Study Notes

Nehemiah 13:1-31


We have come to our final study in the book of Nehemiah. Chapter thirteen begins with the words,

Neh. 13:1 On that day...

The day being described is the day that we covered last week in chapter twelve, the day the wall was dedicated with a large ceremony of singing and praise.

13:1-2 Worship And The Word

Once again, we see the example in Nehemiah of worship and the Word. The dedication ceremony was filled with songs of worship, and now the people are listening to the reading of the Word. I cannot imagine life being tolerable without these two things.

Ammonites And Moabites

As the people were being read the Word, they came to Deuteronomy 23:3-4. God forbade the entry of the Ammonites and the Moabites into the assembly. Why had the Lord singled them out? We might think it was their terrible beginning. After all, the Ammonites and the Moabites came into being because of one of the most disturbing sins to be found in Scripture, when, after the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, Lot and his two daughters took refuge in a cave. The women decided that he was the only one who was left to father children and said,

Gen. 19:32 "Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father."

The end result of that terrible thought was a deviant act:

Gen. 19:36-38 Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. And as for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-am-MEE; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.

Amazingly, God did not curse them for this immoral beginning. He was merciful to them, and allowed them to prosper. However, the Lord had also sworn a promise to Abraham and his descendants, saying,

Gen. 12:3 ...I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse...

When the Moabites and the Ammonites failed to bless Israel when they came out of Egypt, and then compounded their sin by hiring the prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22-24), they incurred the wrath of God and were forbidden to enter the assembly of the congregation.

13:3 When They Heard, They Did

Once again, the Israelites of that day demonstrated that they wanted to be obedient to the Lord's commands. Once again in the book of Nehemiah, we see the pattern of, "They heard, so they did." After reading the law, they excluded the foreigners.

13:4-7 Tobiah In Town

Now Nehemiah takes us back in time a bit. To a day before the Ammonites were excluded from the assembly. One of the most prominent Ammonites of the day was To-bee-YAW, an Ammonite official. He was one of the bad guys who'd been part of the vocal and violent opposition to Nehemiah's project to rebuild the wall. Throughout the book, we've read things like...

Neh. 2:10 was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.

Neh. 2:19 ...they mocked us and despised us...

Neh. 4:8 ...all of them conspired together to come {and} fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.

Even after the wall was built, To-bee-YAW continued to have a destructive presence in the community, because he was related by marriage to a couple of the priests. There were letters going back and forth (6:17-19), with people reporting to him what Nehemiah was saying and doing.

To make matters worse, when Nehemiah left on a business trip to go see the king (he was the governor, after all), El-yaw-SHEEB the priest, whose job it was to oversee the rooms which surrounded the temple courts, set up a large room as an apartment for To-bee-YAW. Nehemiah returned from his trip, and came home to this unwelcome surprise. Being a no-nonsense guy, he says...

13:8-9 I Threw All His Goods Out

Nehemiah is a very matter-of-fact, get it done sort of guy. "I was displeased, so I threw his stuff out in the street."

Although it is a funny picture, it is also a poignant lesson that we must learn. For in fact, the Bible says,

1Cor. 6:19-20 you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

We are a temple, and inside of that temple are many rooms. They are storage places, corners of our minds in which thoughts and memories reside. Desires waiting to be fulfilled, plans being made, and intentions of our hearts find homes in these dwelling places. It's great that the rooms are there and available for use. In fact, God designed us this way. However, when we allow ungodly things to occupy those spaces, we defile and dirty the temple.

The Ammonites that have been allowed to live in those spaces must be thrown out. Not a polite suggestion that they look for another place to live. Not a 30-day notice of lease expiration. But a surprise eviction - everything thrown out. And just as Nehemiah replaced To-bee-YAW's defiling things with the sanctified things which were supposed to be in the room, we too must fill up the newly-emptied spaces with righteous things. That's why the command says,

Phil. 4:8 ...brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Fill in those rooms of your temple with the good and godly things.

13:10-12 Portions For The Levites

Another thing that Nehemiah discovered when he'd returned from Babylon was that the Levites had not been given their portions. They'd been forced to move away and grow food for themselves, which took them away from doing the work of service.

Some people like to look at those in ministry and say, "Hey, get a real job! You shouldn't be getting paid for this! I don't want you living off of my donations to the church!" But in reality, God has set it up that way, and established it in the Bible since the day He appointed the Levites as ministers.

Remember, God had divided up the Promised Land as an inheritance for the tribes of Israel. However, He did not give a portion of the land to the Levites.

Deut. 10:8-9 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him.)

These ministers were not to spend their time farming, they were to spend their time ministering to the Lord and His people. How then would they eat and live? They were to live on the tithes and offerings brought for the Lord.

Deut. 18:1-2 The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD'S offerings by fire and His portion. And they shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.

The rewards of full-time ministry are stored up in heaven, but at the same time, God commands that His ministers are supported by His people. When Nehemiah discovered that the Levites had not been given their portions, He reprimanded the officials, saying

Neh. 13:11 ..."Why is the house of God forsaken?" ...

When a people does not provide for the priests, then the very house of God is considered forsaken.

Nehemiah restored them to their posts, insuring that they would once again be paid and provided for.

13:13-14 Putting The Reliable In Charge

Neh. 13:13 And in charge of the storehouses I appointed Shel-em-YAW the priest, Tsaw-DOKE the scribe, and Ped-aw-YAW of the Levites, and in addition to them was Khaw-NAWN the son of Zaw-KOOR, the son of Mat-tan-YAW; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.

To insure that his promise would be kept, and his orders followed, Nehemiah appointed certain men to oversee the distribution of the paychecks. They were selected for certain reason: because they were "considered reliable." This two-word Hebrew phrase means, "To be thought of and considered as faithful and believable."

There is an old expression which says, "It's hard to find good help these days." This has always been true. The fact is that people who are reliable and trustworthy have always been in short supply. David used the same word when he prayed,

Ps. 12:1 Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.

Fortunately, Nehemiah had a handful of guys that were reliable and faithful, who could oversee this task.

13:15-22 Profaning The Sabbath

Sabbath in Hebrew is "Shab-BAWTH," which comes from a root verb meaning "to cease, desist, or rest." The first time that verb occurs in Scripture is in Genesis 2, when God set the standard of taking a day off every week:

Gen. 2:2-3 the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested (shaw-BATH) on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested (shaw-BATH) from all His work which God had created and made.

Although God had set the example, observation of the sabbath did not become a commandment until Exodus 20, when the Lord commanded the people of Israel,

Exod. 20:8-10 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; {in it} you shall not do any work...

The first violation of the sabbath day occurred shortly after the command was given. In Numbers 15, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath. They arrested Him and prayed about what to do.

Num. 15:35-36 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." So all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

The man who had been gathering wood on the Sabbath day hadn't paid heed to the Lord's command. By having him put to death, God was establishing that observation of the sabbath was non-negotiable.

However, most Christians don't seem to observe it. How come? Well, the answer is really quite simple. God did not command all of mankind to observe the sabbath - only Israel.

Exod. 31:13 "...speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for {this} is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations..."

When the issue arose among the early church, it was clarified that the Gentiles were not under the law. They were merely told to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication (Acts 15).

Even with that exhortation, there are many who want to argue that you shouldn't be doing anything at all on the Sabbath. But turn with me to Matthew 12, where I want to point out three things to you.

Jesus' disciples were hungry, and began to pick heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees then accused them of breaking the Law. But Jesus said,

Matt. 12:1-5 ...have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Number one: The disciples violated the religious regulations of the Sabbath, but Jesus said they were innocent. We are disciples of Jesus.

Number two: God's very law mandated that the priests work on the Sabbath, and they were innocent. The Bible tells us that Jesus...

Rev. 1:6 ...has made us {to be} a kingdom, priests to His God and Father...

Now, let's look at the next four verses. Jesus goes into their synagogue, where a man with a withered hand attends. They try to provoke Him, asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.

Matt. 12:11-12 ...And He said to them, "What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

Number three: Jesus said that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. If I am glorifying the Lord by serving Him, if I am working hard and doing good on the sanctified day of rest, Jesus said that it is lawful and I am innocent.

These men in Nehemiah, however, were not innocent. These were profaning the Sabbath day by violating the Law that God had commanded them. They were admonished, and others were threatened. The Sabbath day was sanctified, set apart for God's glory once again.

13:23-27 Marrying Foreign Women

Now Nehemiah addresses another problem that he'd faced before ousting the Ammonites and Moabites: the Jews had married foreign women. Nehemiah was not being prejudiced. He explains what was wrong with this - they were turning their hearts away from God. First, by violating the command when said not to intermarry with the nations.

Exod. 34:16 and you take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods, and cause your sons {also} to play the harlot with their gods.

Nehemiah reminded them of Solomon, who at first had a heart for the Lord, at least until he married foreign women.

1Kgs. 11:4 came about when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD...

Nehemiah saw the same thing beginning to happen, and he could not allow it to continue. No more intermarriage was going to be allowed on his watch.

13:28-29 Defiled The Priesthood

Neh. 13:28-29 Even one of the sons of Yo-yaw-DAW, the son of El-yaw-SHEEB the high priest, was a son-in-law of San-bal-LAT the Kho-RON-ite, so I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

The priesthood was even defiled by this intermarriage. Nehemiah was sickened to find out that one of the priests in the line of high priest was the son-in-law of San-bal-LAT, another one of the opposition leaders in Nehemiah's day. This high-ranking priest who'd married a foreign wife was immediately removed from the priesthood.

13:30-31 Purifying The Priesthood

The priests were then purified, removing everything foreign from their midst. Just as Nehemiah had cleaned up the rubble and made a new wall, he did the same for the ministry. We, too, have been called to cleanse ourselves, the temple of the Holy Spirit. To purify ourselves, priests of the Most High God. To remove everything that is foreign.

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