Read Nehemiah 13
Nehemiah’s Final Reforms
On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, 2 because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) 3 When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
4 Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, 5 and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.
6 But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission 7 and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. 8 I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9 I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense.
10 I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and musicians responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. 11 So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts.
12 All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. 13 I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites.
14 Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.
15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”
19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.
Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.
23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.
29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.
30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me with favor, my God.
The walls of Jerusalem had just been rebuilt, the people had committed themselves to God (Nehemiah 10:28-29), and Nehemiah had left Jerusalem. It was the perfect happy ending to a long story of restoration. But it didn’t last long. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to find that the people had already lost sight of the commitment they had made to God.
The Israelites were instructed not to allow Moabites or Ammonites to enter the assembly of God (v. 1). Still, they allowed Tobiah, an Ammonite, to make his home in a temple room reserved for offerings (v. 5) and had intermarried with the Ammonites (v. 23). The people had stopped giving offerings to the house of God, so the Levites left their service in the temple and returned to their old work (v. 10). They stopped honoring the Sabbath day and used it as another day to work, trade, and sell goods. Despite the clear commands given to them, the Israelites were quick to forget their commitment to God.
It’s easy to look at the Israelites and recognize their mistakes and how far they fell from faithfulness to God. They had so clearly lost sight of all that God had done to restore them. Yet, we often look just like the Israelites in our own lives. We lose sight of what God has done in us and begin to turn our eyes away from Him. We make small compromises that turn into larger compromises that turn into lives that look nothing like God’s best for us. When we lose sight of God’s goodness and faithfulness, we walk right back towards the sin from which Christ so graciously freed us. God has given us this opportunity for new life and a restored sense of purpose, but we are easily distracted and follow our own desires instead of His will.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and helped the Israelites remember the covenant they had made. The story isn’t over for us, either. God is still faithful, even when we turn away from Him. Just like God used Nehemiah, He often uses our community to point us back to Himself and remind us of His faithfulness. Jesus paid the price to secure our salvation, knowing our inability to fully follow Him by our own strength. May we respond in praise and turn back to Him again today.
- Who has God placed in your life to point you back to Him and help you walk in obedience?
- In what areas of your life have you been making small compromises? Confess those in prayer and to your community.
- From what has God given you freedom? Thank Him for His faithfulness to you.
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