Tobiah - the infiltration of an enemy (2)


In the last issue, we considered how Sanballat, Tobiah and their accomplices who sought to frustrate the work of the faithful builders of Jerusalem, adopted very specific tactics. They sought to discourage the people by deriding the efforts of those who were raising up the city wall (Neh 4:1-3), and when this failed to weaken the hands of the labourers, they resorted to physical violence, attempting to infiltrate the camp, and cause the work to cease by force: “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” (4:11). Vigilance was crucial at this time; it was vital to watch and be ready lest the enemy should succeed in entering in unawares, and thus have opportunity to strike. And it is even so with the labourers today who are engaged in the work of building up the ecclesia of Christ. They also will inevitably face opposition by the fleshly-minded, yet whose designs will inevitably be frustrated if the Ecclesia be firmly founded upon the precepts of righteousness and truth. In our day, there is not the same threat of death at the hands of the enemy as there has been in times past, it is true; but the opposition is there all the same, as the diabolos, or sin incorporate in the flesh, employs many tactics and means to frustrate the work of those who seek to raise up walls of defence, and strengthen the foundations of Truth.

The Apostle gave words of warning to those who were being built up to become the bride of Christ (cp Gen 2:22; Rev 22:9-27), “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 …” (Acts 20:28-32). These wolves do not openly manifest themselves to be wolves. They rather have the same resemblance as sheep, for as the Master himself taught, they wear an outward appearance of righteousness, as if they are clothed with the skin of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits …” (Mat 7:15). This class of men are evidently comprised of prominent, popular members, for they are in such a position to “draw away disciples after them.” They have a name, or reputation that they are spiritually alive and active (cp Rev 3:1) but are, in fact, dead in the Spirit’s estimation.

But if they are in sheep’s clothing, how can other members of the flock identify them? How can those who “watch” discern which are inwardly ravening wolves, that they might cry out a word of warning? According to the master, his disciples “shall know them by their fruits.” Is the spiritual sustenance which their fruits impart wholesome meat in due season, after the pattern or shape of the Hope of Israel (i.e. grapes and figs) or is it wild fruit that is unpalatable to those whose senses are exercised to discern the good from the evil? “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” By no means. “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Mat 7:16,17). Ye shall know them by that which emerges from them, and after the pattern of old times, such men, being evil, can only bring forth evil fruit which cannot be eaten (cp Jer 24:8, Is 5:2), and thus prove to be unable to meet the dietary requirements of those wishing to be fed with the things of the Spirit. Corrupt minds bring forth corruptness in both doctrine and behaviour, neither of which are of any use in the ecclesia of Christ.


Just as these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” sought to devour the flock of God in the mortal days of Christ, even so the adversaries who contended against Nehemiah sought to enter in among the people unawares, in order to slay the people, and cause the work to cease. They would appear to be no different from any other of the people, speaking and behaving in the same way, until the time appointed for them to strike. In fact, as we saw in the last article, Sanballat and Tobiah had already infiltrated the people through marriage (Neh 6:18, 13:28) as their families had become joined to families in Israel – they had in fact, become part of the congregation, even though to do this was specifically forbidden under the Mosaic Law (Deut 23:3). And with the appearance of sheep, these wolves changed their tactics from open hostility to a semblance of righteousness, involving a show of good works (6:19), and an outward show of reasonableness, with a willingness to discuss the situation. They sought to draw Nehamiah away from the safety of the city and the people for a meeting: “Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief” (Neh 6:2).

Although they spake fair words, these men laid up deceit within themselves, and Nehemiah believed them not (Prov 26:24,25). They covered their hatred with smooth words of deceit (Prov 26:26), yet Nehemiah was not beguiled by them. He knew their objectives, and that their carnal minds were at enmity with the purposes of the Deity in whose service he was labouring, and therefore gave no heed to the veneer of reasonableness they displayed in secretly laying such a snare before him. “I sent messengers down to them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh 6:3). Here is the most effective method to employ when faced with those who would desire to channel our energies away from the vital work of edifying those with ears to hear, to unprofitable debates with no purpose.

We are engaged in a needful work – why should it cease whilst we have talks with the adversary? If they are of the right disposition, they will assist our work, and abide by the principles of righteousness and uprightness that govern that work. If they do not abide by those principles, and prefer rather to adopt carnal methods in opposition to us, what profit is there in discussion with them? What fruit can be had in being drawn away into the tangle of worldly debates and confused philosophisings of those who reject the wisdom which is from above?

There can be none, and so in following the examples of both Nehemiah and the Apostle Paul, we ought not give place to them for one hour (Gal 2:5), lest time and energies be wasted on things that do not profit – and we ourselves fall into a snare. This was Nehemiah’s approach; to refuse peace-talks with the enemy, in the full knowledge that their only motive for having them was that they might do him harm: “yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.” He refused to be moved.


Simple requests for discussions having failed to draw Nehemiah into their snare, the adversaries through Sanballat sent another letter, this time an open letter raising a certain false accusation. Evidently, the intention was that this time Nehemiah would meet with them in order to defend himself:

“It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu (an arabian accomplice, see v 1—CAM) saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together” (Neh 6:6-7).

Here was the new tactic exposed, one commonly employed against those who uphold the righteous principles of Yahweh in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. This is the tactic which it is our experience to find employed most often – that of Character Assassination; the imputation of questionable motives and behaviour, yet with no proof, or even evidence offered, but mere assertions, and the testimonies of others (cp Acts 24:13; 25:7). This was an open letter, meaning any party handling it could read what was written. No reasoning was given, no logical argument was employed; it was simply a suggestion— a false accusation – allegedly being put by others.

Notice, the accusation was not made outright – “it is reported” that it is so. “We have heard that it is so; we are not personally accusing you of anything, just repeating what we have heard … let’s talk about these things, you can then give your side?” The claim was that Nehemiah sought some personal advantage, that in fact, he was wanting to exalt himself to be a king over the people, and so challenge the authority of the Persian king, Artaxerxes. Indeed, it was a similar charge that was brought against the Lord Jesus Christ: “we found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). And again, when Pilate sought to release him, “the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (Jno 19:12). In both cases, with a marked inability to find any fault, the Adversary found it necessary to raise a false charge of self-exaltation, and rebellion.


Nehemiah’s response to the accusations of the adversary is again most instructive: “Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” (Neh 6:8). He wasted neither time nor energy in composing lengthy rebuttals of the allegations made against him. He did not seek to justify himself in the denial of what was being claimed; his words were short and to the point. The allegations were not true, but were devised through the counsels of the hearts of wicked men. Again, he refused to be distracted from the work in which he was engaged.

Lovers of Truth will give an impartial examination to the evidence of charges raised against builders in the Household of faith, and soon finding the evidence lacking, will reject the allegations as being no more than the evil fruits of evil men. Rather than to be distracted from the vital work of building up the ecclesial walls, by spending time and energy in self-justification and self-defence, it is more profitable for all for the builders to keep building, and leave the adversary to froth out great and swelling words as it pleases them, yet to eventually die down to nothing; foaming out their own shame (cp Jude 16,13).

Perceiving that they would be unable to influence Nehemiah by direct communications with him the next tactic employed by Tobiah and Sanballat, was to employ the services of others. Using the age-old device of finding someone Nehemiah would respect and listen to, to speak with him, they hired Shemaiah to give a report to him, which would put him in fear:

“Afterward I came into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee” (Neh 6:10).

It would appear that it was as evidence of his own fear of being slain by the devices of Tobiah and Sanballat that Shemaiah had shut himself up in his own house. He appears to have been previously respected by Nehemiah, for he went to Shemaiah, rather than vice-versa. Perhaps it was that Nehemiah had frequent discourses with the man, hence he was the one selected to lay another snare before Nehemiah.

The proposition was that the danger being so great, to avoid being slain Nehemiah and he ought to retreat into the Temple, into the area normally reserved for the Priests and Levites only; hidden there, with the doors closed, they would be safe. What may have given weight to the suggestion, is that in previous times others had done just this; Joash was saved from destruction at the hands of Athaliah by being hidden as a child in the house of Yahweh for six years (2Kings 11:3). But Nehemiah recognised that to do this with no Divine authority would be sin. And in his position, there was a vital need for him to provide a leading example of faith and courage to the people, rather than to simply disappear from their sight through fear for himself. He recognised that though this suggestion was being presented to him by one purporting to be a prophet, that it could not be genuine, for if he were to hearken to it, the work would cease, rather than be advanced. He answered accordingly:

“I said, Should such a man as I flee; and who is there, that being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. And, lo, I perceived that Elohim had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and so do, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me” (Neh 6:12,13).


We notice, that it was Tobiah, and Sanballat, that hired the false prophet to testify before Nehemiah; an Ammonite and a Moabite (Neh 2:10), who followed the pattern of the earlier enemies of Israel, in seeking to ensure their downfall. Indeed, it was precisely because of this same action that Ammonites and Moabites were strictly forbidden entry to the congregation of Israel. So it was commanded:

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of Yahweh; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of Yahweh for ever; because they met you not with bread and water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless, Yahweh thy Elohim would not hearken unto Balaam; but Yahweh thy Elohim turned the curse into a blessing unto the, because Yahweh thy Elohim loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever” (Deut 23:6).

The Ammonitish involvement with the hiring of Balaam is not recorded in the record in Numbers, but the Law specified that because of this particular matter, both Ammonites and Moabites were to be excluded to the tenth generation – which Nehemiah expounded to signify a complete exclusion “for ever” (Neh 13:1). The entry of Tobiah and Sanballat is the first recorded breach of this command, where both the Ammonite and Moabite were welcomed into the congregation, who permitted these men to marry into Israel. And so, history repeated itself as they sought to hire, not just one prophet, Shemaiah, but many, including a prophetess. So Nehemiah prayed before the Father: “My Elohim, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear” (Neh 6:14).


In addition to presenting false prophetic words before Nehemiah to cause him to fall, Tobiah sought to gain the favour of the people. So, we find that he was able to organise a secret collusion against Nehemiah: “in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah (which Nehemiah had refused to do—CAM), 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 Meshuallam the son of Berechiah. Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear” (Neh 6:17-19).

“there were many in Judah sworn unto” Tobiah; thus they had made a covenant, a pact with him, against Nehemiah. These were those of the people who had been seduced by the false prophecies, and false accusations being levelled at their Governor. They “sent many letters” to Tobiah, which is suggestive that they were utilised as spies, to provide intelligence on what Nehemiah was doing. Even so, the adversaries of the Lord Jesus Christ did likewise: “they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, so that they might deliver him to the power and authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20).


Tobiah was himself a prime example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing; one who had crept in unawares, forming his alliances, and feigning himself to be a just man, by doing “good works” before the people. They testified of those works before Nehemiah, and uttered Nehemiah’s words to him. How could Tobiah be an enemy of the people, when he was doing so much good towards them? Just look at what he was doing, and how much we have benefitted from him – surely you are being unjust towards him; why not just give him the benefit of the doubt, and accept him for his work’s sake?

Human nature never changes, and so it is today that when lovers of the Truth testify against those whose fruits are not after the shape and pattern of the Israelitish hope, but wild fruit unable to be eaten by the children of light, a testimony of “good works” is produced. Just look at all the good that man is doing travelling about all the world preaching the Gospel, enduring much hardship for Christ’s sake, we are told! You are being “unloving” and “unChristlike”! You are “jealous” of my success, says the man himself. Why don’t we see you doing as many “good works” say his followers – it is easy to criticise from your armchair, but show us your good works!!! The fact that it is not the Gospel believed by Paul that is being preached appears to matter little; the “good works” attracts the admiration of men. The reason why the critics do not behold our ‘good works’ performed before the Deity, is that rather than seek present popularity, we desire to follow Christ, who taught “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hyprocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward” (Mat 6:1-2).

They have their reward. The critic is gravely mistaken in imputing the motive of Jealousy for our exposure of a wolf’s real identity, demonstrated from the Word. They have their reward, a reward which we do not desire. Rather, we desire the reward from our Father in Heaven, who sees those things that the critics, wilfully ignorant of these words of Messiah, claim we do not do.


Tobiah had his reward. Temporal advantage, and the favour of men for a season. During the period of Nehemiah’s absence, when he went back to Shushan the palace, Tobiah took every opportunity to grasp as much of his reward as he could lay his defiled hands upon. The meat offerings ceased to be offered, and Tobiah was given the room in the Temple where they were prepared, to dwell there. “Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our Elohim, was allied unto Tobiah: and he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the offerings of the priests” (Neh 13:4,5). This was Tobiah’s reward; a place obtained by deceit and iniquity in the House of the Most High. But the Deity is not mocked. A time of purging was at hand, when at the Return of Nehemiah, the defilement of Tobiah would be cast out, that the offerings could be made in sincerity and truth: “Behold, he shall come, saith Yahweh of Hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and life fuller’s soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purge the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto Yahweh an offering in righteousness” (Mal 3:1-3).

Even so, Nehemiah as a Type of the Lord Jesus Christ returned to cleanse the house, and judge the members thereof after the commandment of the Most High.


The word of Yahweh was read; words of judgement against the infiltrators, before all the people:

“They read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of Elohim for ever … now it came to pass when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude … I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of Elohim, with the meat offering and the frankinsence” (Neh 13:1-9).

Tobiah had his reward. A temporary reward, popularity amongst the people, as he sought to display a show of good works to further his own ends, of sowing the seeds of discord against Nehemiah, and against those who put their hand into making the foundations sure, in building up Jerusalem. But the reward was cut short. Nehemiah returned as One appointed by Yahweh to purge the household, and so Tobiah was cast out, never again to be mentioned in the annuls of history, his name having fallen into shame and age-lasting contempt as a defeated enemy of Yahweh’s people.

Christopher Maddocks