-In this final chapter we see the reality of an ongoing struggle to keep people’s hearts right and in tune with the righteous laws of God within the land of Judah, even Jerusalem, as time went on. The chapter begins with the audible reading of the book of Moses in the hearing of the people. It was discerned from that reading that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God (Deuteronomy 23:3-5). The reason for this was historical. They did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water when they sojourned through their territories during the wilderness wanderings, but instead hired Balaam to curse against the people of God. However, God, in all His power and glory, turned the curse into a blessing. Therefore, after hearing this the Jews excluded all foreigners from Israel for a time (Nehemiah 13:1-3).
-It appears there is some passage of time in the text from this point as Nehemiah shares with the reader that he had returned to King Artaxerxes in the 32nd year of his reign. During all this time that he was away from Jerusalem, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the Temple, the House of God, prepared a large room for Tobiah because they were related by marriages. This large room was supposed to be where the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils, the tithes of grain, the wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the contribution for the priests were to be kept. When Nehemiah asked the king for leave and a return to Jerusalem, it was granted, but what Nehemiah found upon his return troubled him greatly. What Elashib had done for Tobiah was evil in preparing this room for him, a Gentile, in the courts of the House of God. It went against everything the Law prescribed and what the Israelites had committed to in the wall building/revival years prior. This is why Nehemiah described the situation as being “very displeasing” to him. Then he took action. He threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room and gave an order to cleanse the rooms. After that, he returned the utensils of the House of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense. This reminds me of Jesus’ righteous retribution when He turned over the tables of the sellers and exchangers in the same Temple area who were polluting His House of prayer (Nehemiah 13:4-9, Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46).
-Further reform was needed as Nehemiah discovered upon his return that the portions legally due the Levites had not been given to them. This had led to the departure of these Levites and singers who performed service in God’s House. They had each gone back to their own fields to make a living. As a result, Nehemiah reprimanded the officials saying, “Why is the House of God forsaken?” Then, he again took righteous action to correct the situation by gathering them back and restoring them to their posts. This led to all Judah bringing their tithe of the grain, wine and, oil back into the storehouses. Nehemiah appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, Pedaiah of the Levites, and Hanan to be in charge of these storehouses now because “they were considered reliable.” It was their task at this point to distribute the proper allotments to their kinsmen. Nehemiah is shown next in the text as asking God to remember him for these loyal deeds which he performed for the House of God and its services (Nehemiah 13:10-14).
-Another problem confronted the great restorer of Judah and Jerusalem as he observed what was going on with the corruption of the Sabbath in the land. He saw some in Judah treading the wine presses on the Sabbath and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys to bring into Jerusalem for profit. Not just wine, but grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads were being brought in on the LORD’s anointed day. Nehemiah admonished them, and he also saw men from Tyre living there in Judah who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise. These foreigners were selling to the sons of Judah on the Sabbath, even in Jerusalem. This led Nehemiah to more admonitions of the Jewish nobles of Judah, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” Then, again, Nehemiah took specific actions to remedy this sin. As it grew dark every Friday, he commanded that the doors at the gates of Jerusalem be shut until the Sabbath was over. He stationed some of his servants at these gates so that no loads would enter on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside of Jerusalem, but Nehemiah warned them that if they continued to do that he would use force against them. “From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.” Further, Nehemiah commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify this holy day. In the end of this action, Nehemiah once more asked his LORD to remember him and have compassion on him according the greatness of His lovingkindness (Nehemiah 13:15-22).
-In those days, Nehemiah also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab, which was against God’s commands as His separated people (Exodus 34:11-16, Deuteronomy 7:1-5). The children of these marriages were speaking the foreign languages of the pagans, so Nehemiah once more took decisive action to purge the lawlessness. He contended with them and cursed them. He struck some of them and even pulled out their hair. Pretty tough work, right? Then he made them swear by God that they would not give their daughters to these foreign sons or have their sons take any of the foreign women in marriage. He cited King Solomon’s error in this debauchery regarding these things, which caused him to sin even though God loved him and made him king over all Israel as no king like him. This, as Nehemiah rightfully pointed out, was a great evil because of their unfaithful actions against their covenant God. Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore, Nehemiah boldly drove him away from his presence. He prayed an imprecatory prayer of vindication as he asked God to “remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.” In the end, Nehemiah purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties that the priests and the Levites should lawfully do, each in his task. He arranged for the supply of wood at the appointed times and for the first fruits. Then he asked his God one final time to remember him for good (Nehemiah 13:23-31).
*Application* We generally call a man like Nehemiah “the heavy.” He was the one who became the enforcer of God’s Law in the land as they returned from captivity. Anyone who has had this type of task as an overseer knows that it is tough to take a strong stand and carry out discipline. It is necessary though. People are evil in their hearts and constantly need correction. Just ask our law enforcement officers how difficult the job is today, and we will see. What we see with God’s holy, perfect, and righteous Law is a restraining of evil, but remember only He, through His life giving Son, can impute righteousness on the believers. That’s why we always should aim at the heart when we correct people. This has more lasting results, always. It must be intrinsic, not extrinsic (Galatians 6:1-10).
Verses to Memorize: Nehemiah 13:11-12, 14