Keeping the Focus (Nehemiah 6:1-14)

Bible Passage: Nehemiah 6:1-14

The story of Nehemiah is all about a God-given burden to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. We have seen Nehemiah share this vision and galvanise a community into action, and the walls have been built up. Along the way, obstacles have been overcome from enemies outside who sought to destroy the confidence of the builders and even physically oppose them, and also from issues within to do with injustice and financial inequality.

In this passage we see a third challenge to Nehemiah’s progress on the wall – distraction. The same issue can face us as we seek to ‘build the walls’ in our own contexts. Whatever it is that God has given us a burden for, there will be moments where our attention can begin to wander. Sometimes the distractions are good things, sometimes they are bad things, but either way they have no place if they take our focus away from the task at hand.

Time Distractions: For Nehemiah, the distractions were deliberately caused by those who oppose the work. The first was Sanballat and Tobiah. After constant opposition, they now change tack and suggest meeting up with Nehemiah. They send repeated messages requesting the meeting but Nehemiah refuses to see them. It may seem odd that Nehemiah turned down this meeting. These men had been a thorn in his side for quite a long time. This was an opportunity to deal with the issues and perhaps inaugurate a new era of peaceful co-existence. It may come across as strange or even petty that Nehemiah would not want to meet up with them. Nehemiah however knew that they were not genuine and they were intending to do him harm.

Nehemiah’s primary purpose was not to deal with Sanballat and Tobiah (whether fighting their opposition or attending their ‘clear-the-air’ meetings). His main purpose was to build the wall and that building was at a crucial stage. The walls were done but there were still no gates. This meant that the walls had holes in and the people were still vulnerable. It would not be true to the calling that God gave to Nehemiah if he was to stop before the work was done to pursue this meeting.

Vision Distractions: Having avoided the first distraction, Nehemiah was then faced with a second situation he needed to deal with. A prophet named Shemaiah gave him a prophecy that he should spend the night taking refuge in the temple because of those who were trying to kill him. From a self-preservation perspective the move may have had some merit, but Nehemiah realised that it was just another distraction. The prophecy was not a genuine word of God but had in fact been set up by Nehemiah’s opponents, who were desperate to derail and delay the work by any means possible. Prophecy is important and should not be despised, but it needs to be weighed against scripture and what we know God has already said. Sometimes a well-meaning ‘blessed-thought’ or a cynical attempt at manipulation can masquerade as a word from the Lord, and can distract us from our true focus.

Nehemiah was ruthlessly single minded in completing the task he had been given. This is how building gets done. Many projects are started for the sake of the kingdom of God and not all of them are finished. Sometimes God can redirect us, but often projects are neglected simply because of distractions, where we lose focus on the main thing and let the business of life crowd out the thing we were trying to do in the first place.

Potential Applications:

  • This passage is one that is practically challenging, and invites us to think about how we are using our time, and whether this matches the things that God has called us to do.
  • You could spend time praying for different people who feel a call from God to a specific task. Pray that they would overcome any distraction and other opposition that might get in the way of what God is asking them to do.