“…and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he [Sanballat] said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing?'”
Last time we were reunited with Sanballat, a nearby governor who had likely been utilizing the Jews’ situation in Jerusalem to his advantage. Without walls of protection, a strong sense of identity, or an acting governor, the people were susceptible to poor influence. So when the people united, came together with a sense of mission, and rebuilt, he wanted to do anything in his power to stop it. So he resorted to mockery.
And he did it in the presence of (paneh) – before the face of -his associates (brothers, fellow countrymen – ach) and the Samaritan army (chel – fortress, rampart, wall). Let’s talk about paneh – before the face of. Many other cultures are what sociologists call “shame based.” A chief motivation of such a culture’s people will be to avoid losing face or shaming themselves/family/country. What Sanballat is doing is deliberately making the rebuilding Jews lose face in front of his countrymen and army. Laughing that his army or wall is strong and theirs may never be built.
Honestly? It makes my blood boil. I don’t believe that shame and ridicule and mockery is ever the answer. I think we’re lying if we say we’ve never partaken. We are all guilty. But, oh God, may we be quick to repent.
Sanballat begins his mockery with mah – what? how? We have seen this before from Sanballat (& Tobiah & Geshem) when their jeering asked, “What are you yourself trying to do?” Do you remember what Nehemiah replied?
“Me myself? Nothing. But Yahweh? He Himself among our communal efforts will accomplish this. ”
But let’s take this taunt another step further since we’re talking about leaders and governors. What do you think can become of a people who do not take care of those who are weak or feeble? The sick or poor or those fleeing persecution? The immigrants or orphaned or those still fighting for basic human dignity? The unborn, the premature, the elderly or expecting? Do we think it will not eventually affect us all? Do we think such a people can stand for long?
We, too, live in a troubled time. I may not have many political answers. (None, in fact.) But I can tell you what we as citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom are called to do: Bow down to our ultimate King. And when authorities on earth contradict the Authority, we peacefully submit to the Highest One.
Oh friends, if we don’t come together and listen to each other, we will not stand for long. If we don’t care for those under attack, we cannot assume we will never be attacked. If we don’t critically think through where our ultimate hope lies, we cannot hope to stand firm against pretensions setting themselves up against the knowledge of God.
God help us. May we come together so You & Your rule are famous.