Dealing with Intimidation
March 6, 2022
Irving Berlin said, “Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.”
Perspective is huge in our lives. In the ongoing saga of Nehemiah and the Judeans
rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, we encounter two very different perspectives.
Nehemiah believed that rebuilding the walls was a big step in the fulfillment of God’s
promise to restore the Judean people after their exile. It was also an indicator that the
Jews were restoring their relationship with God. But, not everyone saw things the way
Nehemiah did. His old nemeses Sanballot, Tobiah, Geshem, and the other enemies of
the Jews saw anything that strengthened the Jews as a reduction of their own
influence in the region.
So, we have two groups of people who are highly motivated to see two completely
different outcomes. One group is praying and working hard to rebuild a wall. The
other group is threatening attack, sending intimidating messages, and using
bullying tactics to try to stop the work of the other group.
One of the big takeaways from this passage is about dealing with our emotions in
trying situations. Nehemiah is a great example of how to deal with a bully, how to
respond to rumors, how to react to intimidation, and how to stay focused on our primary
responsibility when other people are trying to redirect our attention.
Intimidation creates a culture of fear, and it has a negative impact on everyone
involved. So what does intimidation look like among adults? In can be things like
embarrassing people in front of their co-workers, their boss, or their customers.
Dismissing someone’s efforts as insignificant, coercing them to do things they don’t
think is appropriate to do, making snide remarks, or taking credit for someone else’s
work are all a form of intimidation. All these activities, and others, have a negative
impact on the work place, the home, the church, or the community. Nehemiah
understood that his enemies were trying to stop the Lord’s work by intimidating the
workers. Their work was too important to let intimidation slow the work down.
Likewise, our mission in this world is vital. People’s lives and eternities depend on their
acceptance of the message we have been called to deliver. Our work is too important
for us to allow ourselves to be distracted by people of a lesser god.
- What motivated Sanballat and his associates to summon Nehemiah? What did
Sanballat ask of Nehemiah? (6:1-2)
1 ¶ Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out
that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained — though we
had not yet set up the doors in the gates.
2 So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of
the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me,
The enemies found out that the wall was completed. Their previous threats were
intended to stop the wall building. Now, their motivation seems to be on harming
Nehemiah, either physically or politically. Their goal was to lessen the influence of
the Jews in this region of Canaan. They viewed the Jews as direct opposition to their
own plans and ambitions. Therefore, these enemies of the Jews, having failed to stop
the wall from being rebuilt, turn their attention to discrediting Nehemiah and the people
Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to Nehemiah asking him to meet them in a
village in the plain of Ono.
- How did Nehemiah respond to Sanballat’s invitation? (6:3)
3 so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great
work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”
4 Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same
Nehemiah recognized their attempt to trap him. He was not about to go meet them. He
made a simple statement about the importance of his work and about not seeing a
reason to meet with them. Never allow negative influencers to stop your work for the
Lord. Secondary influences can sometimes distract us from what’s best. It is said that
good is often the enemy of best. Sometimes we can stay so busy doing good things that
we don’t get the primary work done. If pastors attended every meeting they are invited
to attend, that is about all they would do.
- What does Nehemiah teach us about how to handle a bully?
Nehemiah didn’t let his enemies divide him from his group. Bullies like to make their
victims feel isolated.
Nehemiah sent his reply by someone else so that other people knew what was
Nehemiah didn’t let his emotions control his response. In simple language, he told them
he was not going to comply with their wishes, and each time the enemy sent a message,
Nehemiah had the same reply back as before. Nehemiah never lost focus on his mission.
De 31:6 (NLT) So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic
before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will
neither fail you nor abandon you.”
- What was different about the fifth time Sanballat sent the message to Nehemiah?
5 The fifth time, Sanballat’s servant came with an open letter in his hand,
6 and this is what it said: “There is a rumor among the surrounding nations,
and Geshem tells me it is true, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel and
that is why you are building the wall. According to his reports, you plan to be
their king. 7 He also reports that you have appointed prophets in Jerusalem to
proclaim about you, ‘Look! There is a king in Judah!’ “You can be very sure
that this report will get back to the king, so I suggest that you come and talk it
over with me.”
The fifth time the enemies sent an open letter, and it was about a rumor. They wanted
to make sure that the people heard the rumor they were spreading. Their hope was that
Nehemiah would be afraid that the rumor would reach the king and therefore come meet
with them. They were accusing Nehemiah and his helpers of treason against the king.
What happens when we try to appease our distracters?
- How did Nehemiah respond to Sanballat’s accusations? (6:8) What did Nehemiah’s
opponents assume would be the result of their threats? (6:9)
8 I replied, “There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the
whole thing.” 9 They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they
could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even
They assumed Nehemiah would be at least a bit distracted by being accused of
treason. They hoped he would make a mistake and give them an opportunity to harm
him or make a negative impact on his work in Jerusalem.
He made a simple, unemotional statement that they were making up the whole
thing. His opponents thought they might be able to discourage Nehemiah or the
workers and stop progress or at least stir up division among the Jews.
According to a commentary Teach the Text, the wording in verse 9 contains an
idiomatic expression that lets us know that Nehemiah prayed and asked God to
give him more courage. This reminds us of our need to stay focused on the truth,
and never let lies distract us.
- What advice did Shemaiah give to Nehemiah? How did Nehemiah respond? (6:10-13)
10 ¶ Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel,
who was confined to his home. He said, “Let us meet together inside the
Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you
tonight.” 11 But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger?
Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t
do it!” 12 I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered
this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
13 They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be
able to accuse and discredit me. 14 Remember, O my God, all the evil things
that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And remember Noadiah the prophet and
all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me.
Shemaiah is sometimes referred to as “a hireling prophet.” He sent word to Nehemiah
indicating that since both of them had their lives threatened, they should hide in the
Temple and bolt the doors shut.
Nehemiah made it clear that he wasn’t going to run and hide. He understood that
Sheamaiah had been hired by Sanballat and Tobiah. Sometimes it can be quite helpful
to understand the motives of our opposition as we recall the promises of God and
meditate on them.
De 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead
of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
- What are some real life examples of how people try to influence us to be less serious
about following Jesus?
Often, people will try to get us to moderate our service and commitment to the Lord by
offering us alternative activities. They might invite us to participate in some sinful
action as a way for them to try to feel better about their own situation.
- In what ways is Nehemiah a good example for us to follow?
Nehemiah didn’t try to get even with Sanballat and Tobiah by spreading rumors about
them. He didn’t attack them. He prayed and asked God to handle the situation. He
didn’t let his emotions control his actions. He didn’t gossip about them. He didn’t let
their opposition slow his work. He asked God for more courage to continue the work.
He focused on the task that God gave him to do and never on the distraction of evil.
Their intimidation efforts failed. Nehemiah stayed focused on the work the
Lord had given him to do, and he continued to depend on God for the strength
and wisdom to move ahead.