Fear

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages[a] on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:

“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem[b] says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”

I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.”

11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.

14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me. 15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.

16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

Nehemiah 6:1-19 (NIV)

Fear is a very powerful emotion which can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s or group’s behaviors. Humans and many animals are equipped with a survival tool which triggers us to experience fear as a way to avoid danger and harm. Fear gives us the benefit of avoiding situations or at least placing our senses on alert. When there is legitimate danger, fear will increase our adrenaline, increase our heart rate and make us hypersensitive to our surroundings. We then are prepared to make the decision regarding fight or flight. However, fear can also be paralyzing. Fear can lead to false perceptions. Fear can lead to bad decisions based on assumptions. All of this can cause us to act poorly and lash out irresponsibly.

In the reading from Nehemiah today, we see fear’s negative side. The Jews under Nehemiah’s leadership had successfully built the wall around Jerusalem. All that was left was to put the new gates in place. The leaders of countries around Judah were fearful that once this project was completed, the Jews, led by Nehemiah, would be strong enough to revolt and overtake their territories. This fear had led them to try and stop the project since it began by lying to the king. Now, at this point, they decided to attempt to end the project by killing or at least discrediting Nehemiah. All of their attempts failed because Nehemiah was aware of their plots and thwarted every one of them.

Fear can lead to irrational and destructive behaviors. We can be on the perpetrating side or the receiving side of these behaviors. Whichever side we find ourselves on, we must make a strong effort to put an end to this negative side of fear. If you are the one participating in the behavior, take time to really examine the basis and the truth behind your fear. If you find yourself the recipient of the behavior, work to bring the truth forward and take the power of fear away. Above all, follow the example of Nehemiah by praying to the Lord for strength and assistance.

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