5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his assistant to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written:‘It is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: “There is a king in Judah!” Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.’8 I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’ NIV
Reading this section of chapter 6 rings bells for me. I feel sure it will for all pastors who come across it. It’s not an identical scenario, but at times I think we all encounter the disaffected person (or people) who intimate that certain other people in the church are unhappy with things, and they are talking to them (but not to you pastor!!). When you ask for names, of course they will not give them, but the implication usually is that significant numbers are upset and, possibly, about to walk. As I say, it’s not an identical situation, but it is similar, and a form of intimidation tactics is being used.
I love verse 8, don’t you? I seem to remember a pastor saying that he had received a letter from someone in the church, probably along the lines I have indicated above, and, he said, ‘My reply was Nehemiah 6:8!!’ It’s been a source of amazement to me through the years to witness what certain otherwise sincere Christians can say and get up to.
I note that Tom Hale, in his ‘Applied OT Commentary’, p.760, says this as a footnote: ‘Always beware a communication that begins: ’’It is reported…’’ (verse 6) – or ‘’I have heard,’’ or ‘’so-and-so says.’’ These are often the opening words of gossip and slander.’
Of course, the problem here was not among the people of God, but with the enemies of the church. But it’s clear they were trying to intimidate Nehemiah.