Nehemiah: Studies on Leadership | Week 08

inTerpret: Carbon Copy

The second tactic of the enemies was the sending of the fifth letter. This time instead of an invitation to a dialogue, it was an open letter. It was common for letters to be rolled up on both ends and tied with string.A clay seal was fixed to the knot so that it could not be read. An open letter indicated that there was no seal, inviting all those who transported it to read it and spread the news. In other words, this was old-fashioned propaganda, innuendo, and gossip, intended to cause Nehemiah alarm and make him fear for his reputation.

We may not write letters with seals in the same way today, but our communication is still similar. The modern equivalent of open letters would be the cc: line found in emails. Ironically, cc stands for carbon copy, a relic of a time when instant duplicates of documents were made using carbon paper.

Sanballat writes Nehemiah an email, cc-ing virtually everyone in the area, perhaps even the king of Medo-Persia. The letter rumored, with Geshem, the Arabian’s testimony, that Nehemiah was to rebel against King Artaxerxes and make himself king of Jerusalem. It was a passive-aggressive suggestion of treason, while making Sanballat look good. On these grounds, the letter instructed Nehemiah to have a meeting to “consult together.”

How should Christian leadership handle attacks on personal reputation and rumors? What should leaders do when malicious rumors are circulated about themselves? Nehemiah did not worry about his own reputation, nor the king’s potential response to the rumors. He could have sent response emails, explaining himself and the situation. But the more you defend yourself in these situations, the guiltier you look. Nehemiah’s response is incisive: “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart” (6:8). Mic drop.

These were matters beyond his personal control, or that of a political strategist or public relations department. Like he has done from the beginning of the book and in all emergencies, Nehemiah prays another spontaneous prayer, asking for strength. The narrative on the rumors ends there and there seem to be no negative repercussions as a result.