Context of the Passage:
As the people continued to read God’s Word, they found additional areas where they had failed in their relationship with Him. Chapter 13 records that after 12 years in Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned to his post in the Persian court. However, when he heard of lingering problems, Nehemiah requested permission to return to Jerusalem.
Outline of the Passage
13:1-3 – God’s Word exposes our impurity
13:4-14 – The House of God was defiled
13:15-22 – The people were dishonoring the Sabbath
13:23-31 – The people had not purified their homes
Exegesis of the Passage
This passage reflects Nehemiah’s continuing efforts to honor the Lord’s house, to emphasize obedience to God’s Word, and to purify the people’s homes. So, their worship, work, and homes were all still affected by sinful habits. The House of God was defiled by the people’s tolerance of their enemy actually living in the Temple. Their work was defiled by business practices on the Sabbath strictly forbidden by the Word. Their homes were defiled by the continued allowance of foreign practices and influences. Despite their previous commitments to God, the people were still in need of change.
13:1-3 – After the law was read, foreigners were prohibited from the city.
- The reference here is to Deut. 23:3-6 where the Ammonites and Moabites were specifically prohibited from the assembly of Israel.
- These verses suggest their continued presence.
13:4 – Eliashib, the priest, made an alliance with Tobiah (Cf. 2:10, 19; 4:3, 7; 6:1, 12, 14, 17, 19; 7:62)
- The identity of Eliashib in 13:4 is uncertain. Some have suspected that the Eliashib here is different from the High Priest (also named Eliashib) in 13:28. [rep]Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Ezra-Nehemiah: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988, 353-54. See also Breneman, 269. He argued that “this one most certainly is not the same man. The high priest would not have been in charge of the storerooms. We can assume some period of time had elapsed since the assignment of the storerooms in 12:44, especially clear from vv. 5–6.”[/rep] It is true that elsewhere, Eliashib is described as the High Priest (Neh 3:1, 20–21; 13:28). It is possible that there were two priests named, Eliashib. The primary argument to differentiate the two is that it would be unusual that the High Priest would be in charge of the storerooms. However, given that 13:28 states that Eliashib, the High Priest, was intermarried with the family of Sanballat, it would also make sense that he would want to accommodate Tobiah. Even if there were two priests of the same name, the High Priest would still be aware of anyone living in the Temple. So, a differentiation between the two is not certain in the text.
- The priest prepared a room for Tobiah in the Temple
- Cf. 13:28 – Eliashib, the High Priest, had inter-married with the family of Sanballat – thus, making this arrangement understandable.
- Note that the room in which Tobiah was living was previously used for storing the offerings and sacrifices of the people.
- So, Tobiah living in the Temple violated the holiness of the Temple and interrupted the sacrifices of the people
13:5 – Tobiah was living in the space previously reserved for storing the sacrifices. Thus, his living there not only desecrated the Temple, it displaced the sacrifices intended for worship. The sad irony of a priest disrupting the sacrifices reveals the depth of the sin.
- Compromising our obedience always impacts our worship!
13:6 – After remaining in Jerusalem for 12 years on his first visit, Nehemiah had returned to Persia.
- It is not stated in the text how long Nehemiah was absent or what circumstances led him to request permission to return. Perhaps he heard about the lingering problems of sin.
- It is likely that because of Nehemiah’s absence, the sin of the people increased
13:7-8 – Nehemiah’s cleansing of the Temple reminds one of Jesus’s later work in cleansing the Temple of His day.
13:7 – The “evil thing Eliashib had done”
- Eliashib’s actions were not just errors in judgment, they were evil.
13:9 – It was not enough simply to remove Tobiah from the Temple, the area needed to be cleansed in order to be useful again for worship.
- Nehemiah also restored the rooms to their original purpose
13:10-13 – The people had been unfaithful in their tithe
- The Levites and singers had to return to the field to make a living because they were not receiving compensation.
- Nehemiah blamed the rulers
13:14 – “Remember me”
- Remember (Heb. “zacar”) is a key word in the book (Cf. 1:8; 4:8; 9:17; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31)
- See also the phrase “remember me” (5:19; 13:14, 22, 31)
13:14 – Do not wipe out my “hesed”
- This word is normally used of God’s “lovingkindness” or “faithfulness” towards His people
13:15-22 – the Violations regarding the Sabbath
- The people were practicing their business on Sabbath (Cf. 10:31)
- They were also allowing people from other countries to sell things in Jerusalem on Sabbath (13:16)
- Nehemiah blamed the leaders (13:17)
- He called it evil
- Honoring the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments
- Violating God’s law is evil
- 13:19 – Nehemiah enforced the practice of no business on the Sabbath
- He commanded that the gates be shut
- He posted servants (guards) at the gates to make sure that they stayed shut until the end of Sabbath
- He warned those who tried to violate his command and threatened punishment if they tried it again
- He commanded the Levites to cleanse themselves (because they had allowed the Sabbath to be violated)
- “Spare me”
- This phrase does not reflect a fear on his part of retaliation, but rather a plea to God for His mercy (lit. “have pity on me”)
13:23-24 – Despite the measures that both Ezra and Nehemiah had taken to eradicate mixed marriages (Ezra 9–10; Neh 6:18; 10:30), it remained a persistent problem
- Cf. 10:30 – the people had promised to get rid of their foreign wives
- The result was children who did not speak Hebrew
- The implication is that the foreign cultures of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab were watering down the religion of the Jewish people
- Nehemiah was concerned about parents passing on their faith to the next generation
13:25 – I contended with them, cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair
- Nehemiah’s response indicated the obvious seriousness that he demonstrated towards the disobedience of the people
- How do we respond to persistent sin?
- NOTE: Nehemiah pulled out their hair (Cf. Ezra 9:3 – Ezra pulled out his own hair facing the same problem)
- 13:26 – Nehemiah used Solomon as an illustration of someone whose foreign wives turned his heart away from the Lord
13:28 – The family of the High Priest was not immune from sin
- They had allowed the Grandson of the High Priest to intermarry with the family of Sanballat
- “I drove him from me”
- The Hebrew here carries the idea of causing him to flee
- This may reflect that the young man was forced to leave the city.[rep]John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Nehemiah (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 58.[/rep]
- This young man refused to get rid of his foreign wife.
- This likely refers to the Grandson who was removed
- The Hebrew here carries the idea of causing him to flee
- “I drove him from me”
13:30 – Everything
- Nehemiah’s efforts touched every area of sin in the community
- How often do we become satisfied by addressing one area of sin in our lives and fail to address “everything?”
Sermon on the Passage
Facing Lingering Sin with Lasting Success
- We must stop Tolerating What We know to be Wrong (1-3; 15-22)
- Spiritual decay begins with tolerating what we know to be wrong
- Some of the people had still not followed through on their promise to get rid of the foreign influences in the city
- Nehemiah’s Response:
- Warned them vs. 15
- Contended with them vs. 17
- Reminded them vs. 18
- Posted guards vs. 19
- Still out there! – 20
- Threatened them again – 21 (same word as 15 – can mean reiterate!)
- But they no listen!
- They were violating the Sabbath! Treading wine presses/ selling fish on Sabbath
- We must stop Compromising on What We know Right (4-14; 23-28)
- Their enemy was living in the Temple
- They had stopped giving their tithes and offerings to the Lord
- Moreover, the sin of people had become so great that the priesthood was corrupted
- Son of Eliashib, the Priest (vs. 28) had intermarried with daughter of Sanballat (the other figure threatening & ridiculing them)
- SO … Tobiah was living in the Temple and Sanballat had inter-married into the priesthood
- They had become corrupt in their Worship, Work, and their Homes
SOLUTION: Stop the sin before the sin stops you!
- Vs. 3 – Nehemiah charged them to Separate!
- Vs. 11-14 – Nehemiah demanded Obedience!
- Vs. 22 – Nehemiah called for Purity!
- Vs. 25-30 – Nehemiah contended for God’s Way Alone!
- Vs. 30 – I cleansed them of everything pagan!