The manipulation technique dates back at least to the fifth century B.C., when non-Israelite inhabitants of Israel tried every trick in the book to put the kibosh on the Jerusalem rebuilding project. The book of Nehemiah is a case study in enemy tactics and psychology, ranging from direct terrorism to romantic overtures.
First Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite accused Nehemiah, the newly arrived governor, of mutinous intent against their Persian overlords: “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” The Jews ignored their taunts and got busy in teams with their trowels repairing the various gates of the wall around the city.
When Sanballat saw that, he was furious, and Tobiah tried to demoralize the Jews by pointing out the impossibility of their project: “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” Nehemiah prayed and they kept building until each group’s section of the wall connected.
Next Sanballat and company “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it”—and again the Jews prayed. And from that time on, half the men worked construction and the other half held spears and bows.
When Israel’s enemies saw they were not achieving their purposes, they came up with an entirely new tack: friendship: “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 cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’ And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.”
The bad guys were foiled again. So now Sanballat threatened blackmail in the form of a written letter to Persian King Artaxerxes, full of scurrilous accusations of treason. Piggy-backing that, a secret mole in the priestly division offered Nehemiah sanctuary in the temple, but Nehemiah saw through it: “Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Again the governor prayed.
The wall now finished, Israel’s horrified enemies tried a new tact: Tobiah became pen pals with the nobles of Judah, and those nobles in turn started telling Nehemiah to lighten up about Tobiah and “they spoke of his good deeds.” But the pièce de résistance among all the enemy tactics was intermarriage.
So when I read in the papers recently that backers of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania “point to the fact that states that have approved [same-sex marriage] reaped financial benefits,” I thought of good old Sanballat and Tobiah. Putting aside the more customary vituperation for a moment, these gay marriage proponents spoke with conciliatory reasonableness about “millions of dollars in new revenue that would flow from taxes and fees, and the millions more in new spending at wedding-related businesses across the state.” They dangled before our eyes the delicious fruit of hotel bookings and lavish wedding parties, all dollars presently flowing into other states’ coffers unnecessarily, just because of our obstinacy and prudery.
So there is nothing new under the sun, as we learn from another Bible book. It is just a matter of us boning up on the strategies of yore, and recognizing their shiny new repackaging.