Nehemiah 13


‘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, 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.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent. 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, 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. 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 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. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 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.’ Nehemiah 13:1-9

Nehemiah’s Final Reforms

After all the celebrations, amens and newly revived spirit toward God and His Word, this chapter tells us the Jews quickly moved away from God because Nehemiah left for a little while, Exodus 32:1.

We read here about the honesty of the people in their efforts to keep the law. When they read in the law that they weren’t to join themselves in any way to the Ammonites or Moabites, they excluded the Ammonites and Moabites from their fellowship, Genesis 12:3 / Deuteronomy 23:3-5 / Ezra 10:15-44.

The problem was the Jews wanted to be friends with everyone, and so, when they allowed foreigners to come in with their teachings about other gods and other ways, they caused the Jews to start following after their false way.

Some of these foreigners like the Ammonites and Moabites were specifically named. Instead of greeting the children of Israel and treating them kindly, they decided to hire Balaam to curse them, but that didn’t work because God intervened and turned that curse into a blessing, Numbers 22-24.

Nehemiah had apparently left and gone back to Persia to see the king, but we don’t know how long he was gone.

Eliashib was the high priest, Nehemiah 3:1, but he had a strong connection with Tobiah, neither marital relationships nor relationships through relatives were to be maintained if they led to compromising or violating the law of God.

Eliashib was related by marriage to Tobiah, Nehemiah 6:18, he was an Ammonite, and a person who previously joined in opposition to Nehemiah, Nehemiah 2:9-10 / Nehemiah 2:17-20 / Nehemiah 4:6-9 / Nehemiah 6:1-3.

Because of this relationship, he had defiled the house of God by taking over a room that was used to store things according to God’s Law and made it a room for Tobiah, Matthew 23:13-36.

When Nehemiah finds out about what had happened, he dealt with the problem straight away, he had all the things in that room that we set up for Tobiah, who was a Gentile, thrown out, and he had the room purified and then all the things that were supposed to be in there were restored, Matthew 21:12-13 / Mark 11:15-17 / Luke 19:45-46 / John 2:13-17.

‘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. 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. All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. 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.’ Nehemiah 13:10-13

Here we read that not only had the house of God been defiled by the high priest, the rulers and the people had stopped paying their tithes. This was a failure of leadership that led to the lack of support for the Levites and temple servants.

Notice again Nehemiah’s leadership skill, he deals with the problem by asking them why they had neglected the house of the Lord and gets them to start giving their tithes again.

Because the people failed to support the Levites, they had to return to their fields and raise crops for food. During Nehemiah’s absence, while he was in Susa, it seems that the people failed to carry out their promise to support the Levites, Nehemiah 12:44-47 / 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.

‘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. 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. 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. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 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.” 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. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 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. 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.’ Nehemiah 13:14-22

This occasion must have broken Nehemiah’s heart, especially after everything he’s done, hence, why he prays again to God to remember all that he did to make the people get back right with God.

The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel, Exodus 20:8-1, but while Nehemiah was gone from Judah on his trip back to Susa, the local people were carrying on with their normal business on the Sabbath, despite making an oath that they wouldn’t, Nehemiah 10:28-39.

They were working on the day of rest and trading with foreigners. Their working on the Sabbath is described as a ‘wicked thing’ because they were breaking their covenant with God, Jeremiah 17:21-27. Obviously today as Christians we’re not under the Old Testament law, and not required to keep the Sabbath Day, Colossians 2:16-17.

It appears that these traders from Tyre were more concerned with making a profit than honouring a Jewish Sabbath, Ezra 3:7. Notice Nehemiah rebukes them, not for trading, because they were Gentiles, who weren’t under the law of Moses, but he rebukes them for trading on the Sabbath, which in effect would have tempted the Jews to break the Sabbath rules.

In an effort to stop the Gentile traders from doing their business in Jerusalem, Nehemiah instructs them to close the gates of the city at sundown on Friday and didn’t open them again until after the Sabbath, Matthew 24:20, which, although we’re not told, the other towns and villages would have done too.

Notice once again that Nehemiah prays to God to spare him from what the Jews were doing.

‘Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 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. 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. 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. Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?” 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. Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites. So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me with favour, my God.’ Nehemiah 13:23-31

The Jews had married foreign women and some of their children couldn’t even speak the language of Judah.

Notice again Nehemiah’s leadership skill in dealing with this problem, he fought with them, beat them and even pulled their hair out until they would swear by God that they would not intermarry with the foreigners anymore.

Then he gave them the example of Solomon and how he sinned against God because he married all those foreign women, 1 Kings 11:3, and he allowed them to influence him to set up buildings and altars for their various false gods, 1 Kings 11:6-10.

The prophet Malachi prophesied about this corruption of the priesthood in Malachi 2. These priests had intermarried with their enemy and had made them their ally and so, in order to preserve the identity of Israel in Palestine, all the foreigners had to go.

Nehemiah drove Joiada away because of this unlawful practice. Ezra had made the people commit to this, but by the time of Nehemiah’s arrival, they had forgotten their commitment, Ezra 10:1-44.

Notice again that Nehemiah prays to God that he will remember these men who had corrupted the priesthood.

He purifies all the priests by telling them to get rid of any foreign ties from their families, and he gets the priesthood back to what it was supposed to be doing, Nehemiah 11:10-22.

Then one last time Nehemiah prays to God that He will remember the good that he had done.

Sadly, only a few years from now, the Israelites would once again get involved in sin, break their vows and covenant relationship with God, oh how they needed grace, Romans 8:3.

When we think about Nehemiah’s leadership skills, we see that he was a man who was sensitive to the people’s needs, Nehemiah 1:4, he was a man who was totally reliant on God, Nehemiah 1:4-11 / Nehemiah 2:4.

He was a man who was full of ambition for God, Nehemiah 2:5-8, he was a man who used the wisdom of God to deal with problems and get things done, Nehemiah 4:16-22.

He was a man who simply wouldn’t give up, Nehemiah 6:1-15, and he was a man with very high standards, that is, God’s standards, Nehemiah 10:29-39.


"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."