Nehemiah 13:6-7. In the thirty second year of Artaxerxes. Having been governor in Jerusalem twelve years, Nehemiah returned to the king, at Babylon; and after a residence of about twelve months at the Persian court, he again came to Jerusalem. See note on Nehemiah 2:6. And what was his mortification, to find Tobiah, the great enemy of the Jews, possessing a princely chamber in the temple. Yea, and Eliashib the highpriest, married to Tobiah’s daughter. Yea, and Eliashib’s son married to Sanballat’s daughter! Fine times while Nehemiah was absent. The highpriest defiled, and his son, who was perhaps the sagon or second priest, equally defiled. How was atonement to be made for the nation? What did our glorious reformer do? Having formerly acted like a hero in building the walls, he now acted like a prince in throwing the goods of Tobiah out of the window, and plucking the mitre from the head of the polluted priest.
Nehemiah 13:10. The levites—were fled every one to his field. What can ministers do in evil times, when tithes are withheld, and bread denied, but go to schools and fields for bread. Then the overgrowing wickedness of the land, which has robbed the priests of bread, will rob the nobles of their estates.
Nehemiah 13:15. Burdens which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day, making the holy city like our Sunday-morning markets. Mons. Neckar, formerly financier of France, says, the poor have always been oppressed; and if the sabbath should come to be lost, they will then have to work seven days a week as hard as they now work six, and still be as poor. Sir Andrew Agnew, in April 1834, lost his bill for the better observance of the sabbath by a majority of thirty six. Let us devoutly pray that the efforts of God’s people may yet be crowned with success.
Nehemiah 13:19. I commanded that the gates should be shut, an hour after sunset, and not opened till the sun had set the next day. Before that, the Jews could have walked one thousand nine hundred paces from the gate, that is, a sabbath day’s journey.
We hail the return of this venerable man from Babylon. His presence revived the church, as rain after a long and parching drought. But how dangerous to be married to the families of Sanballat, and Tobiah! How dishonourable to the servants of God, how uncomfortable to themselves, how injurious to their children, who were likely to learn the language of Ashdod, profane and sinful discourse. No advantages in external circumstances will make such a choice a wise one, where there are not the apparent marks of true religion.
Those who have the interests of religion at heart, will be concerned that God’s ministers may have a comfortable maintenance. No wonder the house of God was forsaken, and his services poorly performed, when the provision of the priests was withheld. It was time for the levites to go to their farms, and pursue any secular employments, when they must starve at Jerusalem. It is the will of Christ that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel. A scandalous maintenance will often make a scandalous minister; and if ministers have any ingenuousness and gratitude, the more cheerfully their salaries are paid, the better their work will be done.
The profanation of the sabbath is a great and growing evil, and it becomes every wise and good man to labour to redress it. No wonder Nehemiah’s righteous soul was grieved, when he saw the sabbath profaned, and made a day of trade and merchandise. It was no wonder that the people of Tyre should be bad; but this is not what the Israel of God, who were just come out of captivity, should have been. We are bound by this law; and those who follow their callings, or as it is expressed in Nehemiah 13:17, sell victuals on the sabbath day, are, I apprehend, criminal, and offend both against the laws of God and our country. The power of religion will always decline where sabbath sanctification is neglected.
Those who desire to promote reformation, should be zealous and resolute, and not be discouraged, though but few should join them, and they should meet with much opposition. Nehemiah had great difficulties to encounter; not only the men of Tyre, whose gain would be lost, but the people of Israel, yea priests and nobles; and yet having both reason and the law of God on his side, he set his face like a flint, and all opposition fell before him. His zeal should enkindle ours, and his success animate our hopes. Vice, if resolutely opposed, is weak; and if we boldly appear on the Lord’s side, he will prosper us; at least we shall have the satisfaction of having done our duty, and our peace will return into our own bosoms.
Deeds done for the house of God, and the officers and ordinances thereof, are good deeds, and such as he will accept and reward. We should contribute cheerfully towards the building of suitable places of worship, to the support of God’s ministers, which are designed to restrain vice, and encourage virtue and piety. We may reflect on these things with pleasure. God records them in the book of his remembrance; and he is not unrighteous to forget any work or labour of love.
Whatever we do for God and religion, let us remember that we are still unprofitable servants. Nehemiah’s humility is as remarkable as his piety and zeal. He pleads no merit; he prays God to remember him, and to remember him for good; to spare him according to the greatness of his mercy. Let us likewise keep up the remembrance of our sinful defects, and our need of God’s abundant mercy. It is he that inclines us to do good, assists and succeeds us in it. To him then let us give the glory, and humbly hope for our reward from the riches of his mercy; always saying with the humble apostle, concerning any thing we do for the service of God, not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany