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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 13

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-31

Chapter 13

On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of all the people; and therein was found written, that an Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but they hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude ( Nehemiah 13:1-3 ).

So they're discovering things all the time in the law of God. As they're reading the law of God, they're discovering things and then they're seeking to inaugurate them. And so reading again, they came across the passage that a Moabite or an Ammonite were not to come into the house of God forever because of the treatment that they gave to the children of Israel when they were coming from Egypt into the Promised Land. They would not allow them to pass through their land. They would not help them with food. King Balak hired Balaam to come and curse them and all. And so God said, "Don't let them in the house of the Lord throughout all their generations."

So they separated all the mixed multitude out of them.

Before this, Eliashib the priest, who had the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah ( Nehemiah 13:4 ):

Now Tobiah was this rat who gave Nehemiah so much trouble when he was trying to rebuild the wall, but here the priest was a friend of his.

And so he had prepared for him a great chamber ( Nehemiah 13:5 ),

In the temple a place where they used to keep the meal offerings or all of the wheat for the meal offerings, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, and the new wine and the oil. One of the storage rooms the high priest gave to this guy Tobiah and put his furniture in there. Let it become his living quarters. And here was this guy that gave such a hard time to Nehemiah in the building of the walls and so forth. Now this priest, because he's his friend, patronizing him and all, gives him a place to live in the temple. And so we read that,

But in all of this time I was not at Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:6 ):

When these things were happening. For he had returned back to Persia and he didn't know that the priest had given this place to Tobiah there in the temple. And so he said, "This time I wasn't in Jerusalem."

for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I came unto the king, and after certain days I obtained leave of the king ( Nehemiah 13:6 ):

So after twelve years in Jerusalem rebuilding the walls, setting things up, governing, Nehemiah returned back to Persia. Came back to the king and no doubt gave him reports and all. And after a period of time, and we don't know how much time, the king of Persia allowed Nehemiah to come back to Jerusalem. And when he got back to Jerusalem, what does he find? But this rat Tobiah that had done so much to hinder the work of God, here he's got sumptuous quarters right in the temple of God. The priest has given him these quarters. They took out the area where they stored the corn and so forth and they said, "Here, you move right in, you know, Brother Rat."

And so I came to Jerusalem, and when I found out the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I tossed all of his furniture out and Tobiah out of the chamber. And I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and brought again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense ( Nehemiah 13:7-9 ).

So man, he's coming back and he's cleaning house. He finds Tobiah's set up house, his furniture and all, and man, he just tossed him out with his goods. Put him out.

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field ( Nehemiah 13:10 ).

So remember just a little while back, everybody had read the law and they said, "Oh, we're going to serve God. We're going to write the covenant. We're going to sign. We're going to tithe, you know. We're going to support the temple. We'll give the shekel and so forth, their part of the shekel annually. We're going to do these things. God, we're going to keep Your law. God, we're going to keep Your Sabbaths and all." Didn't take them long to fall away from that commitment.

Isn't it interesting how quickly we can turn away from the vows that we have made to God? How easily we can break vows? Now the vows are really made in sincerity. Oh, how many vows I have broken! Growing up as a child, wanting to be better, wanting to be good, wanting to do the right thing. "Oh God, I'm going to pray everyday this week. Oh God, I'm going to live for You this week. Oh God, I'm just going to serve You." And then it doesn't come. It doesn't happen. And the following Sunday night I feel so guilty I'd have to get saved again. And then I'd say, "Oh God, this week is going to be different. Lord, I'm going to really serve You this week." And I would mean it. I was sincere.

As Jesus said to Peter, "The spirit indeed is willing" ( Matthew 26:41 ). And that was so true. My spirit was willing. I loved the Lord. I wanted to serve the Lord. But my flesh was weak. The will to do was with me, but how to perform I could not find. I desired to serve God and with my heart I did serve the Lord. But with my mind, when my flesh, I just couldn't bring it in. The flesh was weak. But yet in my heart, in my mind, I loved God and I wanted to serve God. And I made so many promises. And I was just like the children of Israel. Making the promises. And, "Lord, we're going to do it. We're going to sign. Here we are."

And I even signed covenants. Every summer camp we had covenant signing up there. I'm going to live a victorious life for Jesus Christ all year long. I'll never drink. I'll never smoke. I'll never go to the devil's places, the whole thing. And standing around the campfire, tears flowing down my face. "God, this year I'm going to serve You." The will was there. The desire was there. The problem came in the performance. How to perform. How to do. Oh how I thank God for the day in which I discovered the grace of God. And that the blessings of God upon my life were not predicated upon my faithfulness to my promises or vows. But the blessings of God upon my life were bestowed because He is a God of grace, full of mercy.

And I began to experience then the work of God in my life, His grace, His mercy. Don't make promises anymore. I found out making promises to God really wasn't to trust in His grace, but it was to trust in my flesh. I always thought I could do better. And every vow that I made was expressing to God some confidence in my flesh. "Lord, I'm going to do this for You." And I meant it. But my flesh is weak. I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there doesn't dwell a single good thing.

So I do not challenge the sincerity of these people when they signed this covenant. "God, we're going to serve You and all." But Nehemiah the leader goes and soon the people are back to their old tricks. They are not paying, and thus, the Levites had to all go back out into their fields. They all had to go back and get their jobs again. They had to go to work. And thus, the temple worship was forsaken.

So Nehemiah said,

I contended with the rulers, and I said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all of Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries ( Nehemiah 13:11-13 ),

He names those that he made as treasurers.

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 offices thereof. In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading their wine presses on the sabbath day, and they were bringing in the sheaves, and they were loading down their donkeys; and also their wine, and their grapes, and their 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 these victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of goods, and they sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:14-16 ).

Now they had said earlier, "Lord, we're not going to buy on the Sabbath and all. We're going to keep Your Sabbath." Here they violated that.

So I contended with the nobles of Judah, and I said unto them, What evil thing is this that you do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do likewise, and God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet they bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that they should allow no burdens to be brought in on the sabbath day ( Nehemiah 13:17-19 ).

So Nehemiah, to correct this violation of the Sabbath, ordered in the evening before the Sabbath began, close and lock the gates. And don't unlock them until the Sabbath is over. Stop the trafficking on the Sabbath day.

Now it is interesting that the Jews actually start closing down on Friday afternoon about two o'clock for the Sabbath, just as Nehemiah established. Before it gets dark, they start taking off now for their Sabbath. About two o'clock in the afternoon they close their shops and also that everything is over. By the time the sun goes down, the family is all gathered in the home and the mother offers her little prayer. She lights the Sabbath candle and they begin then their Sabbath worship. Also there are some areas of Jerusalem where they're seeking to enforce the Sabbath and they don't want any cars driven through their area on the Sabbath day. And so they put barricades up in front of some of the streets. So that there are some streets in Jerusalem where you can't even drive a car on the Sabbath day.

And then there are boys who have their piles of stones. And if you decide that you're going to drive a car there anyhow, you'll find your car stoned on the Sabbath day. Now that's a violation of the Sabbath day to bear a burden, hurl a stone, but they feel righteous in doing it, and they actually stone the cars that would drive through their neighborhoods on the Sabbath day.

Now Nehemiah was forcing the Sabbath. He said, "Close the gates! In the evening before it gets dark go ahead and lock the gates and don't open them up until the Sabbath is over."

So some of the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares were lodged outside of Jerusalem [for a couple of weeks] once and then twice. So I testified against them, and I said unto them, Why are you lodging about the wall? if you do this again, I'm going to lay hands on you. From that time forth they did not come anymore on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy ( Nehemiah 13:20-22 ).

Lord, remember my good deeds.

In those days also I saw Jews that had married wives from Ashdod, and Ammon, and Moab: and the children spoke half the speech of Ashdod, and they could not speak the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and I smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons, or for yourselves ( Nehemiah 13:23-25 ).

So Nehemiah's really straightening things out. Pulling out their hair, cursing them and, of course, going back they entered into a curse. "We're not going to do this." And they said, "Let us be cursed if we do this thing." And they made their vows and said let us be cursed if we violate this, back a couple of chapters. And now they have violated, so he curses them. Because they said let us be cursed if we do it. So he went ahead and cursed them and plucked off their hair and smote them. He's tough. He said,

Did not Solomon the king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin ( Nehemiah 13:26 ).

So one of the greatest problems is outlandish women. And even a guy as wise as Solomon and loved as Solomon was, outlandish women were his downfall. You know, there is something here. Solomon had quite a bit to say about it in the book of Proverbs concerning that woman who flatters with her lips, winks with her eyes. Says, "Come, my husband is on a journey. My bed is all perfumed." He said, "Don't go into her house for it is the gate of hell." Many strong men are destroyed. Solomon was speaking perhaps out of personal experience. As wise as he was, as blessed of God as he was, yet outlandish women. His downfall was women, actually. And it was a curse and it was his downfall. It caused his downfall.

So Nehemiah is reminding them. "Look, you guys, you can't handle. A guy as wise as Solomon was destroyed by outlandish women and you're going to be destroyed, too."

Shall we then hearken unto you and do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat ( Nehemiah 13:27-28 ):

Now Sanballat was the other guy. Tobiah was one, Sanballat was the other that gave Nehemiah a bad time.

therefore I chased him out of there. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. Thus I cleansed them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; and for the wood offering, and for the times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good ( Nehemiah 13:28-31 ).

So the story of Nehemiah; very remarkable person, very honorable person. I like him. I like his spirit. I like his spunk. I like his dedication to God, his commitment. It would be fun meeting him. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/nehemiah-13.html. 2014.
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