How fake news nearly halted construction of the wall

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The millennia-old debate over fake news, and the profound negative impact it can have on a person’s reputation, is well-documented within the holy pages of the Bible.

Take for instance the story of Nehemiah, the governor of Judah.

In his return to the Promised Land, Nehemiah quickly went to work rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. His task was simple: restore the city’s crumbled infrastructure. Beset by enemies on every side, Nehemiah was perpetually discouraged from completing the work he had been sent to accomplish. Nevertheless, he remained committed to his work, knowing that God was with him.

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

Nehemiah 2:17-19 (ESV)

Threats against Nehemiah – even threats on his life – were a regular occurrence. However, it was one scheme concocted by his adversaries that posed perhaps the gravest danger to Nehemiah.

Fake news.

It is recorded that Sanballat the Horonite, a chief opponent and critic of Nehemiah, was “displeased” by the notion that someone had come to reconstruct the walls around Jerusalem. Described as “angry and greatly enraged,” Sanballat’s first instinct was to engage with his friends in violent protests, which were engineered to harm, disrupt and confuse the hard-working men and women of Judah.

But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:10 (ESV)

And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.

Nehemiah 4:8 (ESV)

Ultimately, Sanballat’s plan to attack Jerusalem unraveled. Following the failed plot, an attempt was made to spread trumped-up charges that Nehemiah was plotting to lead a rebellion against King Artaxerxes of Persia.

These false accusations were baseless, considering that Artaxerxes was the one responsible for sending Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the city in the first place. Nehemiah also requested letters to be signed by the king that would instruct the rulers of the provinces surrounding Judah to supply wood and other materials for the building of the city wall.

His enemies were aware of these letters and that they validated Nehemiah’s mission. In fact, the reaction that Sanballat and his allies had to hearing that the wall would be rebuilt comes in the verse immediately following the king’s letters being delivered.

So why did his enemies choose to spread these lies? The answer is obvious.

Intimidation – causing a person to feel timid or fearful – is a great tool for dissuading someone from a course of action. Intimidation lies at the heart of fake news.

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.”

Nehemiah 6:6-9 (ESV)

Pay special notice to Sanballat’s sources. He mentions “the nations” – who he might have been better off simply referring to as anonymous sources – and Geshem the Arab. In an earlier chapter Geshem is caught jeering at the Jews whom he “despised.”

Nehemiah keenly identified their ulterior motives, understanding their goal was to frighten him and cause him to stop the work he was doing. He boldly tells Sanballat, “no such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your mind.” This required courage and conviction on Nehemiah’s part. By avoiding the trap laid out for him by his adversaries, he was able to continue the good work that he had been sent to Jerusalem to perform.

Do you know anyone who has been targeted by fake news? Share with them the story of Nehemiah. A mighty man of faith, Nehemiah was pushed to his limits by those who sought to harm and discredit him. But he discovered a way to defeat fake news – and it’s a lesson that is equally applicable to us today.

The only way to overcome fake news is by shining light on the truth.


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