TOBIAH - THE INFILTRATION OF AN ENEMY (1)
Written for our learning in the inspired record of Ezra, is a description of the Spiritual state of the remnant in the land, who had returned there following their 70 year period of Babylonian captivity. And what we find, is that rather than to maintain their distinct identity as a people called out as a “separated” people (Ex 33:16) to show forth the Holiness of Yahweh; many of the Jews had sought to join themselves to the people of the land. The princes brought the following report before Ezra:
“The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers have been chief in this trespass” (Ezra 9:1,2).
Notice this; it was not simply the case that the princes and rulers had done nothing to prevent the people bringing in foreigners to the land, marrying them, and giving in marriage – rather, they were foremost in this thing, they were “chief in his trespass”! Doubtless, like certain today they thought the exclusivity of the Way too restrictive. They found that those of differing beliefs were actually quite sincere in their own way – who were they to judge them as being unworthy of entry into the camp of the sanctified ones? So, their daughters were allowed to enter in, and become joined to the Sons of the Deity.
The effect of such news upon Ezra was very great: “when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied … and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice” (Ezra 9:4). He understood the gravity of the situation, that by the folly of the people, priests and princes, the continued existence of Israel as a set-apart nation was threatened.
These events are most instructive for our learning, for just as Israel were called upon to separate themselves from “the peoples of the lands,” maintaining a distinct identity as a holy people undefiled with the “abominations” of the heathen, it is even so in the case of believers today. “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” is the Apostolic maxim, “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? … wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2Cor 6:14-18).
The need for separation is just as great in our day, as it was for the remnant in Ezra’s day. “Come out from among them” is the command, and how lamentable it is to behold instead, “them” coming in amongst the community of believers. Those who love the things of the Spirit, and who seek earnestly after the kingdom and righteousness of the Deity (Mat 6:33), can only share the sorrows of Ezra, and empathise in his deep distress at what the Children of the Light had done, in mingling themselves with the Children of darkness.
Drastic action was required. Following Ezra’s prayer before the Father, as recorded at the end of Ezra chapter nine, we read of how confession was given, and a covenant was made at the instigation of Ezra, to separate from the strangers that had been brought in:
“Shechaniah … answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my Lord … and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:2,3).
So the resolve was made, and Ezra brought the command before the people: “separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. And all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do …” (Ezra 10:11,12). Amongst the priests were found some who had transgressed in this matter; and of them we read that “they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (Ezra 10:19). So it was, that the strangers were separated from the people of the Most High, who bound themselves in a covenant to remain separate before their Redeemer.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF FOLLY
But the damage was already done. In this time of laxity and compromise, enemies had ‘crept in unawares’ to the camp. Tobiah, and Sanballat had been given opportunity to make their alliances, forge friendships and unions with the people, and infiltrate the household of faith. And it was these men that appear as the strongest enemies that Nehemiah had to later contend against.
The Spirit recounts how Nehemiah, after having been granted leave by the king, went on his way to Jerusalem:
“Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.”
These exceedingly grieved men, were of that class of people whom Yahweh had banished from entry into the congregation. “An Ammonite, or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of Yahweh” was the command (Deut 23:3), yet Tobiah, an Ammonite, and Sanballat (Horon being a city of Moab (Is 15:15)), a Moabite, had indeed found their way into the congregation, during a time when the people were failing to uphold the laws of their Maker. Nehemiah describes how the infiltrators “laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king?” (Neh 2:19). Yet he replied in accordance with the Law “the Elohim of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem,” even though they resided there, through the failure of the people to uphold the principles of the most High.
Both Tobiah, and Sanballat had become joined to the people through marriage. So we learn from Chapter six, and verse 18:
“Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.”
During a time of compromise and weakness, when the people were marrying the daughters of strangers, Tobiah, an Ammonitish servant took the opportunity to enter into the congregation. He became the Son-in-law of Shechaniah – who was a priest (12:3), whose lips ought to have kept knowledge, and disseminated wisdom: “that they should seek the law at his mouth” (Mal 2:7). But as we have seen, both priests and people had compromised the Righteous precepts of Yahweh, and despised his Holy Ways (Mal 2:12), and it was as a direct consequence of this compromise on the part of the leaders of the people, that the enemy was given opportunity to establish a foothold, for it was “because” of this alliance, that Tobiah had credibility and even respect amongst the people. And it was not just Tobiah alone; he established his family amongst the congregation, for his son married the daughter of one of the city builders, Meshullam (cp 3:4,30).
Sanballat had also made use of the situation; his daughter married the high-priest’s son (Neh 13:28), which meant that both men – and their families – were in a position to wield considerable influence among the people. The fact that they were permitted to remain joined to the priesthood, even after the people had separated themselves, showed both the extent of their influence – and also the hypocrisy of the rulers, who required the enactment of a covenant of separation, when they were evidently not prepared to honour it themselves. Having men’s persons in admiration (cp Jude 16) for the sake of personal gain, they permitted these enemies of the Truth to stay within the camp. And how much like today that is!
THE TACTICS OF THE ENEMY
It is most instructive for us to notice the means whereby Tobiah sought to undermine the work of Nehemiah. He began by pouring scorn upon the enterprise, suggesting that the work was so great it was foolish to even begin building, but also by misrepresenting the enterprise as being an attempt at establishing independence from the Persians; an act of rebellion against the king: “they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king?” These men were influential amongst the people, having obtained the ear of the elders. Tobiah regularly wrote to, and received letters from the nobles of Judah; “many in Judah were sworn unto him” (Neh 6:17,18), so we can well understand his hostility to Nehemiah, as one who sought the good of the people, rather than to elevate his own Name. They despised the dominion he had over them, and spoke evil of him (cp Jude 8). But Nehemiah gave a good and faithful response, words of trust in Yahweh, and rebuttal towards those who had sought to take possession by their intrigues of those things forbidden by Israel’s Master: “the Elohim of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will rise up and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem” (Neh 2:20). He refused to be discouraged by the mockery of those who walked after their own lusts (cp Jude 18), and refused to become distracted with time-wasting denials of false allegations. Rather, he set his hand to the work, in faith and confidence of Yahweh’s blessing.
THE PEOPLE WHO HAD
MIND TO WORK
Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the building began in earnest, and chapter 3 details those who did not hearken to Tobiah’s words of discouragement, choosing rather to build up the walls of the city. It would appear from the record that much was accomplished in a short time (cp Neh 6:15; the wall was begun and finished in fifty two days) such was the zeal of the people, and it may be a reference to the speed at which things had been done, that Tobiah and Sanballat said in their further words of derision: “What do these feeble Jews? Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” Would they really finish it so quickly – make an end of the work in a day? “Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Neh 4:2,3). What is the quality of workmanship like? All kinds of people from all kinds of professions; priests, merchants, apocatharies, and goldsmiths were all engaged in the task – they were not qualified builders – surely their work couldn’t last for long especially with such a rushed job – why, if even a fox were to go up a wall built by these kinds of people, it would simply collapse under it’s weight! Here was an attempt at open discouragement from those with influence among the people, but the work continued unhindered. “so we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (Neh 4:6).
ACHIEVING MUCH WITH LITTLE
Experience has shown time and time again that much can be achieved with little. Those with few resources can achieve much more than those who have much, unused resources – if there is “a mind to work”. Here is an example for ecclesial life; for those whose responsibility it is to build up the ecclesial house (cp Jude 1:20). They may feel that they do not have the skills and abilities possessed by others who may be more qualified in worldly matters than they. They may feel that because others who are more able in such things neglect the work, that therefore there is no-one left to do it. But men of faith will rise above their sense of personal inadequacies, and get on with the work. The end product will be of the Father, not of man; time and experience both tell us that the greatest works have been accomplished not by the men with the best resources, but by men of vision, faith, and perseverance.
Determination, and trust in Yahweh will more than compensate for failing natural abilities. Men of faith will unhesitatingly commence a needful, yet thankless work so tedious and so tiresome that those who would rather seek their own good will neglect – and men of vision, diligence and endurance will finish that work, even when humanly speaking everything is going against them. Men whose heart is in the things of the world will have their reward. And men of the Spirit who possess “a mind to work” diligently that they may enter into the promised day of Rest will also have theirs (cp Mat 6:1-5).
A NEW TACTIC – PHYSICAL FORCE
Perceiving that open words of scorn and derision were not having the desired effect, the adversaries of Israel sought other means to hinder the work – physical force: “when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, and conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (Neh 4:8). There was quite a number involved in this conspiracy, not just these 3 men, but their people also. Arabians, Ammonites and Ashdodites united together in opposition to the construction of the City of the Most High El. But their tactics changed from open words, to covert operations. “Our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (Neh 4:11). Here was the intention plainly expressed, to creep in unawares (cp Jude 4), so that once they were in the midst of the people, they could begin to slay them, and cause the work to cease by violence.
Nehemiah, however, made due preparation by way of exhorting the people to be alert, and ready to overcome the enemy: “I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people Be not afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters your wives and your houses” (Neh 4:13-14). Here, the issues were made plainer than ever before. This was a matter now of national survival. The people, through their folly, had permitted the ungodly to enter into the congregation of the righteous, and were now reaping the consequences. They had to be prepared to fight, or be overcome. To either earnestly contend, or to lose the warfare of faith.
THE NEED TO
In our day, although the nature of the warfare has changed, in that “we do not war after the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Cor 10:4), there is a warfare to be engaged in nevertheless. “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies when went before thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1Tim 1:19) was the exhortation of Paul to Timothy, his own son in the faith. It is required that those enlisted in the service of Christ (2Tim 2:3,4) engage in this warfare, and be active in earnestly contending for the faith which was once for all revealed to the holy ones (Jude 3). The work is disagreeable, as it inevitably brings the contenders into conflict with those in positions of authority and influence in such a degenerate age as the one in which we sojourn; but it is as necessary as it was in the days of Nehemiah – it is a matter of survival.
There are “certain men crept in unawares … ungodly men,” whose condemnation was written of in old times (Jude 4). There are those who would undermine the foundations of faith, upon which the ecclesial edifice is constructed. And “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3). For the most part, these, like Tobiah and Sanballat, are the influential, having attracted a following. The Apostle Paul lamented such a situation which would arise at Ephesus: “I know this, that after my departing, shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch … and now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:29-32).
Here is both the problem, and the preventative measure expressed together. The problem is those who lead a following away from the principles of truth – but the preventative measure is to ‘watch’ for such, and to be builded by the word of God, to become a fortress which the enemy cannot prevail against.
This was the manner by which Nehemiah dealt with the foxes who sought to pull down the wall which the people were building, who purposed to enter in and cause destruction. He set watchmen, prepared to cry out in warning when the enemy came, and set the people in a state of alert, being left with no doubt of what was required of them. “Be not ye afraid of them: remember Adonai who is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives and your houses” (Neh 4:14).
But, though being faced with such perils, Nehemiah did not permit the work to cease. There is a need to contend against those who would make a spoil of Christ’s flock – but there is a greater need to build up the walls, that a place of protection, refuge, and strength might be established. This is the primary work in which all must be engaged; the work of contending is a secondary affair which becomes needful when the builders are being confronted with those who purpose to hinder them. So, once it was made known to the enemy that the people were alert, and watching out for them, the work continued; but with particular details from which we can learn much:
“it came to pass that from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons (i.e. coats of mail) … they which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, everyone had his sword girded by his side, and so builded” (Neh 4:16-18).
Notice this point; the primary work was that of building, yet with the sword at hand to contend against the adversary as and when needed.
Even so it is in our day. Those who have faith in the things of the Spirit must build. That is their primary work; of building and edification. But they must also be ready to wield the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17) to cut down every high thing that exalts itself against that work, to hinder it. They must labour faithfully and diligently within the Master’s household, yet they must also be watchful and vigilant lest there enter in wolves who would tear and rend the flock. Both are indispensable duties of the faithful disciples (cp Luke 14:28,29), for without either one, the eternal lives of Christ’s brethren is exposed to danger.
(To be continued)