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, 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 Tobiaha 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.
(Nehemiah 13:1-14 NIV)
In our last time together, we saw Nehemiah lead the dedication of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. While this was a solemn ceremony, the thankfulness and praise to the Lord for all He had done resulted in spontaneous worship and overwhelming joy for all!
As we begin today’s text, verses 1-3 are still part of that dedication day. As God’s Word was read as part of the dedication ceremony, the Lord had said long ago that Moabites and Ammonites could not be part of the nation of Israel because of the evil they had intended for God’s people (Deuteronomy 23:3-5). When God’s people heard that command, they obeyed immediately and evicted the Ammonites and Moabites that were living in Israel (vv. 1-3).
Verse 6 gives us time reference for the next set of events. The initial timeframe when Nehemiah came to Israel was in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign. Now it was the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes’ reign. Scholars are divided over the implications of this date. Did this mean that Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for 12 years straight? Or did he leave sometime after the first year, and made check-in trips every few years?
No matter what the case, Nehemiah was back in Jerusalem to see what was going on. Nehemiah found three issues where the people had compromised their beliefs and their practices and had made unholy alliances with their non-Jewish neighbors:
- The use and operation of the Temple and care for the Temple staff (Levites and singers) was not according to God’s commands (vv. 4-14)
- The Lord’s Day (the Sabbath) was not being kept according to God’s command (vv. 15-22)
- The Jewish people had begun intermarrying with non-Jewish people again, thus violating God’s commands once more (vv. 23-31)
As we look at today’s text, we see Eliashib the priest giving Tobiah his relative a room in the Temple as an apartment. Tobiah, not being a Jew, should never have been in the Temple to begin with – this was a violation of God’s commands. When Nehemiah discovered this issue, he immediately threw out all of Tobiah’s personal belongings, cleansed the room, and restored the room to its original purpose (vv. 4-9).
Remember also that Tobiah was one of the main critics of Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the walls and gates, and stirred up the other neighboring provinces against Israel. For Eliashib to invite Tobiah in and give him an apartment in the Temple was unthinkable and an affront to the Jewish people and to the Lord.
Nehemiah also discovered that the Levites and singers were not being cared for according to God’s Word. Once again the Levites and singers were overlooked and were going hungry. In order to survive, they left their roles in the Temple and went back to subsistence farming outside the city.
Nehemiah reinstated the Levites and singers to their roles and appointed new leaders over the distribution of food and resources to the Levites and singers as God had commanded.
Nehemiah ended today’s text by asking God to remember what he (Nehemiah) had done right, not what had gone wrong.
If you have been involved in ministry, you know that things can and do go wrong.
May you, like Nehemiah, have the strength and courage to set things right according to God’s Word.
And like Nehemiah, may you press into God’s grace and mercy for what you have done to lead well according to God’s Word and prompting, letting the choices and sins of others be on their heads, not yours.