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Defeating the Schemes of the Devil

The ultimate goal of all the schemes of the devil is to stop us from following Jesus. If we want to follow Jesus, then we cannot allow fear to control our feelings and determine our decisions.


Nehemiah 6: “Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And 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?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.


Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.


So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For 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 taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid. (ESV)


If I ask you what you are afraid of, what comes to your mind? For my wife it’s birds and for me it’s snakes. We have an agreement that if a bird comes into our house, I will take care of it, but if it’s a snake she would take care of that. Perhaps you are afraid of something else, such as something you did, are doing, or are not doing. It could be the fear of opposition, failure, inadequacy, shame, or what people would think. Though the schemes of the devil are many, fear seems to be the devil’s preferred instrument to carry out his schemes.


The problem is that people fail to see the schemes of the devil because they allow fear to control their feelings. What they need is freedom from fear to defeat the schemes of the devil.


In Nehemiah 6:1-19, God’s people were reaching the end of their building project. They were almost done with the wall, and the enemy of God decided to strike fear into the hearts of God’s people in order to put an end to their unity to accomplish God’s work. However, Nehemiah did not allow fear to control his feelings to determine his decisions, and in doing so his freedom from fear defeated the schemes of the devil.


The ultimate goal of all the schemes of the devil is to stop us from following Jesus. If we want to follow Jesus, then we cannot allow fear to control our feelings and determine our decisions. Rather we should seek out freedom from fear to defeat the schemes of the devil. The question is, how do you do that? Freedom in Jesus sets all believers free. Our text indicates three actions that we can take to defeat the schemes of the devil by not letting fear distract us, deceive us, or divert us from following Jesus.


Not Allowing Fear to Distract Us


First, we can defeat the schemes of the devil by not letting fear distract us from following Jesus. The intent of the enemy is to distract God’s people from following God. Fear is the devil’s favorite tool to distract us. He uses fear against faith. In verses 1-9, the devil first tried positive distraction and then negative.


Positive distractions can be attractive and plausible. Verses 1-2: “Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” The enemy is proposing a truce. The sense here is “let bygones be bygones.” But Nehemiah knew this was the tactic of the enemy to distract him from God’s work. Notice what he wrote next, “But they intended to do me harm.”


In ancient days, to declare victory all you needed was to capture or kill the main leader of the opposing nation or army. When they could not break in through the lines, they tried to lure the leader out to strike him down, here in order to put an end to the restoration of Jerusalem and God’s people.


Verses 3-4 say, “And 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?’ And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.” Nehemiah was so busy obeying and serving God that he had no time to be lured in by the schemes of the devil, either positive or negative. How about you?


Recently, I was asked to be on three different boards of large Christian organizations, but with great gratitude I had to say no. Why? Because what God is doing here in my church is too precious, too great to be distracted by things that are equally good and godly. I often see Christians doing great Christian work get distracted by other good Christian work. They fail to recognize the schemes of the devil, including attractive and plausible reasons to stop them from the great work that God has called.


Nehemiah knew that, so he didn’t fall for it. Do not get distracted by good things if they require you to abandon the work where God is already using you. In verses 5-7 we learn that when a positive approach doesn’t work, the enemy of our soul uses destructive means to distract us to stall the work of God.


Negative distractions can also be destructive and damaging. Verses 5-7 say, “In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.”


When the enemy couldn’t lure Nehemiah in with positive distractions, they accused him of planning a coup against the king. They threatened him that they had witnesses and evidence which would go to the king if he did not meet with them. This particular Persian king was known for his brutality. He killed his own brother to secure his throne. They also launched a campaign to discredit him and defame him so that people would not listen to him. Without Nehemiah as leader, the work of God among His people would suffer.


In our text, the enemy sent an open letter that indicates their destructive and damaging intent. During that time, a letter from one official to another was sent in a sealed envelope so that only the person who receives it can read it. One would only leave it open if you wanted to spread rumors.


Since their positive approach did not work, they showed their true colors and nature by discrediting, maligning, and threatening Nehemiah to bow to their will and purpose. In verses 8-9, Nehemiah responds, “Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind. For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”


In our social media culture, character assassination is all that the devil needs to ruin lives. Too many pastors have been discredited by character assassination. Some rightfully, but in many cases, it has been done to destroy the work of God. Did you know that pastors are considered public figures and hence are not protected by law like private citizens? Therefore, anyone can write devious posts to make a pastor into whatever they want, and the poor pastors cannot do anything. We need to be careful when we hear social media allegations about pastors and churches.


What is the application here? In Luke 6:27 Jesus said, “ But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” When the objective is to follow Jesus and invite others to follow Jesus, we do not defeat the schemes of the devil by praying against the accusers the devil raises or by asking God to get us out of it. Instead, we ask God to give us the strength to persevere and continue the work that God has given him. This is what Nehemiah did in verse 9.


Not Allowing Fear to Deceive Us


The second action that we can take to defeat the schemes of the devil is by not letting fear deceive us from following Jesus. In verses 10-14, we see how fear was utilized in an attempt to deceive Nehemiah from following God. Nehemiah goes to meet with a prophet Shemaiah who in verse 10 said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.”


At first it would seem that Shemaiah is on Nehemiah’s side. But in verses 12-14, Nehemiah writes, “And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.”


Even the Jewish prophets were on a mission to strike fear into Nehemiah’s heart to deceive him to act in ungodly manners and hinder God’s work. Before Jesus was arrested and crucified, he told his disciples what was about to happen. In Matthew 16: 22-23 we read “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! [it was not Peter himself but Satan through Peter trying to weaken Jesus’ resolve to pay for our sins. So, Jesus said,] You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”


Here we see something similar. Notice, Nehemiah understood by Shemaiah’s actions that he was not sent by God but sent by Tobiah and Sanballat, or else he would not have invited him to break the law. He understood the schemes of the devil and how he can deceive God’s people. Had Nehemiah gone into the temple the enemy would have accomplished what they couldn’t in verses 1-9.


How? He would have been discredited as a coward who hid himself in a time of need, and he would have sinned against God and His law by entering into that part of the temple for he was not a priest. In Numbers 18:7, God said, “any outsider [a person not a priest] who comes near shall be put to death.”


What’s the application? Satan can use godly people to accomplish his work. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Learn to recognize him and his schemes by studying God’s Word. Nehemiah knew the law because he read God’s Word, which helped him defeat the devil’s schemes.


Not Allowing Fear to Divert Us


The third action that we can take to defeat the schemes of the devil is by not letting fear divert us from following Jesus. Verses 15-16 say, “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”


When God’s people didn’t let fear distract, deceive, and divert them from following God, they finished the project that stuck fear in the hearts of God’s enemy because for 141 years what sat desolate was rebuilt by a band of rag-tags in merely 52 days.


But verses 17-19 describe the attempt to divert the project. Tobiah and his son have intermarried nobles of Judah and now he is sending letters to make Nehemiah afraid. This is a cliffhanger because more is coming but fear remains the tool of the Devil.


I heard about a Christian woman who was known to be a positive person. A fellow Christian approached her and said, I am sure you would not have anything positive about the devil. She said, no, actually I do. The devil is very persistent, and we can learn from him.


Church, the devil is relentless. He is persistent. He will not stop coming after you until he wears you down unless you are aware of his schemes. Schemes of the devil do not have to be devilish to distract, deceive, and divert you from following Jesus. He can use positive, godly, and righteous distractions to attract us to stop us from following Jesus.


Let me close with an action step: examine your life and see what you are most afraid of. Because the devil, the enemy of our soul, weaponizes our fears to stop us from following God. If we learn to live in freedom in Christ, then sin, guilt, shame, and the consequence of all of that will not distract, deceive, and divert us from following God.


My appeal to you is to this: Whatever you do, do not allow fear to control your feelings to determine your decisions. The ultimate goal of all the schemes of the devil is to stop you from following Jesus. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”


Reader, the devil never stops, and when you are nearing the finish line, he will throw everything at you. If positive distraction does not throw you off, the devil will use destructive means to get your attention away from God. The devil will use your family, reputation, disease, or any other crises to do that. Don’t let him. Ask God to give you discernment, which is the ability to judge matters according to God’s view of them and not how they appear to you.


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