Scripture reading – Nehemiah 13; Psalm 126
Our study in Nehemiah concludes today. We have followed Nehemiah’s rise from serving as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1-2), to the governorship of Judah. He could have chosen a life of ease and luxury in the king’s palace, but he could not rest when he heard the travail of the Jewish exiles in Jerusalem. With a heart for God’s people, he undertook building the walls of the city.
Like any great work, Nehemiah had critics and enemies. Yet, his faith in the LORD sustained him, and his courage was undiminished. With unwavering determination, he seemed to do the impossible, for the walls that had been in ruins for nearly 150 years were rebuilt in 52 days (6:15). Even his enemies realized what they had witnessed was more than the work of a man, “for they perceived…[the] work was wrought of [Israel’s] God” (6:16). With great pomp and circumstance, the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated (12:27-42), and the people brought tithes and offerings to the Temple to support the priests, Levites, and singers (12:43-47).
Nehemiah 13 – A Call for Sanctification and Separation
A Failure to Separate (13:1-3)
On the day the walls were dedicated, the book of the law of Moses was read aloud “in the audience of the people” (13:1). The reading of “the book of Moses” brought to the people’s attention a gross violation of God’s commandments. Remembering the trespass of the Ammonites and Moabites against Israel, the people realized those people were forbidden from coming “into the congregation of God for ever” (13:1). Hearing the grievances committed by those nations (Numbers 23-24), the people “separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (13:3).
An Enemy in the Midst (13:4-9)
We were introduced to Nehemiah during the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia and Babylon (1:1). Coming to chapter 13, we find Nehemiah had departed from Jerusalem, and returned to the king’s court in the 32ndyear of his reign (13:6). In his absence a stunning event occurred when Eliashib, the high priest, made provision for Tobiah to dwell in one of the great chambers of the Temple (13:4). Tobiah, Nehemiah’s nemesis who had opposed him and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (2:20, 19, 4:3, 6:17-19), had come to live in a chamber of the Temple!
To provide a place for Tobiah, Eliashib converted one of the Temple chambers where the tithes and offerings were stored (13:5). When Nehemiah returned from his visit to the king, he was astonished to find not only had his enemy taken up residence in the city, but unbelievably, he was dwelling in one of the chambers of the Temple (13:7)! He was furious, for the high priest had failed to sanctify and treat as holy what was set apart for the LORD (13:8). With zeal, he cast Tobiah out of the chamber and purged it of “all [his] household stuff” (13:8). He then “commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought [he] again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense” (13:9).
Sin of Neglect (13:10-14)
Nehemiah soon realized the Levites and the singers were not ministering in the Temple (13:10). An investigation revealed the people had not given their tithes and offerings as they should, and their neglect had forced the Levites and the singers to return to their fields to provide for their families (13:10). Defiantly bold, Nehemiah gathered the leaders and confronted them, asking, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” (13:11) Personally, I admire his next statement: I “set them in their place” (13:11c).
Proving he was a gifted administrator, Nehemiah appointed “treasurers over the treasuries” as the people began bringing their tithes and offerings to the Temple (13:13). Expressing the heart of a faithful minister, he prayed, “14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof” (13:14).
Broken Covenant (13:15-22)
The people had covenanted with the LORD to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy (Nehemiah 10:31; Exodus 20:8). Yet, upon his return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah found the they had failed to keep their vow to the LORD (13:15-22). The Jews had secularized the Sabbath, and treated it like any other day (13:16). Then, Nehemiah confronted the leaders and asked, “What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?” (13:17). Notice how Nehemiah did not trifle with sin. Regardless of their excuses, he regarded their actions as an “evil thing” for they had profaned, and defiled the Sabbath.
Nehemiah then sent his own guards to shut the gates of the city, and thereby prohibit any trade on the Sabbath (13:19). In spite of the prohibition, some merchants came on the Sabbath, and finding the gates shut, camped outside the walls (13:20). Nehemiah confronted the merchants himself, and sent them away (13:21).
Closing thoughts (13:23-31)
Our study of Nehemiah’s life concludes with him realizing a grave sin was present among the Jews, for some “had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab” (13:23). Though their fathers were Hebrews, the children of those mixed marriages “could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people” (13:24). Their mothers were heathen, idolatrous women, and the children of those unequal marriages could not understand the language of the Hebrews, nor would they have been taught in the Scriptures.
Nehemiah’s response is telling for any who make light of being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). He confronted the Hebrew men, and “contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves” (13:25).
What a sight that must have been! Nehemiah’s spirit was stirred, and his passion mirrored his concern. He reminded the people the great sorrow Solomon’s mixed marriages had brought on his household (13:26). Even the high priest’s son was carried away with ungodliness, and Nehemiah wrote, “I chased him from me” (13:28).
Having cleansed the priesthood of wickedness, Nehemiah appointed priests and Levites to their work, and prayed, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31).
God wonderfully heard and answered Nehemiah’s prayer, for his work and words recorded in the book that bears his name, is forever inscribed by the LORD.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.