One of the more stirring verses in the Bible to me is what Nehemiah said to his sly enemies from the walls of Jerusalem in the 5th century B.C. “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should I come down to you and the work cease?” It probably sounded unreasonable, extreme, perhaps unsociable. But Nehemiah was not only filled with a vision and conviction about what he was called to do. He also knew how to recognize distractions and subtle attempts to get him away from God’s highest and best.
In approximately 440 BC, Nehemiah was governor of a weakened, distressed Jerusalem. He had been sent there by the Artaxerxes, King of Persia, who ruled over the land that had been Israel, as well as much of what we today call the Middle East.
Nehemiah was a pious Jew who was part of the Jewish diaspora. Most of the surviving Jews had lived mainly in Babylon and later Persia, since the conquest of Judah by Babylon in 586 BC. Around 516 BC, some of the Jews who had been carried away to Babylon (as well as ones born there during their seventy year captivity) began to return to their capital, Jerusalem. But it was in ruins, a virtual ghost town compared to the glory that it had been in the hundreds of years before its destruction.
Nehemiah, who was the cup bearer of king Artaxerxes, received permission from the Persian king to go back to Jerusalem and serve as the governor of the people there. His specific vision was to restore and build the walls of the city. This held much significance in those days, similar like to today when a conquered people are allowed to rearm and defend themselves to some degree, after having been subjugated and stripped of their rights by the nation which defeated them.
While the book of Nehemiah is a history book and not considered especially spiritual in content, there are some key verses which show that the returned Jews were a chastened, humbled, believing people, focused on living repentant lives in obedience to the God of Abraham. Even a little verse like Nehemiah 4:6 “For the people had a mind to work” is like a short glimpse into the reformed, regenerated soul of the inhabitants of Jerusalem as they banded together in thankfulness that God had allowed them, as He had promised He would, to return to their homeland.
But where there is faith, reverence and obedience to God, the Devil is always going about in one form or the other to try to destroy God’s plan and His people. This is a constant throughout history and it’s shown in an amazing way in the book of Nehemiah. We often think of Satan “going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” ( I Peter 5:8). But believe it or not, more often the Devil will go about as a sly, slithering serpent.
In the book of Nehemiah, the enemies of God never openly, physically attacked the fragile remnant of the Jews who were attempting to fortify their city. Instead, it was all with words. Doubts, fears, questions, accusations, whatever might be thrown against their faith was tried by the local enemies of Israel in an attempt to defeat the faith and reborn convictions of the Jews.
And often this is the Devil’s first line of attack. If he can dissuade you from obeying God through fear, confusion, doubt or whatever it takes to turn you away from your faith and obedience, then he doesn’t need to try any kind of physical attack on you. He can just lie to you. And if you believe the lie, rather than God’s Word, Satan has won and you and God have lost.
In Nehemiah chapter 6, the local enemies of the Jews wanted Nehemiah to “come down into the plain of Ono and talk to us.” (Nehemiah 6:2) Their cunning line of reasoning was, “Let’s talk this over, Nehemiah! Be reasonable; we are your friends and you need to listen to us!” Well, don’t get me wrong, there can certainly be a time to listen to people and discuss things. But in this case, Nehemiah knew that these enemies at the gate were utterly and totally “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15).
So Nehemiah boldly told them, “I’m doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I come down and talk to you?” Nehemiah was not tricked and duped by the deceit of the Devil. He wasn’t sidetracked and tripped off into a trap, lured by the lies of the Lucifer.
And those words, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down” are ones that we can claim, remember and even quote back to the Devil if need be when we are being besieged by temptations and allurements, doubts, fears and confusion that the Enemy of God throws at us daily to try to get us to cast away our confidence, surrender our joy and lose our crown to the words of Satan and the wisdom that is not of God. Don’t come down from the wall of God’s will and high calling into the “plain of Ono”!