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Conspiracy Against Nehemiah Plots Against Nehemiah The Intrigues of Nehemiah's Enemies, the Wall is Finished
6:1-9a 6:1-9 6:1-3 6:1-9

6:10-13 6:10-14 6:10 6:10
6:11 6:11-13
6:14 6:14 6:14
The Wall Completed The Conclusion of the Work
6:15-16 6:15-7:4 6:15-16 6:15-16
6:17-7:3 6:17-7:3 6:17-7:3

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.


 1Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, 2then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, "Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono." But they were planning to harm me. 3So I sent messengers to them, saying, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" 4They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way. 5Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. 6In it was written, "It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. 7You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, 'A king is in Judah!' And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together." 8Then I sent a message to him saying, "Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind." 9For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, "They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done." But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

6:1 The enemies have been listed several times.

  1. Neh. 1:10 ‒ Sanballat and Tobiah
  2. Neh. 2:19 ‒ Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem
  3. Neh. 4:1,3 ‒ Sanballatand Tobiah
  4. Neh. 4:7 ‒ Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites
  5. Neh. 6:1 ‒ Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and "the rest of our enemies"

▣ "Geshem the Arab" His name is spelled differently in Neh. 6:6 (BDB 177 I), based on the difference between Arabic grammar and Hebrew pronunciation.. Tradition says that he was the king of Kedar (province of northwest Arabia, cf. R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times, p. 284) or the southern Arabian area. He was a very powerful political person in the Persian empire. For a good brief discussion see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 675-676.

▣ "although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates" This seems to be out of chronological order to Neh. 3:1,3,6,13. Nehemiah 3 is the summary of the entire period, while chapters 4-6 are special accounts which fit in into this overall summary.

6:2 "Come, let us meet" The first VERB is a Qal IMPERATIVE and the second a Niphal COHORTATIVE (same appeal as v. 7). The enemies were trying to manipulate Nehemiah.

NASB, NJB, NAB, REB, NET   "Chephirim"
LXX, Vulgate, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NIV   "one of the villages"
LXX   "in the villages"
Peshitta   "on camp as a troop"

The inhabitants of this city were part of the conspiracy of the Gibeonites in tricking Joshua into a peace treaty (cf. Jos. 9:17). They were Hivites (cf. Jos. 9:7). This city was included in the tribal allocation of Benjamin (cf. Jos. 18:26). People from this city (i.e., "Chephirim") are mentioned as returning from Babylonian exile with Zerubbabel and Joshua (cf. Ezra 2:25; Neh. 7:29).

It is PLURAL in this verse, and because the same three Hebrew letters kpr (BDB 499) means "villages," some English translations translate it as such (NKJV, NRSV, TEV).

It is also possible that the term means "young lion" (BDB 498), which may be literal or figurative for fierce warriors (e.g., Jer. 2:15; 4:7; 50:17).

▣ "in the plain of Ono" This Benjaminite city was the new home for Lod, Hadid, and Ono (cf. Ezra 2:33; Neh. 7:37), who returned with Zerubbabel. They had established villages and became craftsmen because in Neh. 11:35 Ono is called the valley of craftsmen. It was located on the western boundary of the new province of Judah, about 27 miles northwest of Jerusalem.

▣ "But they were planning to harm me" This is Nehemiah's estimation of the intentions of these men who had proven themselves to be enemies (cf. Neh. 4:1; 6:8-9). The VERB (BDB 362, KB 359, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is frequently used of "planning against," "plotting," "scheming" (e.g., 1 Sam. 18:25; Ps. 10:2; 35:4; Jer. 11:19).

6:5-9 "Then Sanballat sent his servant to" This was the same old trick of accusing Nehemiah of treason. However, the repeated request (four times) and an open letter (brought by Sanballat's servant, cf. Neh. 6:2; 2:19) showed that it was a political threat.

6:5 "an open letter" The implication of the personal, governmental letter not being officially sealed was to make the contents known to all. The purpose was political intimidation. It had worked before (Ezra 4), maybe it would work again.

6:6 "the Jews are planning to rebel" This is the same accusation as Neh. 2:19 and Ezra 4 and is a litany of charges of political plotting and rebellion.

NASB, NJB, REB   "Gashmu"
NKJV, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, Peshitta   "Geshem"

The MT has "Gashmu" (BDB 177 I), but BDB sees Geshem as an alternate spelling.

6:7 "You have also appointed prophets" Another means of threatening Nehemiah was claiming that he had political or even Messianic pretensions (cf. 2 Samuel 7). This shows that Sanballat was somewhat familiar with Jewish Scriptures.

▣ "now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. . .,let us take" The king in this phrase refers to Artaxerxes I. This is the same rumor game that these enemies had used before. Here, it is just the threat of sending a report (i.e., "So come now, let us. . .take counsel together"), because now the Persian king had ruled in favor of the rebuilding of the city's wall (cf. Neh. 2:1-8,9).

6:8 "you are inventing them in your own mind" The VERB (BDB 94, KB 109, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is from an Aramaic root. It is used only twice in the OT and means "to devise" or "to invent or make up" in a negative sense (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:33). The related two letter Hebrew root (BDB 95) means "empty" or "idle talk." The BDB adds "especially collective idea of imaginary pretensions or claims" (cf. Isa. 16:6; 44:25; Jer. 48:30).

6:9 "But now, O God, strengthen my hands" Notice in NASB 1970 and 1995 translations, both have the term "O God" in italics (assumed to be a prayer, as does KJV), which means that it is not in the original text but is supplied for English readers. This book is filled with Nehemiah's prayers (cf. Neh. 6:14,16)! See note at Neh. 4:9.

However, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Peshitta, and the Arabic, followed by the NJB, NAB, NEB, NET, have "I strengthen my hands all the more."

The VERB (BDB 304, KB 302) is a Piel IMPERATIVE, MASCULINE, SINGULAR, which could

  1. address YHWH
  2. refer to Nehemiah

 10 When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night." 11But I said, "Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in." 12Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. 14Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.

6:10 "Shemaiah" He is called "the son of Delaiah," who is mentioned in Ezra 2:59-60 as a family of priests who could not document their ancestry. Apparently this was a false prophet (cf. Neh. 6:12,14) who was hired by the surrounding nations (cf. Neh. 6:12-13) to intimidate Nehemiah. Why he was confined to his home has been the subject of great debate:

  1. it is related to Num. 19: 11-22
  2. he had advocated anointing Nehemiah as Davidic king and, therefore, caused him to be treasonous to Persia (cf. Neh. 6:7)
  3. it was a symbolic act showing what Nehemiah should do

The false prophets' message was spoken in poetic verse (cf. NJB, NAB, REB, JPSOA, Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 14, p. 136).

With Shemaiah restricted to his house Nehemiah would have to come to him, appearing to seek divine information and guidance. This may have been part of the premeditated plan to trick and destroy him. Shemaiah even delivers the message in typical prophetic poetry.

▣ "Let us meet together. . .let us close the doors" The first VERB (BDB 416, KB 419) is a Niphal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense. The second (BDB 688, KB 742) is a Qal COHORTATIVE. It was a trick; see note below.

▣ "within the temple" Nehemiah was not only a layman (Num. 18:7), but may have been a eunuch (Lev. 21:17-24; Deut. 23:1), both of which disqualified him from going into the inner parts of the temple. This was a way to discredit Nehemiah.

There is a provision in Moses' writings for someone to flee to the sacrificial altar for safety (cf. Exod. 21:13, 14; 1 Kgs. 1:50-53; 2:28ff) but this was a trick, not true compassion (vv. 12,13).

6:11 The words of Nehemiah express the feelings of every generation of godly leadership; not an audacity, but a confidence of God's call, God's will, God's presence! Faith issues in confidence not in ourselves, but in our God and His purposes (e.g., Dan. 3:16-18; 4:20-22).

6:12 "Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him" Nehemiah's personal relationship with God and his knowledge of God's will and word allowed him to evaluate the content of Shemaiah's words. God wants to equip all of His children to do the same thing!

6:13 Nehemiah associates "fear" with inappropriate actions, which he labels as "sin" (BDB 306, Qal PERFECT, "to miss the mark"). Notice that fear can lead to sinful acts! Faith and trust in God's presence, promises, and provision are crucial!

6:14 "Remember" Nehemiah called on God to remember (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERATIVE)

  1. His word, Neh. 1:8
  2. him (i.e., Nehemiah), 5:19; 13:14,22,31
  3. his enemies (i.e., Nehemiah), Neh. 6:14; 13:29

and God's people are to remember that God is a great and awesome God, Neh. 4:14.

▣ "according to these works of theirs" Nehemiah lived under the first covenant of performance-based fellowship. The "two ways" of Wisdom Literature (e.g., Psalm 1; Pro. 4:10-19) characterize his theological understanding. He would have readily agreed with Matthew 7 or the book of James. The goal of our relationship with a Holy God is a holy life! The problem is how does sinful humanity achieve this goal? The New Covenant of Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-36, shows the new pattern of grace-based faith, faith-received righteousness, which should issue in obedience (cf. Luke 6:46). The goal is the same, the means has changed.

▣ "Noadiah" This is a feminine name (BDB 418, although there is a masculine usage in Ezra 8:33) and shows the acceptability of female prophets. She happened to be a false prophetess. She was one of several false prophets active in Judah in Nehemiah's day.

Special Topic: Women in the Bible

 15So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters came to them. 18For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.

6:15 "the wall was completed" This VERB (BDB 1022, KB 1532, Qal IMPERFECT) has two distinct meanings in Qal.

  1. have satisfaction
  2. be completed (cf. 1 Kgs. 9:25)

This term is an Akkadian word for "the act or state of well-being, of being intact, safe, or complete (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 130). This is the root slm from which the famous Hebrew greeting, shalom, is derived.

The wall was finished, complete, and it was good; it provided safety; it provided peace of mind.

▣ "Elul" This would be October.

Special Topic: ANE Calendars

▣ "in fifty-two days" Josephus tells us in his book, The Antiquities of the Jews 11.5.8, that it took two years and four months. It is possible from archaeological evidence and historical precedence that a city's walls could be built in this short a time period in a functional way, but not with normal construction. We learn from Kathleen Kenyon's archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem that the nine foot wall on the eastern side was done with rough construction as if it were done rapidly.

6:16 "saw it" This is italicized in the NASB (1970), but the textual problem is that the MT has a word that can be understood as yr' (afraid, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, by John Joseph Owens, vol. 3, p. 69) or r'h (see The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, edited by John R. Kohlenberger III, vol. 3, p. 231). The MT, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate have "were afraid" (BDB 431, Qal IMPERFECT). As Nehemiah prayed in Neh. 4:4, the fear that they used to influence the Jews was now returned to them because they saw the hand of God helping the Jews in this amazingly rapid rebuilding of the walls.

NASB   "they lost their confidence"
NKJV   "they were very disheartened"
NRSV, JPSOA   "fell greatly in their own esteem"
TEV   "they lost face"
NJB   "they thought it a wonderful thing"
REB   "they thought it a very wonderful achievement"

The VERB (BDB 656, KB 709, Qal IMPERFECT) has such a wide semantic field. Notice the difference between the NASB, NKJV, and NJB. The NJB involved a textual emendation (i.e., replaces npl [to fall] with kl' [to be wonderful]). The context demands a negative response.

The second part of the phrase is literally "in eyes of them." "Eyes" here is an idiom of self perception. This is the Oriental concept of "lost face" (TEV).

6:17 "Tobiah" His name is Jewish and he is one of the major antagonists of Nehemiah. His technique was to infiltrate the Jewish wealthy class ("nobles") through marriages (cf. Neh. 6:18) so as to influence Nehemiah's plans.

6:18 "Arah" He is mentioned in Ezra 2:5; Neh. 7:10; and I Esdras 5:10.

▣ "Meshullam" This name refers to twenty different people in the OT. He is mentioned in Neh. 3:4,30 as someone who worked on two sections of the wall. Here we are told his daughter marries Jehohanan, who was Tobiah's son (IDB, vol. 2, p. 811).

6:19 "Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me" The Jewish leaders tried to make Tobiah look good in the eyes of Nehemiah, but his true self is seen in this verse. Even the high priest was involved in this conspiracy (cf. Neh. 13:4). He (cf. Neh. 6:18) was the son-in-law to Shechaniah, possibly the priest of Neh. 3:29 or 12:3, but uncertain because the name was so common during this period (cf. Ezra 8:3,5).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How did Sanballat try to discourage the rebuilding of the walls?

2. What was the prophet in Neh. 6:10-14 trying to do?


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