Lord's Day Evening Meditations May 11, 2003

Nehemiah 6:1-12

"The Wiles of the Devil"

In chapter 3 we saw the remnant busily working at rebuilding the wall. The enemy was grieved at this, and in chapter 4 threatened to come with violence and stop the work. Chapter 6 continues from chapter 4 with a new tactic of the enemy. The threat of violence hadn't achieved anything so now the enemy tried pretended friendship, and their efforts were directed especially against Nehemiah, the leader of the work. This is an example of Eph. 6:11 - "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" - not the power of the devil, but his "wiles," tricks. Peter speaks of "the devil as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." 1 Pet. 5:7. We can all easily recognize a roaring lion, and will stay far away from him. But then, Satan can also transform himself "into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14), and it is not so easy to be able to recognize that "an angel of light" is maybe Satan after all.

Church history gives us a clear example of this. Satan "as a roaring lion" is his character as a persecuter. In the Smyrna period of church history, Satan persecuted the believers and tortured them to death. The result was that believers were faithful, strong, and separate from the world which they easily recognized as an enemy. The enemy lost ground instead of gaining it. Then Satan changed his tactics; instead of being an enemy, he pretended to be a friend and in a short time he had corrupted the believers and the profession of Christianity. His success was so complete that it led to what is known as the Dark Ages in which the light of truth was almost (but God always preserves Himself a remnant) extinguished, and what carried the name of Christian was more corrupt than the heathen.

There are places in the world right now where Satan is going about as a roaring lion, persecuting believers. We can be grateful that we do not have that opposition here, but we do have to deal with "the wiles of the devil," and that is one reason why this sixth chapter of Nehemiah can be so valuable to us. The enemy tried three tricks on Nehemiah to try to catch him, but Nehemiah didn't get caught. Nehemiah was preserved from the snares of the enemy, and we can be also, if we follow his example.

I wonder if we are as familiar with the identity of the enemy as Nehemiah was? See verse 1. Their message to Nehemiah was, "Come, let us meet together " This was pretended friendship, as though to say, "Let's get together and discuss these things." But Nehemiah knew his friends from his enemies; he knew what this was all about. "They thought to do me mischief." The world has declared itself the enemy of Christ. How do I know that? When the Lord Jesus came they nailed Him to a cross, and He is still as despised and rejected today as He was then. That is why James says "that the friendship of the world is enmity with God." Jas. 4:4.

But Nehemiah's answer to this friendly offer is most instructive to us. "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." v. 3. The importance of the work he was doing, and the urgency of it, did not allow him time to accept their invitation. It is as though he said, "I don't have time. I have something more important to do." What a simple and effective answer that is to all of the enemy's friendly, evil-intentioned advances! Is it not most important to be occupied with the Lord's things, with His service, or with His Word as we are doing here this evening? If all of our leisure time was taken up with the Lord's things, we wouldn't have time for the devil's things. You can be sure that the devil can find many things to occupy idle hands or idle minds.

We need to be impressed with the importance of occupation with the Lord's things. Then, the evil, or unnecessary things, that might claim our attention will be easily refused, and the enemy's "wiles" will be detected and prove ineffective. Try inviting people to a gospel meeting or to a Bible reading and see what excuses you will get. They generally all add up to two things: "I'm not interested," or "I don't have time." That is the enemy's way to keep people away from the Lord. Well, we can turn the enemy's device against Himself. When He, by means of the unbelieving world, would entice us to join in some sinful or otherwise undesirable activity, we also can answer, "I'm not interested," or "I don't have time!"

That reminds me of Psalm 1. The blessed man does not walk "in the counsel of the ungodly," he doesn't stand "in the way of sinners," and he doesn't sit "in the seat of the scornful." Why? Because "his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night." v. 2. He so enjoys the Word of God that he has no interest in other, especially sinful, things; and, occupied with the Word and the things of the Lord, "day and night," he doesn't have time. In this way he is preserved from all of the "wiles" of the enemy.

But Satan doesn't give up easily. The same invitation was sent to Nehemiah four times! v. 4. They expected that he would weaken, and eventually give in, like Samson. Read Judges 14:17 and 16:16 - 17. The strong man gave in under constant pressure, and the enemy knows that we might do likewise. The Lord Jesus simply quoted Scripture in answer to the tempter's repeated efforts, whilst Nehemiah returned his same answer and continued with the work of the Lord.

The enemy's second trick was an open letter which was a report that the Jews were building the wall because they intended to rebel against the king of Persia. Nehemiah hoped to be their king and had appointed prophets to preach of him, "There is a king in Judah." If such a report had been true and had come to the king Artaxerxes, the Jewish remnant could expect to be severely punished. This fear of punishment would effectively stop them from doing any more work on the wall. Nehemiah's answer to this false charge and renewed invitation to consult together was, "There are no such things done as thou sayest." This was the work of the father of lies, and Nehemiah, as we have seen him often do, turned to prayer: "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands." False reports need not frighten us, for we know who the author of lies is, and we can turn to the Lord for strength to go on in the path of faith and service to Him.

The enemy's third effort to get Nehemiah to fall was the strongest and most crafty one of all. We can see from verse 12 that Shemaiah was a prophet. A prophet was supposed to communicate to the people the mind of God. He said to Nehemiah, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within (inside) the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea in the night will they come to slay thee." v. 10. Nehemiah answered, "Should such a man as I flee?" It would be shameful for him, the governor and leader of the people and of the work, to run and hide. Besides, Shemaiah's suggestion as a pretended friend and messenger from God, was that he should do something that was contrary to the Word of God! The people could go into the outer court of the temple (that is what we read about in the Gospels), but only priests were allowed into the temple itself. It would have been sin for Nehemiah to go into the temple itself, and that is why he replied, "And who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life (Fr. - would go into the temple and live)?" v. 11. Shemaiah was a false prophet who tried to entice Nehemiah to disobey God. That was strong delusion, but Nehemiah knew the Word and he was preserved by simple obedience to it: "I will not go in."

Shemaiah was another Balaam, hired to teach error. There are many in Christendom today who profess to reveal the Lord's mind, but who are actually leading multitudes of people into disobedience, and they are getting paid to do it! What is our protection from this "wile of the devil"? Know the Word of God, and obey it. Simple obedience to the Word is always the way of safety. S.L.