Summary: Some reflections on Nehemiah's opponents, Sanballat and Tobiah; sermon for a church about to vote on a building program.
Last week as we spoke about Nehemiah and God’s vision for the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, I hope one theme came through loud and clear: When God wants something, He’s going to get what He wants. The only question for us is, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” In other words, since He’s going to get what He wants, will I be on the right side or the wrong side of God?
Remember the impossibility of the situation? At the end of the exile, Nehemiah has picked up God’s vision for the building project, but He has to impart that vision to a pagan king – Artaxerxes, ruler of Persia. And after four months of passionate prayer, during which time he was preparing plans, when the door opened Nehemiah played his position and appealed to the King, and not only did he win permission to rebuild, he got the King to pay for it. The impossible became possible because God was the power behind the provision – because when God wants something, God is going to provide the means and resources. God is going to get what He wants.
But even though that’s 100% true, today there’s another theme we need to learn: Whenever God wants something, there is always going to be opposition. Always. All of human history – from Bible times and especially right now – is one long account of futile opposition to God’s desires. Nehemiah’s situation is a case in point: Neh. 2:10 – “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.”
Opposition, right? It’s a problem for us if we allow it to be, but it’s not a problem for God. How does God react to those who battle against His will and His vision? Look at Psa. 2:2-4 – “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.” God Almighty is amused by mankind’s hubris and presumptuousness. Rom. 8:31 – “If God is for us, who is against us?” Still, we would do well to know the opposition.
I’ll tell you, when you consider Sanballat and Tobiah and what we can learn about them, it tells us that opposition to God’s vision comes from outsiders, but it also tells us that it comes from insiders. First the outsiders: Neh. 2:10a - “Sanballat the Horonite…” is the enemy we would expect. He’s from the outside. He was a pagan Moabite. He was also from the government, but he wasn’t there to help Nehemiah. The Moabites were one of the groups that God’s people ran out of the Promised Land. Moabites like Sanballat worshiped Chemosh an idol who required the sacrifice of little babies. Sanballat would have also worshipped Baal-Peor, which required all manner of sexual immorality, but above all else, homosexual acts were the primary sacrament. It shouldn’t surprise us one bit that a government official like Sanballat would oppose the building project for the glory of the One True God. Sanballat’s spiritual life was devoted to the sacrifice of babies and to sexual immorality, especially homosexuality, and God forbids all of it!
And that’s true history. But is there some relevant parallel for us to apply? Does Sanballat’s spiritual heritage of baby killing and sexual immorality have any importance for us today? I’ll leave that to be settled between you and the Holy Spirit, but I ask you: Can you think of another time and another place where God and His people are being opposed by pagan government officials who enthusiastically support the bloody sacrifice of countless little babies and are who are exalting sexual immorality – especially homosexuality – with religious zeal? Can you think of another government that, like the Sanballat administration, is trying to persecute those who follow a God who believes in the sanctity of human life and sexual purity? Any of this ringing a bell at all?
Sanballat – opposition from the outside. It makes sense. But what did I mean earlier when I mentioned opposition from the inside? Neh. 2:10b – “…and Tobiah the Ammonite…” You say, “Preacher, the Ammonites were another pagan group God ran out of Canaan. He’s not an insider, he’s outsider like Sanballat.” He’s an insider, friends. Tobiah’s name is a compound Hebrew word: “tobi” meaning “good” and “Jah” meaning “Yahweh,” the one true God. Tobiah is a believer. You say, “Preacher, that doesn’t mean Tobiah’s a believer, that just means the one who named him is a believer.” Okay, well Tobiah had a son, and he named him Jehohanan (Neh. 6:18) and that’s another compound Hebrew word that means “Jehovah is gracious.” And Tobiah was closely associated with a prominent Hebrew priest. Neh. 13:4 – “Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah…” Tobiah was a believer.