NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 13.
Various Abuses Corrected.
IN THE TEMPLE AND ITS SERVICES. — V. 1.On that day, namely, the day of the dedication of the walls, they read in the Book of Moses in the audience of the people, evidently the Book of Deuteronomy, chap. 7, 1-6; 23, 3-8; and therein was found written that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God forever, neither by being made a part of the Jewish nation nor by entering into its organization through marriage; to be exact, no Moabite or Ammonite family could be admitted to the privileges of the Jewish Church until in the tenth generation after quitting heathenism and formally declaring its adherence to the Jewish religion; v.2. because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them that he should curse them, Num. 22, 5; howbeit, our God turned the curse into a blessing, Num. 23, 11; 24, 10. V. 3. Now, it came to pass, when they had heard the Law, this particular passage, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude, excluding all the children of mixed marriages from the congregation by authority of the divine Law. At this point of the narrative there seems to be a gap of about twelve years. V. 4. And before this, rather, in the face of all this, in spite of the reforms instituted by Nehemiah at the time of his first sojourn in Jerusalem, Eliashib, the priest, the successor of Jehoiakim, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of God, as the high priest of the Jews, was allied unto Tobiah, contracting a family relation with this enemy of the Jews by marriage; v. 5. and he had prepared for him a great chamber, where Tobiah could reside when visiting Jerusalem, where aforetime they laid the meat-offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn (grain), the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites and the singers and the porters, and the offerings of the priests. So Eliashib had calmly converted a number of cells of the Temple which had been designated for Un-bloody sacrificial offerings and tithes into a dwelling for this stranger and enemy of the Jews. Note that the Levites, whose duty it was to assist in the sacrifices, are distinguished from the priests on the one hand and from the singers and porters on the other. V. 6. But in all this time, while this desecration took place, was not I at Jerusalem; for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon, about twelve years after his first trip to Jerusalem, came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king, his earnest request to return to Jerusalem for a second time was granted; v. 7. and I came to Jerusalem and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, the abuses which he had introduced in Nehemiah’s absence, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God, providing living quarters for his relative within the precincts of the Temple. V. 8. And it grieved me sore; therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber, much as our Lord later cleansed the Temple courts of the venders and money-changers. V. 9. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers; and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God with the meat-offering and the frankincense. V. 10. And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, a fact which had probably furnished Eliashib with an excuse to appropriate the storage-cells for the use to which he had put them; for the Levites and the singers, including the porters, that did the work, were fled every one to his field, compelled to leave their posts in order to provide for the maintenance of themselves and their families. V. 11. Then contended I with the rulers and said, Why is the house of God forsaken ? The enthusiasm shown at the dedication of the walls had been replaced by an utter apathy, which permitted a total neglect of the Temple worship. The reproof was directed to the priests to whom the management of the Temple and its services had been committed, who should have opposed the course of Eliashib with all emphasis. And I gathered them, the Levites, and set them in their place, giving them back the positions which they formerly held. V. 12. Then brought all Judah, all the members of the Jewish Church, the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries, the storehouses of the Temple, as they had pledged themselves to do. V. 13. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, placed men in charge of the storehouses: Shelemiah, the priest, and Zadok, the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah, these men being responsible for the Temple stores of offerings and tithes; and next to them was Hanan, the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were counted faithful, a very necessary virtue in this position, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. V. 14. Remember me, O my God, concerning this and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for the offices thereof, for everything that was required to be observed in connection with the Temple worship. This was not a prayer of self-glorification, but a testimony of God’s grace in the life of Nehemiah, and every believer may not only rightly boast of the possession of such grace, but also rejoice over it after the manner of Nehemiah.
THE SABBATH RESTORED. — V. 15. In those days, immediately after his return to Jerusalem, saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the Sabbath and bringing in sheaves and lading asses, performing all the usual farm-work on the Sabbath; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day, produce being brought to the capital, as during the week, all of which was strictly out of harmony with the Jewish civil law. And I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. V. 16. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah and in Jerusalem, plying their trade in direct violation of God’s command to the Jews. V. 17. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, the members of the higher classes of the province in general, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath-day? V. 18. Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us and upon this city? Yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath. Cp. Jer. 17, 20-27. V. 19. And it came to pass that, when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, about the time just before sunset, for the Sabbath of the Jews began with sundown, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath. And some of my servants set I at the gates, giving them instructions to watch, that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath-day. V. 20. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice, apparently putting up booths outside the gates and endeavoring to do business in spite of Nehemiah’s protest. V. 21. Then I testified against them and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? Their very presence near the gates was a menace to the spirit of the Law, if not to its letter. If ye do so again, I will lay hand. on you, use violent measures to drive them away. From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath. The energetic method of Nehemiah broke up the traffic. V. 22. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, from any Levitical impurities which they might have contracted during their absence from the city, and that they should come and keep the gates, guarding the city against any further violation of the Sabbath law, to sanctify the Sabbath-day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Thy mercy. The example of Nehemiah may be followed in our days if the leaders of the Church and all Christians show the proper zeal for the sanctifying of the Word of God, in urging the people to hold preaching and the Gospel sacred, and gladly to hear and learn it.
INTERMARRIAGES FORBIDDEN. — V. 23. In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Asbdod, women of the Philistines, of Ammon, and of Moab, the reforms of Ezra having been set aside; v. 24. and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, a sort of mongrel dialect, with corresponding habits learned from their heathen mothers, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. V. 25. And I contended with them, chiding them not as a private person, but in his capacity as governor of the province, and cursed them and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, attacking them in their bodies for their disregard of the Law, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons or for yourselves. V. 26. Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things? Cp. 1 Kings 11, 1. Yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, 2 Sam. 12, 24, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, even him did outlandish women cause to sin, 1 Kings 11, 4, the conclusion being that ordinary people would be led into misbelief and idolatry all the sooner. V. 27. Shall we, then, hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? The inference was, of course, that their bad example would lead others into the same sin. V. 28. And one of the sans of Joiada, the son of Eliashib, the high priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite, one of the implacable enemies of the Jews; therefore I chased him from me, forcing him to leave Jerusalem, so that he could no longer derive his support from the treasury of the priests. V. 29. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, Deut. 33, 8-1l; Lev. 21, 6-8, and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites, bringing disgrace upon their office and setting a bad example for others. V. 30. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, by separating the mixed population from the Jews of pure blood, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business, restoring the ancient worship in all its parts; v. 31. and for the wood-offering, at times appointed, chap. 10, 34, and for the first-fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good! It is the Lord who rewards His faithful servants if they are zealous for His honor and truth and consistently oppose all godless, worldly innovations.