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Sanballat was a prominent Samaritan ("Samaritan" came to be used as the term for the non-Israelite people who were brought in to settle Samaria i.e. central Israel, Galilee is to the north of Samaria, Judea is to the south of Samaria) to replace the people of Israel who were conquered and taken away, i.e. 2 Kings 17:24, see also The Galilee Captivity) who was a persistent and serious enemy to Nehemiah during the time of the Jews' rebuilding of Jerusalem after their return from the Babylonian exile. Sanballat's opposition escalated from morale-damaging mockery (psychological warfare before an invasion is a very old tactic), to an attack that was aborted due to the Jews heavily arming themselves while they worked, to plots to assassinate Nehemiah (a "surgical strike" on the leadership is also a very old tactic), but all failed. Sanballat even tried to get The Lord to again devastate the people of Judah through the marriage of his daughter to a son of the high priest, in an apparent attempt to, once again, corrupt the religious practices of the Jews (which is what got them sent into the exile that they had just recently been permitted to return from - see Why Babylon?), but that too was successfully countered by Nehemiah.


Tower of David When Sanballat saw the returning Jews beginning to rebuild the completely devastated city of Jerusalem, he mocked them and attempted to discourage them to the point that they would give up:

"Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he ridiculed the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brethren and of the army of Samaria, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?" (Nehemiah 4:1-2 RSV)

Despite the opposition, the rebuilding was successful:

"But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry; and they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it." (Nehemiah 4:7-8 RSV)

Faced with an impending attack by Sanballat, the Jews heavily armed themselves while they continued the work, sometimes with a shovel in one hand and a spear in the other:

"From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail; and the leaders stood behind all the house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand labored on the work and with the other held his weapon. And each of the builders had his sword girded at his side while he built" (Nehemiah 4:16-18 RSV)

Next, repeated attempts to assassinate Nehemiah, but all failed when wise Nehemiah stayed clear of the ambushes:

"Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it, although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, "Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono." But they intended to do me harm."

"And I sent messengers to them, saying, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" And they sent to me four times in this way and I answered them in the same manner."

"In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 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 you wish to become their king, according to this report. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, 'There is a king in Judah.' And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. 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." But now, O God, strengthen thou my hands."

"Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was shut up, he said, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple; for they are coming to kill you, at night they are coming to kill you." But I said, "Should such a man as I flee? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in." And I understood, and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him." (Nehemiah 6:1-12 RSV)

Finally, Sanballat managed to get one of his daughters married to the son of the high priest, a proven means of political or religious (actually the same thing, since Israel was directly or indirectly a theocracy) corruption during Israel's history (see Jezebel, also Solomon's Compromise), but that too was corrected by Nehemiah:

"Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?" And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites." (Nehemiah 13:26-29 RSV)

Fact Finder: What other prominent individual, who has a book of the Bible named after him, was among the leaders during the time of the return from Babylon?
See Ezra

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