Nehemiah 7: The Last Enemy - Tobiah that 'good' man!

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Bible Study Series on the Book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah 6:15-7:3 The Last Enemy - Tobiah that 'good' man!

by I Gordon

Neh 6:15-19 'So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month  Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it,  they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters  came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.'

The Wall Completed! Final Victory?

They did it! They finished it. We read in vs 15  'so the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month of Elul, in fifty two days.'  We come now to an important time for Nehemiah and his boys for having completed the wall 'it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognised that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.'  This at last was the time of victory! They had completed the job, their enemies had lost their confidencegiven up, and God himself had brought them through the whole ordeal. No longer were they a reproach; no longer could the enemy have his way. Their walls of salvation were complete and they were doing it! Oh sweet victory! Surely nothing could touch them now? They were a credit to God and a true example of what God was looking for - right?

Um, well wrong actually. For we read in the very next verse  'Also in those days, many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters came to them.'  (vs 17). Can you believe it? This very same Tobiah, who had been more than a weasel in previous attacks, was now spreading his influence within the walls! Sure, they had strong walls to keep people out, but he had links to the inside. And nobody but Nehemiah seemed to know what Tobiah's true nature was! How could this happen and how could they be so blind? Well, we read in vs 18-19 'For many in Judah were bound to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah, the son of Arah... moreover, they were speaking in my presence of his good deeds..'  He was able to worm his way in because he was a relation and was able to do good deeds when the need arose. The general feeling among the Israelites was that maybe he's not that bad after all? Maybe Nehemiah was wrong in condemning him? Sure, he's got a few rough patches, but there's a lot of good in him too. Maybe Gods people can make use of him after all?

What are you offering up to God?

While its easy to see the true nature of Tobiah when you read the book of Nehemiah, its must have been a lot harder to discern in his day for only Nehemiah himself could see through him. The same is true of us today. You may say that nobody should be sucked in by Tobiah's good deeds but in all likelihood, you're probably offering them up to God yourself. That isn't a condemning thing. It's just a call to realise that much of what we offer God is just the good of old Adam. Usually we're no different. 

A example of this in the Old Testament is where King Saul was asked to 'strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has and do not spare him.' (1 Sam15:3) Amalek is probably the best picture in the OT of the fleshly nature. God said he didn't want to see it. What did Saul do? 'Saul defeated the Amalekites...But Saul spared Agag (the King of the Amalekites) and the best of his sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs and all that was GOOD!' (1 Sam15 7-9) Why did he do this? 'Saul said 'they have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord our God.' (1 Sam15:15). He wanted to offer God what God wanted utterly destroyed! He wanted to offer God the best of the Old Man. And he was going to offer it to God at Gilgal! (1 Sam15:21) The place that symbolises the cutting away of the fleshly nature was the place where Saul was going to offer it back to God! What did God do? He got rid of Saul and chose a new King because of this very act! (1 Sam15:23)

So, do you get the picture? I'm sure you do but I'll spell it out anyway. The last enemy to face is Adam the first (Tobiah), the sinful nature within us that, while thoroughly bad by nature, can easily deceive through good deeds. Its ability to do bad (as we have seen through Tobiah's actions in ch 4-6), is only matched by its ability to do good (seen now, when the pressure comes on and he's likely to be thrown out!1) Tobiah was a relative to God's people Israel and so it is with us. The 'old man' is a relation through our natural birth and will continue to spread his influence over our lives for just as long as we keep corresponding with him. Nehemiah didn't want any letters sent and he certainly didn't want them speaking about Tobiah's so-called 'good deeds'. He knew that the only way to get rid of this pesky relation was to stop talking to him and get everyone to act as if he was dead!

Reckoning Tobiah as Dead

Now that doesn't sound very nice is it? But if you don't treat him as dead, Tobiah will talk and talk and never shut up! The New Testament says it like this: 'Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, in order that the body of sin might be done away with... Even so, reckon yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus...Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead.' (Rom 6:6-13) The order is Know, Reckon, and Present. If Nehemiah was speaking he'd say 'look, now that the walls are fully built, understand and know that Tobiah doesn't have to have influence over us anymore. So reckon, and consider yourself dead to him from now on! Stop corresponding with him and give yourself solely to God cause he has freed us from the enemies power.' 

Easy to put into three nice points, hard to put into practice. But we need to learn. It doesn't matter if we love ourselves or hate ourselves. Doesn't matter if we think we have enough ability to do something, or moan that we have no gifting and ability. Its all focusing on self and seeing how Tobiah is feeling. Hating yourself is the flip side of pride and shows that you're still very interested in self!. The bible teaches us to present ourselves to God on a new principle: 'AS THOSE ALIVE FROM THE DEAD!' This is on resurrection ground where 'I no longer live, but Christ lives in me' and has nothing at all to do with our natural strength.

Now the timing of Tobiah's entrance is also interesting but that is for later... This point and how to combat it will be covered in the next study.

Our Action: Guarding against Complacency 

Neh 7:1-3 Now it came about when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, that I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, 'Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.'

Tobiah sort of wrecked the celebration party didn't he? Seems like this enemy fights to the bitter end. The timing of his entrance is significant because it comes straight after a spiritual high.2 This can be how it is with us. As soon as God has come through and we have had a victory, the old nature is there. Taking God's glory and thoroughly proud of its latest achievements, the old nature would soon have us believe that we are the source of our own strength and victory.3 At this stage it is easy for our daily dependence upon God to dry up, and for 'religion' and 'routines' to take over.

Again though, Nehemiah shows us the attitude needed to gain victory, and the action needed to stay there. We read in Neh 7:1-2 'Now it came about when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors... that I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he feared God more than many  .' At a time when complacency and natural strength could easily have taken over, who does Nehemiah put in charge? Two men who 'feared God', and whose names mean 'Jah is gracious'

Never underestimate God's Grace!

Taking a wee detour, let me just say that we should never underestimate God's amazing grace! I read a story recently about C.S Lewis and a debate some of his 'learned' friends were having over Christianity's unique contribution to world religion. With Lewis out of the room they were arguing what truth, if any, was totally unique to Christianity. Some suggested the incarnation but it was quickly pointed out that other religions have god becoming a man. Another suggested the resurrection but again other religions spoke of this happening. At this point Lewis entered the room and asked what all the trouble was about. Upon hearing the question he replied. 'oh that's easy; it's grace!'. So true! The message of grace is totally unique and shows what an awesome God we serve. So don't under-estimate or down play the grace of God!

Now in the meaning of their names (grace), and their attitude towards God (fearing God), I believe we have all that is needed for avoiding the self-dependence and complacency that can occur when things are going good. We have already looked at fearing God, and should know that it is a reverence for God. This reverence keeps the King of Kings in his rightful position in our lives. The 'grace of God' means either the 'unmerited favour' or the 'gifting and enabling' of God. While both are necessary to remember at this time, we have to realise that it is only through God's enabling that we can have victory. With an attitude of fearing God, and a knowledge that it is only through grace that we stand, this form of Tobiah's influence can be resisted and overcome. Nehemiah sure did choose good men to put in charge didn't he? And his action followed his knowledge for he then said  'Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors...  ' (vs 3) 

There wasn't much complacency here! While Nehemiah was around, he was going to make sure that Tobiah would struggle to have any influence at all. 

But don't underestimate Tobiah's ability to wriggle and weasel his way to the top again given the opportunity. And that is what we shall look at next.


[1] Mmmm. I'm still thinking about getting the best out of Tobiah (see last footnote). Its easy to spot Tobiah when he's immoral, impure, jealous, hateful etc (Gal 5:20) but that's not how we find Tobiah here. The walls of salvation are built. It's time for Tobiah to go. But he's willing to do anything to avoid the cross! It really is quite hard to realise as Paul did that 'in me dwells no good thing, that is in my flesh.' We tend to think of the Christian life as God slowly cleaning us up as if the old nature just needs a scrub up! While nobody would say it, we sort of think like this - When we start our Christian life we need God 100% as being babies, we have no strength or holiness. Given time we gain some strength, start to walk on our own and need God 50% of the time. Taken to the logical conclusion, soon we'll have totally cleaned our lives up and God will look down from heaven and applaud our efforts, and we won't need him at all! May sound stupid put like that but we do think that God is making us better in ourselves. The truth is just the opposite. All that we are naturally was so useful to God he nailed it to the cross and gave his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our only hope of glory (that which we had fallen short of). If a Christian is to grow, he must grow through this attitude - 'He must increase, but I must decrease.' 

[2] Probably the best example of this is Israel in the wilderness. As soon as they drank from the rock (meaning filled with the spirit), they were attacked by Amalek! (The BEST picture of the flesh.) The only way Israel could win this battle was for Moses to die to his ability to win the battle! When his arms were raised to heaven in an attitude of surrender, Amalek was defeated. And look at what God thinks of Amalek - 'I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.' (This he did, once and for all at the cross). 'The Lord will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation.' (This he continues to do in our lives because we don't know what he did at the cross - but notice its his fight!) See Exodus 17:1-16

[3] While Paul would give credit where credit was due, he would never do it where God alone should get the glory. Some people make it sound like we saved ourselves, and God should be fortunate that we chose him! Salvation is one of those areas that God alone should get the glory. When asked who can be saved, Jesus replied 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matt 19:26) Paul said that we are 'saved by grace through faith', and then adds that even that faith is a gift of God! (Eph 2:8). To the Corinthians, some of whom were becoming arrogant, Paul wrote 'what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?' (1Cor 4:7) While we may not understand some of the mysteries surrounding the grace and election of God, we still know that the only thing we can boast in is the cross.' (Gal 6:12)


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