Nehemiah’s Final Reforms
13 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.
In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”
As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”
And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me, O my God, for good.
Nehemiah 13 Commentary
by Hank Workman
As the saying goes, “While the cats away…”
The book of Nehemiah ends with quite a flurry of activity that is not only surprising but shocking. As promised to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had stated he would return and he did. It’s unknown of when this happened or how long even he stayed back in Persia but he kept to his word. He had completed the task set before him.
While he was gone it didn’t take long for things to go south. First, the enemies and relatives of his enemies got to work. The priest decided on his own to make a guest room in the temple itself for the Number One Agitator of Nehemiah’s work. Word got back to Nehemiah and asking leave again, he returned to Jerusalem where it got ugly. Going into the temple he not only deconstructed the room, but he also took all the belongings within and tossed them out. Learning that the rulers had not been giving their tithe and designated portions of harvest, he took these to task next. He is no coward and hits things head-on.
It doesn’t stop there. Appalled that the Sabbath has been broken, selling of items also taking place; he confronts the offenders, institutes the gates to be shut up on that day and posts watchmen. When the merchants still try to do what they do, he strongly reprimands them and warns if they do this one more time he will personally lay hands on them and they’ll regret it. Whatever that looked like, they didn’t try it again.
As word comes that the men are re-entering into mixed marriages, some being relatives and priests of the troublemakers, he takes the strongest action yet. He confronts verbally and physically. In essence, he beats the tar out of them and then banishes several from being physically there again.
This is a holy righteousness like none other.
Throughout this entire process, we read Nehemiah praying and asking God to remember him.
In light of the amazing worship services and reforms that took place, this final chapter shows how if people aren’t committed to their God, they will return and act in their own human nature. It didn’t take long for the memory of their commitment to God to fall along the wayside. Without our own diligence in such matters, we too can slip back so easily.
But the life and book of Nehemiah also show good God-fearing leadership. He continued to have a clear purpose to his calling and task and sought God throughout. He was faced with obstacle after obstacle and yet hit things head-on. He never scooted away from the challenges. Nothing prevented him from staying on track. He was also straightforward in all he did. He was honest in his leadership. There was no second-guessing where Nehemiah stood or how he would react and respond. Throughout the process, he lived above reproach. Although people came against him with accusations they didn’t have a leg to stand on. Most importantly, he was a man of prayer throughout. This was where he received his wisdom, his actions, command strength to complete the task again and again.
Nehemiah’s commitment to God is what brought success for the task laid before him. It cost him personally and he was more than likely unpopular, but these things didn’t matter. The grace of God sustained him throughout it all.
Sometimes it takes a Nehemiah type character to bring us back. It takes a Nehemiah to keep us on track. Are you in need of one? Are you a Nehemiah?
Nehemiah 13 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
So, remember that guy Tobiah? Back in Nehemiah 6 he was one of Israel’s enemies who formulated a smear campaign against Nehemiah to stop the construction of the walls. Now we read that while Nehemiah is gone, Eliashib not only furnishes a room for Tobiah but also gives him access to several rooms of the Temple!
“Incidentally, Tobiah was an Ammonite (Neh 2:10) – one of the very mixed multitude that had been put out of the assembly of God’s people some 10 years before. At this point in the record of Nehemiah, Tobiah was not only present among the assembly, he actually rented rooms in the temple courts.”David Guzik
Nehemiah was furious… and rightly so. This was not only his personal enemy but an enemy of God who was dwelling in the house of the Lord! Many comparisons have been made between Nehemiah cleansing the chamber and Jesus cleansing the Temple. Both men possessed an anger focused on God’s righteousness. Both men did not sin in their anger. Instead, they were emboldened to draw lines of accountability among their peers. Their love was not merely expressed in their politeness but in their passion to see the Name of God respected and honored.
Then comes the real shocker. Nehemiah finds out that others among the community have intermarried yet again with foreign women. It was a sin that continually plagued the Jewish people. So what did Nehemiah do? He beat them and ripped off their beards!
I reprimanded the men, called down curses on them, beat them, and pulled out their hair. Then I made them take an oath in God’s name that never again would they or their children intermarry with foreigners.Nehemiah 13:25 GNB
To Nehemiah, this particular sin was the worst of all. He knew that all this angered God and would undoubtedly lead to another exile. This beating he gave them would be only a fraction of what the people would experience if they continued down this path. Of course, I am not recommending it, but I certainly understand his motives. They were only 10-12 years removed from their revival and the people were already beginning to backslide. They were engaged in the same sins they had sworn to eradicate from their lives!
Nehemiah was passionate. He had discipline and he was a gifted leader. But most of all, he had zero tolerance for compromise and excuses. He made up his mind to follow God, and he did it. The relevance of this mentality in our current culture is entirely appropriate.