fear for your own safety. Face the “danger” of being unpopular and unloved among men in favor of being loved by God for presenting His gospel undiluted and in truth. Rebuke Satan for working through others to draw you from God’s work, and ask God to be the righteous judge of the men and women who speak fear to you. If we would follow Jesus, we must do so bearing a cross just as He did, ready to face the displeasure of men in order to attain “the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) Be discerning like Nehemiah and know that there are times when what seems to be the “safe” path is not the place where God Himself will keep you safe.
Almighty God, open my eyes to Your will for me today. Guide me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake – even if those paths do not seem safe. Give me courage to continue in the works You have set before me, and teach me to discern Your will among the many decisions I face every day. And let me always bring You glory in all I do. Amen.