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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 13

Verses 1-14

The Establishment Of The Temple Treasury, And The Chambers To Contain The Heave-offerings, Firstfruits and Tithes That Were Offered To YHWH, Their Restoration, And The Exclusion Of All Who Religiously Defiled Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:14 ).

Equally of importance with the celebrations over the completion of the wall, were the arrangements made to ensure that Jerusalem continued to be the holy city, set apart to YHWH, purified from all that religiously defiled, and fulfilling its function as the YHWH’s earthy dwellingplace, and as the store-city of all that specifically belonged to YHWH (that which had been set apart for Him and given to Him in accordance with the Law). To the mundane mind the building of the wall of Jerusalem had made it a defensible city suitable to be the capital of Judah, and thus an achievement in itself, but to the religious mind what the wall indicated was a new beginning of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ which was the centre of true Yahwism.

This portion (Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:14) is distinguished by being fashioned on a clear chiastic pattern, as follows:

A Appointment of men over the treasure and store chambers (Nehemiah 12:44 a).

B The store chambers were for the treasures, heave-offerings, firstfruits and tithes (Nehemiah 12:44 b).

C All Judah rejoiced over the priests, and over the Levites who waited (before God) and gave them their portions as every day required (Nehemiah 12:44-47).

D In accordance with the Law of YHWH concerning the Moabites and Ammonites all who were religiously tainted were separated from Israel (Nehemiah 13:1-3).

E Eliashib who was the priest who was appointed over the chambers, provided a chamber for Tobiah the Ammonite, a chamber which had previously been used for the storage of those things which had been given to God (Nehemiah 13:4-5).

F All this happened when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem, having returned to the king’s court, probably at this stage stationed at Babylon (Nehemiah 13:6).

E Nehemiah learns what Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah with a chamber in the courts of the house of God (Nehemiah 13:7).

D Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which were cleansed and restored to their proper use (Nehemiah 13:8-9).

C The portions of the Levites had not been given to them with the result that the house of God was forsaken by its servants who no longer waited before God (Nehemiah 13:10-11),

B All Judah brought the tithes to the treasuries (Nehemiah 13:12).

A Appointment of men over the treasuries (Nehemiah 13:13-14).

Note that in A men were appointed over the treasure and store chambers, and in the parallel men were appointed over the treasury. In B the store chambers were for various things including the tithes, and in the parallel all Judah brought tithes to the treasury. In C the portions were given to the priests and Levites as every day required, and in the parallel their portions were not given to the Levites. In D all who were religiously tainted, including the Ammonites, were separated from Israel, and in the parallel Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which had to be cleansed. In E Eliashib provided a chamber for Tobiah, ad in the parallel Nehemiah learned of it. Centrally all this happened whilst Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem

Verses 1-31

THE PURIFYING OF THE HOLY CITY (Nehemiah 12:27 to Nehemiah 13:31 ).

The prophecies concerning Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ had in mind the coming eschatalogical age, and its consequent purification (Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24), and there can be little doubt, in view of the hopes expressed in the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, that this age must have been in mind as Jerusalem was so triumphantly re-established. Thus the writer ends his book with a description of the purification of Jerusalem, both religiously and practically, the details of which are found in Nehemiah 12:27 to Nehemiah 13:31. This would be seen as necessary, in preparation for that age, for in that age the city was to be holy and wholly ‘clean’ (Isaiah 52:1). These passages are united together by vague time notes (beyom, beyamim) which connect them together, and they cover both the Godward side and the manward side of its purification. Whilst the time frame is foreshortened, and the time notes are imprecise, this section covers various aspects of its purification during the lifetime of Nehemiah. Each section, apart from the initial one, commences with the words beyom or beyamim, and sections 3-6 end with the statement ‘remember me --.’ On this basis we may divide it up as follows:

1) The religious purifying of the city at the time of the celebrations over the completion of the wall (Nehemiah 12:27-43).

2) The re-establishment of offerings and tithes for the support of the priests and Levites who were the pure, uniquely chosen servants of YHWH and appointed to the service of the Temple, thus ensuring its purity of worship in accordance with God’s requirements. Introductory words ‘at that time -- (beyom)’ (Nehemiah 12:44-47).

3) The purifying of the true Israel and the Temple, by the exclusion of idolatrous foreign elements in accordance with the Law of Moses (Nehemiah 3:1-9), and by establishing the God-ordained Levitical order (Nehemiah 13:10-14). This included the exclusion of the Ammonite Tobiah who had wormed his way into the Temple precincts, and had thereby taken over the chambers intended for the storing of tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 3:4-9). In consequence it was seen as necessary to purify the Temple chambers.

The consequent re-establishment of God’s chosen servants the Levites in their responsibilities with regard to the Temple and its worship, something which had failed because of the failure of Israel to respond to the tithing system. The result would be that once again tithes would flow into God’s house providing for His servants, a condition of God’s future blessing (Malachi 3:10-12). Introductory words ‘at that time --’ (beyom). The passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:1-14).

4) The purification of Jerusalem by restoring full observance of the Sabbath (another requirement for future blessing - Jeremiah 17:19-27), the gates to be guarded by gatekeepers who had been purified. Introductory words ‘in those days’ (beyamim), with the passage ending with a ‘remember me’’ statement (Nehemiah 13:15-22).

5) The removal of those who had idolatrous foreign wives from Jerusalem, thus preventing the watering down of their religious heritage, and ensured the continuing purity of the cult. Introductory words ‘in those days (beyamim) --’ , with the passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:23-29).

6) Nehemiah’s summary of what he had achieved: the purifying of Jerusalem from all religiously foreign elements; the successful establishment of the God-determined priesthood and the Levitical order in order to ensure the purity of the cult; the ensuring of the means of offering sacrifices through purifying fire; and the ensuring of the supply of the holy firstfruits, this finally closing with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:30-31).

We should note how much of what is described here is a direct enforcing of the provisions of the ‘sure agreement’ of Nehemiah 10:29-39 which stresses separation from foreign influence especially in respect to marriage (Nehemiah 10:30); observance of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 10:31); supply of the wood offering (Nehemiah 10:34); the bringing in of the firstfruits (Nehemiah 10:35-37); and the gathering of the tithes (Nehemiah 10:37-39).

Verses 15-19

Ensuring The Purity Of Jerusalem By The Enforcement Of The Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-19 ).

Having purified the Temple and Temple worship, Nehemiah now turns his attention to the city of Jerusalem. This too he sees as defiled by forbidden activities on the Sabbath (compare how they had promised in Nehemiah 10:31, ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’). And he takes steps to ensure that it cannot happen. Indeed as with the issue of tithing he no doubt saw this observance of the Sabbath as necessary in order to bring in the eschatological age, as proclaimed by the prophets, which was promised to those who hallowed the Sabbath and faithfully offered their tithes to God (Jeremiah 17:25-26; Malachi 3:8-12). Nehemiah was not just concerned with establishing Jerusalem. He was even more concerned with ensuring that Jerusalem was the holy city (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 52:1) with the hope of introducing that eschatological age promised by the post-exilic prophets (Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:21-22; Zechariah 14:0).

Nehemiah 13:15

‘In those days I saw in Judah some men treading wine-presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses (with them); as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified (against them) in the day in which they sold victuals.’

‘In those days.’ We once again have a vague time note introducing a subsection (compare Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:1; Nehemiah 13:23). The change to the plural is necessary because what Nehemiah now describes occurred over a period of time.

His first accusation was against Jews who were involved in business and trade on the Sabbath day. He described how he had seen men in Judah treading their winepresses on the Sabbath day (pits in which the grapes were placed and trodden down in order to release the juice, which was gathered in another adjacent pit) and gathering their sheaves, and lading their asses with them in order to bring them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. They also brought in wine, grapes and figs, and other commodities on the Sabbath day, set up their stalls, and sold them on the Sabbath day. They no doubt saw the day when most were at leisure in Jerusalem as a good business opportunity. And all this flouted God’s command, to ‘remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy -- you shall do no manner of work on the Sabbath day’ (Exodus 20:8-10), a command that applied equally to Jews and those who lived among them. And it went against their own promise Nehemiah 10:31 ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’

All this was a reminder of pre-exilic days, the days that had led up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Then also men had chafed because they could not conduct business of the Sabbath (Amos 8:5). And Jeremiah had rebuked those who bore burdens and brought them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day (Jeremiah 17:21). And he had subsequently assured the people of two things, firstly that if they refrained from profaning the Sabbath by bringing burdens through the gates on the Sabbath day, then the Davidic throne would be established and ensured, and men would flock from Judah and Benjamin, and places round about, bringing offerings and sacrifices to the house of YHWH, and the city would remain for ever. But if they would not listen to the requirement to hallow the Sabbath day, and would not refrain from bringing burdens into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then God would conversely ensure the cessation of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:19-27).

Nehemiah 13:16

‘There dwelt men of Tyre also in it, who brought in fish, and all manner of wares, and sold on the sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.’

But there was worse. Not only were Jews flouting the Sabbath day, but foreigners were also being allowed to do so. There were Tyrians who were bringing fish, and all manner of wares, and selling them on the Sabbath day to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. The Jews were not only allowing the idolatrous Tyrians to enter God’s holy city on God’s holy day, but were actually encouraging them by buying goods from them on the Sabbath day. They were thereby dishonouring God in the eyes of strangers, and were themselves flouting the Sabbath by buying goods which they would then have to carry home. And it went against their own promise given in Nehemiah 10:31 ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’ That the very presence of the Tyrians was seen as a problem comes out later when Nehemiah does not even allow them to camp outside Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:20-21), waiting for the Sabbath to pass. So Nehemiah is concerned both for the holiness of Jerusalem, and the holiness of the Sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:17-18

‘Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil on us, and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.”

Nehemiah then rebuked the aristocrats of Judah for allowing such things, and even participating in them. He pointed out that in profaning the Sabbath day they were doing evil. This was similar to the charge that Jeremiah had brought against Jerusalem in his day, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem which he prophesied would follow as a result (Jeremiah 17:19-27). Did they not therefore remember how their fathers had behaved in the same way with the result that God had brought evil on them and their city? And yet here they were bringing even more wrath on Israel. by profaning the Sabbath day. For an example of this regular Biblical concept compare Ezra 10:14, where it would be the result of them allying themselves with idolatrous foreign wives. It is noteworthy that Nehemiah did not just issue a decree. He wanted the aristocrats of Judah to be aware that what was happening was grossly displeasing to God, and to be willing to cooperate with him in seeing that the profanation of the Sabbath should cease. It is important for any leader to ensure that those whom he leads understand why he does what he does.

Nehemiah 13:19

‘And it came about that, when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened till after the sabbath, and I set some of my servants over the gates, that no burden should be brought in on the sabbath day.’

Accordingly acting with his usual rapidity Nehemiah set his own escort to guard the gates on the Sabbath day from that time on, and commanded that the great gates of the city be closed as soon as it became dark within the gate ways at the commencement of the Sabbath, and that they should not be opened again until after the Sabbath. Entrance and exit for ordinary citizens would be possible through small doors within the gates, but strict orders were given that no burdens be brought in on the Sabbath day. His measures were clearly effective, as the next verse makes clear.

Verse 20

‘So the merchants and sellers of all kind of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.’

Nothing daunted the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares still came to Jerusalem prior to the Sabbath, or on the Sabbath, and encamped themselves outside the city. The aim was probably twofold. Firstly in the hope that the people of Jerusalem would come outside the gates in order to buy, although it should be noted that that would be strictly limited as the buyers would not be allowed to carry their purchases into the city. They too would be ‘burdens’. And secondly so that as soon as the Sabbath was over they would be able to stream into the city. But Nehemiah informs us that they only did this ‘once or twice’.

Verse 21

‘Then I testified against them, and said to them, “Why do you lodge about the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on (arrest) you .” From that time forth they came no more on the sabbath.’

And the reason that they only did it once or twice was because Nehemiah warned them that if they appeared again and encamped outside the city on the Sabbath they would be arrested. His concern may have been that they were still profaning the Sabbath, even though not in Jerusalem, or it may have been because he considered that their proximity to the holy city on the Sabbath day marred the holiness of the city on that day, in the same way as Tobiah’s continued presence had marred the holiness of the Temple.

Verse 22

‘And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day.’

As a longer term measure Nehemiah called on the Levites, of whom many were experienced gatekeepers, to come and guard the gates. This was not in order to act in a military role, but so as to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath, a fitting levitical duty. The religious aspect of their appointment is brought out in that they had to purify themselves. They were to have their part in preserving the holiness of Jerusalem without which God’s future promises could not come to fruition, and in order fittingly to do this it was necessary for them to be purified. The use of Levites would have disarmed the population who may well otherwise have become uneasy at the role being carried out exclusively by Nehemiah’s own men, and suggests that Nehemiah’s position enjoyed some considerable support in the Temple. As in Nehemiah 13:1 the subsection then ends with a ‘remember --’ request to God.

Nehemiah 13:22

‘Remember with respect to me, O my God, this also, and spare me according to the greatness of your covenant love.’

His prayer here is that God will take note of what he has done in protecting the sanctity of His Sabbath day, and will thus spare him, not as a reward, but in view of the greatness of the covenant love revealed in that same covenant that he had protected.

It is noteworthy that Nehemiah only asks God to remember what he has done when it is in direct fulfilment of His covenant. (Thus he does not ask to be remembered for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem). In Nehemiah 5:19 it was because he had ensured the carrying out of the provisions of the Law for the poor of the land (e.g. in Deuteronomy 15:1-11), and the Law against a ruler piling up wealth (Deuteronomy 17:17). In Nehemiah 13:14 it was because he had fulfilled the provisions of the Law by expelling an Ammonite from permanent residence in the Temple in accordance with Deuteronomy 23:0. Here it is because he has ensured the fulfilment of the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-10). In Nehemiah 13:31 it is because he has ensured the purity of the priesthood and of the Temple in accordance with the Law, has ensured that the God-chosen priests and Levites have fulfilled their legal responsibilities, has ensured sufficient supplies of wood for the sacrificial fires, and has ensured the gathering of the firstfruits, all in accordance with the Law.

Verses 23-27

Separation From Idolatrous Foreign Women (Nehemiah 13:23-27 ).

Nehemiah’s final act to which he calls God’s attention is his purifying of Jerusalem (or possibly of the new Israel) from idolatrous foreign women. It is made clear that these women had not converted to Yahwism, nor had they brought up their children to be Yahwists, otherwise they would have ensured that they knew Hebrew and/or Aramaic so that they might be able to understand the Scriptures. This was something that was incumbent on every Jew, and on every convert. Thus, as with Tobiah, Jerusalem was defiled by their presence. Furthermore otherwise genuine Yahwists (as Solomon had been) were being led astray. It is this last fact that is the emphasis of the passage.

There is no suggestion that the situation was widespread, as it had been in the days of Ezra 9-10. Rather it is revealed as a local affair dealt with locally. It had been over twenty years since Ezra had taken action against marriages with idolatrous foreign women. Now the practise had begun to creep back, and Nehemiah deals with it in his usual forthright manner.

It should be noted that in Nehemiah 4:7 the Ashdodites and the Ammonites were of those who actively opposed the building of the wall. They had been no friends of the Jews.

Ashdod was the name of the Persian province bordering Judah on the west. Moab and Ammon were to the east. Unlike in the time of Ezra the idolatrous foreign marriages here appear to have been limited to women of these three areas.

Nehemiah 13:23-24

‘In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, of Moab, and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.’

Ashdod was the name of the Persian province to the west and its notabilities would probably have had constant contact with Jerusalem, which was now the capital city of the province of Judah. These marriages may thus have been limited to the Jewish aristocracy who were seeking political and trading influence. Alternately, but less likely, they may simply have been cross border marriages. But if the latter were the case we would have expected the children soon to learn Aramaic as they mixed with Jewish children. They would not be brought up in the same isolation as the children of wealthy aristocrats. The situation therefore smacks very much of children brought up in an exclusive environment, with Ashdod-speaking servants being responsible for their education. The Moabites and Ammonites spoke a language basically similar to the Jews, as we know from the Moabite inscription, although it might not have sounded like it to Nehemiah. But probably their children were not so discernibly ignorant of Hebrew and Aramaic as the children of Ashdod, which may explain the cryptic ‘spoke half in the speech of Ashdod’. Their languages were, however, sufficiently different that it would cause misunderstanding when hearing the reading of the Scriptures, but it would certainly not have appeared to be as barbaric as the language of Ashdod.

With regard to Ammon and Moab, we know of the intermarriages of the daughters of Jewish aristocrats with Tobiah and his son, who were both Ammonites, for we have been told that Tobiah was son-in-law to a prominent Jew named Shechaniah the son of Arah, and that his son Johanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah (Nehemiah 6:18), a prominent wallbuilder (Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:30) and priest (Nehemiah 3:28; Nehemiah 3:30). Both Shechaniah and Meshullam would presumably be of the Jewish aristocracy. We can therefore understand a tendency for some who supported Tobiah to encourage intermarriage with aristocratic Ammonite sons and daughters. Once again political and trading influence was probably at stake. And as Ammonites and Moabites were closely allied, and were brother tribes, it would be natural for aristocratic Moabite men and women also to be involved.

What appears to have shocked Nehemiah the most was the inability of children of half the marriages to speak anything other than ‘the speech of Ashdod’. In other words they only spoke a language which was totally beyond understanding. This was possibly what first drew the situation to his attention. There may not only have been one language spoken in Ashdod. It was a Persian province including a number of nations. ‘The speech of Ashdod’ may not therefore signify a single language, but any language spoke in Ashdod. All would have appeared equally barbaric. And as we have suggested above their ‘speaking only the speech of Ashdod’ clearly indicated that they were not being brought up to understand the Jewish Law, which could only have bad consequences for the future. Thus underlying his horror at their not speaking Hebrew/Aramaic was a recognition of the fact that they were being brought up to worship the gods of Ashdod. And at the best this could only lead to syncretism. He could see Israel slowly slipping away from the pure worship of YHWH.

Note On The Words ‘and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.’

It is clear that this is unlikely to mean that their children each spoke half Ashdod, half Hebrew, for then it could not have been said of them that they could not speak in the Jewish language. There would have been many bi-linguists in Jerusalem who were pure Yahwists so that being bilingual would not have been a matter for concern. It may signify:

· That half the children spoke in the Ashdod speech, as their mothers came from Ashdod, while the other half spoke in either Ammonite or Moabite (‘according to the language of each people’).

· That being aristocrats the Jews in question had more than one wife so that some of their children were brought up to speak Hebrew, because they had mothers who were Yahwists, while the others were brought up to speak the Ashdod languages because their mothers came from Ashdod. The latter would then have been brought up to worship the gods of Ashdod.

· That half the children of Ashdod mothers had not learned to speak Hebrew, whilst the other half had. This might explain why only some were severely punished.

Without more information we cannot be dogmatic, but whichever way it was it disturbed Nehemiah sufficiently to cause him to take drastic action, because he recognised the danger of encroaching idolatry.

End of note.

Nehemiah 13:25

‘And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves.”

It appears from what happened that the Jews involved were summoned together before Nehemiah to present their defence, for we learn that he ‘contended with them’ (see Nehemiah 13:26), whilst Nehemiah 13:27 (‘shall we then listen to you?’) certainly suggests that they put forward a bold defence. We are probably not to see in this description that Nehemiah lost his temper and began pulling at their beards, (for that the incident would have had to be very local indeed), but rather that he passed a judicial sentence on them, solemnly cursing them and sentencing some of them to be beaten and have hairs pulled out, either of their beards or their heads. To decimate a man’s beard and hair was to subject him to shame (compare 2 Samuel 10:4; Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:37; Ezekiel 29:18). Thus by this they were being publicly shamed. We can compare how God’s Servant described a similar punishment applied to himself in Isaiah 50:6, something clearly designed to humiliate him. In Ezra 9:3 we find how Ezra subjected himself to the same humiliation, although in his case self-imposed.

They were also made to swear before God that they would not in future “give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves.” This was Biblical language based on the requirements of the Law (Deuteronomy 7:3; Exodus 34:16). It will be noted that it is not specifically said they were required to put away their wives, and if that was the case it may be an indication of the high status of their wives. (Even Nehemiah had to consider possible appeals to the King of Persia). In that was so the situation was unlike that in Ezra. On the other hand it may be that divorcing their foreign wives was implied in the verdict (‘or for yourselves’) and was simply not mentioned in this very abbreviated account.

Nehemiah 13:26

“Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless even him did foreign women cause to sin.”

Nehemiah then gave a powerful Scriptural example in order to back up his case. He pointed them back to Solomon, outstanding among kings, beloved of God and granted the kingship of Israel by Him. Yet even this king who was so great and powerful, and owed God so much, was led astray into idolatry by his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1-8). What chance was there then for lesser people to resist the temptations put in their way by idolatrous foreign wives.

Nehemiah 13:27

“Shall we then listen to you to do all this great evil, to trespass against our God in marrying foreign women?”

Thus in view of the example of Solomon their persuasive arguments carried no weight. It is quite clear that the husbands were seeking to put up a defence for their actions, a defence which Nehemiah swept aside. Note how he describes marrying idolatrous foreign wives as a ‘great evil’. It was no light matter. And by it they were trespassing against God and His word. It is difficult in the light of this to see how he could do anything other than insist that they divorce their idolatrous foreign wives.

Verses 28-29

The Banishment Of A Member Of The High Priest’s Family For Marrying A Non-Israelite Woman And Thus Disobeying God’s Law And Defiling The Priesthood (Nehemiah 13:28-29 ).

Nehemiah 13:28

‘And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me.’

It may here have been Joiada, the son of Eliashib, who was High Priest, or it may at this stage have been the Elisashib who was still High Priest, the Hebrew could mean either. But the important point is that the High Priest had condoned the marriage of Joiada’s son to the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, something forbidden in Scripture. For the Law was quite clear on the fact that a member of the High Priest’s family, who could at some stage act as High Priest, could only marry a woman who was a trueborn Israelite virgin (Leviticus 21:14). This was why he was seen as having ‘defiled the priesthood’ (Nehemiah 13:29) by marrying a syncretistic Yahwist who was not a true born Israelite.

The fact that this meant that Sanballat, Nehemiah’s arch-enemy, had thereby gained considerable political influence in Israel, being able to influence the High Priest himself (the marriage would not have happened without the High Priest’s approval), explains Nehemiah’s harsh action. The son, together with his wife, had to be removed from any sphere where he could exercise influence. He was thus expelled from Jerusalem, presumably taking shelter with Sanballat in Samaria. And thereby Jerusalem was cleansed and kept holy.

Nehemiah 13:29

‘Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.’

This is the second time that Nehemiah has called on God to remember the evil things that others have done, contrary to the covenant. The first was in Nehemiah 6:14 where he called on God to remember what Sanballat, Tobiah, and the current Hebrew prophets, had done to try to entrap him into being afraid and as a consequence breaching the covenant. Here he calls on God to ‘remember’ those who have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. The plural ‘them’ can only mean the High Priest’s family, for it was they who had caused the priesthood to be defiled.

The ‘covenant of the priesthood and the Levites’ presumably refers to the covenant that they entered into, based on the Law, when they came of age to enter the priesthood and levitical service. For the priests it would include the provisions of Leviticus 21:0, but would especially have reference to them keeping themselves ritually clean. The Levites also were expected to keep themselves ritually clean, otherwise they would not be able to serve in the Temple. Nothing ritually unclean was to enter the Temple area.

This covenant is mentioned in Malachi 2:4-8. It was a covenant which offered the priests and Levites life and peace, because they feared YHWH and sought to do His will. In consequence the law of truth was in their mouth, and they walked rightly and sought to turn people from their iniquity. But now by corrupting the Law they had caused many to stumble, who no doubt followed the High Priest’s example, and would themselves produce ‘profane seed’. Thus they had defiled the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

Nehemiah 13:30-31

‘Thus I cleansed them from all foreigners, and appointed charges (ordinances, offices) for the priests and for the Levites, every one in his work; and for the wood-offering, at times appointed, and for the first-fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.’

A comparison of these verses with the covenant promises in chapter 10 is interesting.

· I cleansed them from all foreigners, compare Nehemiah 10:30

· I appointed charges (ordinances, offices) for the priests and for the Levites everyone in his work, compare Nehemiah 10:32-33; Nehemiah 10:38-39.

· For the wood offering at the time appointed, compare Nehemiah 10:34.

· For the firstruits, compare Nehemiah 10:35-37.

The preciseness of order (apart from omission of the Sabbath observance laws) would not appear to be a coincidence and suggests that Nehemiah is pointing out to God that he has ensured the fulfilment of the sure agreement that Israel had made. He had already asked God to remember him for ensuring the observance of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22, compare Nehemiah 10:31). For this he wanted ‘his God’ to remember him, for good. It is noteworthy that he does not seek that God will remember him as the wallbuilder, but rather as the one who has ensured the fulfilment of God’s covenant and the proper maintenance of Temple worship. And in view of his seeing Jerusalem as the holy city, and as the city which must be kept pure at all costs, he may well be asking to be remembered so that God would through him introduce the eschatological kingdom, which in essence was his prayer in Nehemiah 1:9.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/nehemiah-13.html. 2013.