Book of Nehemiah Chapter Thirteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-2: "On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God," words that may be seen in Deuteronomy 23:3-5. Verse 2 continues, "because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing." Those words look back to Numbers 21:21-35, where the Amorite leader refused sustenance and passage to the people of Israel. Isn't it interesting that God has a long memory, an infinitely perfect one, actually. If you harm someone, you may also be harming your own descendants because God—remembers. Reading the chapters that follow Deuteronomy 21, we find that the character named "Balaam" was indeed hired to curse Israel, and just as it says here, the curses were turned into a blessing. The later-in-time Israel of these verses in Nehemiah, now chose to follow the command written in the Law of Moses, as reflected in Verse 3: "So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel."
In Verses 4-5, we once again encounter the character named Tobiah: "Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who
was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, 5 had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests." Tobiah was named in Nehemiah 2:19 as an "Ammonite official," actually half Jew and half Ammonite, and in Nehemiah 4:1-2 he was identified as one of those who mocked the Jews when they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This creature was actually living within the Jerusalem Temple grounds, and the Book of Nehemiah strongly intimates that he was in no way a believer in the Lord.
Nehemiah knew none of this at the time, as seen in Verses 6-8: "But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, 7 and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8 It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room." God had seen to it that Nehemiah became a high official in the Court of the Persian Empire, and he returned to the area of Babylon periodically to attend to his duties as Cupbearer to the King (Nehemiah 1:11). Now he was back; he learned about the act of the priest Eliashib in allowing Tobiah to live in the Temple, and in an action reminiscent of Jesus cleansing the Temple by turning over the tables of the money changers (John 2:15), Nehemiah had Tobiah's furniture and other belongings thrown out into the street.
Nehemiah was certainly a man of action, as seen in Verses 9-13: "Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense. 10 I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. 11 So I reprimanded the officials and said, 'Why is the house of God forsaken?' Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. 12 All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses. 13 In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen." Immediately on his return from the east, he discovered the problem, evicted the offender who caused the problem, ordered the priests and other Levites to cleanse the rooms occupied by Tobiah, utilizing both work and prayer, and then this man who asked questions, found another problem: The Temple workers and Temple singers had been forced to move out of the Temple because no tithes had been received to sustain them. At Nehemiah's orders, the Levites and others returned, the tithes were resumed, and he appointed different, better leaders who were to make sure things stayed the way they ought to be.
Verse 14: "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services." This verse is reminiscent of Nehemiah 5:19, and we are to again see that God does remember, for we are to recall Isaiah 49:16, where the Lord cries out to us, "See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands." He remembers, He knows and He loves you—forever.
Each one of God's faithful ones must look into their own hearts to the Holy Spirit who resides there, and decide: Do the words in Scripture about the Sabbath apply personally to me? They certainly are likely to apply in the cases of those who are of Jewish descent and Nehemiah expressed his personal concern, beginning in Verses 15-16: "In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. 16 Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem." The Sabbath is a word that chiefly means "to stop what you're doing and REST" (Exodus 20:8-11). As we read those verses in Exodus, it becomes apparent that the Sabbath is even more than inaction—it's a time to reflect on the Lord and worship Him. He is our Creator, as seen in those verses, and we are to stop only caring for the things of this world to consider Him who made us.
Nehemiah's response in Verses 17-18 is actually quite reasonable: "Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, 'What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.'" God's will for our lives is actually quite specific for each one, tailor made for our great need, which is to be brought to a deepened faith in the Lord who made us. If you discover God's will for you, as Israel did, don't unnecessarily question it or be casual about it because His ways are higher and better than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He has a purpose in the way your life is being shaped and to find God's peace is to choose His will.
Notice in Verses 19-21 that Nehemiah not only commanded that Israel must do God's will in relation to the Sabbath and other issues, but he also personally ACTED in concert with God's will: "It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 Then I warned them and said to them, 'Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.' From that time on they did not come on the sabbath." Do you have some kind of authority? If so, then it is a privilege, given to you for God's purposes, not merely your own. And also recall that the leadership given you is not an excuse for brutality. As earthly fathers are warned in Ephesians 6:4, it is for all who lead: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Firm yet gentle, in God's will and in His Word but not legalistic, encouraging those we lead and serve. How can it be? Like Nehemiah, we seek God's Word and we pray in everything, as Nehemiah prayed in Verse 22: "And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness." Study God's Word, pray, and if you are a leader, do it all in the power and love of God.
Verses 23-26: "In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. 25 So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, 'You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin." The Bible is the Word of God and it is reliable history, recording events such as these. Nehemiah, with the portions of Scripture he had at that time, effectively learned from God's Word, and we need to do the same. The Bible for him was clear, as it is for us, that even King Solomon with all His wisdom, was brought into sin by marrying outside of Israel. It was happening again. Nehemiah was upset that many had disobeyed the Lord, to the point where he physically attacked them, hit them and pulled hair out of their scalps. Here's another act that is reminiscent of Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, as seen in places like Matthew 21:12.
Verses 27-31: "Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?' 28 Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. 30 Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, 31 and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good." The nation of Israel was created out of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives, for God's specific purpose. They were to be a nation set apart from humanity's corruption, to send a message to the world of holiness and faithfulness to the Lord, a beacon of God's light, and they would, humanly speaking, become the vehicle to bring the Messiah into the world for the benefit of all. Intermarriage with other groups was forbidden, as seen in places like Exodus 34:15-16, because they would be drawn into the idolatry of the nations surrounding them, diluting God's message to humanity.
As we close God's Word through Nehemiah, what is the message that is supposed to be expressed through YOUR life? Is it being diluted in some manner? Let us be true to Him, remembered "for good" in ways that will give hope to those around us and draw them to the Lord. He remembers and so should we.
Lord, we commit ourselves to You. We place our trust in You and ask that the courage Nehemiah possesed to do what is right, might be expressed through us. In Jesus Name. Amen.