From Nehemiah 12-13
Except for the last chapter the remaining few are records of the various leaders over the people, the villages around Jerusalem and the existing priests and levites who serve at the house of the LORD. The people request that the levites dedicate the wall and they do. They offer sacrifices and celebrate.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
In the last chapter Nehemiah speaks about all the good deeds he has done. I’ve chosen to look at this passage.
4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. (Neh 13.4-9)
In the last chapter Nehemiah gives an account of various things he has done to correct the Jews in Jerusalem of wrongdoing. Here we see he has restored a chamber to its proper use. Interestingly a relative of Tobiah was involved in removing the articles for worship. Tobiah was one of the troublemakers undermining the LORD’s work has been opposing Nehemiah for so long (Neh 2.10,19; 4.3,7; 6.1,12-19). Other relatives of Tobiah could not prove their descent (Neh 7.61-65).
10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service. (Neh 13.10-14)
Nehemiah describes his actions undoing what Tobiah’s relative has done. Interesting he asks the LORD remember him because of his good deeds.
15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” (Neh 13.15-18)
He next gives an account of how he confronted the people in honouring the sabbath properly. During the sabbath the people are to remember the LORD and do no work. They are working. Nehemiah sees the danger in this. It was because of their fathers disobedience that Judah was cast into exile (cf. Eze 20.13-24).
19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. (Neh 13.19-22)
Nehemiah bars the gates. When the traders come again on the sabbath they can’t get in so they are forced to wait outside. When they do, Nehemiah threatens them. If they are caught outside again, in the act of trying to work on the sabbath and encourage others to do the same, he will ‘lay hands on them’. That is punish them. Probably kill them. Again he asks the LORD to remember his good deeds. This time he says to spare him according to his steadfast love. His covenant love. Presumably because of his good deeds, if the LORD were to come and punish the wrongdoers. Nehemiah would be spared.
23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Neh 13.23-27)
This time Nehemiah confronts intermarriage. The people are marrying foreign women such that their children cannot speak Judean any more. They are losing their culture and heritage. He recalls Solomon’s foreign wives and how they caused him to sin.
28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. 30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. (Neh 13.28-31)
Nehemiah chased the son in law of Sanballat away from the priesthood. Sanballat if you may remember accompanied Tobiah in trying to undermine Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall. In the last verse of the book Nehemiah asks the LORD remember him for good.
Story of Israel
Nehemiah’s boasting is unexpected. Normally boasting in one’s good works and asking for some sort of reward is evidence of pride and thus discouraged and or condemned. So what are we to make of Nehemiah’s statements here?
You might remember David’s statements about the LORD rewarding him for his righteousness.
21 “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God.
23 For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
24 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
25 And the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight. (2 Sam 22:21–25)
And Ezekiel also says various people will be spared the coming judgment because they lived in righteousness.
12 And the word of the LORD came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD. (Eze 14:12–14)
So Nehemiah’s statements are not exactly unique in scripture. Nehemiah, David, Noah, Daniel and Job themselves as these passages suggest are not like the people around them. There is something different about them that makes them stand out. They walked with the LORD and they hoped for him to reward or save them. Not all of them boasted in what they had done like Nehemiah, but they all looked to the LORD in hope.
Story of Jesus
When Jesus preached on the end times he referred to the good works of the righteous saying;
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25:31–40)
As Nehemiah requested, when the LORD comes again in judgment he will remember the good works of his people. Paul says pretty much the same thing at the end of Galatians.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:7–10; cf. 1 Tim 5.24-25)
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.