Nehemiah 6:2:

Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, "Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono." But they intended to do me harm.

At face value, Sanballat and Geshem just wanted to meet with Nehemiah. How did Nehemiah know that they were scheming to harm him?

Was this the result of divine knowledge from God, his own wisdom and assessing of the situation, or maybe he had scouts and intelligence that informed him of their plot?

2 Answers 2


וישׁלח סנבלט וגשׁם אלי לאמר לכה ונועדה יחדו בכפירים בבקעת אונו והמה חשׁבים לעשׂות לי רעה

[Masoretic Text, Nehemiah 6:2]

... 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.

[KJV 1769]

... that Sanballat sendeth, also Geshem, unto me, saying, Come and we meet together in the villages, in the valley of Ono.

[Youngs Literal 1864]

The Hebrew word used in the message sent to Nehemiah translated 'villages' is actually (in the Masoretic Text) bak-kepirim. Kephir is a lion or a young lion and kepirim is the plural.

See Interlinear Hebrew - Biblehub.

'Villages' would be keparim, the plural-form participle of kaphar. See its use in I Chronicles 27:25 and Song 7:11.

It seems to me that the message contained a veiled threat - or a bold challenge - to Nehemiah by the use of the word 'kepirim' (lions) instead of 'keparim' (villages).

It may be a play on words. Or it could be just an open challenge. It is difficult to say unless one is a native speaker and nobody, now, is a native speaker of the language, as it was then - colloquially - used.

The plain of Ono was also called the 'Valley of the Craftsmen' (see Nehemiah 11:35) and, no doubt, contained furnaces used in metal-working and, no doubt, many tough, muscular craftsmen lurked there who might be willing to shove a body or two into a furnace if the bribe was big enough or if there were favours to be called in.

But Nehemiah was unwilling to accept the challenge or else was sharp enough to notice the play on words. Whichever was the case, the clue was in the very wording of the message itself - in the slight difference of the Hebrew wording.

'Lions' and especially 'young lions' is an expression oft used in scripture to denote the strength, the ability and the 'playfulness' of men - and especially young men - to engage in combat of all kinds, whether lawful and legitimate or downright murderous. See Psalm 58:6, for example.

Edit Note

All of the above is interesting in context but the wording has far reaching implications, the reason that I am aware of it. The wording I have described above is very important indeed in regard to understanding the true meaning of kaphar (usually called 'atonement' but actually a matter of the kaph - the hand - and in context it is the hand of God. 'Containment' is the concept and the other words - participles and derivatives - are important in the discovery of these underlying concepts in the Hebrew.


I think there are three, rather simple, reasons that Nehemiah does not respond to this meeting request. 1. These men have made it very clear that they are totally antagonistic to the mission of Nehemiah. Why should he trust them. 2. The work at this point is not yet complete: the critical last step of construction is still to be finished. 3. There is no reason given for the meeting. No goals or purpose is provided that should induce the Governor of the Persian province to come to them. Why don't they come to him if they care to talk? And there is no rationale for the need for such a meeting.

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