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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 13

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-3


Nehemiah 12 would have been a nice ending of the book. However, it would not have been a correct and fair ending. In the chapter before us it becomes clear that on earth perfection is not reached. In spite of the dedication of the wall with the good things that are present with the people, not everything is good. In this chapter we learn that discipline is necessary to preserve the holiness of the city. Nehemiah exercises personal discipline. That is not possible now. Discipline is the responsibility of the entire local church (Matthew 18:15-Proverbs :).

Here we see a great contrast between Nehemiah’s commendable zeal in discovering and acting with various forms of deviation, and the constant tendency of the people to deviate from obedience to God. In a sense, this second task that he has before him, is more demanding than the first, the rebuilding of the wall. It is about moral aberrations, about inner unfaithfulness.

A deviation has two characters. On the one hand, there is the truth of separation that is maintained unilaterally. Then the position is everything, while the situation is neglected. The result is Pharisaism: doctrinal correctness in main points, but in practice cold, tight and heartless. We find there a glory in separation, but also a denial of the more important things of true Godliness and Divine charity.

On the other hand, there is an over-sensitivity to everything that smells of purity. Every remark about purity is received with amplification. The reaction of the masses of the people to this is indifference and carelessness. As a result, there is room for idolatry and the people become as ungodly as their fathers who were deported for that reason.

This chapter contains the warning never to detach condition from position, never to detach godliness from grace toward people in need.

Separation on the Basis of the Word

The Israelites return to the first principles. What they have read several times in Deuteronomy 23 about the Ammonite and Moabite, they now apply (Deuteronomy 23:3-Numbers :). Not only the Word is needed, also the Spirit is needed to make the Word alive for us. Mixed principles are rejected. The mixing is not with the world, the unbelievers, but with relatives, those who claim a connection with God’s people, but do not belong to them.

With God the defamation that has been done to His people will not be time-barred. Time has not changed the sin and the character of those people. The attitude of these peoples towards God’s people is twofold. They do not do something and they do something. They do not give bread and water, but they do everything possible to bring a curse on God’s people. This is how the Christian world acts, by those who profess to be God’s people, but have no life out of God. They do not give the people of God food and refreshment. Instead, they will try to put a curse on God’s people.

As soon as the people have heard the law, they will act accordingly. There is direct obedience. That is often lacking today. When God says something clearly, man begins to reason. Man must first understand the reasonableness of something if he is to obey it. That is not the way it works here in Israel and it is not the way it works in everyone who trembles before God’s Word. There are also those who read the Word, but then react like the Roman governor Felix who says to Paul: “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you” (Acts 24:25). These are those indecisive people. For a moment they are impressed, but they do not make a decision.

It is a trick of the enemy to let God’s people mingle with those who have no life out of God. This takes away the power of the people. Those who do not belong to God’s people, but are nevertheless accepted into them, bring with them a way of thinking and acting that is contrary to God’s will. This has a negative effect on the people of God. Then there must be broader thinking and action against evil is out of the question. Where these elements occur, strong action must be taken against them. That happens here.

Verses 4-9

An Enemy Removed from the House of God

Another evil is discovered, this time when Nehemiah is back in Jerusalem. He returned to the court of the king of Persia after the dedication of the wall, and there he will again have practiced his ancient profession of cupbearer. When he has done this for some time, he asks permission again to go to Jerusalem. The situations he encounters then lead him to take firm action against the prevailing wrongs of various kinds.

By the way, he only acts when the evil is confirmed. His action seems harsh. Nehemiah’s action, however, is not hard; sin is hard and bitter. Nehemiah’s harsh action is like Paul’s harsh action against false brethren, because they undermined the truth of the gospel, and against Peter, because he and Barnabas were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, (Galatians 2:4-Deuteronomy :; Galatians 2:11-2 Chronicles :).

The first evil he notices concerns a man who, because of his high position, enjoys prestige among the people. It concerns the high priest Eliashib (Nehemiah 13:4; Nehemiah 13:28; Nehemiah 3:1). However, an official status among the people of God is no guarantee not to go astray. Eliashib manages to defile the house of God by giving a room to an enemy of God’s people, the Ammonite Tobiah. He has prepared a large room for the great adversary of God’s work. This seems generous, while Nehemiah’s performance could be considered scary. But with Eliashib we see the generosity of the flesh, while what Nehemiah does is entirely in accordance with the thoughts of God.

The room where Tobiah has taken up residence, is a room where everything that is important for the service in the house of God has been stored before. Previously, the people have committed themselves to make sure that there will be no lack of it (Nehemiah 10:32-Malachi :). They have solemnly declared not to leave the house of their God to its fate.

We are now twelve years later. The room is empty in terms of the means by which the service in God’s house can proceed. Instead, the enemy has been offered this room to live there. If our lives are not filled with service to God, the devil will use our lives to serve his purpose. Our lives will then contribute to the destruction of service to God.

Nehemiah is not the man to bypass evil and pretend not to see it. When he sees what happened, he is not going to kindly ask Eliashib to remove Tobiah from the temple. He becomes angry and takes all of Tobiah’s things and throws them out of the temple. This is an anger that rightly comes over sin that occurs unpunished in God’s house. Every God-fearing person rebels against such insolence. Eliashib’s behavior is so contrary to God’s holiness, that any slowness to act against it must be considered sin.

It is not the presence of evil that destroys the character of the Lord’s Table, but the refusal to judge it. The most terrible evil is no reason to stay away from the Lord’s Table. It evokes the obligation to do everything to remove evil. In the church it is not a matter that can be dealt with by one person. God wants the church to act as a whole. When Paul has heard of the terrible evil found in the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1), he does not write that they are no longer a church of God now, but that they must remove the evil.

Tobiah, the man of whom Nehemiah has said that he has no portion in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:20), was given a room in the house of God during his absence. This was only possible because of inattention on the part of the gatekeepers.

What ‘Tobiah’ have we given room in our hearts, because ‘Nehemiah’ has been absent from us for a time? Who or what is central to our lives, if it is not (anymore) the Lord Jesus and His interests? Which of Tobiah’s household goods has entered the temple of our lives and driven out the Holy Spirit as far as His activity is concerned? Many Christians afford powers to influence their lives that only the Holy Spirit should have.

We should throw out Tobiah and all of his household goods without pardon. What is in our bookcase, what magazines do we read, what movies do we watch, what do we look for on the world wide web, what music do we listen to? Do we have to throw something out of our collection? What place does the wardrobe occupy in our thinking? There must be room for God and the service to Him!

Nehemiah is not at all impressed by Eliashib’s high place. On the contrary, it requires all the more incisive action and public punishment (cf. Galatians 2:11-2 Chronicles :; 1 Timothy 5:20). He does not apologize either. He acts in a way that we see later with the Lord Jesus when He cleanses the temple (John 2:14-Nehemiah :).

The rooms are defiled by the habitation of Tobiah. Therefore, they must first be cleansed before anything can be brought back into them that is for the glory of God. If we have allowed things into our lives or into the church, it is not enough to remove them. The removal must be done with a confession that it has been made possible by our inattention. We will have to dedicate ourselves again to the Lord, in the knowledge that there is no guarantee in us that it will not happen again.

Verses 10-13

The Levites Forgotten

The evil of an enemy in the house of God is not an isolated thing. Nehemiah learns that Tobiah has been able to get a room there because it is empty. This is the result of the failure of the people to bring there what is for the maintenance of the Levites. And once the enemy dwells there, what originally belonged in it no longer comes into it. Where the enemy is admitted into the house of God, the servants of God are neglected.

Nehemiah observes that the Levites no longer care for God’s house. Because they are no longer cared for, they feel compelled to work for their own sustenance. This is at the expense of the work of God. The workers then no longer receive the contributions they need to perform their service. When other interests come into play, this attitude of God is no longer considered. The Corinthians must also be reminded of this matter (2 Corinthians 8:11).

Nehemiah addresses the leaders of the people with a penetrating question. The character and dedication of leaders is often reflected in the attitudes and actions of the people. This gives leaders a great responsibility. Without, so it seems, waiting for an answer, Nehemiah takes measures. He brings the Levites together and reminds them of the task assigned to them. They must resume their service in the house of God.

The question of Nehemiah 13:11 is related to what they promised in Nehemiah 10 (Nehemiah 10:39). What was promised there is not done. Only the Lord Jesus never forgot the house of God or left it to his fate. The zeal for it has consumed Him (John 2:17). Love for Him will also mean love for the house of God. Love for God’s house is a measure of our love for God.

Everything that does not belong in God’s house has been thrown out by Nehemiah. Thus the return of the Levites and the things that do belong in it will be replaced. He will make sure that the Levites will be provided for again and that they will be able to perform their task with respect to the house of God. Nehemiah also ensures that only reliable men perform the task of division (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:18-Ecclesiastes :).

Being reliable is one of the most valuable characteristics of a believer. It is a characteristic that every believer can adorn and toward which he can aspire. Being reliable does not mean being flawless, but being mindful of what is fair and just in everything we do. The believer is not judged by the size of his gift or effort, but whether he has faithfully done what the Lord has commanded him to do (1 Corinthians 4:2). Especially when it comes to money, someone must be unquestionably trustworthy, faithful.

Verse 14

Prayer of Nehemiah

Nehemiah turns to God because only He can perfectly appreciate and reward what he has done for His house. He does not ask for reward. He knows Himself to be a slave who has only done what He ought to do (Luke 17:10). But he also knows that God is not unjust to forget what has been done for Him (Hebrews 6:10).

Nehemiah is only concerned that he submits his work to God for judgment and that he can say that he has been busy out of love for God’s house. Therefore, he can ask Him not to blot out his work. He knows that he has been busy in agreement with God. Yet he does not boast of this, but humbly asks God to keep what he has done for Him.

In the same way, we too may recommend our works to the Lord and ask Him to confirm the works of our hands (Psalms 90:17). If we cannot go to Him in sincerity with all that we have done, we have not been working for Him. We have to confess that and then we can go back to Him and work with Him and for Him.

Verses 15-22

The Sanctification of the Sabbath Restored

If the house of God is neglected, the sabbath is secularized. Instead of being consecrated to the LORD, it is used for satisfying one’s own pleasures, and thus degraded to an ordinary day. The people have forgotten what they promised in Nehemiah 10 (Nehemiah 10:31).

While Nehemiah is in the process of making everything right again for the service in the house of God, he sees the sabbath being profaned. He warns the traders. Then he approaches the nobles and talks to them about these evil practices. There is nothing against trade, as long as it is not on the sabbath. He points out that it is for this very reason that God has brought disaster upon the people (Jeremiah 17:21-Daniel :). Then he takes measures to stop this evil work by having his servants posted at the gates.

When he sees that there are traders who spend the sabbath just outside Jerusalem to enter as soon as the gates open, he takes action against them as well. He knows what an impact it has if the evil that has been removed is near. The traders might indeed not be able to bring the Jews to violate the sabbath commandment, but the Jews would be reminded of it all the time. Their minds would be filled with the things they could do tomorrow, with the profits they would gain. God would be driven out of their minds. To deal with this evil, he has Levites guarding the gates in addition to his servants.

Before the Levites guard the gates, they must first cleanse themselves. In order to guard the gates, there must be nothing with them that would prevent them from doing their duty properly. Similarly, we, too, can only keep imminent evil at a distance if we have removed from our lives what may be a connecting factor to the evil we must stop.

The sabbath commandment is a commandment that like no other commandment asks every Israelite for simple obedience. The reasonableness of any other commandment can be seen after contemplation because it governs the relationship between God and people and between people. The sabbath commandment is given because God wants the sabbath to be held. Surely in doing so He has the welfare of man in mind. But fallen man considers especially the sabbath commandment to be something difficult. The sabbath is the clearest test of obedience to man under the law.

The Christian does not live “under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Therefore, he is not under the sabbath commandment. He stands in the freedom of Christ in heaven. Every Christian who truly understands this will not be living a loose life. His life is subject to Christ. The norm of his life is not the law, but Christ. He is interested in everything Christ is interested in. Christ’s interest is particularly in the house of God, the church.

For the church it is not the sabbath, but Sunday that is the special day of the week. This does not mean that what applies to the sabbath in Israel applies to Sunday in Christendom. It is a day that is in a special way of the Lord. A remarkable connection in the use of words in two biblical texts clearly indicates this. We read of “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Supper of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:20) and of “the day of the Lord” (Revelation 1:10). I quote the footnote that the TELOS translation puts in Revelation 1:10: “In the Gr. there is an adjective derived from ‘Lord’ (i.e. different from e.g. in 1 Thessalonians 5:2), in the sense of belonging to the Lord. The word is further only found in 1 Corinthians 11:20.

These two Scriptures show how much the Supper of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord, celebrated by the congregation, is connected with the day of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord. It is clear that the day of the Lord is no other than the first day of the week, Sunday. There are several indications in Scripture that the first day of the week is the day of the meeting of the church (Mark 16:2; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:13; Luke 24:33-Ephesians :; John 20:19-Joel :; Acts 2:1; Acts 20:7). And if it is a day that belongs especially to the Lord, there is every reason to spend that day as such.

In this spending, the Lord gives us complete freedom – except that He says to us to “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25). Any thought of acting under the pressure of a law is foreign to the freedom in which the Christian stands. If, however, the interest in God’s house diminishes, the day of the Lord also becomes more and more a day in which one’s own pleasures are satisfied. We may still visit the church, but for the rest we hang out in front of the TV, surf the Internet endlessly, go out and do all kinds of things, but without dedicating ourselves to the service of our Lord.

Hanging out in front of the TV is not an activity (well, activity …) that is a Christian’s honor. A Christian is expected to live consciously for the Lord every day of his life. But if Scripture itself marks a day especially as ‘His’ day, it is surely a call to dedicate ourselves to His house on that day. On that day we can, for example, concentrate a little more on fellowship with our fellow believers.

It is good to have a day on which we, as far as possible, distance ourselves from things that we, by order of the Lord, have to concern ourselves with on the other days of the week. It is just like the Lord’s Supper. We will, if it is good, be occupied with His death every day. After all, we owe everything to Him. But how good it is to have a special opportunity to think about His death, to remember it, when we come together for that purpose as a church.

After Nehemiah has again given the sabbath its rightful place among the people, consecrated this day anew to God, he again speaks out for God (Nehemiah 13:22). He does this every time he has done a work. He asks if God will remember him with regard to what he has done for the maintenance of the sabbath. Last time he asked this concerning what he has done for God’s house. He places each work separately before God’s face.

He asks if God will have compassion on him. After his resolute performance there may have been a feeling of exhaustion. It takes a lot of effort to show God’s people the right way and to correct what is wrong. As long as the effort has to be made, there is strength. But when the work is done, you can feel very tired. We may say that to the Lord.

We also feel that our actions, no matter how powerful they may be, are still carried out in great weakness. Then, like Nehemiah, we may call upon God’s great lovingkindness. He knows who we are, He knows us through and through, for He has made us. To remember that gives courage to go on. That’s what Nehemiah does.

Verses 23-28

The Evil of Mixed Marriages

Nehemiah perceives a new evil. Things don’t go well in the families of the Judeans. He notices that from the speech of the children of those families. He speaks to the Judeans about it and becomes so angry that he curses them, strikes some of them and pulls out their hair and makes them swear by God that they will not continue with this sin. His fierce reaction shows how great this evil is.

Nehemiah points the company to Solomon. With all due respect to King Solomon, but he too has sinned greatly in this (1 Kings 11:1-Ruth :). The fact that he is especially privileged by God has not saved him from this great evil. God does not conceal evil, not even from those closest to Him. By quoting Solomon as an example, Nehemiah shows that a privileged position is not a license for sin. It is precisely the evil that privileged people do that God will punish, because they should know better (Amos 3:2).

Nehemiah points to Solomon without regard for persons. Without distinction Nehemiah deals with the family of the high priest Eliashib. What began with the preparing of a large room for Tobiah (Nehemiah 13:3-Numbers :) ends in a marriage between the grandson of the high priest and the daughter of the enemy of God’s work (Nehemiah 2:10). And just as Nehemiah has thrown Tobiah out of God’s house with all his things (Nehemiah 13:8), so he drives away the man who made this horrible connection.

We are dealing here with a priest. He has violated a clear precept. What applies to the whole people, that he may only marry one of his people, definitely applies to a priest (Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14). He is someone with an exemplary function. If such a person goes wrong, he may under no circumstances remain in his position, but must be acted upon according to the example set by Nehemiah.

If the real interest in God’s house diminishes, friendships with the world take their place. We may ask ourselves: Which ‘daughter of Sanballat’ has captured our love and robbed our hearts of our faithfulness to the Lord? Which ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’ has drawn us away from the Lord? Which ‘Delilah’ has taken away our spiritual strength (Judges 16:16-Ecclesiastes :)?

We learn important lessons from the wrong commitments made by the children of families who belong to God’s people. We see a commitment to the world reflected in the language our children speak. The mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8) has an important place in the child’s development. A child expresses itself as it learns from its mother. Nehemiah hears a mix of the language of Judea and language of Ashdod, in which the language of Ashdod predominates.

The language of Ashdod is the language spoken in Ashdod, a Philistine city under God’s judgment (Jeremiah 25:20). Philistines are a picture of confessors of Christendom, but without having new life. They are those Christians who occasionally produce a biblical sound, but who do not submit their lives to the will of God (2 Timothy 3:5). They live for here and now. Space is only given to God and His Word in so far as they can use it to impress and profit.

The popularity of the (Dutch) New Bible Translation is a topical and disconcerting example of this. This book was launched on the market with a media spectacle that has never been shown before around the presentation of a Bible translation (2010). Everything breathes a worldly way of thinking and doing, while people say they want to promote the Word of God.

Who raises our children? Do we do this ourselves, by means of and subject to God’s Word? Someone wrote: We are dealing with a first generation raised not by a mother and father, but by the media. Shall we allow the media to raise our children? Do you honestly face the following questions: Does your child know the SMS-language, twitter-language, street-language and sports terms better than the language and terms of the Bible? Does your child know the songs of the world better than the songs of God’s children?

If you have to answer (one of) these questions with ‘yes’, it is high time to change this. Don’t you feel able to do this? Ask for help! But don’t let that situation continue. Call with all your strength to God for help. Confess your failure to Him and to your children. Then He will surely show the way out. Share your need with others. Seek prayer partners to fight with you in the prayers for your children and also those of others.

The alarm bell must be sounded. No more time must be wasted. Every second counts. It’s about the families of God’s children. Parents lose contact with their children. They seem to have to watch powerlessly as their children get stuck in the world wide web. I don’t mean to say that you should know as much about the Internet as your child does. The question is what your contact with God is like. It doesn’t get out of His control.

Put your trust in Him again and be prepared to follow His instructions with all your heart. He says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psalms 32:8). We may take an example from Ezra and be encouraged by it: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. … So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty” (Ezra 8:21; Ezra 8:23).

Let us respond to the call of Jeremiah:
“Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones” (Lamentations 2:19).

Verse 29

Prayer of Nehemiah

After his powerful action against the wrong alliances, Nehemiah addresses God again. He brings the evil of especially the priests before God. He explains to God, as it were, why he was so angry. It is unacceptable to him that God is approached by a priesthood that does not correspond to God’s holiness.

What goes wrong in the families of God’s children has great consequences for the priesthood. And where the priesthood is defiled, God is robbed of what is rightfully His (cf. Joel 1:13). Believers who live in connection with the world cannot properly perform their ministry as priests and Levites. If such people do want to approach God, God is not taken seriously. Does that also give us a feeling of indignation? How do we feel when people do not take us seriously?

Verses 30-31

Purification and Restoration and Final Prayer

Nehemiah is not just busy with getting rid of the wrong. Surely this is necessary, but then it is necessary to fill the vacant space with the good. Nehemiah purifies the Levites. In this he is a picture of the Lord Jesus (Malachi 3:3). Then he appoints each one in the task that is to be performed.

Criticism of certain things in the church can be justified and necessary. But it should never happen from the sidelines. Real commitment to the things that are not good will manifest itself in a commitment to follow God’s instructions again.

These last acts we read of Nehemiah have to do with the service in the house of God. He makes sure that priests and Levites can do the work that can be expected of them again. In veiled terms he involves the whole people, for he also arranges the supply of wood (Nehemiah 10:34) and the first fruits (Nehemiah 10:35-Haggai :). He knows that the result is for the glory of God. As far as the acts of Nehemiah are concerned, this is a beautiful and fitting ending of this book. He has done it all for that.

We see Nehemiah working to the very end to motivate others to do the work according to their position and competence. Such motivating people are needed today as well. The motive for his service is to serve and please his God. He has set a vivid example of leadership as God desires.

The book ends with a prayer from Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:31). The book also begins with a praying Nehemiah. In this fascinating book we have read the memoirs of this active man of God. Now he asks if God wants to remember him. This is not pride, but humility. He commends his work to God. He gives it to Him to judge and trusts in His goodness. Nehemiah must have it from God, from God’s thinking, for God’s thinking is doing.

Nehemiah has shown that his life’s work could only take place under constant prayer. He prayed and built the wall and people’s lives. He has also prayed while building for all kinds of people and things. He prays, while building, and builds, while praying. Therefore the Lord Jesus tell His disciples, and us, that “at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Nehemiah 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/nehemiah-13.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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