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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 13

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Introduction

Nehemiah Chapter 13

Nehemiah 13:1 "On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;"

I am not certain just exactly which day this was speaking of. It seemed to be a fairly regular happening in the time of Nehemiah. This could have been on one of the feast days, but was not necessarily so. Deuteronomy 23:3 "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:" The Ammonites and Moabites were descended from the sons of Lot and his two daughters.

Nehemiah 13:2 "Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing."

The very same statement is made in Deuteronomy chapter 23 verse 4. It is interesting that the curse was not because they were descended from their mothers through an act of incest with Lot, their father.

Nehemiah 13:3 "Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude."

God had strictly forbidden the marriage of Hebrews with the heathens.

Nehemiah 13:4 "And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, [was] allied unto Tobiah:"

Eliashib was high priest, and he should have known not to be involved with Tobiah. Nehemiah had a great deal of trouble from him, when he was building the wall of Jerusalem. That was not the reason for the problem here, however. It was Eliashib who said who could stay in the chamber of the house of the LORD.

Nehemiah 13:5 "And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, 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."

It is interesting that the high priest would do such a sinful thing. It appears, that many times the high priest, or even the pastor of a church today, think they are above the law of God. They get the idea that whatever they do is alright. The high priest and the pastor, both, should set an example of holiness. It was terrible to give him any chamber, but to put him in the chamber where the sacred things had been kept, was an abomination. The meat offering for twice a day, symbolized the body of Jesus. The frankincense accompanied the meat offering. The offerings that had been made to give to the Levitical tribe were holy, as well. The priest had done a terrible thing.

Nehemiah 13:6 "But in all this [time] was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king:"

It appears that when this happened, Nehemiah was out of the country. He had gone back to report to Artaxerxes. He was, in a sense, king of Babylon, because he had defeated them. He seemed to be extremely fond of Nehemiah, and allowed him to go back to Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 13:7 "And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God."

The courts of the house of God had been a special place for just the Levites. Primarily, it was a place for the priests’ families. This particular room had been a place to hold the daily meat offerings, the frankincense, and the sacred vessels. It had, also, been used for the storing of the offerings. Tobiah was an enemy of Nehemiah, an enemy of Jerusalem, and an enemy of the temple. This was a terrible sin.

Nehemiah 13:8 "And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber."

Nehemiah did not wait to tell him to move his things out. He moved them for him. All of this had happened, while Nehemiah was away. He immediately attacked the problem, as soon as he was aware of it when he returned. The high priest was supposed to watch and not allow something like this to happen. He had committed this sin himself.

Nehemiah 13:9 "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."

This cleaning was more than just sweeping out the area. This was speaking of a ceremonial cleansing, as well as a physical cleansing. He could not put the holy things back into this chamber, until it was purified.

Nehemiah 13:10 "And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given [them]: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field."

It appears, that they had failed to furnish the needs of the Levites, other than the priests. The Levites had to go to work to support their families. When Nehemiah went to see the king, the level of worship in the temple deteriorated.

Nehemiah 13:11 "Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place."

It appears, that Nehemiah had to do what the high priest should have done. Nehemiah met with the rulers, and reprimanded them for allowing this situation to occur. The profaning of the temple would have been the fault of the high priest and the priests. The fault of the Levites not receiving their portion was the fault of the rulers and nobles.

Nehemiah 13:12 "Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries."

When Nehemiah came back, the people became serious about their worship again. It was as if they wanted Nehemiah to know they were living right. There must be a strong leader for the people to remain faithful.

Nehemiah 13:13 "And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them [was] Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office [was] to distribute unto their brethren."

Nehemiah put treasurers over the treasuries. He chose the men above, because they were faithful to God. The high priest had been in charge of them earlier, but Nehemiah did not trust him any longer. The four treasurers that Nehemiah chose were a priest, a Levite, a layman of rank, and a scribe. They were not only to receive the tithe, but distribute it, as well.

Nehemiah 13:14 "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."

We see that Nehemiah was doing the best he could, and he had nothing to do with the error the priests, and high priest, and the people had gotten into while he was gone. Now that he had come back, he tried to straighten all of it out. He wanted God to remember the good things he had done.

Nehemiah 13:15 "In those days saw I in Judah [some] treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all [manner of] burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified [against them] in the day wherein they sold victuals."

This was a breaking of the covenant they had made with God. This was not only a breaking of the covenant they made, but also, was a breaking of the ten commandments of God. Nehemiah testified against them for these sins. The commandment is Exodus 20:8 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."

Nehemiah 13:16 "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."

The sin was not of the men of Tyre in this. They were not breaking the law living in Jerusalem. They did not observe Sabbath either. The sin was that of the Hebrews, for buying the fish and wares on the sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:17 "Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing [is] this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?"

The covenant they had made with God, just a few years prior to this, had strictly forbidden this type of thing. There was a curse that went with the breaking of the sabbath. Those most able to pay the tithes and to keep the sabbath, were the greatest offenders. The nobles were the guilty in this case.

Nehemiah 13:18 "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."

The following was a warning that Jeremiah brought to the people, when he was speaking as an oracle of God. Jeremiah 17:27 "But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched."

Nehemiah 13:19 "And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, 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, [that] there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day."

The sabbath begins on Friday night about dark and goes to Saturday night about the same time. Nehemiah stopped the people from bringing in to sell to the people by having the gates locked on Friday night, and not opened until after sabbath was over.

Nehemiah 13:20 "So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice."

This was, probably, before the word got around, that they would not be able to enter Jerusalem on the sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:21 "Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do [so] again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no [more] on the sabbath."

Nehemiah threatened to arrest the merchants, who came to Jerusalem and waited outside the gates. This made a noisy sabbath, and Nehemiah would not allow this. This kept them away.

Nehemiah 13:22 "And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and [that] they should come [and] keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, [concerning] this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy."

Nehemiah was doing everything he could to cause the LORD to overlook the sin they had committed about the sabbath. These Levites had been already assigned this duty, when the gates were re-built. They were to treat this as if it were a gate to the temple. The whole city of Jerusalem had fallen away from the type of faithfulness God required while Nehemiah had been away. He was trying to re-establish order in their worship now.

Nehemiah 13:23 "In those days also saw I Jews [that] had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, [and] of Moab:"

Nehemiah 13:24 "And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people."

These wives of Ashdod were Philistines. The other two were Ammonites and Moabites. All of these were forbidden for the Jews to marry. Their children were not even speaking Hebrew. 121

Nehemiah 13:25 "And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, 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."

The cursing had to be of those who had intermarried. Smote them means they were beaten. It seems to be a very cruel punishment to pull their hair out, but that was done, also. All of this was to force them to swear they would not intermarry.

Nehemiah 13:26 "Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin."

In 1 Kings, there is an extensive study on the sins of Solomon, that were brought on by marrying women who worshipped false gods. The women were called strange women, because they were not Hebrews. It is still a bad thing for those who believe in Christ to marry those who do not. God greatly loved and blessed Solomon, but he sinned greatly because of his wives. Solomon’s punishment should have been enough to convince all of them how evil this sin was.

Nehemiah 13:27 "Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?"

If Nehemiah had not stopped this at this point, it would have become more and more common. This was one of the main reasons God had destroyed Jerusalem before. Nehemiah did not want that to happen again.

Nehemiah 13:28 "And [one] of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, [was] son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me."

This was one of the main problems. The priests were not setting the right kind of example for the people. The grandson of the high priest had married Sanballat’s daughter. Not only was Sanballat a heathen, but he was an enemy of Jerusalem, and especially of Nehemiah. He fought Nehemiah, and tried to keep him from building the wall. Nehemiah actually ran the son of Joiada off to live with Sanballat’s daughter and Sanballat.

Nehemiah 13:29 "Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites."

I would have to agree with Nehemiah that a sin was worse for a high priest to commit, because he should be more aware of God’s wishes than the average person. This is true of preachers in our day, as well. They should set an example of a holy life before their people. Nehemiah was asking God not to hold him responsible for what the priests did.

Nehemiah 13:30 "Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;"

Nehemiah 13:31 "And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good."

Again, Nehemiah wanted God to remember the good things he had done, and overlook the things that he fell short in. I can truly say that it appeared that Nehemiah desired to please God with all his heart. He had actually established the wood offering for the first time. He, also, re-established the firstfruits offerings. This was almost a plea from Nehemiah to God to remember only the good he had done. This is probably the cry of all believers, as well. Lord, remember the little good I did, and forget my shortcomings.

Nehemiah 13 Questions

1. What did they read in the audience of the people?

2. What was found written in the book?

3. Why were they forbidden in the congregation?

4. After they heard this read, who did they separate out from Israel?

5. Who was the priest Eliashib allied unto?

6. When had Nehemiah had trouble from Tobiah?

7. What had the priest prepared for him?

8. What had been there before?

9. What did the meat offering symbolize?

10. Where was Nehemiah, when this happened?

11. Tobiah an enemy of whom?

12. What did Nehemiah do about this?

13. Who should have been watching for this type of sin?

14. What had happened to the Levites, while Nehemiah was away?

15. Who did Nehemiah contend with about this?

16. What did all of Judah bring as a tithe?

17. What four people did Nehemiah choose to be treasurers?

18. Why did he choose them?

19. What does Nehemiah ask of God in Nehemiah 13:14?

20. How were some of the people breaking the sabbath?

21. Quote Exodus 20:8.

22. Who brought fish to Jerusalem on the sabbath?

23. What did Nehemiah do to stop them?

24. After he did this, what did the merchants do?

25. What did Nehemiah threaten to do to them?

26. In verse 23, who had the Jews married?

27. What did Nehemiah do to them?

28. Who did Nehemiah chase out of Jerusalem?

29. Who had set a bad example for the people?

30. What does Nehemiah want God to remember?

Verses 1-3

Neh 13:1-3

Introduction

WHOLESALE APOSTASY OF ISRAEL IN NEHEMIAH’S BRIEF ABSENCE

This is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible, for it relates Israel’s prompt rebellion against God’s law as soon as Nehemiah’s back was turned. Of course, Nehemiah once more attempted to get Israel back on the right track, as related in this chapter; but that great effort on his part may also be viewed as a total failure.

Israel obeyed God only so long as some powerful administrator compelled them to do so. The sadness of this tragic failure of the once Chosen People is emphasized by the fact Nehemiah was their last chance to get right in the sight of God.

After Nehemiah, there would be no more prophets until John the the Immerser; their king had been taken away from them by the Lord; and they would never have another; the whole racial nation, with the exception of a tiny "righteous remnant" sank rapidly and irrevocably into that state of `judicial hardening’ foretold by Isaiah. Israel had stopped their ears, closed their eyes, and hardened their hearts; and, from that state of spiritual oblivion, there could be no recovery until the Christ should come; and the vast majority of them failed to seize even that opportunity.

Nehemiah 13:1-3

READING OF THE LAW REGARDING THE EXCLUSION OF AMMONITES FROM THE CONGREGATION

"On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the assembly of God for ever, because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, to curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. And it came to pass when they heard the law, that they separated from Israel the mixed multitude."

"The book of Moses" (Nehemiah 13:1). "This probably meant the entire Pentateuch."

It is not clear whether this was a special occasion for reading God’s law, or if it was connected with the prescribed reading of it at the Feast of Tabernacles, which might have coincided, almost, with Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem, following his absence in Persia. To this writer, it appears most likely to have been a special reading of the law arranged at once by Nehemiah upon his return.

We have already noted that every word of Nehemiah is focused upon providing safety for Jerusalem; and the big thing in this chapter is that of Nehemiah’s throwing Tobiah out of the temple; and it could hardly have been an accident that this reading from God’s law was pointed squarely at that sinful treatment of Tobiah, an Ammonite enemy of Nehemiah, and of the Israel of God.

This little paragraph is somewhat of a prelude to the chapter. Neither the reading of God’s law, nor Nehemiah’s entreaties would suffice to correct this abuse. "Judicial proceedings would have to be taken, and the mixed multitude removed by authority."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:1. That day means the day they had the reading of the law (Nehemiah 8). The Moabites and Ammonites were descendants from Lot. They had some of the same blood as did those descended from Abraham, but were always counted as enemies of God’s people. They were to be permanently rejected from any relation with the congregation. The place where we read this is Deuteronomy 23:3-5.

Nehemiah 13:2. The special complaint against these people was their alliance with Balaam, and they also had refused the Israelites the common necessities of life. It was at the time they arrived in the plains of Moab east of Jordan (Numbers 22).

Nehemiah 13:3. The obedience of the people was prompt; it was when they heard the law.

Verses 4-9

Neh 13:4-9

Nehemiah 13:4-9

TOBIAH; THE AMMONITE ENEMY; THROWN OUT OF THE TEMPLE CHAMBERS

"Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being allied with Tobiah, had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they had laid the meal-offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the heave-offerings for the priests. But in all this time I was not at Jerusalem; for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king of Babylon I went unto the king: and after certain days asked I leave of the king, and I came to Jerusalem, and understood the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meal-offerings and the frankincense."

We find it hard to understand the claims of some that they do not know whether or not Eliashib was high priest, or whether or not Nehemiah returned as governor. Eliashib is listed as a high-priest in Nehemiah 12:10; and, besides that, only the High Priest had sufficient authority to have done for Tobiah what was done here. And, as for Nehemiah, of course, he returned as governor; how else could he have "commanded" as stated in Nehemiah 13:9? The High Priest would not have obeyed him or permitted the disruption of that fancy nest he had made for Tobiah in the temple chambers, unless Nehemiah, indeed, was governor, backed up by the full authority of the king of Persia.

There is much diversity of scholarly opinion on how long Nehemiah had been gone from Jerusalem prior to his return to find wholesale rebellion against God’s laws. Keil believed that, "Nehemiah’s absence must have lasted longer than a year, because so many illegal acts by the people could not have occurred in so short a time." Nevertheless, "Nehemiah probably went to the court in Babylon in 433 B.C., and returned to Jerusalem in 432 B.C." Regarding such a sudden and complete apostasy by Israel, the scholars may scream, "Incredible," as did Oesterley; but a careful reading of this chapter supports the reality of it. If Nehemiah left early in 433 B.C. and returned in late 432 B.C., he might have been gone as long as eighteen months or a little longer. "Artaxerxes died in 423 B.C."; and the very longest that Nehemiah could have been absent was about eight or nine years. Israel did not need years to rebel against God; for they, in their hearts, were in a continual state of rebellion from the times of Hosea and afterward. It is this writer’s opinion that Nehemiah was not halfway on his way back to Babylon, when Elisashib and his evil followers were dismantling all of the reforms Nehemiah had made.

"It is possible that Malachi was prophesying during this period," and from him, we understand that the whole priesthood of Israel was wicked (Malachi 2:2).

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:4-5. There is a break in the narrative here. Sometime after the events leading up to the end of the preceding verse, Nehemiah’s term of 12 years expired and he had returned to his duty with Artaxerxes. After he had left Jerusalem, the circumstances of these verses took place which I shall now notice. Eliashib was the priest and should have guarded the house of God with care. But he was influenced by Tobiah, who was a favorite slave of Sanballat, to allow him the special privilege of an apartment in the holy building. He occupied the space that had been devoted to the storing of the articles intended for the sacrifices. This was an awful desecration of the sacred house of God.

Nehemiah 13:6. The information in this verse is what authorized the remarks at the beginning of the preceding paragraph. After Nehemiah had returned and resumed his service for the king of Persia, he heard of the corruptions that had crept into the service in Jerusalem. The king again favored him with a grant of leave of absence.

Nehemiah 13:7-8. Nehemiah again arrived in Jerusalem and found the reports to have been true. He was sorely grieved over the evil conduct of the priest, and cast out all of this heathen’s household stuff.

Nehemiah 13:9. The casting out of the secular materials would rid the place of the actual uncleanness. The law of Moses, however, would not be satisfied until the ceremonial cleansing was done. That was performed at the commandment of Nehemiah.

Verses 10-14

Neh 13:10-14

Nehemiah 13:10-14

THE PEOPLE HAD STOPPED PAYING TITHES TO THE LEVITES

"And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them; so the Levites, and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were counted faithful, and their business was to distribute unto their brethren. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds which I have done for the house of my God, and for the observances thereof."

"The Levites ... were fled every one to his field" (Nehemiah 13:10). The people, particularly the landowners, princes and rulers of the people, stopped paying tithes; and the Levites, left without support, fled at once to farms to make a living. Of course, the rulers (Nehemiah 13:11) had a financial interest in abolishing tithes; and that is why Nehemiah began by assembling them and demanding an answer as to why the temple was deserted.

"I contended with the rulers" (Nehemiah 13:11). "The sin of profaning the temple was principally charged against the priests; but the omission of the payment of tithes was due to the indifference or opposition of the rulers."

"Remember me, O my God, concerning this" (Nehemiah 13:14). This pitiful plea on the part of Nehemiah is understandable. The sudden and almost unbelievable totality of the people’s rejection of God’s Word and their wholesale violation of all his commandments surely must have alerted Nehemiah to the fact that all of his high hopes for the nation of Israel would never be realized. There are four similar prayers of this nature in this single concluding chapter.

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:10. As a natural result of such an unlawful use of the space given over to Tobiah, the proper support of the Levites and singers had been neglected. Not only so, but the situation had frightened them so that they fled to their private dwellings.

Nehemiah 13:11. Nehemiah rebuked the men who were guilty of the abuses described above. Gathered them to means the Levites and singers who had been crowded out of their rightful place, were all returned and encouraged to expect their support again.

Nehemiah 13:12. In obedience to the commandment of Nehemiah, the people of the tribe of Judah brought the tithes of the products of the treasuries (storehouses) to be used according to the law that was given by Moses.

Nehemiah 13:13. Nehemiah did not take any risk in the handling of the products. He appointed certain men to supervise them, and the selection was made from those who were counted faithful. Since their office (work) was to distribute these necessities of life to the proper persons, it was very advisable to put it in the hands of such men.

Nehemiah 13:14. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and we read frequently of his turning to God. His prayer that God would not wipe out (forget) his deeds for the house of the Lord did not imply that he would be short in his rewarding of merit. The disciples were taught to ask God not to lead them into temptation (Matthew 6:13). That did not mean that he would so lead them; it was to be their expression of confidence in the good leadership of the Lord. In the same sense, Nehemiah’s prayer was his expression of his faith in the divine mercies and reward for righteousness.

Verses 15-18

Neh 13:15-18

Nehemiah 13:15-18

THEIR WANTON VIOLATION OF THE SABBATH DAY

"In those days saw I in Judah men treading winepresses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses therewith; as also with wine, grapes, figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, who brought in fish, and all manner of wares, and sold on the sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 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."

"There dwelt men of Tyre also therein" (Nehemiah 13:16). It was not contrary to God’s law for foreigners to live in Jerusalem; but, "This, however, was a new fact, and one pregnant with evil consequences." Men of Tyre had established a colony in Jerusalem; they were not bound by God’s laws, and they no doubt led the way in advocating and encouraging the profanation of the sabbath.

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:15. The law against manual labor and secular business on the sabbath day was still in force. But Nehemiah found this was being violated and he rebuked the guilty ones while they were in the act.

Nehemiah 13:16. The violation of the sabbath was not permitted even in the case of the heathen. The evil was made worse by the practice of the Jews, in that they patronized these unlawful transactions.

Nehemiah 13:17-18. Nehemiah did not merely rebuke the ones responsible for the corruption, but called their attention to some history. He reminded them of the punishment that God had brought upon their fathers for just this kind of sin. He accused them of profaning the sabbath, which was done by using the sacred day for worldly purposes.

Verses 19-22

Neh 13:19-22

Nehemiah 13:19-22

NEHEMIAH’S STRONG MEASURES AGAINST SABBATH BREAKING

"And it came to pass that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that they should not be opened till after the sabbath; and some of my servants set I over the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of wares lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember unto me, O my God, this also, and spare me, according to the greatness of thy lovingkindness."

"When the gates o f Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath" (Nehemiah 13:19). These words take account of the Jewish custom of counting every day from sunset to sunset; thus the sabbath, as we would reckon time, actually began at sundown on the preceding day. "The Jews grounded this practice on the Genesis account of creation, where the successive days are listed after the formula, `There was evening and morning, one day,’ etc. (Genesis 1:5)."

Nehemiah closed the gates on the sabbath and threatened violence against those who camped outside waiting for the end of it; and these stern measures were effective, as long as Nehemiah was governor with authority to enforce them; but the reform, in all probability, did not last ten days after Nehemiah’s governorship was terminated.

"O my God spare me according to the greatness of thy lovingkindness" (Nehemiah 13:22). Again, we have one of Nehemiah’s spontaneous prayers. This one is of special interest. "Here Nehemiah acknowledges that his salvation is dependent upon the greatness of God’s lovingkindness, and not upon the multiplicity of his good deeds. The doctrine of God’s grace in the O.T. is often tragically overlooked."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:19. Gates . . . began to be dark means that darkness began to fall on the gates. As soon as Nehemiah saw that condition in the evening before the sabbath, he ordered the gates closed to remain so until after the sabbath. As a precaution against any attempt to override the rule and bring in the produce, some guards were placed.

Nehemiah 13:20-21. It was well that the watchmen were set at the gates. Some commercial men lingered near them a time or two, hoping doubtless to catch an opportunity for trading contrary to the regulations that had been established. Nehemiah warned them that they would be given rough treatment if they did not leave. They heeded the warning and came no more on the sabbath days.

Nehemiah 13:22. The Levites were all eligible for the service about the holy city, but ceremonial fitness under the law required them to be entirely separated from any common objects or practices. Hence they were commanded to make the necessary adjustments in their condition, that they could serve as guards at the gates on the sabbath.

Verses 23-31

Neh 13:23-31

Nehemiah 13:23-31

NEHEMIAH FACES THE RECURRENCE OF SINFUL MARRIAGES WITH PAGANS

"In those days also saw I the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the language of Judah, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, nor for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel.’ nevertheless, even him did foreign women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to trespass against our God in marrying foreign women?

"And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Elisashib the High Priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

"Thus cleansed I them of all foreigners, and appointed charges for the priests and for the Levites, every one in his work; and for the wood-offering, at times appointed, and for the first-fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good."

"Remember me, O my God, for good" (Nehemiah 13:31) This is the fourth of these little prayers in this chapter; and this proliferation of Nehemiah’s earnest appeals to God may be understood to indicate his recognition of the desperate extremity into which the Chosen People had fallen. Candidly, there was little that any human being, or that even God Himself, could do for Israel that had not already been done, over and over again.

Not only had a son of the High Priest married a pagan; but Eliasbib the High Priest himself was "allied with Tobiah," probably by marriage; and the profaning of the priesthood was by no means restricted to these two violations. Again, we refer to Malachi 2:2 as the verdict of God Himself regarding Israel’s priests. By the times of Christ, the party of the Sadducees (among the priests) were outright atheists, not believing in angels, spirits, the resurrection or anything else that the word of God teaches (Matthew 22:23); and they had preempted unto themselves alone the office of the High Priest. They along with the Herodians and Pharisees were the false shepherds who seduced and destroyed the vast majority of the Chosen People (Zechariah 11).

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 13:23-24. A reformation of the marriage situation had been carried out before this (Ezra 9, 10), but here were some who either were overlooked at that time, or had relapsed into the unlawful relationship again. And, as usual, when the good associates with the bad, the latter has the greater influence. The children of these unlawful marriages took up the language of the heathen.

Nehemiah 13:25. Cursed them means he described their sinful state to their face. He even used physical punishment on some of them. Since the Mosaic system of government was civil as well as religious, it was fitting that special offenders be so punished.

Nehemiah 13:26-27. Nehemiah strengthened his criticism of their conduct by citing the case of Solomon. Even as great a man as he was affected by evil surroundings through his unlawful marriages. Outlandish Is from NOKRI and Strong’s definition is, "strange, in a variety of degrees and applications (foreign, non-relative, adulterous, different)." In 1 Kings 11:1 Solomon is said to have loved many strange (Noma) women. As far as the information goes, all of Solomon’s wives were from a land outside of his own proper country. The force of the word may be seen by writing it "out-landish."

Nehemiah 13:28. There was one special case of unlawful marriages noted by Nehemiah. A grandson of the high priest had gone so far as to marry a daughter of Sanballat, the-man who was the enemy of the work from the first. Chased is from BARACH which is defined as follows: "a primitive root; to bolt, i. e. figuratively to flee suddenly."--Strong. The expression, then, means that Nehemiah used some kind of force that caused this man to run away as in fear.

Nehemiah 13:29. Nehemiah was especially grieved because the sacred office of the Levitical priesthood had been defiled.

Nehemiah 13:30. The holy office was rectified by expelling all strangers, people of foreign blood, and placing the wards or charges with the proper persons.

Nehemiah 13:31. Nehemiah completed the reformative work so that the service could again be pure. He asked to be remembered only in proportion to the good he had done.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/nehemiah-13.html.
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