‘What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?’
Do you, Nehemiah, intend to fortify Jerusalem, and then set up the standard of rebellion against Persia? Our master, the king, may be deceived by you, but I, Sanballat, see through your hypocrisy and your wicked designs.
Nehemiah’s answer was clear and to the point. Three things he would have Sanballat know:
(1) We have higher authority than that of man for what we do.
‘The God of heaven, He will prosper us.’
(2) We intend to go on with our work in spite of anything you may say or do.
‘We His servants will arise and build.’
(3) It is no business or concern of yours. You, Sanballat, have nothing whatever to do with it.
‘Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.’
Be content then, Sanballat, to manage your own province of Samaria, and to leave Jerusalem and the Jews to me and to their God.
No answer came back to Nehemiah’s letter, and perhaps he and his companions fondly dreamed that this was an end to the matter, that the storm had blown over, and that Sanballat, when he saw that they were determined, and that they did not heed his threats or his ridicule, would in the future let them alone.
But one day, quite suddenly, the clouds returned, and the storm rose. The work is progressing splendidly. The priests and the merchants, and the goldsmiths and the apothecaries, the daughters of Shallum, earnest Baruch, and white-headed Shemaiah, are all at their post, when suddenly, as they look up, they see an unexpected sight. A great crowd of Samaritans is gathered together outside the northern wall, and is standing still, staring at them, and watching their every movement as they build the wall.
Sanballat the governor is there, Tobiah the secretary stands by his side, his chief counsellors have come with him, as have also the officers of his army. Dark and thick the storm is gathering, and surely the builders feel it, for the trowels cease their cheery ringing sound, and all are listening, waiting and wondering what will come next.
The silence is broken by a loud scornful voice, loud enough to be heard down the line of workers, and by Nehemiah as he stands among them. He knows that voice well; it is the voice of Sanballat the governor. In scoffing disagreeable words he is speaking to his companions, but he is talking about the builders, and is talking for their benefit too, that they may feel the full sting of his sarcastic words.
‘What do these feeble Jews?’ A poor weak, miserable down-trodden set of men; what can they do?
‘Will they fortify themselves?’ Do they fondly dream they will ever finish their work, and fortify their city?
And how long will it take to build walls like these? Do they think it will be done directly? ’Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day?’ Do they expect to offer the sacrifice at the commencement of their work, and then the very same day to finish it?