Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Nehemiah 13

Verses 1-31

IN SPITE OF these good features, marking the dedication of the wall things were not perfect. On that day they again read in the 'book of Moses', and found what had been written concerning their separation from the Ammonite and Moabite, in Deuteronomy 23:1-25. This led to a fresh concern as to the way they had failed in obedience, and a fresh separation from 'the mixed multitude', and further discovery of how, amongst leaders in their very midst, this instruction had been ignored.

Eliashib, mentioned in verse Nehemiah 13:4, was, as we have seen, a grandson of Jeshua the high priest, and was himself the high priest, as stated in verse Nehemiah 13:28 of this last chapter. So here, in what we may call the headquarters of their religion, was a flagrant violation of their law, for he had entered into alliance with Tobiah, one of the chief opponents of the work of God, and had prepared him a chamber in the precincts of the temple, just where the offerings and other treasures were stored. His dwelling there is even described as 'a great chamber'. If the visible head of their religious system thus transgressed, what could be expected of the common people?

How this came to pass is explained to us in verse Nehemiah 13:6. Twelve years had now passed since Nehemiah came to Jerusalem with authority to rebuild the city, and he had gone back to Artaxerxes, who had made him the civil governor; hence he was absent from Jerusalem for some time. Having, however, obtained leave of the king to go back, this was the situation that confronted him. It grieved him much and he acted at once, casting out Tobiah's stuff, cleansing the chamber, and restoring it to its proper use. But what a tragedy was this! Here was a man, who was no priest, having to rebuke and reverse the action of the man, who was 'the high priest'! This tragedy has, sad to say, often been repeated in the history of the church. There is no guarantee of purity and of obedience to the will of God in officialism. Again and again God has raised up men in low office, or even outside office altogether, to bring about some revival of obedience to His revealed will.

Nehemiah having returned, this incident as to Eliashib evidently stirred him to investigate other matters, and the rest of the chapter gives in detail the painful discoveries that he made. These wrongs and departures from the law are grouped under three main heads. There was first, slackness in providing for the upkeep of the Levites and the singers, and the upkeep of the house of God generally. The people did not want the expense and bother of bringing in their tithes in regular fashion. Second, there were grave and open infractions of the law regarding the sabbath. The people were breaking it themselves and permitting 'men of Tyre' and others to trade with them, even in Jerusalem itself: very convenient, no doubt; but flagrantly breaking the law. Then third, there was this repeated tendency to marry heathen wives asserting itself, so soon after a reformation on this point. And this time even more flagrant, for 'wives of Ashdod', a Philistine city, were in question as well as of Ammon and Moab.

In this last sin the priestly family was again prominent, as we see in verse 28. The unnamed son of Joiada, grandson of Eliashib, was a great-great-grandson of that Jeshua the high priest, concerning whom Zechariah the prophet had the remarkable vision, which he recorded in his prophecy: Zechariah 3:1-10. If that chapter be read, we see that a promise was made to him, 'if thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My charge'. Whatever the said Joshua (or, Jeshua) did, it is very certain that his descendants and successors neither walked in the ways of God, nor kept His charge. Nehemiah saw this and as to this son of Joiada, he 'chased him from me'.

We may learn the further lesson that departure from the will and way of God is what we may call, an infectious matter. The chapter begins with Eliashib striking up an alliance with Tobiah the Ammonite and it ends with his grandson making an even more intimate alliance, by marriage, to a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, who was an even more prominent adversary; since Tobiah is introduced as 'the servant', in Nehemiah 2:10. If departure from God and His word starts as only a trickle, it may soon become a torrent. May this also have the effect of making us 'wise unto salvation'.

Finally let us observe that just as Nehemiah has to record the three grave departures that brought him into violent conflict with many, as he rectified what was wrong, so three times does he call upon God to remember him for good, according to the greatness of His mercy. He did indeed speak of his 'good deeds', yet acknowledge that he relied upon 'mercy' rather than reward. See verses Nehemiah 13:14, Nehemiah 13:22, Nehemiah 13:31.

Our first impression might be that he was somewhat self-centred, or self-satisfied: but our second thought would rather be, that he was acutely conscious that his strong action to maintain the law of God had brought him into unpopularity and under censure from many. The martyr Stephen said. 'Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?' (Acts 7:52). They had persecuted them all, and Nehemiah, though not a prophet, uttering words of censure, had committed many acts of censure, which would have brought on his head more obloquy than words would ever have done.

Nehemiah's whole commission from God involved controversy, not only from without, but also, and perhaps more bitterly, from within. He was conscious that, if remembered for good of his God, all earthly disparagement would count for little.

Does faithfulness to God involve us today in condemnation from the world, or even worldly believers? Let us then, only aim at being remembered for 'good', when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.