Nehemiah 4-6

Nehemiah 4:1-3 Sanballat and Tobiah mock, “What do these feeble Jews?”

“Fools mock, but they shall mourn” (Ether 12:26). The Samaritans and Ammonites are doing everything they can to stop the Jews.  Taunting and making fun often work to take the wind out of the sails of the righteous.  They were just as those in Lehi’s dream:

I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld… a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.” (1 Ne. 8:25-26)

In Lehi’s dream, the taunting worked.  Some fell away after tasting of the fruit of the tree “because of those that were scoffing at them” (1 Ne. 8:28).  Such is the goal of Sanballat and Tobiah.

Nehemiah 4:7-8 the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites… conspired all of them… to come and to fight against Jerusalem

The king’s cupbearer has tried his hand at being a spy for the walls of Jerusalem.  That was exciting, but now Nehemiah has to be the General of the army.  He has to be the Mayor and the Security Advisor for Jerusalem.  Likely, he didn’t expect such opposition, and the opposition is focused on him.  Satan is gathering his forces against the children of righteousness and the opposition seems to be much more powerful than Nehemiah and his small settlement of Jews.  How will Nehemiah respond?  To whom can he turn?  Should he give up and head back to the safety of the king’s court where the food is good and the walls are secure?  What would you do?

Nehemiah 4:9 Nevertheless we made our prayer… and set a watch against them day and night

Boyd K. Packer

We turn to the Old Testament for a lesson. When the Israelites returned from their long captivity in Babylon, they found their city in ruins. The protecting walls of Jerusalem lay in rubble. Their enemies moved among them with great influence and the Israelites were subject to them.

Then came Nehemiah the prophet, known now as “the wall builder.” He rallied the Israelites to their own defense. Under his direction they began to rebuild the wall.

At first their enemies ridiculed them. Tobiah, the Ammonite, mocked them, saying, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3)

But Nehemiah consoled his people and set to work. The enemy was everywhere. “Nevertheless,” he recorded, “we made [a] prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them”

Sisters, think carefully upon that. They “made a prayer,” and “set a watch,” and proceeded with their work.

The day came when their enemies saw that the wall went up. It encircled the city. Finally no breach was left, save it be the place for the gates. What their enemies had ridiculed was nearly done. The wall now stood. No longer could their enemies threaten nor destroy. When their enemies saw that they grew strong, they worried, and they turned to other tactics.

And here is the lesson. It is a type, it is symbolic, it is a warning! In it is a message for every sister in Relief Society; for the general presidency and their board; for the stake and ward officers and teachers; indeed, for every member. Consider it very, very carefully.

Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem sent for Nehemiah. “Come,” they enticed, “let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” They endeavored to draw him away from his work on the wall. But the prophet knew their hearts and said, “They thought to do me mischief.”(Neh. 6:2)

Five times they sent for him to come out to them. Their importuning came then, just as it comes now to us: “Come parley with us, come join our cause, come do things our way. Come out into the world and be part with us.”

His answer to them holds counsel for every sister in Relief Society. It is a message as well to the brethren of the priesthood. “I sent messengers unto them,” Nehemiah recorded, “saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?”  (Neh. 6:3)

Sisters, you have a great work to do. Build Relief Society! Strengthen its organization! Do not be enticed to leave it and go down to the worldly plains of Ono.

Do not allow yourselves to be organized under another banner. Do not run to and fro seeking some cause to fulfill your needs. Your cause stands under the authority of the priesthood of Almighty God; that is the consummate, the ultimate power extant upon this earth!  (Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 110)

Nehemiah 4:12 they said unto us ten times

In conflict, you need one good spy to relay the plans of the enemies.  Nehemiah sees the hand of the Lord in the fact that he is told by ten spies what the enemy is planning.  The Jews scattered among the Arabians, Ammonites, Ashdodites, and Samaritans had overheard the plans of this axis of evil.  Relaying the information to Nehemiah put him in a position of strength.

Nehemiah 4:14 fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses

And you thought the Title of Liberty was in the Book of Mormon!  Nehemiah lived 350 years before Moroni, who wrote “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12).  Nehemiah used the same rallying cry—a rallying cry for the righteous of all ages—“fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”

Nehemiah 4:17 They which builded on the wall… with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon

Nehemiah armed guards.jpg

George Q. Cannon

[The] temple at Nauvoo, Illinois, [was] the finest building then in the western country, and the admiration of everybody. The Saints erected it in the midst of poverty, destitution, sickness, death, and, I may say, with the sword or rifle in one hand and the trowel in the other, their enemies surrounding them on every hand. They had slain Joseph and Hyrum, and attempted to destroy others of the servants of God, and they were continually burning and destroying the houses and property of the Saints, and were determined to expel them from the State. But in the midst of these tribulations the Saints continued their labors until that temple was roofed in, and until within its walls they could attend to the ordinances for the living and the dead. (Journal of Discourses, 14:320)

Brigham Young

By the aid of sword in one hand, and trowel and hammer in the other, Neh. 4:17 with fire arms at hand, and a strong band of police, and the blessings of heaven, the Saints, through hunger, and thirst, and weariness, and watchings, and prayings, so far completed the Temple, despite the devices of the mob, that many received a small portion of their endowment, but we know of no one who received it in its fulness. And then, to save the lives of all the Saints from cruel murder, we removed westward, and being led by the all-searching eye of the Great Jehovah, we arrived at this place.  (Journal of Discourses, 2:32)

Nehemiah 5:1-5 there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews

The period of Jewish history after the Babylonian captivity is called the post-exhilic period, meaning “after their exile” in Babylon.  When Nehemiah shows up on the scene, Jerusalem had been resettled for 70-80 years. That was plenty of time for some of the Jews to become rather wealthy, selling their lands to Jewish pioneers returning from abroad.  The result was that there were wealthy Jews and poor ones, landowners and tenants. 

Apparently, there had recently been a famine in the land that required the poor to go into debt in order to survive.  Whatever they owned had to be mortgaged or borrowed against so that they could eat and pay their taxes.  The landowners were their brethren, but they were oppressive.  The landowners didn’t know the scriptures well enough to understand that they should not place financial burdens upon their brethren. The Lord’s way is to take care of the poor.  He forbid any of the house of Israel from lending to another for interest, “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury” (Deut. 23:19-20).

In short, the poor were complaining to Nehemiah.  They were poor and oppressed.  Some of their daughters had been sold as servants to the wealthy and they were worried about the rest of their children having to live a life of servitude.

Nehemiah 5:7 Then I consulted with myself

What a great phrase, “I consulted with myself.”  If someone asks you, “Who said you could do that?” you could answer “I consulted with myself.”  If you are afraid that other people will disapprove, don’t ask their opinion, just consult with yourself. If you are quite sure you are right, then there is no better person to consult with than yourself.  Then you can say, “Me, myself, and I all agree!”

In Nehemiah’s case, he can’t consult with the elders and rulers among the Jews.  They are the ones who are being oppressive.  He can only consult with himself, but he is confident that he knows the will of the Lord.  He had been a better student of the scriptures than the elders, rulers, and priests and knew that the inequality among the people was wrong. 

Nehemiah 5:10 I likewise… might exact of them money and corn

Nehemiah has been a righteous enough that he could point to his own example before the people. He makes his defense before a huge assembly, reminiscent of King Benjamin who said, “I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service… and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you… And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes and that there should be nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.” (Mosiah 2:12, 14)

The rich in Jerusalem seemed to have no difficulty placing grievous burdens on their brethren. Unlike King Benjamin, they could not “answer a clear conscience before God” (Mosiah 2:15); when accused, they sat in guilty silence (v. 8).  At last, they relented, “We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest” (v. 12).

Josephus

When Nehemiah saw that the city was [sparsely populated], he exhorted the priests and the Levites, that they would leave the country, and [relocate] themselves to the city, and there continue; and he built them houses at his own expense. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 5:6)

Nehemiah 5:13 Also I shook my lap

When I meet Nehemiah, I will have to apologize for poking fun.  The scriptures tell of different demonstrative behaviors like sitting in sackcloth and ashes, or rending one’s clothes in a sign of righteous indignation.  Nehemiah invented his own—the lap shake!  What is a lap shake?  If you sit down and put your phone, car keys, and wallet or purse in your lap, then stand up quickly to do Nehemiah’s lap shake, you will send all these important items flying.  Your phone might break, the wallet might get sucked down a storm drain, the key FAB might get wet and no longer work. As far as Nehemiah is concerned, that is what should happen to every rich landowner among the Jews who doesn’t stick to his covenant to stop oppressing his brethren.  Their house, like Nehemiah’s lap, should be emptied.  Their labor will not be fruitful.  For charging interest of his brethren, they will be cursed so that they make no return on their investments.

Nehemiah 5:14-19  Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people

Can we make a personal inventory with as much confidence as Nehemiah?  Twelve years of service without remuneration, feeding as many as 150 at a time without requiring compensation, breaking tradition as governor in not taxing the people.  Where is Nehemiah’s reward? 

Peter once asked about the sacrifice he had made in the service of God, “what shall we have therefore?”  The Master replied, “every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matt. 19:27-29).  Nehemiah understands this principle.  He exercises great faith in his prayer, “think upon me, my God, for good.” The concept is one of those scriptural concepts which is easy to read about and difficult to do.  Do we have enough faith that our sacrifice is recorded by the angels in heaven?  Can we answer with a clear conscience like King Benjamin?  Alma asked, “Have ye walked… blameless before God?... is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?” (Alma 5:30)

Joseph B. Wirthlin

As you pray, occasionally take a personal inventory to see how you measure up in your righteousness, in meeting the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We each can know for ourselves, as the Lord knows, where we need to improve. We must hold to the standards. If we have advanced in material, outward things, how are we doing inwardly? Are our lives acceptable to the Lord? Are we willing to acknowledge our sins and then make the effort to forsake them, repent, and make the course correction that will return us to the straight and narrow path?

I know that each of us has much to do. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the tasks we face. But if we keep our priorities in order, we can accomplish all that we should. We can endure to the end regardless of temptations, problems, and challenges. Those who remain faithful will receive God’s greatest blessing, eternal life, and the privilege of living with our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son in the celestial kingdom.

Elder Marion G. Romney said, “When earth life is over and things appear in their true perspective, we shall more clearly see … that the fruits of the gospel are the only objectives worthy of life’s full efforts.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, p. 39) (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1990/10/the-straight-and-narrow-way?lang=eng)

Nehemiah 6:3 I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Nehemiah of the Old Testament is a great example of staying focused and committed to an important task. Nehemiah was an Israelite who lived in exile in Babylon and served as cupbearer to the king. One day the king asked Nehemiah why he seemed so sad. Nehemiah replied, “Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ [graves], lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?”  (Nehemiah 2:3)

When the king heard this, his heart was softened, and he gave Nehemiah the authority to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. However, not everyone was happy with this plan. In fact, several rulers who lived near Jerusalem grieved exceedingly “that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” (Nehemiah 2:10) These men “took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.” (Nehemiah 4:1)

Fearless, Nehemiah did not allow the opposition to distract him. Instead, he organized his resources and manpower and moved forward rebuilding the city, “for the people had a mind to work.” (Nehemiah 4:6)

But as the walls of the city began to rise, opposition intensified. Nehemiah’s enemies threatened, conspired, and ridiculed. Their threats were very real, and they grew so intimidating that Nehemiah confessed, “They all made us afraid.” (Nehemiah 6:9) In spite of the danger and the ever-present threat of invasion, the work progressed. It was a time of stress, for every builder “had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.” (Nehemiah 4:18)

As the work continued, Nehemiah’s enemies became more desperate. Four times they entreated him to leave the safety of the city and meet with them under the pretense of resolving the conflict, but Nehemiah knew that their intent was to do him harm. Each time they approached him, he responded with the same answer: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah 6:3)

What a remarkable response! With that clear and unchanging purpose of heart and mind, with that great resolve, the walls of Jerusalem rose until they were rebuilt in an astonishing 52 days. (See Nehemiah 6:15)

Nehemiah refused to allow distractions to prevent him from doing what the Lord wanted him to do.

I am encouraged and inspired by the many faithful priesthood holders today who are of similar heart and mind. Like Nehemiah, you love the Lord and seek to magnify the priesthood you bear. The Lord loves you and is mindful of the purity of your hearts and the steadfastness of your resolve. He blesses you for your fidelity, guides your path, and uses your gifts and talents in building His kingdom on this earth. (Conference Report, Apr. 09, 62)

Nehemiah 6:5  his servant [sent] unto me in like manner the fifth time

Human nature is to give in.  In the parable of the judge “which feared not God, neither regarded man,” the widow’s request was granted just to get rid of her.  The judge didn’t want to be bothered by repeated complaints (Luke 18:1-5).  In the case of Lehonti, the enemy inquired three times requesting Lehonti come down from the mountain.  On the fourth request, Lehonti acquiesced—a mistake that Nehemiah avoided. Lehonti was soon dead, poisoned “by degrees” (Alma 47:10-18).

How many times does it take for our enemy—the enemy of righteousness—to get us to come down from the mountain, to stop the great and important work of building the kingdom, so that we can be poisoned by degrees?  Do we give up after one or two temptations?  Can we withstand four or five?  If not, what will become of us?  Nehemiah was a great example of perseverance and determination.  The repeated requests had their effect, until Nehemiah had to pray unto the Lord for strength that his hands would not be weakened.  But Nehemiah never gave in.  He was human by nature but human nature didn’t win.  Can we be so strong?  The temptations of the evil one—Lehonti fell after four; Nehemiah survived after five.

Nehemiah 6:9 they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done

George Q. Cannon

As you know, we have just returned from dedicating the Temple that has been completed at Logan… in Nauvoo, when we finished our temple there… the workmen who labored upon it, were like the Jews in the days of Nehemiah, when they undertook to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and had to labor a portion of the time at least, and a great portion of it too, with their instruments of labor in one hand, and weapons to defend themselves in the other. (Neh. 4:16-18, 21) We were surrounded by mobs, and living in a constant state, it may be said of fear, because of the threats which were made and the combinations which were formed, and the attacks upon our outlying settlements in the burning of houses, in the destruction of grain, in the shooting down of cattle, and in the driving out of the people from their homes. But while we have not been in this condition through the years that we have been engaged in the erection of the Logan Temple, we have not been free from attacks and from threats and from combinations for our destruction. Had we been prompted by the ordinary faith of man, the hands of the people would have been weakened in this great work, and they would have hesitated in its performance. But no such feeling has been manifested or expressed. Undismayed and undiscouraged by all the surrounding circumstances, the people have pressed forward the work, and have now the joy and satisfaction of witnessing its completion. It seems as though in the performance of such labor there is a degree of faith required, an unusual degree; for if our views be correct, it is an important work, an important part of the work of the great God, the building of temples by His direct command. And this being the case, undoubtedly such work will be met by opposition on the part of him who is determined to do everything in his power to retard the work of God. (Journal of Discourses, 25:166-167)

Nehemiah 6:10-14 I perceived that God had not sent him

Shemaiah is part of a plot to discredit or kill Nehemiah.  The threats of violence have been frequent. The pretense is that Temple walls will protect Nehemiah if the two of them stay inside, but not every invitation to go to the Temple is a righteous one. This Samaritan secret combination planned to discredit Nehemiah by saying, “Nehemiah protects himself inside the walls of the Temple while the rest of the people are exposed without.  Your leader is worried more about saving his own skin than protecting yours.” More likely, the plan was really to make Nehemiah one of the many martyrs since the return from Babylon and Persia.

Josephus

The neighbouring nations did a great deal of mischief to the Jews… They also slew many of the Jews and sought how they might destroy Nehemiah himself, by hiring some of the foreigners to kill him.  They also put the Jews in fear, and disturbed them, and spread abroad rumours, as if many nations were ready to make an expedition against them, by which means they were harassed , and had almost left off the building [of the walls].  But none of these things could deter Nehemiah from being diligent about the work; he only set a number of men about him as a guard to his body, and so unweariedly persevered therein… And thus he did… take care of his own safety; not that he feared death, but… that if he were dead, the walls for his citizens would never be raised. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 5:6, 8)

Nehemiah’s perceptiveness, born of the Spirit, saves him from this secret combination.

Nehemiah 6:15-16 So the wall was finished… in fifty and two days

The historian Josephus records that it took Nehemiah and company two years and four months to finish the walls of the city.  Whether 52 days or 2 1/3 years, the walls were finished “by which means the city Jerusalem came to be fuller of people than it was before” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 5:8).