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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Nehemiah 13

The Worship in the Temple (12:44-13:3)

This short section includes two matters. The first is the description of the service of the Levites and especially of the various measures for the popular support of Temple worship, "On that day" is not meant to identify this material with the immediately preceding day of dedication; rather it is a general expression for an indeterminate time. The rather strange term "according to the fields of the towns" may refer to the manner or the order of collecting the means of support. The mention of Nehemiah indicates that here the editor was not using the memoir of Nehemiah as his source. His purpose seems to have been to draw a picture of ideal worship in an ideal community.

This same ideal character carries over into the second part (Nehemiah 13:1-3), where the purity of the religious community is stressed ("the assembly of God" probably refers to the actual religious services). The story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22-24, although the law which was "read from the book of Moses" must have been Deuteronomy 23:3.

Verses 4-31

NEHEMIAITS SECOND VISIT TO JERUSALEM

Nehemiah 13:4-31

The remainder of the Book of Nehemiah is concerned with a series of religious reforms instituted by Nehemiah on a second visit to Jerusalem after a stay of some time in Persia. Once again the source was Nehemiah’s memoir, as the use of the first person pronoun indicates.

In verse 4 the expression "now before this" indicates that the personal history of Nehemiah is interrupted somewhat suddenly and that "this" is not the incident of 13:1-3 but some incident of the original story, left out by the editor.

There are four main parts of the reforms Nehemiah secured: a purification of the Temple (vss. 4-9), a restitution of support to the Levites (vss. 10-14), a restoration of the Sabbath (vss. 15-22), and a new prohibition against mixed marriages (vss. 23-29).

The first was occasioned by the act of Eliashib (who may have been the same "high priest" mentioned in 13:28 or another, lesser priest) in giving Nehemiah’s ancient enemy Tobiah "a large chamber," either for his personal use or as a repository for his goods. Tobiah (see 2:19; 4:3, 7-8; 6:1) was related by marriage to Eliashib but was also an Ammonite (2:10), and hence was excluded from the Temple (Nehemiah 13:1). The account of Nehemiah’s expulsion of Tobiah on his return to Jerusalem is broken by verse 6, which explains by Nehemiah’s absence the fact that such a situation could have developed. The date, "the thirty-second year of Ar-ta-xerxes," would be the twelfth year since Nehemiah’s first visit; this date is usually taken as the time of the second visit, allowing twelve years for the first visit and a stay in Persia.

On his second visit Nehemiah found another situation calling for amendment. Although the people had agreed in the solemn covenant to support the Temple personnel (Nehemiah 10:37-39), the pledge either had never been fulfilled or had been allowed to lapse. The measures Nehemiah took to deal with the situation and his typical prayer appear in verses 10-14.

In similar fashion verses 15-22 detail the protests Nehemiah made against the breaches of Sabbath observance he found and the practical means he initiated to secure more faithful keeping of the Sabbath. The difficulty of the problem arose from the fact that commerce and trade necessarily involved both Jews and foreigners. The closing of the gates meant not merely that access to the "holy city" was forbidden but also, since it was at the gates that most civic concerns and regular business were transacted, that all labor would cease on the Sabbath.

As would be expected in this time, the two primary concerns of Temple worship and Sabbath observance are joined to a renewed effort in the direction of securing racial and religious purity. Apparently Ezra’s reform had not been as entirely successful as the account of it suggests (Ezra 9-10), for here there are reported children of mixed marriages, speaking in foreign tongues. The intensity of Nehemiah’s reaction (see also Ezra 9:3) may be partly explained by the enormity of the offense in the light of the previous commitments of the people. The particular instance of "one of the sons of Jehoiada" is mentioned, of course, because of his connection with Sanballat, Nehemiah’s old enemy (see, for example, 2:10).

The double appeal with which the book closes — that God "remember" the ones who "have defiled the priesthood" and "remember" Nehemiah "for good" — appropriately brings together the dramatis personae of the whole endeavor: the forces of evil and indifference which might have destroyed the newborn nation and the man of faith and labor who nursed it into a measure of political and religious health. The double appeal also reminds us, however, that even Nehemiah did not stand at the level of the New Testament, as respects the "enemies" and the "friends" of God.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/nehemiah-13.html.