About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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This Chapter - Chapter 13 

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Nehemiah's Final Reforms (ch. 13:1 - 30)  


Verse 1 opens this chapter with the words "on that day".  In light of verse 6, most scholars believe that an interval of time has passed since the last chapter.   How much time, we don't know.  Verse 6 tells us that Nehemiah returned to Babylon.  You will remember in chapter 1 that Nehemiah had a leave of absence from his job as cup bearer to the king.  He did not permanently move to Jerusalem.


"On that day" the Law of Moses  was read, as it had been before.  We note that in verses 2 and 3 that one law that was read was the law that stated that a Moabite or a Ammonite could not be a part of the people of God because they hired Balaam to curse Israel.  Once the people heard this, they expelled such people from their midst.  Now this is not the first time they had done such a thing.  This always seems to be a problem with Israel.   


The above is pointed out probably because of what comes next.  We see in verses 4 and 5 that Eliashib the priest was a relative of Tobiah.  You will note from earlier chapters that Tobiah was an enemy of Israel, and especially of Nehemiah.  He tried to stop the building of the wall.  Because of this relationship, Eliashib provided space in the storehouse for Tobiah.  This space was normally used to store the tithes of grain, wince and oils for the priests, along with other things associated with the temple.  You'll see another reference to such a thing in chapter 6:17 and 18.  These mixed marriages were a constant source of problems to the work of God in Israel, as it was here again.


In verse 6 we see that all this took place when Nehemiah was in Babylon.  Remember, he only had a leave of absence from the king.  He did not relocate to Jerusalem for good.  So while he was away, Eliashib did this evil thing.  Gentiles were not allowed in such places that had anything to do with the Temple of God.  The church is like Israel back then.  We are allowing non-Christians into places in the church where they should not be.  As the Jews were paganizing God's physical temple in Old Testament times, so the church in many respects is paganizing and secularizing itself today.   


Nehemiah was quite upset with this evil deed so he asked permission from the king to return to Jerusalem to fix this problem.


In verse 7 we learn that the storehouse was in the courts of the temple.  It was on temple grounds.  This would be blasphemous to the Law of Moses. 


Verse 8 says that Nehemiah was "greatly displeased."  "Greatly displeased" is probably putting it mildly.  It appears that he was down right angry because he threw Tobiah's things out of the storeroom.  This was an act of "righteous anger."


In verse 9 Nehemiah gave orders to purify the room and put back in place the things that should be there.  We note that the presence of a Gentile, and especially an enemy to Israel defiles the temple.  The same is true today in the church.  When we allow secular, new age, and other philosophies into Christian thinking, we also defile Christian doctrine and the truth of God.  When non-Christians have a place in the church, the church is defiled.  We see in the seven letters to the churches found in Revelation that God is not happy with such defilement.


The presence of Tobiah in the temple wasn't the only thing Nehemiah was upset about.  He also learned that the Levites and the singers were not being provided for so they went back to their fields to make a living.  This is in direct contradiction to what Israel had promised God in a written and signed agreement.  See chapter 10 for the details of this agreement.  You will notice that the giving of tithes and looking after the Levites, singers, gatekeepers and priests were things Israel agreed and covenanted before God to do, but they didn't.


In verse 11 Nehemiah rebuked the leaders of Israel for neglecting God's house.   He advised those with responsibilities to return to their post.  Returning to their posts suggests a return to the ways of God, a repentance of sorts.


In verses 12 and 13 we see that Nehemiah put others in charge of the storeroom.  Instead of one man looking after the storeroom a number of men took over the job.  There is safety in numbers.  This was most likely a way to bring accountability into the situation. 


Israel also began to tithe and as they were suppose to tithe to refill the storeroom so those who ministered at the temple could do their jobs.


Verse 14 is a prayer by Nehemiah.  He is asking God to remember him, and not to blot out all that he has done for the house of God.  It appears that Nehemiah was afraid that God would be so upset with Israel that what Nehemiah tried to do would no longer count in the sight of God.  But that wasn't the case.  I believe that this prayer has great historical and prophetic significance.  God will honour Nehemiah's prayer when He pours out a spirit of repentance on Israel and they will finally become what they were meant to be.


Another specific thing we saw Israel agree to in chapter 10 before God was that they'd keep the Sabbath.  They would not work or do business on the Sabbath, but in verses 15 through 18 we see they were doing all sorts of business with all sorts of Gentiles in the city of God on the Sabbath.  Nehemiah was really upset and rebuked them for such evil. 


In verse 18 Nehemiah reminded the people that the reason why Israel was taken captive by Babylon in the first place was because they failed to keep the Sabbath laws.  Now since they were doing the same as their forefathers, Nehemiah said that they were "storing up more wrath against Israel" from God.  Israel just never got it together with their God.


In verse 19 we see that Nehemiah ordered the gates of the city to be shut tight over the next Sabbath day so that no one could come in and do business.  He went as far to put his own men, those he trusted, at the gates to make sure they'd stay closed during the Sabbath.


In verses 21 and 22 we see those from outside Jerusalem come and camp outside the walls of the city.   They were hoping to be allowed in on the Sabbath to buy and sell, but Nehemiah would not allow it.  He told them to leave, not to spend the night.  He wasn't going to let them in so why hang around.  Nehemiah told these men that if they didn't leave, "he'd lay hands on them."  At this point Nehemiah was ready to use physical force to uphold the Law of Moses.                      


The last part of verse 22 is another prayer.  Nehemiah asked God again to remember Him as he did these things.  Nehemiah was very upset.  He was probably more than consume with this anger.  He probably did not feel the love of God within him although he was acting from the love of God, and he might well have been hoping that his anger would not get in the way of God's love towards him. 


In verses 23 and 24 we see the third of the three specific things that Israel agreed to before their God in chapter 10, and that was concerning intermarriage. They specifically covenanted with God not to wed themselves to Gentiles, but they did.  It was so bad that the children of these marriages did not even know how to speak the language of Judah.  They spoke the language of Gentiles.  It is very similar to parts of the church today.  Since church people forsake and neglect Biblical  truth, the children of these people know very little about the Bible and the ways of God.   


We see how angry Nehemiah was, and thus the reason for his prayer in verse 24.  He was so consumed with anger that he rebuked the people .  He went as far to beat some of the men who had married Gentile women and pulled their hair out.  Nehemiah was very angry. 


Also in verse 25 he made these men take another oath before God that such practices would end.  Yet as is the case, when people are forced to do something, that which they are forced to do, won't get done because they aren't willing in their hearts.


In verse 26 Nehemiah speaks of King Solomon who was loved by God, but even him, a man so loved by God was overtaken with Gentile women.  This is one of the major downfalls with men, that is, sexual relations outside of their marriage with unbelieving women.   The lure of sex is very strong in the heart of men and women. And now in verse 27 Nehemiah tells the Israeli men that they are doing the same as Solomon.  The wickedness never ends.  They never learn from the past, and such is the history of mankind.  We never learn from history.  We are too consumed with the present.


We see another example of a mix marriage in verse 28.  Remember Sanballat from earlier chapters?  He was one of the enemies of  God and the building of the wall.  Nehemiah threw a son of a priest out of his presence for marrying one of Sanballat's daughters.  How can Israel be effective over their enemies, when they are married to them. 


The church in many respects is married to the world.  As Israel could not function as God's people, nor can the church when we are married to the world.


Verse 29 is yet another prayer from the lips of Nehemiah, but this time it wasn't for him.  It was for Israel.  He asked God to remember Israel in kindness even though they had defiled the priesthood and the covenant, both God's covenant and the one they made to God.  God will remember Israel at the end of this age, but until then she suffers judgment.  Their rejection of Jesus was much worse than all the evil deeds they had done in times past.  Because of this rejection, God turned His back on Israel for a long period of time, beginning at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.  Yet the time will come when He will pour out a spirit of repentance on Israel and they will return to Him once and for all at the end of this age.


Verses 30 closes the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah purified the priesthood from all things foreign, just as we and the church today needs such purification. 


The fourth and last prayer of Nehemiah in this chapter closes the book.  The first two prayers were for him.  The third was for Israel , and now this one is for him.  He prays, "remember me with favour, O my God."   I picture a somewhat dejected Nehemiah sitting down with his elbows resting on his legs and his head buried deep in his hands.  He pours out his soul to His God and asks God to remember him, and not forsake him, especially due to the fact that Israel had fallen again and he was very angry at this. 


This is how Nehemiah closes.  Does the story have a happy ending?  Not right away.  A few years later Malachi the prophet had to rebuke Israel for all the same things Nehemiah rebuked Israel for, and this is how the Old Testament ends.  It ends with Israel and her being unfaithful to her God, the only true God of all there is.  This is the backdrop for the New Testament.  This is the world of Judaism that Jesus found Himself in some four hundred or so years later. Israel had not changed from Nehemiah's day when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem. They were just as bad, and probably worse.  As Israel rejected the prophets God sent them, so they rejected Jesus, and for this rejection great judgment fell upon Israel that would last until the end of this present age.  Yet as the prophets have said, Israel will return to their God in repentance. And as Paul says in his discourse on these things in Romans 8 through 11, there will be a remnant of Israel that will be saved at the end.  This is the meaning of Paul's words that "all Israel will be saved."                                 

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