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When Sanballat Shows Up

Sanballat may not be a biblical character easy to place at first. However, I know many pastors who bristle when the name Sanballat is brought up, as well as his frient Tobiah. These two men were adversaries to Nehemiah in the book that bears his name. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah heard the voice of God, put his life on the line, gained the permission of the pagan king he served and traveled to Jeruslaem, the city of his heritage, for the purpose of rebuilding the city wall.

Rebuilding-the-wallThere have been many sermons and studies presented on Nehemiah and his great building project. Often the Nehemiah series is tied to a church's building program initiation. 

However, there is such depth in this little book, that is shouldn't be relegated to building program messages alone. 

Every pastor, at some point in service, will discover a Sanballat in his midst. Sanballat is often a member of the church. Sometimes he (and he may be a "she") is a member who has been instrumental in the church for years. He may have served as a leader on committees, the deacon body, a small group leader, usher, or any number of roles in the church. 

Sometimes Sanballat is a new member or attender. He may not have a long history in the congregation, but he does bring influence, albeit not positive influence.

Sanballat in Scripture was a Horonite. He opposed the rebuilding of the wall. He opposed Nehemiah.

Tobiah was his buddy. He was an Ammonite. He too opposed the Jews and Nehemiah's plan. He was a follower. He did whatever Sanballat said. 

Sanballat always has a Tobiah. They find each other. They feed off each other. They do nothing but oppose that which God has ordained. They are tools of the Enemy, the author of confusion, and I believe often unknowningly do more to move the Kingdom of God backward than they realize. I've discovered Sanballat often thinks he is doing the work of God. Yet, and it's not just my opinion, but the observation of many others, he is truly a bitter,angry person and eventually finds himself alone. Even Tobiah fades away.

At least this is my experience.

So, what do you do when Sanballat arrives?

Chalk it up to "when" not "if." The Enemy has his tactics. He's not creative. He does the same thing over and over. It's a foolish strategy, but it works because we often forget and fall for the same traps.

In Nehemiah's case, these two heard of the rebuild. Their anger grew and they began to work on strategy.

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? 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?" Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, "Yes, what they are building-- if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!" Nehemiah 4:1-3 (ESV)

Nehemiah's response is key. He prays. He asks God for strength to move forward with the task at hand. The work he was doing was God's work. Therefore, he knew he must continue. He also knew in his own power, he could not succeed, so he talked to the Father. Continually.

The problem in a church is negative influence. Sanballat often has influence. He may not be loud, but he's a communicator. It may be through emails, phone calls, conversations by the coffee pot on Sundays, maybe even in the restroom or while handing out bulletins. Rest assured, the talk is happening. The tendency of many pastors is to do just the opposite - to clam up.

You may have a vision for the church. You may have a strategy for growth and discipleship and missional involvement. The question is "How much are you communicating to the church about this?" Just because you've stated it, blogged it, emailed about it and said it once does not mean it's heard. Clear, concise communication of the vision, the strategy and the missional theology of the church must continue. Then, when Sanballat is offering his questions, which sound much like a question offered in the first few chapters of Genesis by a serpent. . ."Did he really say. . .?" your people will have an answer. They will know the truth.

Sanballat and Tobiah mocked the building of the wall. The people heard them. Yet, they heard Nehemiah as well and his clear, concise, God-focused words of the task at hand kept the workers on task. 

There will always be distractions. Be ready.

Perhaps the greatest response to Sanballat in the Nehemiah's story happens in chapter 6. Sanballat and Tobiah and others are at work. Look here. . .

Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard 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 at Hakkephirim 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?" Nehemiah 6:1-3 (ESV)

The distractors say "Come, let's have a meeting." Sounds innocent enough, but Nehemiah knows better. Nowadays, it's "Can we meet for lunch?" or something like that. (Now, don't get me wrong - lunch meetings are great, just not with Sanballat.)

Nehemiah's response is classic "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down."

I love this.

This is the key. 

This is the answer we as pastors and leaders must give to the Sanballats in our lives. A paraphrase would be "I am doing something that matters in a really big story - God's story. I cannot stop this to join you in your small story." He confronted them with truth.

Sounds rude at first, but remember, it's Sanballat. There's an agenda and it's not Kingdom growth.

So, what do you do?

  1. Pray
  2. Recognize Sanballat for who he is
  3. Communicate vision clearly with the church
  4. Confront the issue
  5. Avoid the distractions (you cannot come down)

I know, it's much easier said than done, but it's doable and over time. . .Sanballat loses his voice. Oh, another with arise. Remember, the Enemy isn't creative. 

So, stay focused and remember "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down."

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