Nehemiah: The Remnant in Jerusalem, Chapter 13

Nehemiah 13  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The Remnant in Jerusalem
Neh. 13
But joy can never, as man is, be the sole portion of God's people, even if they possess not the spirituality that is quick to judge self and discern shortcomings. To supply this wholesome check God does not fail to use His word. So it was in Jerusalem at this time.
“On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the assembly of God forever; because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them howbeit our God turned the curse into a Blessing. And it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (vers 1-3).
This self-judgment is attributed to none in particular, but to the effect of the scriptures on the people generally. Yet evil as was the allowance of “the mixed multitude” and in direct opposition to the law, there was a more flagrant offense of older date than that corrected as we have seen, which nobody ventured to touch till a later visit of Nehemiah.
“And before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being allied unto Tobiah, had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meal offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the wine, and the oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the heave offerings for the priests. But in all this time I was not at Jerusalem; for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went unto the king, and after certain days asked leave of the king, and came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meal offerings and frankincense” (vers 4-9).
Here it was not the sin of the people, nor yet of a ruler only but of the anointed priest. And it was an open affront to the house of God, and contempt of the oblations and the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes, to say nothing of the wrongs done to the Levites and the priests, by the very one who had the oversight and yet became a kinsman of a known and active adversary of the people, Tobiah the Ammonite. How vain to hope for a right sense of separation to Jehovah, when he who represented Him officially in the holiest set the example of deliberate transgression so complete and defiant in the temple itself! But Nehemiah on his return dealt vigorously with the evil, not only casting out of the profaned chamber all the household stuff of Tobiah, but purifying it and restoring the holy vessels with the oblations and the frankincense.
That priestly corruption, as usually happens, led to other serious consequences. The Levites had not been given their portions and had neglected God's work for their own interests. For this Nehemiah censured the rulers and himself rectified the disorder. The effect was great and immediate on “all Judah.” And as stores now came in, he made storekeepers accordingly of priests, Levites, and people, thus binding all in an interest common to all before God.
“And I perceived that the portions of de Levites had not been given them; so that the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I will the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the wine and the oil unto he treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Henan the son of Zaccur the sea of Mattaniah. For they were counted faithful, and their business was to distribute unto their brethren. Remember 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 observances thereof” (10-14).
Another great and prevalent sin caught his vigilant eye, the sabbath profaned by sons of Judah.
“In those days saw I in Judah come treading winepresses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses therewith; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day, and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tire also therein, which brought in fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. I commanded that the. doors should be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I over the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember unto me, O my God, this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy” (vers. 15-22).
Need it be remarked how essential the sabbath was to Jehovah's glory and to His people? and all the more, because it depends on His will and word, apart from moral questions as in the rest of the “ten words.” “A sign between Him and the sons of Israel forever is” a sabbath of rest to Jehovah, so absolute that the doer of work therein was to be put to death. Christianity has brought in better and higher things, of which the first or resurrection day is the witness; but for the earth and God's earthly people the sabbath will be only the more honored in the future glories of the kingdom.
Here again Nehemiah wrought with holy energy, and in. every way set his face against sabbath profanation, with rulers and people, as well as with the foreign tempters.
The shameful defilement of the holy flesh by Gentile marriages he also dealt with most earnestly.
“In those days also saw I the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. And I 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 for your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did strange women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to trespass against our God in marrying strange women? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites” (vers. 25-29).
We do not see the grief as of Ezra in his chaps. 9. 10., but uncompromising zeal nevertheless in a way more natural to a Tirshatha (ver. 25). Nor could the highest religious position screen here; for as a grandson of the high priest was son-in-law of the notorious Sanballat the Horonite, Nehemiah chased him away, and here prayed that God might remember them, as polluters of the priesthood and of the covenant that attached to them and the Levites.
Finally, the purification from all foreigners was completed, and the charges appointed that priests and Levites should discharge each his service, with such dues as were needful.
“And I purged them from all strangers, and appointed wards for the priests and for the Levites, every one in his work; and for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good” (vers. 30, 31).
Is it not blessed in a day of weakness and humiliation to behold a ruler thus content to serve, and effectively for God's people as his eye was single to God and His word? At such a time sentiment is powerless; and allowance of natural ties specially dangerous. Nehemiah learned and was faithful to what he knew from God. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”