Notes on Nehemiah 13
13:1-31 This chapter is a sort of "surprise ending" to the book. To understand it, one must know that between chapters twelve and thirteen Nehemiah returned to Persia. At first sight, the phrase On that day (v. 1) may seem to refer to the day of dedication just pictured. But 13:6 and 7 make that impossible, as does v. 10, which states that on the "day" of chapter thirteen, the Levites were not being given their portion, whereas that had just been done at the time of dedication (12:47). So, Nehemiah returned to Persia between chapters twelve and thirteen and on the day after his return, he discovered what became the surprise ending of his book; namely, that those devoted and dedicated people had tripped over temptation, fallen into sin, and lain down in disobedience. This chapter deals with five issues: foreigners (vv. 1-3), the temple (vv. 4-9), the Levites (vv. 10-14), the Sabbath (vv.15-22), and marriage (vv. 23-31). More specifically, the chapter records separation from foreigners, the cleansing of the temple, the restoration of the Levites, the enforcement of the Sabbath, and the condemnation of mixed marriages.
13:1-3 The first area of backsliding for the people was their relationship with foreigners. Even though 9:2 states that "those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners," the people once again allowed foreigners into the congregation. Relationships between the Jewish people and the foreigners in the land had caused them to violate God's command (1 Cor. 15:33).
13:4-9 The second major area of backsliding dealt with in this chapter (vv. 1-3) was that the high priest was allowing God's enemy to live in God's house. Eliashib was the high priest (vv. 4, 28). Tobiah was one of the men who had tried to stop the building of the wall (2:10, 19; 4:3; 6:10-12, 17, 19). Eliashib allowed Tobiah to stay in the large room of the temple that had previously been used for storing grain and the like. In fact, Tobiah had been given access to several rooms of the temple.
13:6, 7 Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem.
13:8, 9 When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he immediately initiated reforms. He removed Tobiah's furniture from the chamber and then ordered that the room be cleansed. When the washing, scouring, and sprinkling with blood were completed, the chamber was once again filled with grain and the other items that had been there before. &sb.bible.16.13.10;
13:10, 11 Contended is a term used often in the prophets to refer to God bringing a legal case against His errant people (Jer. 2:9). Nehemiah was acting like a prophet, bringing a legal case against an apostate person. He contended for what was right. Note the pointed question he asked: Why is the house of God forsaken?
13:12, 13 Then all Judah brought the tithe: The gifts that should have been brought earlier were finally being brought by the people. treasurers: Nehemiah chose faithful men (7:2; 1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Tim. 2:2) to make sure the gifts were distributed properly.
13:14 Normally prayer is offered to the Lord before or during an event. In this case, Nehemiah's prayer followed his good deeds. Nehemiah was saying, "What I did, I did in accordance with Your will; now preserve it and protect me."
13:15-22 Another difficulty that Nehemiah faced concerned the Sabbath. The Jewish people in Judah were working on Saturday. People were buying and selling produce in Jerusalem. Men of Tyre brought fish and other things to be sold both in Judah and Jerusalem. These were all violations of Ex. 20:8-11 and of the people's own oath (10:31). The people had put their business ahead of obedience to God's command concerning their day of rest.
13:19-22 I commanded the gates to be shut: Nehemiah took charge, ordering the gates to be closed from Friday evening to Saturday evening and even posting his own servants as guards. When the merchants set up outside the wall, Nehemiah warned them that if they stayed around again on the Sabbath, he would himself attack them. Awed by the threat of the one-man army, the merchants left. &sb.bible.16.13.23;
13:23, 24 The problem of Jews marrying foreigners had been dealt with thirty years before by Ezra (Ezra 9:1-4). The people had then made a covenant, vowing that they would not do this (10:30). In this case Nehemiah found children of the mixed marriages who could not speak Hebrew, the language of Scripture. Without knowing Hebrew, these children could not learn the Law in their homes or worship in the holy temple. The Jews were raising children who did not know or worship the living God.
13:25-27 Nehemiah's attack on the Jews who had married non-Jews was confrontational, direct, and even brutal. contended ... cursed ... struck ... pulled out their hair: It is unnerving to read this list of verbs and imagine the scene. These were not the dispassionate remarks of someone giving a seminar. Nehemiah used everything he could, including his hands, to enforce obedience to the Law. made them swear: Nehemiah forced them to comply to the will of God in this matter. After all, this was the principal issue that had led to Israel's captivity in the beginning. Nehemiah simply could not allow such a disaster to happen again. Solomon: Despite his greatness and God's love for him, even Solomon had sinned greatly in this regard (1 Kin. 11:4-8). How then, with the great lessons of the past so clearly before them, could the people repeat these sins?
13:28, 29 I drove him from me: This action was taken against the most prominent offender, the grandson of the high priest Eliashib. This young man had married the daughter of Sanballat (2:10), the governor of Samaria and the archenemy of the Jewish people. The marriage was particularly offensive because it formed a treasonable alliance with Israel's enemies and compromised the purity of the high priesthood (ch. 12). Because of the seriousness of this offense, Nehemiah took dramatic action. He expelled the young man from the community, praying that God would remember those who had defiled the priesthood.
13:30, 31 I cleansed them of everything pagan: Nehemiah's testimony was that he had done everything he knew how to bring about righteousness in the priesthood and among the Levites, including their offerings and service. Nehemiah's last recorded words (5:19), remember me, O my God, for good, would serve well as the last words of any person of faith.