The dispute between Nehemiah and the royal officials (Neh 2:19-2:20)

“When Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they mocked and ridiculed us. They said. ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’ Then I replied to them. ‘The God of heaven is the one who give us success. We his servants are going to start building. You have no share. claim or historic rights in Jerusalem.”

The local officials of the Province Beyond the River, with one of its major cities in Samaria, were lead by Sanballat and Tobiah. This time they were joined by Geshem, the Arab, which might mean that he was an official from Edom or the other side of the Jordan River. They wanted to know what Nehemiah was doing. He seemed to be rebelling against the king, but that is unclear. Nehemiah was clear that he had official approval since he came directly from the court of the king of Persia. Once again he referred to the “God of heaven” in his response. God would give them success. They were going to start building. In fact, he seemed to say that these officials had no rights in Jerusalem, which is not exactly correct. Jerusalem was in the Province Beyond the River, and these were the officials of that territory.

The travel to the Province Beyond the River (Neh 2:9-2:10)

“Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River. I gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent officers of the army and cavalry with me. However, when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.”

Nehemiah did not bring any returning Jews with him. Instead he had a section of the Persian army with him, including cavalry. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria in the Province Beyond the River. The river referred to was the territory west of the Euphrates River. Sanballat may have been a Moabite. In fact, some archeological digs have found papyrus with his name on it as the governor of Judah. Tobiah was an Ammonite official. Both of them seemed to be opposed to what was going on in Jerusalem, as their names will appear a few more times in this biblical account of Nehemiah.