Prophets set trap for Nehemiah
“Dear Nehemiah, let’s talk”1Our enemies—Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem—heard we finished the wall. We hadn’t hung the gates yet, but the wall repairs were done. 2Sanballat and Geshem sent me a message: “We should talk. Let’s meet at the town of Kephirim in Ono Valley.” I could see that was a trap. 3I sent messengers with a reply: “This is a big job I’m working on. I can’t come down there to meet with you now. Why should I?”
Accused of insurrection4They tried to lure me into a meeting four times. Every time, I gave them the same answer: No. 5Their fifth message was different. Sanballat sent one of his men with an unsealed letter.
6This is what he wrote: “Your neighboring nations are getting word that you and the Jews are planning a rebellion. Geshem has heard about it, too. That’s why you’re building this wall. Word is that you want to be their king. 7You’ve planted prophets in Jerusalem who are saying, ‘There’s a king in Judah.’ And they’re saying that king is you. This news is going to reach the king of Persia. So, you better get over here and meet with us.”
8I sent this reply: “Nothing you said is accurate. You’re making it up.” 9They wanted to scare us into stopping our work. All they managed to do was to give us a fresh burst of energy, a second wind.
Prophet paid to trap Nehemiah10Later, I went to see Shemaiah at his house. He’s the son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetable. He was confined to his home. He told me, “Let’s go to the Temple. We’ll close the doors and hide inside the sanctuary. These men are coming to kill you. And they’re coming tonight.”
11I told him, “Do you really think a person in my position should run for his life and hide inside the Temple, of all places? I won’t do it.” 12Then it dawned on me that God didn’t give this man a message. Tobiah and Sanballat did. They bought him off. 13They hired him to scare me into breaking Jewish law by going inside the Temple. Once I do that, my name is garbage.
14I asked God, “Please remember what these people tried to do to me. Don’t forget Tobiah and Sanballat. And remember the prophet woman, Noadiah, and the other prophets who tried to intimidate me.”
Done in 52 days15We finished the wall by the end of summer, on the 25th day of the month of Elul. It took our team of builders 52 days. 16This news terrified our enemies. Their self-confidence disappeared because they recognized that God himself was helping us.
Jewish leaders against Nehemiah17During the two months we worked on the walls, some Jewish leaders were exchanging messages with Tobiah. 18Many Jews in town were loyal to him. He had solid Jewish connections. He and his son were both married to Jewish women. His wife’s father was Shecaniah son of Arah. And his son’s wife was daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah.
19Jewish leaders in that pen pal club with Tobiah constantly talked him up when they were around me. They told me about the good things he did. Then they reported back to Tobiah about how I reacted. Tobiah’s letters were all about trying to frighten me.
Kephirim is spelled various ways: Chephirim, Hakkephirim. The location is lost to history. The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (before the birth of Jesus) switched out the name with the suggestion that the meeting take place at “one of the towns” in Ono Valley. The valley may have been near the city of Ono (Ezra 2:33), in the tribal territory of Benjamin. The site has been identified as near Tel Aviv, about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Jerusalem.
Perhaps not the wisest way to lure a victim. As in, “We know you’re an insurrectionist. Let’s have coffee.” If a rival calls someone a rebel betrayer and then invites that person to a meeting, that rival will probably not serve cookies.
Shemaiah isn’t mentioned outside the book of Nehemiah. He seems to have presented himself as a prophet (6:12). But he was apparently bought and paid for by Nehemiah’s enemies. It’s unclear why he was confined to his house. One theory: perhaps he had touched something dead, and it left him ritually unclean for a day. But an observant Jew ritually unclean wouldn’t think of stepping onto the sacred Temple courtyards. Or maybe Shemaiah was performing some prophecy theatre—a symbolic act showing Nehemiah what he should be doing: hiding from the enemies.
Only priests were allowed inside the sanctuary (Numbers 18:7). Everyone else stayed outside, in the courtyards.
That’s the best-case scenario. Worst case: Prophets take Nehemiah’s enemies to where he’s hiding, and Nehemiah doesn’t live to write this book.
We might have expected Shemaiah in this prayer. Instead, we get a mystery: an unknown prophetess and a group of plotting conspirator prophets.
Elul is the sixth month on the Jewish calendar. It runs from about mid-August to mid-September. More recent commentators date this event to October 2. The year was 445 BC. Workers finished repairing the walls about six months after the Persian king assigned Nehemiah to this project (2:1). The work took only 52 days.
Names of both Jewish men, Shecaniah and Meshullam, show up on the list of people who helped repair the wall (3:4, 20-30). They were loyal to Nehemiah.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.