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Farmers Who Stare at Clouds
Planting Date Palms: Nehemiah #6
March 7, 2021
The Grapefruit Box in the Attic
The year was 1989. The scene was 119 Englewood Drive in Inman, SC. The assignment was simple for a 15-year-old: “Derrick, go up in the attic to retrieve the Christmas decorations in a cardboard box.”
I found many cardboard boxes in my attic on that day. I found a box full S&H Green Stamps I later cashed in at the S&H Green Stamp Prize Store. I found another box full of 8-track tapes from Gary Puckett and the Union Gap that I had no use for. I finally found the box labeled “Christmas Decorations,” but the box was originally made for distributing the “Mighty-Fine” Indian River Grapefruit by the Indian River Packing Company in Vero Beach, Florida.
And that parable has lived again from the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee, across the plains of Texas and from sea to shining sea. Some boxes read “Mighty-Fine;” others read “IMG,” “Premiere,” “Riverland,” “Country-Side,” and a whole fruity host of others. And the reason why they are in attics today is simple: The Indian River Citrus League spent their time planting, harvesting and distributing fruit. They didn't stare at clouds.
In 50 days, Nehemiah had planted and harvested and was almost ready to distribute his spiritual grapefruit. He had arisen at the Lord’s command to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He had overcome violent threats and internal conflict. The only thing that remained was the doors and gates to secure the city. Consequently, just before he finished, Satan unleashed his greatest clouds of distraction; all of which were designed to get him off the wall God had called him to complete and focused on other things.
Clouds of Distraction the Devil Sends Your way:
(1) The Cloud of a Noble Appeal (6:1-4)
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— 2 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; 3 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?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
What they did:
(1) They made a plausible appeal to Nehemiah; one that appealed to his virtue. Nehemiah was prone to “loving thy neighbor” because he was rebuilding the wall.
(2) But it was also an appeal to diplomacy; something Nehemiah had to be because the Persian Crown had given him permission and this was now Persian territory.
What noble appeals sounds like:
(1) Let’s try to iron out our differences.
(2) Don’t you want to put this behind us?
(3) The Bible says you have to forgive, Nehemiah.
(4) Don’t you want to be a good neighbor?
When they did it:
(1) Persistently; 4 times
(2) Just before the gates and doors went up. It was a well-conceived plan designed right before Nehemiah’s finish line.
Problem with it:
(1) It came from people in the past that had already caused considerable harm;
(2) And the surest predictor of future action is past action.
How to deal with it:
Don’t let an appeal to your “ego” or his “virtue” distract you from doing and completing what God wants you to do. It’s not a battle you’ll fight once. You’ll fight it persistently.
(2) The Cloud of Defamation (6:5-9)
5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 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 king7 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.” 8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” 9 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.”
How Defamation Started:
(1) Unsealed letter;
(2) Official letters were sealed; this one was opened;
(3) Sanballat wanted everyone to know what he thought about Nehemiah long before it even got to Nehemiah.
How It Flourished:
(1) Geshem said it was true;
(2) Defamation spreads like wildfire when it comes through official channels;
Why It’s Effective:
(1) It comes with an element of threat;
(2) “plotting to revolt.”
The Problem Defamation Causes:
(1) How to deal with it;
(2) In most cases, deaf ear and a blind eye is the best approach;
(3) That’s because usually the people who are spreading malicious lies are projecting what’s true of them onto you; (3) But there are times, and this was one of them, for an outright rebuke and correction.
How to Deal With It:
(1) Rebuke – “Nothing like you are saying is true;”
(2) Straight to the Point Correction – “You are making this up out of your head;”
(3) Pray God gives you the strength to move forward – “Strengthen my hands.”
Defamation and Malicious Slander are signs from God that you are doing something right. Use them to grow stronger, not give up.
3. The Cloud of a False Word from the Lord (6:10-13)
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.
Sign of a False Prophet 1:
(1) Thus saith the Lord without actually knowing what the Lord saith;
(2) Only the Levites could go into the temple. Nehemiah wasn’t a Levite.
Sign of a False Prophet 2:
(1) Message tailored to the will of the ones who support them financially;
(2) Doing so made them rich and popular; loved, not hated.
A True Prophet vs A False Prophet:
(1) Jeremiah 29:11; "For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord
(2) Hananiah was a false prophet who said Israel was going to go into captivity; but only for a short while. The people rejoiced; gave him money; flocked to his church;
(3) Jeremiah comes along and says you are going into exile for 70 years. You will lose your homes and families. But God will use you in that captivity.
(4) He did; it’s where the Babylonian Talmud came from; as well as Daniel’s Prophecy.
You shall not take the name of the Lord in vein = misuse the name of God for your own purpose.
4. The Cloud of Infiltration (6:16-17; 19)
No such thing as happily ever after while here in this fallen world:
Turns out Tobiah, who was half Jewish had friends on the inside;
No such thing as kicking back and relishing in your accomplishments:
No sooner was the wall completed than the enemy still looked for an opportunity to pounce.
Carpe Diem; Date Palms; and Full Armour today. Tomorrow. And all the tomorrows thereafter. Until Jesus returns or we go home to glory.