Speaking the Truth in Love

A Crafty Invitation

Nehemiah, cupbearer to the Persian king Ar-ta-xerxes, received royal permission to take an extended leave and go to Jerusalem as its governor to rebuild the city’s broken walls. Nehemiah completed this project far more quickly than anyone thought possible. But Sanballat and Tobiah, enemies of the Jewish people, opposed the governor at every turn.

One ploy was an attempt to frighten Nehemiah into violating God’s law. Tobiah and Sanballat hired Shemaiah to say: “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, at night they are coming to kill you” (Neh. 6:10). “Should such a man as I flee?” Nehemiah replied. “And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in” (v. 11).

In his memoir Nehemiah explained that “for this purpose [Shemaiah] was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me an evil name, in order to taunt me” (Neh. 6:13). If Nehemiah had accepted Shemaiah’s invitation to sin against God, Shemaiah himself would have ridiculed the governor for his weakness. “That Nehemiah is a hypocrite,” he would have said. “The governor says that he came to Jerusalem to honor the Lord by rebuilding the city walls, but he has no respect for God. Did you hear about his hiding in the temple, the holy place reserved exclusively for the priests?”

Is there a Shemaiah in my life—someone urging me to drink a few beers, place some bets at the casino, be unfaithful to my spouse, or miss worship to watch a ball game on TV? Remember that anyone who offers Shemaiah’s invitation to sin is no friend. A true friend wants what is best for me, what is right and good. But the “friend” who lures me into sin will also disrespect or even despise me for betraying my convictions.

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