Yet, although we may practically ignore the gossiping tongue, if we are naturally sensitive and highly strung we cannot help feeling some sting from the unkind or untrue speech. Poor Nehemiah, unmoved though he was by the gossip, yet feels it necessary to remember the meaning of his name, and to turn from Sanballat’s letter to ‘the Lord my Comforter.’
‘O God, strengthen my hands.’
So he cries from the depths of his soul, and so he was comforted.
Sanballat now feels that he is attempting an impossibility. It is of no use trying himself to move Nehemiah, for Nehemiah is thoroughly on his guard against him. If he reaches him at all, he must do so through others, whom Nehemiah does not suspect. So, by means of his gold, Sanballat tempts some of the Jerusalem Jews over to his side.
There is a woman living in Jerusalem named Noadiah, and she (to her shame be it spoken) is bribed by Sanballat to give herself out as a prophetess, and to be the bearer of messages to Nehemiah, pretending that those messages were sent to him by God. Nor is Noadiah the only one who is bribed by the Samaritan governor to pretend the gift of prophecy.
One day, Nehemiah is sent for to the house of one of these people who profess to be able to prophesy. He is a young man of the name of Shemaiah, whose family had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, but who had never been able to prove their Jewish descent (vii. 61, 62, 64).
This young man professes to be very fond of Nehemiah, and begs him to come to see him. Nehemiah does so, and finds him shut up, his doors barred and bolted, his house barricaded like a fortress. He admits Nehemiah, and seems, as he does so, to be in a great state of fear and terror.
Then he whispers a dreadful secret in his ear. He tells Nehemiah that his life is in immediate danger, that there is a plot set on foot by Sanballat to murder him that very night, and that this plot has been revealed to him by God. He tells him that he feels his own life, as one of Nehemiah’s best friends, is also in danger, and therefore he proposes that they shall go together after dark to the temple courts, and, passing through these, enter into the sanctuary itself, the Holy Place, in which stood the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the table of showbread. There, having carefully closed the folding doors of fir-wood, they may hide till daybreak, and those who were coming to assassinate Nehemiah will seek him in vain.
Shemaiah gives this advice as a direct message from God, but Nehemiah saw through it. He felt sure God could not have sent that message, for God cannot contradict His own Word. And what said the Word? It was clearly laid down in the law of Moses that no man, unless he was a priest, might enter the Holy Place; if he attempted to do so, death would be the penalty.
‘The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.’ So Nehemiah bravely answers: