Nehemiah: Studies on Leadership | Week 09

inGest: Discerning False Prophecies

When Nehemiah was not intimated by social deception (invitation to compromising dialogue) or by military deception (rumors of rebellion by letter), the enemies resorted to spiritual deception. A prophet named Shemaiah (v.10) sounded quite concerned for Nehemiah’s welfare. In this dramatic sub-plot, this man, who was a shut-in in his own house (“a secret informer” in NKVJ), signifying the gravity of the matter, became anxious of murder plots in the night, and suggested that they both find safety in the temple.

Nehemiah did not flinch and again perceived the deception of the enemies in using a prophet to mislead him. He sensed that Sanballat and Tobiah were behind the plot and that Shemaiah was hired. How did he know?First, a prophet would be more concerned over the well-being of God’s people and God’s will regarding His work. There was an apparent dissonance between Nehemiah’s work, which God had been leading this entire time, and the warning of the prophet. Shemaiah’s proposition meant Nehemiah would have to abandon his people, instilling fear in them, and undermining the courage he had been portraying throughout the entire project.

Second, Shemaiah suggested to meet “within the temple,” (6:10) inferring the Holy Place, where only priests were permitted and laypeople were completely forbidden. One test of a prophet is they do not contradict what has previously been established by God. The fact that his “prophecy” went against the law of God proved that Shemaiah was a false prophet. Unfortunately, Shemaiah is not the only Bible prophet to fall for the love of money.

Nehemiah replied with predictable faithfulness, “should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” (6:11). Clearly aware of the scheme, he called out the trickery for what it was, refusing to violate the temple. Not blinded by the fear of an assassination attempt, nor mystified by the utterings of a prophet, Nehemiah continued to keep his eyes clear.

Apparently, Shemaiah was not the only prophet who had deceived him. Tobiah and Sanballat had recruited the prophetess Noadiah (she is found nowhere else in the Bible) and other prophets to put Nehemiah to fear without success.