(31 verses, 5:20 to read)
What I am about to READ
Enemies of God’s people tried to undermine the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra in their absence. Nehemiah returned from Persia and by God’s grace led his people back to Moses’ laws and to serving the Lord. Nehemiah restored the Sabbath Day in Jerusalem and ended the practice of Jews marrying unbelieving Gentiles.
MARK & LEARN
- There may have been an interval of about 15 years between chapters 12 and 13 of Nehemiah. The dedication of the walls probably took place in 444 BC. Nehemiah returned to Persia in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes, about 433 BC. After Nehemiah left, he may not have returned to carry out the reforms in this chapter until 425 BC. Accordingly, the words “on that day” do not refer to the dedication day of chapter 12 but to a day after Nehemiah’s return when he read the Book of Moses to the people again.
- Tobiah, an Ammonite, had been given a room in the temple by Eliashib the priest. But God in the Law of Moses forbade Moabites and Ammonites from being involved in the worship life of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3–6). Nehemiah ejected Tobiah from the temple, and everyone of foreign descent was excluded from Israel.
- Nehemiah found that the Levites had not been given the physical support they needed, so they had to go back to their farms and make a living for themselves. Nehemiah rebuked the Jewish officials for their negligence. He reestablished the Law of Moses so that the people began to bring the tithe again. He installed trustworthy leaders in positions of authority who managed the storerooms and distributed supplies to the temple workers.
- The context of this chapter is that Nehemiah had just returned from Persia. Because of the insidious nature of human sinfulness, Nehemiah had to make further reforms after abuses crept back into the worship life of God’s Old Testament people. In the first part of this chapter, Nehemiah had purified the temple. However, his work was not done.
- The Sabbath day was being desecrated and violated. This was one of the sins that had led to the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:19–27). Nehemiah used his powers to forcibly end trade on the Sabbath. He locked the gates at sunset and would not open them again until the Sabbath was over.
- A serious problem—one that had already been corrected—resurfaced. The people broke their promises (Nehemiah 10:30) and returned to the practice of intermarriage with their heathen neighbors. This sin was dangerous; it exposed the Israelite spouses to foreign gods, which often led them into idolatry.
- Nehemiah rebuked those who were guilty of intermarriage and reminded the people of the devastating consequences of this sin. He expelled one unfaithful priest from his position in the temple because of intermarriage. He beat others and made them take an oath not to continue this practice. Drastic action was needed. Otherwise Jerusalem and Judea would again be liable for God’s judgment.
- God’s people, beginning with the spiritual leaders, turned away from listening to and studying God’s Word.
The book of Nehemiah reveals the devastating effects of compromise and cooperation with the enemies of God’s Word. This same thing can/does happen today. Christians may want to “fit in” with their unbelieving neighbors and avoid being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Permissive attitudes toward sin may develop when church bodies compromise their doctrine and practice with other church bodies who have lost the truth of God’s Word. There is no compromise when it comes to God’s Word. If we find ourselves compromising His Word, inevitably the very Gospel – Christ crucified for us – is at stake. We would do well to remember 1 Timothy 4:16 – “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
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Pastor Kevin Zellers, Jr.