The Plain of Ono
Doing a Great Work for God
That 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.
1 Peter 5:8
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
Reading the first couple of verses of Nehemiah chapter 6 reveals a new twist to the working of the enemy. Up to this time, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem had attacked the Jews and their work as a whole. Apparently after they had learned that the walls had been completed, they began a new line of attacks aimed personally against Nehemiah as an individual. Three such attacks are outlined in our text, and perhaps the enemy thought that if they could vanquish the leader, the work would be left unfinished. As an aside, this is a great reason for us to pray hard for our leaders because they often bear the heaviest assaults from the enemy.
Now, let us stop for a moment and consider that the enemy began a series of attacks
personally against an individual. If you study Scripture, you will surely find that Satan
wages battles on a personal level. He started with Eve, and later we find him singling out
Job. Jesus warned Peter, "behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift
you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). Here is a valuable lesson for every one of us to learn
and be conscious of - while we are doing a great work for God, there will be a Plain of
Ono for all of us where the enemy will attack us one on one. Most Christians are aware of
the presence of the enemy, but we often fail to recognize when we have been singled out
for hand to hand combat. Christian, it is so important that you remain fully aware that
Satan is after you personally!
Paul said truly that we are not ignorant of Satan's devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) and here in our text we may find some of the techniques that the enemy used against Nehemiah. We may find as well the counterattacks which Nehemiah successfully applied to repel them.
Verses 2-4 record for us the first round of attacks directed toward Nehemiah. Though they claimed only to want to meet with him, somehow Nehemiah understood that they secretly wanted to destroy him. If the enemy could have his way, he would like to see you dead or physically injured. Haman made gallows on which to hang Mordecai, and the princes of Persia sought to have Daniel eaten by lions. Study the gospel accounts and see what Satan and his emissaries are said to have done with some individuals. Jesus healed a woman who is said to have had "a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together", but Jesus told the Jews that she had been bound by Satan for those eighteen years" (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a boy in Luke 9:42 of whom it is recorded that "the devil threw him down, and tare him". Then we have the classic verse in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour". Make no mistake, Satan would like to have you destroyed.
Now let us consider some of the particular aspects of this attack on the very life of Nehemiah:
The enemy wanted Nehemiah to come down and meet together with them. They didn't want to come to Jerusalem where Nehemiah was, but they sure wanted him to compromise and come to where they wanted him. The enemy may come to you with flattering words, but he is never interested in your interests and well being.
Why did the enemy want to meet away from Jerusalem in one of the villages in the plain of Ono? Obviously, they wanted to get him off by himself where he would have no support. We must realize that we are most vulnerable when we are alone, so it is of great importance that we stick together. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25). Not only is it unsafe to be alone, we must be careful to avoid being in the wrong place. The safest place for Nehemiah was in Jerusalem.
Notice that the enemy didn't quit after the first try. They sent 4 letters to Nehemiah with the same request. We need to realize that Satan will not always quit after the first few attempts to destroy us.
When the enemy said "Come let us meet in the plain of Ono" Nehemiah simply said "Oh no". One of the best defenses against the enemy is to just say "No".
Nehemiah's reason for his refusal was because he was busy doing a great work for God. If an opportunity comes by that is going to take you away from the work of God, you had better beware because it is probably not of God. The best place for us to be is to remain busy in the work of God. Idleness tends toward apathy and leaves room for sin. God said that one of the problems with Sodom was "abundance of idleness" (Ezekiel 16:49).
The enemy kept coming with the same request, but, praise God, Nehemiah tells us that each time "I answered them after the same manner"! James 4:7 promises, " Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Just remain steadfast in refusing and remaining.
The next tactic used by the enemy is recorded for us in verses 5 - 9. It was a custom in Persia and other oriental nations to roll up their letters and enclose them in a bag or purse when being sent to persons of distinction. This was a mark of respect or recognition of someone of higher rank. When a letter was sent to an inferior or with the air of contempt, it would be unenclosed. This is probably what Nehemiah was referring to by the "open" letter that was now sent the 5th time. The enemy now showed their contempt for Nehemiah with the threat of slander.
Their goal was still the same - "Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together" (vs. 7). However, this time the bait was blackmail. Sanballat and Geshem (Gashmu) were threatening to accuse Nehemiah of rebellion before the king of Persia. Imagine the trouble that this could have caused! This should bring to mind one of the titles given to Satan - the accuser of our brethren (Revelation 12:10; Job 1:9, 2:5). The enemy loves to slander and bring false accusations against us. They plotted methods for bringing up accusations against Jesus, and He said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (Matthew 5:11). There are two methods given in Scripture for dealing with the false accusations that come from the enemy:
Often times our first reaction to slander is to try to prove that the accusation is false. We are to answer a fool according to his folly but not according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4-5). You will notice that Nehemiah did not attempt this. He merely responded that those things that Sanballat had accused him of were not so and that he had just made them up. When Jesus was accused by the chief priests, the Bible says "he answered nothing " (Matthew 27:12). Sometimes the best thing we can do is just ignore it and say nothing. In fact, it seems that Pilate was quite impressed that Jesus said nothing against His accusers (Matthew 27:13-14). If we are being falsely accused, God knows the truth and in the end the truth will come out (1 Peter 2:23). Sometimes when we try to explain things or disprove the slander, we actually make ourselves look guilty before the world. If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to disprove to man.
Nehemiah might have had something to be really concerned about if he had not had such a pure testimony. As it was he could say with a pure conscience, "There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart". We need to live in such a way as to illustrate to the world what it is to be righteous. Then as Peter says, "they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ" (1 Peter 3:16).
The final attack against Nehemiah is recorded in verses 10 - 14. This time the enemy hired an insider to tempt Nehemiah into sin. The scheme was to have Shemaiah (possibly a priest) convince Nehemiah that his life was in danger and that he should go and hide in the temple. If the plot had succeeded, it would have ruined Nehemiah's testimony and no one would have wanted to follow such a man. This seems to be one of Satan's fallback plans in the life of a Christian who is doing a great work for God. He may not be able to destroy you physically, but if he could get you to sin then it might limit your ability to serve God or even bring down the wrath of God. Satan tempted David into sinning when he numbered Israel, and God slew 70,000 men of Israel. Satan put it in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Ghost, and God took their both of their lives. If Satan tried to tempt Jesus, that is God Himself, he is certain to try this approach against a follower of Jesus.
So how does a Christian deal with temptation? As Solomon said, "if sinners entice
thee, consent thou not" (Proverbs 1:10). Nehemiah said, "I will not go in".
When Satan comes to tempt you, just don't give in; that is our duty. The more dangerous
part of this kind of attack is being unaware of it. Nehemiah said, "I perceived that
God had not sent him". Ephesians 5:1-20 is a great passage on this subject. In this
passage Paul says, "walk as children of light". If we walk in the Spirit and are
led by the Spirit being sensitive to His direction, we will not be deceived. Another
important statement Paul makes is that we should "walk circumspectly, not as fools,
but as wise". We need to spend less time talking and joking around and more time
listening and watching. Remember Peter warns us to be vigilant.