Who was Sanballat in the Bible?


Nehemiah: Rebuilding the Walls and Reviving the People”>Sanballat was an important figure who opposed Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He is mentioned several times in the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Understanding who Sanballat was and why he opposed the Israelites provides valuable insights into this crucial period in biblical history.

In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine Sanballat’s background, his motives for opposing Nehemiah, his strategies and alliances against the Israelites, and the spiritual significance of his opposition. Key takeaways include:

  • Sanballat was appointed governor of Samaria by the Persian King Artaxerxes and viewed Nehemiah’s efforts as a threat to his power.
  • He mocked, threatened, and conspired with Israel’s enemies to intimidate and stop the rebuilding efforts.
  • Sanballat represents the spiritual opposition believers often face when doing God’s work.
  • God ultimately frustrated all of Sanballat’s plans and the Israelites succeeded in rebuilding the walls.

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Now let us explore Sanballat’s fascinating story in depth.

Who was Sanballat in the Bible?

Sanballat’s Background

The Bible introduces Sanballat as an influential political leader during the time of Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:10). He was from Horonaim, a town in Moab (Nehemiah 2:10, 19). At this time, Judah was part of the province of Syria within the Persian Empire. The Persian King Artaxerxes had appointed Sanballat as the governor of Samaria (Nehemiah 4:1-2).

Samaria was the central region of the former northern kingdom of Israel, located just north of Judah and Jerusalem. The Samaritans were a mixed race of partly Israelite ancestry who settled in the area after the Assyrian conquest. There was ongoing tension and hostility between the Jews and Samaritans during the post-exilic period (Nehemiah 4:2).

As governor, Sanballat held a position of political power and authority on behalf of Persia to oversee Samaria, within close proximity to Judah and Jerusalem. When Nehemiah, the reformer sent by Artaxerxes arrived in 444 BC to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, Sanballat viewed it as a threat to his power and the influence of Samaria.

The Bible depicts Sanballat as the leading opponent of the Jews and he spearheaded efforts to intimidate and stop the rebuilding projects under Nehemiah’s leadership.

Sanballat’s Opposition to Rebuilding the Walls

Nehemiah inspected the damaged walls at night when he first arrived in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:11-16). This initial survey prompted his plans to lead the rebuilding effort. When Sanballat heard about this, he “was very angry and was greatly enraged” (Nehemiah 4:1). Immediately, Sanballat opposed the plans and began taking actions to intimidate and threaten Nehemiah from starting the work.

Sanballat’s anger against Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the walls stemmed from multiple factors:

Threat to his power and authority – As governor of Samaria, Sanballat likely wanted to keep Judah weak. Strong walls around Jerusalem could help Judah become more independent. This would diminish Sanballat’s regional control.

Alliance with enemies – Sanballat had allied with other opponents of Israel – Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab (Nehemiah 2:19). A stronger Jerusalem could disrupt their smuggling operations and challenge their regional influence.

Resentment against Nehemiah’s authority – Nehemiah came with the king’s backing and permission. Sanballat resented another political appointee exerting influence so close to his own provincial power base.

Ethnic hostility – As mentioned above, there was ongoing tension between the Samaritans and Jews. A rebuilt Jerusalem would represent a strengthened Jewish presence.

Spiritual opposition – At a deeper level, Sanballat’s opposition represented spiritual forces aiming to hinder God’s plans to restore His people (see spiritual lessons below).

Sanballat proceeded to launch both public verbal attacks and behind-the-scenes plots to stop the entire rebuilding project. Let’s examine the strategies he used.

Sanballat’s Strategies Against Rebuilding the Walls

Sanballat employed various strategies in his efforts to stop Nehemiah and the Israelites from rebuilding the walls:

Mockery and insults – Sanballat mocked the Jews’ efforts, questioning if they would rebel against Persia (Nehemiah 2:19). He insulted and ridiculed them, asking if they were stronger than him to finish rebuilding the ruined walls (Nehemiah 4:1-3).

Plots of attack – Sanballat and his allies plotted to come with armies to physically attack the workers and create confusion (Nehemiah 4:8,11). This plot was discovered and Nehemiah armed his workers in response.

Subversive infiltration – Sanballat sent a fake warning letter aiming to lure Nehemiah into a trap (Nehemiah 6:2-3). Nehemiah saw through this deception.

False accusations – Sanballat falsely accused Nehemiah of rebellion against the Persian king (Nehemiah 6:5-7). This was likely an attempt to destroy Nehemiah’s credibility and relationship with Artaxerxes.

Compromise and corruption – Sanballat tried to bribe Nehemiah to meet secretly and come to a “compromise” (Nehemiah 6:2). He likely aimed to corrupt or intimidate Nehemiah away from his task.

Spiritual discouragement – Through his ally Noadiah, Sanballat worked to discourage and intimidate the Israelites into abandoning the rebuilding project (Nehemiah 6:14).

In all these ploys, we see how determined and cunning Sanballat was in his agenda against Nehemiah. However, Nehemiah refused to be distracted or swayed from completing his God-given mission.

Sanballat’s Alliances Against Rebuilding the Walls

Sanballat strategically allied with individuals and groups who also opposed Israel:

Tobiah – An Ammonite official who likely wanted to maintain influence in the region (Nehemiah 2:10). Being from Ammon, an enemy of Israel, Tobiah had ethnic hostility toward the Jews.

Geshem – An Arab leader from Kedar mentioned in Nehemiah 2:19. He had regional power that could potentially be disrupted by a strong Jerusalem.

Prophet Noadiah – A false prophet (likely Israelite) whom Sanballat used to discourage the Israelites (Nehemiah 6:14).

Jewish nobles under foreign influence – Sanballat maintained correspondence with influential Jews to intimidate and spread disinformation (Nehemiah 6:17-19).

These key allies enabled Sanballat to use both external military force and internal subversion in his opposition. However, Nehemiah was wise to their agenda and plots.

Sanballat’s Efforts Were Thwarted and the Walls Rebuilt

Despite Sanballat’s relentless efforts, Nehemiah succeeded in leading the rebuilding project to completion in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Several key factors enabled this:

  • Prayer and spiritual discernment – Nehemiah continually sought God in prayer and discerned Sanballat’s true spiritual motivations (Nehemiah 4:4-5, 9).
  • Wise precautions and vigilance – Nehemiah took wise precautions by arming laborers and posting guards, without being distracted by Sanballat’s intimidation and deception (Nehemiah 4:13,16-18,23).
  • Perseverance and courage – Nehemiah persevered in the task despite all opposition, and encouraged the people to courageously continue (Nehemiah 4:6, 14).
  • Integrity and separation – Nehemiah maintained his integrity and refused to meet secretly with Sanballat, avoiding compromise (Nehemiah 6:2-4).

Ultimately, all of Sanballat’s efforts were frustrated because they were opposing God’s greater plan. The prophet Zechariah recognized that God Himself was actively involved, declaring:

“Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.’” (Zechariah 1:16 NKJV)

Nehemiah succeeded because He aligned with God’s redemptive purpose. Sanballat failed because he set himself against God’s work.

Spiritual Lessons from Sanballat’s Opposition

Sanballat’s antagonism toward Nehemiah and the Israelites rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls provides valuable spiritual lessons for Christians today:

Expect spiritual opposition – Believers should expect opposition, mockery, and intimidation when doing God’s work, just as Nehemiah faced Sanballat (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12).

Prayer for discernment – Ask God for discernment to recognize the spiritual forces behind resistance to His work, rather than just the earthly opponents. Sanballat was driven by deeper spiritual dynamics.

Persevere through adversity – Be steadfast in doing the Lord’s work despite obstacles and do not lose heart, just as Nehemiah persevered and encouraged the people (1 Corinthians 15:58, Galatians 6:9).

Maintain integrity – Refuse to compromise godly principles and integrity, as Nehemiah avoided Sanballat’s subversive overtures (Proverbs 11:3, 2 Corinthians 1:12).

Trust God’s sovereignty – Believe that God remains sovereign over all obstacles to His plans. Pray for His intervention and alignment with His purposes, as Nehemiah constantly prayed.

Just as God frustrated Sanballat’s efforts in Nehemiah’s time, He remains able to defeat all spiritual opposition believers face today. May we stand strong in Him!


In summary, Sanballat was the governor of Samaria who vigorously opposed Nehemiah’s mission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. He represents the typical spiritual resistance believers encounter when participating in God’s redemptive work. Despite Sanballat’s mocking, threats, subversion, and false allies, Nehemiah persevered in prayer and discernment to complete the walls in just 52 days!

As Christians, we should expect similar opposition when obeying the Lord’s calling. Nehemiah’s example encourages us to meet resistance with prayer, courage, integrity, and perseverance through God’s power. When we align with God’s purposes, He promises to frustrate all efforts of the spiritual “Sanballats” who fight against His Kingdom plans. Just as Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt to strengthen God’s people, He wants to strengthen our hands for His work today.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sanballat was the governor of Samaria who strongly opposed Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.
  • He tried to intimidate and threaten Nehemiah through mockery, physical attack, infiltration, false accusations, bribery, and spiritual discouragement.
  • Sanballat strategically allied with Israel’s enemies to form opposition, but his efforts were ultimately thwarted.
  • His story provides spiritual lessons on expecting opposition, persevering with prayer and integrity, and trusting God’s sovereignty over human resistance.
  • When believers align with God’s redemptive purposes, He is able to overcome all enemy schemes against His work.

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