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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Sanballat

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YOU must clearly understand, to begin with, that Samaria was already, even in that early day, the deadly enemy of Jerusalem, and also that Sanballat was the governor of Samaria. And Sanballat was a man of this kind, that he was not content with doing his very best to make Samaria both prosperous and powerful, but he must also do his very best to keep Jerusalem downtrodden and destroyed. And thus it was that, when Sanballat heard that Nehemiah had come from Shushan with a commission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the exasperating news drove Sanballat absolutely beside himself. And thus it is that such a large part of Nehemiah's autobiography is taken up with Sanballat's diabolical plots and conspiracies both to murder Nehemiah and to destroy the new Jerusalem.

The Book of Nehemiah, you must know, is the last written of all the historical books of the Old Testament. We have nothing in our Bible between Nehemiah and Matthew. Nehemiah, among the historical books of the Old Testament, is just what Malachi is among the prophetical books. Nehemiah is not much read, but his book is full of information and instruction and impression of the most interesting and fruitful kind. And as we work our way through Nehemiah's memoirs of himself, we see in Sanballat an outstanding instance of the sleepless malice and the diabolical wickedness of all unprincipled party spirit and besotted partisanship.

Now, in the first place, diabolically wicked as party spirit too often becomes, this must be clearly understood about party spirit, that, after all, it is but the excess, and the perversion, and the depravity of an originally natural, and a perfectly proper principle in our hearts. It was of God, and it was of human nature as God had made it, that Sanballat should love and serve Samaria best, and that Nehemiah should love and serve Jerusalem best. And all party spirit among ourselves also, at its beginning, is but our natural and dutiful love for our own land, and for our own city, and for our own Church, and for those who think with us, and work with us, and love us. And as long as this world lasts, and as long as human nature remains what it is, there will always be predilections, and preferences, and parties both in the family, and in the city, and in the State, and in the very Church of Christ itself. As long as there is such a rich variety and diversity of talents, and capacities, and dispositions, and tastes, and interests among men, there will always be bodies of men thinking together, and working together, and living together, and loving one another, more than they can live with, and work with, and love other men who see their duties and pursue their interests in another light. Now, this natural principle of mutual attraction is not planted in human nature for no reason. But all the discoverable final causes of this principle are too many for me to enter on now; to enter on them at all would lead me far away from far more important and urgent work tonight. Suffice it to say then, that party spirit, at its very worst, is but another case and illustration of the corruption and the depravity of the very best.

But, then, when it comes to its worst, as it too often does come, party spirit is the complete destruction both of truth and of love. The truth is hateful to the out-and-out and thoroughgoing partisan. We all know that in ourselves. When we have, at any time, become abandoned partisans in anything, then, farewell the truth. We will not have it. As many lies as you like, but not the truth. We hate and detest both you and your truth. It exasperates us to hear it. You are henceforth our enemy if you will insist on speaking it. We cast it, and all its organs, out of our doors. We shut our eyes to the truth, and we stop our ears. It is not truth that divides us up into such opposed parties as we see all around us in Church and State; it is far more lies. It is not principle once in ten times. Nine times out of ten it is pure party spirit. And I cling to that bad spirit, and to all its works, as if it were my life. I feel unhappy when you tell me the truth, if it is good truth, about my rival. I feel the sore pain of concession. I feel as if all my foundations were being taken away from under me. How fierce you always make me when you so rejoice in the truth and go about spreading it! I am a Jew, and I want no dealings with the Samaritans. All I want is to hear that fire has fallen from heaven to consume them. I am a Protestant, and a Presbyterian, and a Free Churchman, and I want to stand aloof all my life from all who differ from me. I do not want to hear what they have to say for their fathers and for themselves. I hate like poison all your proposed fraternisings and unions. I hope that the old walls of separation will hold together all my time.

And where truth is hated in that way love can have no possible home. Truth is love in the mind, just as love is truth in the heart. Trample on the one, and you crush the other to death. Cherish and be tender with the one, and you will eat the fruits and drink the sweets of the other. Now the full-blown party spirit is utter poison to the spirit of love as well as to the spirit of truth. 'Love suffereth long, and is kind: love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things.' But party spirit is the clean contradiction of all that. 'No assurances,' says Thucydides, 'no pledges of either party could gain credit with the other. The most reasonable proposals, coming from an opponent, were received not with candour, but with suspicion. No artifice was reckoned dishonourable by which a point could be carried. Every recommendation of moderate measures was reckoned either a mark of cowardice, or of insincerity. He only was considered a completely safe man whose violence was blind and boundless; and those who endeavoured to steer a middle course were spared by neither side.' That might have been written yesterday, so true to our own public life also is every syllable of it. Archbishop Whately's Bampton Lecture, for the year 1822, has for its subject, 'The Use and the Abuse of Party Spirit in matters of Religion,' and a very able piece of work it is. Whately was one of the ablest men in a very able day in the Church of England. His strong Saxon sense, supported by wide reading, and by clear and disciplined habits of thought, rose almost to the level of genius. Could Whately and Newman have been mixed together we should have had a perfect English theologian. Whately's third lecture is entitled 'A Carnal Mind the Cause of Divisions,' and at the foot of a page in which he shows 'how self-interest may chance to be the first mover of discord,' this footnote stands, which I repeat to you with both pain, and shame, and indignation: 'It happens but too often, it is to be feared,' so the note runs, 'that a dissenting chapel is regarded as a profitable speculation by persons of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, looking upon religion as a gainful occupation.' Why, I wonder, should it be so much feared that a dissenting chapel is a profitable speculation to persons of corrupt minds, more than a cathedral stall or an Episcopal palace? What an indecent blot is that on such an able book! And what an illustration it supplies of that very vice the Archbishop is so ably exposing-the blinding and perverting influences of party positions and of a party spirit! Those five lines of prejudice and partisanship made far more impression on me than all the rest of the Archbishop's so masterly and so impressive volume. With my own ears I once heard the late Canon Liddon, when preaching in St. Paul's Cathedral, class Oliver Cromwell with Alexander the Sixth and Richard the Third! To such lengths will a malevolent party spirit go even in the Christian pulpit!

By the just and righteous ordination of Almighty God all our sins carry their own punishment immediately and inseparably with them. And party spirit, being such a wicked spirit, infallibly inflicts a very swift and a very severe punishment on the man who entertains it. You know yourselves how party spirit hardens your heart, and narrows and imprisons and impoverishes your mind. You must all know how party spirit poisons your feelings, and fills you with antipathy to men you never saw, as well as to men all around you who have never hurt a hair of your head, and would not if they could. We read in the Apologia how Newman's imagination was stained by his prejudices and his passions. And every man who labours to keep his imagination and his heart open and clean and unstained, will have to confess what a tremendous task he has undertaken. You must either be a great saint, or a great fool, if your imagination and your heart are not stained to absolute wickedness against men, and against churches, and against this and that party in the Church and in the State. It humiliates my head to the dust of death, and it breaks my heart before God and before myself every day I live, to discover such stains in my heart against men who have hurt me in nothing but in this-that they have given their great talents and their shining services to another church than my church, and to another party than my party. I cannot meet such men on the streets but they scowl at me, and I at them back again. Or if we must stop and speak for a moment, we put on Sanballat's face to one another, and take hold of Sanballat's hand, while all the time our hearts are as full as they can hold of Sanballat's mischief that he thought to do to Nehemiah. What a terrible punishment all that is, let him tell us who, before God, is keeping his heart clean of all that. Unless it is casting pearls before swine to attempt to tell such things to us. No! Do not attempt to tell such things to us lest we turn again and rend you.

Another divine punishment of party spirit is seen in the way that it provokes retaliation, and thus reproduces and perpetuates itself till the iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate the truth and murder love. Sanballat hated Nehemiah and plotted against him; and Nehemiah, not yet being Jesus Christ, nor one of His disciples, retaliated on Sanballat and on Samaria in a way that sadly stains the otherwise spotless pages of his noble book. And between them, Sanballat and Nehemiah kindled that intense and unnatural hatred that is still burning in every heart in Jerusalem and Samaria, when the woman at the well refuses a cup of cold water to our Lord, and when the Samaritans will not make ready for Him nor receive Him, because His face is as though He would go to Jerusalem; and till He pays the woman back with a well of water springing up to everlasting life, and the men of Samaria with the parable of the Good Samaritan. As you know, it takes two to make a complete and a lasting quarrel; so it takes many more than two to make party spirit perfect. And if Nehemiah, and the other builders of Jerusalem, had but had our New Testament truth and love, long centuries of ill-will, and insult, and injury, would have been escaped, and a welcome given to the Lord of truth and love that He did not get. And, inheriting no little good from our contending forefathers, we have inherited too many of their injuries, and retaliations, and antipathies, and alienations also. And the worst of it is, that we look on it as true patriotism, and the perfection of religious principle, to keep up and perpetuate all those ancient misunderstandings, and injuries, and recriminations, and alienations. 'Ye know not what spirit ye are of,' said our Lord to His disciples when they wished Him to consume the Samaritans off the face of the earth, 'for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.' To save them, that is, from all their inherited hurts, and hatreds, and antipathies, and animosities, and suspicions. Who, then, is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew, out of a good conversation, his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envyings and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish; for where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

Who, then, is a wise man, and endued with wisdom among you? Who would fain be such a man? Who would fain at once and for ever extinguish out of his heart this fire from hell? Who would behave to his rivals and enemies, not as Nehemiah, good man though he was, behaved to the Samaritans, but as Jesus Christ behaved to them? Who, in one word, would escape the sin, and the misery, and the long-lasting mischief of party spirit? Butler has an inimitable way of saying some of his very best and very deepest things. Our master-moralist seems to be saying nothing at all, when all the time what he is saying is everything. And here is one of his great sayings that has helped me more in this matter than I can tell you. 'Let us remember,' he says, 'that we differ as much from other men as they differ from us.' What a lamp to our feet is that sentence as we go through this world! As we travel from home and go abroad; as we see other nations with their own habits and their own manners; as we see other churches at their worship; as we read other men's books, and speeches, and newspapers, and they ours; as we encounter other men's principles, and prejudices, and habits of mind, and life and heart-what a light to our path are Butler's wise words! And till we come, in God's spirit of truth, and humility, and love, to take every other man's place and point of view, till we look at all things, and especially at ourselves, with all other men's eyes, and ears, and hearts. But why multiply many words about this plain matter? It is all contained long ago in the two old Commandments-to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to love God with all our mind, and heart, and strength, and will.

And, then, when at any time, and towards any party, or towards any person whatsoever, you find in yourself that you are growing in love, and in peace, and in patience, and in toleration, and in goodwill, and in good wishes, acknowledge it to yourself; see it, understand it, and confess it. Do not be afraid to admit it, for that is God within your heart. That is the Divine Nature, that is the Holy Ghost. Just go on in that Spirit, and ere ever you are aware you will be caught up and taken home to that Holy Land where there is neither Jerusalem nor Samaria. There will be no party spirit there. There will be no controversy there. There will be no corruption of motive there, and no imputation of it. No ignorance will be found there, and no prejudice, no partiality, no antipathy, no malignity, and no delight in doing mischief. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.

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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Sanballat'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/s/sanballat.html. 1901.

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