Nehemiah 6:3 – And I sent messengers to them, saying, “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?”
Critics opposed to Nehemiah’s ministry since he first arrived at the city are again united to divert from the mission (Nehemiah 6:1-4). At first glance, what appears to be a change of heart, wanting to meet with Nehemiah for a discussion in a town between the two warring sides, is nothing more than a deceptive murder plot.
Nehemiah responded with discernment, knowing they were not seeking his friendship but rather his failure. Wasting a few days on a meeting would come at the cost of finishing his work. So, he repeatedly declined their offer. Saying no to pushy, covert, lying and controlling enemies who exert public pressure is a vital leadership lesson.
Unsuccessful at diversion, his enemies move to disgrace by attacking Nehemiah personally (Nehemiah 6:5-9). A leader takes the hardest and most frequent public beating because, just as in battle, the shortest route to winning a war is to shoot the highest-ranking officer.
Nehemiah’s enemies were wealthy and powerful political leaders, so their personal attacks were very serious. Because Nehemiah’s character was impeccable, his enemies resorted to the demonic tactic of fabricating lies – that he was going to set himself up as king (the same lie later told about Jesus in Luke 23:1-5). Sedition could have resulted in Nehemiah’s arrest, imprisonment in Susa, and possibly the death penalty. Nehemiah faced the lose-lose scenario of finishing his mission or saving his life.
Even worse, the lies were communicated in an open legal letter which gave it credibility. Ancient legal documents were sealed to only be read by the intended recipient. In sending an open letter, Nehemiah’s enemies were publicly circulating the lie in a way that would be akin to a detailed modern day smear campaign spread through emails, texts, blogs, press releases, and baseless hit piece articles with salacious click-bait headlines and a shady attorney filling out legal paperwork.
Nehemiah ignores most lies, refutes the worst lies, and attacks his enemies’ motives as politically motivated fear tactics. He did not meet with his enemies, but he did meet with his God in prayer for wisdom and courage.
What lessons do you learn from how Nehemiah dealt with his enemies and critics?