Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were three enemies of the Jews who made several attempts to stop Nehemiah from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Sanballat and Tobiah are first mentioned in Nehemiah 2:10 as upset about Nehemiah’s work: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” In verse 19, they, along with Geshem the Arab, mock Nehemiah, saying, “What is this you are doing? . . . Are you rebelling against the king?” When the construction was taking place, their anger grew: “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1; cf. verse 7).
The Horonites and Ammonites were two of the people groups God had driven from the Promised Land for the Israelites. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were regional governors serving under the king of Persia. Sanballat, called a Horonite, was probably from Horonaim, a city of Moab. Tobiah the Ammonite was governing an area east of the Jordan River. Geshem the Arab was most likely from the region south of Judah. Generations after Israel had first possessed the Promised Land, some of their old enemies were back, seeking to keep Jerusalem in ruins.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem used various ploys in their attempt to disrupt the Jews’ work. These three men sought to harm Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:2); intimidate him with false reports (verses 5–6); deceive him with false prophets (verses 7–13); and influence the nobles of Judah (verses 17–19). Nehemiah adds that Eliashib the high priest was related to Tobiah (Nehemiah 13:4) and one of his grandsons was the son-in-law of Sanballat (Nehemiah 13:28).
The efforts of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were futile for the simple reason that they were fighting God’s plan. The wall of Jerusalem was completed in record time (Nehemiah 6:15). Nehemiah’s response to his enemies is instructive to us. Rather than fear or worry or seek revenge, Nehemiah took the matter to the Lord: “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me” (Nehemiah 6:14).