By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
As Nehemiah went about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he faced many problems. One of his biggest problems was the opposition of outside forces. Three men in particular, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, did all that they could to try to hinder the work that he was doing. The sixth chapter of Nehemiah pays particular attention to the efforts that these men made in trying to stop Nehemiah’s work. They tried to distract him (vv. 2-4). They tried to discredit him (vv. 5-9). They even tried to lead him in to sin (vv. 10-13). None of these things kept Nehemiah from completing the task that his God had put into his heart. The wall was finished and his enemies sadly watched all their efforts to prevent it go for naught (vv. 15,16).
Although these men were unable to accomplish what they had hoped, something interesting is recorded concerning one of them toward the end of this sixth chapter. Tobiah had special connections with some of the Israelites. He had married one of their daughters. As a result, some of the Israelites tried to convince Nehemiah that Tobiah was not really a bad fellow. It says that they reported his good deeds before Nehemiah. Of course, Nehemiah knew better. He had first hand experience of Tobiah’s deeds. He was able to see this man’s fruits and knew exactly what kind of man he was. Tobiah may have had some good points to be sure, but that didn’t change the fact that he had done much harm to the people of God.
Nehemiah’s experience reminds me of what many have to put up with today. Many times there is a brother who causes untold harm to the church either through his teaching or through his actions. Good men in the church begin to oppose this brother and limit his influence and invariably someone will come to the brother’s defense. Many times a contentious brother will have relatives in a congregation that will try to “report his good deeds” and try to convince those who have observed his corrupt conduct that this brother is really no threat to the purity of the church. Many will allow a factious brother who is a relative or close friend to blind them to the harm done by the brother. We need to judge such men by their fruits (Matt. 7:15,16) and not just by what others say about them.
Nehemiah knew what kind of man Tobiah was despite what his supporters among the Israelites said about him. Unfortunately, many of the Israelites could not see the things that Nehemiah saw in Tobiah. As long as Nehemiah was in Jerusalem, he was able to limit Tobiah’s influence. But as soon as Nehemiah returned to Babylon, Tobiah seized the opportunity. Through his friends, he was able to gain a strong influence in Jerusalem (Neh. 13:4,5). We can imagine the grief and heartbreak that Nehemiah experienced when he returned and found this enemy of God’s people dwelling in the very house of God (Neh. 13:6-8). Nehemiah now had to start all over again to rid the people of the influence of this enemy.
Are we able to see divisive and corrupt men for what they are and deal with them accordingly (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3: 10)? Or do we allow ourselves to be influenced because such enemies of the cross are close friends or relatives? How many times are false teachers defended and followed by friends and members of their families? How many times is the conduct of one who has fallen into sin defended by friends and family members? Too often.
Fortunately, the Israelites had a man like Nehemiah, courageous enough to stand against their enemies, despite the influence that these enemies had among some of their brethren. We need men like that today, who are willing to stand against corrupt men who try to exercise their influence over us. Men who will not “yield submission” to them “even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue” (Gal. 2:5).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 4, p. 102
February 20, 1986