Nehemiah 6 p1: The Trump Card - Geshem and Worldly Compromise.

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Bible Study Series on the Book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah 6:1-9 The Trump Card: Geshem and Worldly Compromise

by I Gordon

Neh 6:1-2 Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, that Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, 'Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.' But they were planning to harm me.

After a bit of in-house fighting and general dummy spitting (Ch 5), we see the next attack come in Nehemiah chapter 6. But by now the scenario is slightly different. Lets just pause for a moment and look at the stages of the attacks so far:

  1. Firstly, when the work on the wall began, the opposition came mainly through a mind attack using fear and mockery. This is the Christian beginning his new life. Its Satan's first up effort to prevent growth. 
  2. When the wall was half its height (ch 4:6) the tactics changed. The Christian was older and had better defenses. Mind games may have slowed him a bit, but once the helmet of salvation went on, that attack didn't have its intended effect anymore. 
  3. A physical attack was now called for. Again the armour of God came to his rescue and work on the walls progressed. 

Now in chapter 6 we read that Nehemiah had  "rebuilt the wall, and no breach remained in it, although at this time he had not set up the doors in the gates."  (vs1). Here we have it; first no walls, then half its height, and now the wall fully completed. No more at the mercy of the enemies attacks!1 The picture is of a mature believer in Christ who has learned to stand strong in the Lord. So what could penetrate such strong walls? What attack could Satan try now? Actually, Jesus gives us the answer as to what happens at this stage of a believer's life. 

Parallels - Parable of the Sower and Nehemiah's walls

Now look at how the enemy's tactics seldom change! Jesus was speaking to his disciples and he told them a parable about the sower sowing seed. 

Mat 13:3-9 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. (4) As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (5) Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. (6) But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (7) Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. (8) Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (9) He who has ears, let him hear."

Now for the lazy and semi-illiterate look at the table below to see the parallels between these attacks of the enemy and what we see in the book of Nehemiah:

Seed Fell On Trouble Interpretation Time of Growth Stage of Wall
1. Road Birds Snatched from the mind None No wall - Sanballat attacks the mind (Satan)
2. Rocky Places Sun Persecution Short - Grew Quickly Half Height - Persecution (Satan)
3. Thorns Chocked by Thorns Worldiness Long - Mixed Soil Full, No Gates - Geshem (world) tries to lure them out
4. Good Soil None Great Growth! Long - Good Soil Completed - Safe from their enemies

From the parable we see three stages to stop the seed from growing:

  1. Satan tries to snatch the word from the mind before it can begin to grow. (No wall, mind games - Neh 4:1-6)
  2. If the seed does grow, begin operation trials and persecutions (Wall going up, physical persecutions start Neh 4:7-15)
  3. For the strong seed, that has had time to grow, choke with worldliness (Full Wall, enter Geshem's call of compromise! Neh 6:1-9)
  4. But the seed in good soil produces a strong plant bearing much fruit. (Completed wall, strong salvation, enemies defeated!)

So where have we got to in this study? We are at point 3. Satan changes tactics and tries to choke our spiritual life by the "deceitfulness of wealth." 

Enter Geshem!

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: "Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono." But they were scheming to harm me;

On hearing that the wall itself had been completed, Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah rejoiced at such a wonderful accomplishment! Argh, not exactly. They weren't happy. Not even a smidgen. We read "Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying 'Come, let us meet together in the plain of Ono.' But they were planning to harm me." So what tactics were employed when the walls of salvation were fully completed? Well, if they can't get in, they'll try get Nehemiah out! So they try lure him out from behind his secure walls, setting up a meeting with Geshem (the world) in the plain of Ono. The word 'Ono' actually means 'his strength' and is a derivative from the word 'one' meaning 'ability, power or wealth'. To me that's quite a picture! At a time when the walls are completely rebuilt, Sanballat's (Satan's) tactic is to use Geshem (the world) to draw the mature believers out of their strong salvation, into the place of 'his strength'. And his strength is in regard to his 'ability, power and wealth'2. No wonder Jesus warned that even a grown seed could become choked by the 'worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth.' (Matt 13:22). It doesn't happen overnight once a believer has matured to this stage of his walk, but it is a slow and subtle choking that occurs. Beware the choking from the deceitfulness of wealth and the cares of this life!

Now apart from Geshem, I think if you actually went to Ono you would probably find the remains of several once-famous televangelists and a few still alive who just enjoy living there. Ability, power and wealth seems pretty attractive3 but we should always remember that behind it all, 'they were planning to harm me.' (vs2)

Nehemiah's Response: It's a great work!

Neh 6:3-4 'So 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?' And they sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.'

Verse 3 of chapter 6, gives I believe, the answer to combating the temptations and pull of the world. I will leave this at the moment, as it is also our defence from the next attack of Geshem. But here is the clue for now... Nehemiah responds to their request with 'I am doing a great work and I cannot come down'. Hmm - what is the great work? More on that in the next study. 

It it does need to be added that Geshem's attempts, with Sanballat of course lurking in the background, were quite constant and carried on even after Nehemiah's initial declaration that he would not go down to Ono. In fact in verse 4 we read that  "they sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way." Geshem doesn't give up easily and I'm sure Sanballat will keep using him as he has been so successful in the past.4

The Return of Geshem: Be afraid, be very afraid! (Ch 6:5-9) 

Neh 6:5-8 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, 'It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. 'And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, 'A king is in Judah!' And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.'

With Sanballat and Geshem's plans for lunch at Ono looking less and less likely, a new plot was now hatched between the dynamic duo. If you can't get the Christian interested in wealth, prosperity and worldly power, how about a bit of slander among the nations to keep him unproductive in the work of God? We read  "then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, 'It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their King...Come now let us take counsel together.' (vs5-7) Geshem seems to only have two useful tricks; if he can't get you to compromise with the world he will at least get you scared of what they are thinking and saying about you! In other words, Geshem's second attack is the fear of man!5 The picture and types stand true again. Sanballat's servant brings the report of Geshem spreading rumours among the nations. This is Satan using his power over the people in the world to paralyse the Christian's life and witness6. In fact, while the fear of man is a huge ploy of the enemy, slander to this extent seems quite an elite group to break into.

Who was slandered by the enemy?  
  • Well, there was King David who gives us a good insight into how it feels in Psalm 31. 
  • Stephen the first martyr was convicted because of a false report (Acts 6:8-15), 
  • Paul and the other Apostles were all slandered in this way (Acts 16:20-21, 17:7)
  • And of course, the Lord Jesus was tried and crucified on the evidence of false reports. Not to mention his earlier ministry when he was called Beelzebub. We read concerning his trial "Now the chief priests and the whole council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put him to death... For many were giving false testimony about him, but they were not consistent...." 
  • And I guess we cannot forget Faithful. Who? You know, good old Faithful from Pilgrims Progress, who had to stand before Judge Hate-good in Vanity Fair. Three witnesses, Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank all lied on oath saying that "this man, regardless of his name, is one of the vilest men in our country. He does not respect prince or people, law or custom..." Sound familiar??? "...Then the jury, whose names were Mr Blind-man, Mr No-good, Mr Malice, Mr Love-lust, Mr Live-loose, Mr Heady, Mr High-mind, Mr Enmity, Mr Liar, Mr Cruelty, Mr Hate-light and Mr Implacable went out to deliberate... and they unanimously found him guilty."

Nehemiah was however able to recognise these tactics and in verse 9 we read, "For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, 'they will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done'. But now O God, strengthen my hands. " No wonder the bible says that 'the fear of man brings a snare, but those who trust in the Lord will be kept safe.' Geshem's rumours among the nations were designed to frighten Nehemiah's men. The intended result was to paralyse the workers through fear. Truly the fear of man is a snare. It can paralyse, making us totally inactive for Gods kingdomWhat's sad is that a lot of the time when we're scared of what people are thinking, they aren't! (Thinking that is!) But the fear grips us the same none the less. But those that trust in the Lord will be kept safe.

What can we learn from Nehemiah here?

Neh 6:8-9 'Then I sent a message to him saying, 'Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.' For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, 'They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.' But now, O God, strengthen my hands.'

Nehemiah's response as always was in faith and determination saying 'But now O God, strengthen my hands.' In other words, turn my fear to faith, and my doubt to determination! 

He would not let slander or the fear of man stand in his way. 

Nor would he buckle to worldly compromise but in lifting all things to the throne of God, found strength and determination to run the race to the very end.

May we all learn from Nehemiah in these important lessons!


[1] Yes, yes, I know. They still had gaps where the gates should be so they still had to be on their toes, but what I was meaning is that no longer could the enemy just ride on in and take what he wanted. They were at last protected! Alright?? : )

[2]  Worldliness is written about quite a bit in the NT. I guess John gives the best definition: 'Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father, but is from the world." (1John 2:15-16). James probably shows how serious it is for our relationship with God. "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4) He also gives us Gods heart in the matter when he writes "Or do you think that the scripture speaks to no purpose: 'He JEALOUSLY desires the Spirit which he made to dwell among us.' " (James 4:5) Job shows us the stupidity of it all "They send forth their little ones like the flock, and their children skip about. They sing to the timbrel and harp and rejoice at the sound of the flute. They spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol. They say to God 'Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of your ways. Who is the Almighty that we should serve him! And what do we gain if we entreat him?'

[3] It never ceases to amaze me how much the gospel has been changed lately to accommodate worldliness and the love of money. It's not uncommon to hear things like 'we are the kings kids so we should live like it' or 'Jesus was rich so I'm only walking in his ways'. What a joke! If you hear drivel like this, I advise you to re-read Jesus' letter to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22. He speaks there of what is considered true riches (vs 18) and no wonder He is pictured as outside of the church!

[4] Just heard a report about China and the underground churches. For years they have been persecuted mentally and physically, but the church has been growing in huge numbers even in the midst of this persecution. Just recently however as China has been opening up a lot more to the west, the new enemy worldliness has entered, which the Chinese Christians have not faced before. The report I heard was that many are finding this harder for their Christian lives than persecution and imprisonment. The young Christians are asking the older Christians how to cope with it, which at this time, they have no answer to.

[5] There are different kinds of fears - Peladophobia (the fear of bald people), and Chaetophobia (the fear of hairy people) being two of the stranger examples. But what is the fear of man? It is an unhealthy worry or concern about what people think of you, or will do to you. It leads to trying to please man, not God. It's huge and a great tactic of Satan's. It is said in the bible to be a snare or a trap that immobilises you! (Proverbs 29:25)

[6] Even a brief overview of the Bible shows some big names that have fallen or been influenced by the fear of man. It was this fear that caused Abraham (the Father of faith!) to twice say that Sarah was his sister before Pharaoh and King Abimelech. It caused Aaron to bow to the people's opinions and make a golden calf. It caused 2/3 of Gideon's army to leave as well as forcing Elijah to run and hide in a cave from Jezebel. The fear of man made Nicodemus come to Jesus by night, Pilate to condemn Jesus, and caused even Peter to not eat with Gentiles when Jews were around.