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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 13

 

 

Verses 1-31

SEPARATION FROM MIXTURE

(vv. 1-3)

At this same time, of which chapter 12:27-47 speaks, they read in the Book of Moses that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God, because of their hostility against Israel at the first (Deuteronomy 23:3-4). They had even hired Balaam to curse Israel, which curse God changed into a blessing. However, the Jews now acted on this instruction and separated themselves from the mixed multitude. Mixtures of believers and unbelievers are also forbidden in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Though much had been done before in seeking to correct the wrongs that had filtered in amongst the people, and though the building of the wall had indicated God's clear principle of separation from evil, yet evil has a way of intruding itself persistently among the people of God, and must be faced, as it was at this time, when "the mixed multitude was separated from Israel. When there is freshness of faith there will be faithfulness in action, though when faith becomes weak or lax, then evil will re-assert itself.

MORE FAILURE NEEDING CORRECTION

(vv. 4-30)

It appears most difficult to discern the chronological order of the events in chapters 12 and 13, for verse 4 speaks of what had taken place "before this," and verse 6 tells us that Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem during this time, since he had returned to the king. It may be that the dedication of the wall did not take place until Nehemiah's return. But we do not need to know the exact order in which events took place, but to seek rather to discern the moral lessons in the order that is given us.

At least it was before the time spoken of in verses 1 to 4 that Eliashib the high priest had prepared housing for Tobiah in a large room that had been used for storing the offerings etc. (v. 5). But Tobiah was an Ammonite (ch. 2:19) who should have been totally excluded from the congregation of Israel (v. 1). How easily it seems people make friends with the enemies of God because they show a nice, friendly attitude! Satan himself knows how to deceive believers by such means.

Nehemiah had at first spent 12 years in Jerusalem before returning to the king. During that time Eliashib should have learned by experience the deceitful character of Tobiah, but like many believers today, he likely thought he was being large-hearted and kind in showing favoritism to Tobiah, possibly thinking that Tobiah would be drawn by this to fully favor Israel. However, when Nehemiah, in returning to Jerusalem, found that Eliashib had so befriended Tobiah, he acted immediately, throwing out all the household goods of Tobiah and giving command to the priests to clean the rooms (vv. 8-9). This was godly, decisive action, reminding us of the prompt action of the Lord Jesus when he found in the temple those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, as well as money-changers. He drove them all out of the temple (John 2:14-15).

Then Nehemiah brought back into the rooms the articles that rightly belonged there, with the grain offerings and frankincense. He found also that this indifference as regards the storing of the offerings had led to the neglect of distributing to the Levites the portions that ought to have been given them. Perhaps Tobiah had been appropriating some of this! The Levites had gone back to their own fields for support (v. 10).

Nehemiah strongly censured the rulers for allowing such a state of things. "Why is the house of God forsaken?" he asked them. He did not confine this to one or two leaders, but gathered them together to face this serious matter (v. 11). He spoke with such authority that no one could oppose him, but all Judah was required to bring the tithe of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the storehouse (v. 12. This may well remind us of Paul's words to the Corinthians after they had promised a year earlier to send monetary help to the poor saints in Jerusalem, but had not done it. He told them, "now you also must complete the doing of it" (2 Corinthians 8:11). Judah had been negligent and the rulers had not enforced the law. Nehemiah then appointed as treasurers of the storehouse one priest, one scribe and two Levites, for they were considered to be faithful men (v. 13). All of this surely indicates that God is concerned to have His servants properly cared for, though in the Church of God it is not scriptural to make human appointments for the distribution of support for God's servants. God Himself, by the power of the Spirit of God, will exercise the individuals He chooses to be concerned about doing such work. He will not fail in caring for His servants, though Israel failed in this responsibility. In verse 14 Nehemiah prayed that God would remember him concerning the good he had done for the house of God. We do not read of New Testament leaders praying in this way, though Paul tells Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-7). He does not ask God to remember him, but declares that God will reward him.

Though Nehemiah asks God to remember him because of the good deeds he had done for the house of God, Paul did not ask for such a remembrance, but rather declares that God will reward him. He had fought the good fight, had finished the race and had kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7). Paul writes as one who had learned deeply the true grace of God, while Nehemiah writes from the viewpoint of being under law.

"In those days" (not denoting the exact time), Nehemiah saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, bringing in sheaves, loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs and many kinds of burdens, bringing them into Jerusalem. Of course this was contrary to God's law, and Nehemiah warned them against such abuses (v. 15). Also men of Tyre who lived in the area were bringing in fish and other goods to sell to the people of Judah on the Sabbath (v. 16).

Nehemiah rightly blamed the nobles for allowing these things (v. 17). He told them they were bringing added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath (v. 18). They were under law: why were they not keeping the law? Under grace today we have no such obligation, for the Sabbath is not given to us. Rather, the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, is a special day in some sense. It was the day on which the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, and the day on which the disciples gathered to break bread (Acts 20:7). Our governments give the Lord's Day some recognition, so that we are generally freed from usual employment, to use the day specially for the Lord. No law demands it, but surely we should be thankful for this opportunity and seek to give the Lord every honor we can apart from any law to require it.

Nehemiah did not stop with merely protesting, however. He commanded that the gates of the city be shut at dusk and not opened till the Sabbath was past. Some servants were also posted at the gates to guard against anyone entering with a burden (v. 19). The merchants were determined to sell their goods as soon as possible and they came and lodged outside the walls overnight. When this happened once or twice, Nehemiah threatened them with arrest if they came again. Thus, they did not attempt this on the Sabbath again (v. 21). Then Nehemiah commanded the Levites to cleanse themselves and to guard the gates on the Sabbath day (v. 22). He was not only dealing with that question on the one occasion, but realized there would have to be constant vigilance to suppress the greed of people. For a second time Nehemiah entreated that God would remember him and spare him according to the greatness of His mercy (v. 22).

Another great distress to Nehemiah was that he saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab, resulting in a mixture in the language of the children. Such marriages were forbidden by law, but just as people are today, the people of Judah were more influenced by their feelings than by principles of truth (v. 24).

Nehemiah reacted by cursing them, striking some of them and pulling out their hair. If one did that today he would likely be faced with a two million dollar lawsuit! He also made them swear by God that they would not give their daughters as wives to the sons of foreigners nor take their daughters as wives for the sons of Israelites (v. 25). It is questionable that making such an oath would make any difference in their subsequent actions, but Nehemiah was concerned that Israel should keep the law. He reminded them that Solomon king of Israel had done just as they were doing, in fact marrying many wives of foreign nationality. They may have used this as an excuse, as though it was fully permissible for them to follow Solomon's example, but Nehemiah allowed no such excuse, insisting that pagan women caused Solomon to sin. If they claimed to be believers, he says Solomon was a believer, beloved by God, and that fact made it the more shocking that he should sin as he did. He and they should be ashamed of such sin, which Nehemiah calls "this great evil" (v. 27).

Nehemiah then pleaded that God would remember them, but not for their blessing, rather that they would be repaid according to their works. In the case of the sons of Eliashib, they had corrupted the priesthood and God's covenant concerning it. This was abominable evil in God's sight.

Thus, Nehemiah cleansed Judah from everything pagan, that is, of foreign influence. This was negative work, but he replaced the evil with what was positive good. He assigned proper duties to the priests and Levites, including bringing the wood offerings and the firstfruits to the house of God at the appointed times (vv. 30-31).

Though Nehemiah had been used by God in a good measure of recovery for the remnant of Israel, yet we see in this last chapter there remained many things calling for correction, and these were signs that the condition of the people was in a state of deterioration. The same is true in the history of the Church publicly. Whatever measure of recovery God allows at any time, it only leads to eventual failure, telling us that the coming of the Lord Jesus is the only real remedy. May we look for this with earnest anticipation. At that time Nehemiah will have the full answer to his final prayer, "Remember me, O my God, for good."

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/nehemiah-13.html. 1897-1910.

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