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READING: Nehemiah 13 – Nehemiah Goes Back to Persia and Returns to Set things in Order


As Ezra read the Scriptures with Israel, they found that Moabites and Ammonites should never be a part of the assembly of God. When they heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. But God said, “…to the tenth generation” for Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 23:3-5). 

Nehemiah was in Persia, but hearing what was happening in Jerusalem, he asked the king’s permission to return there. He had three things to tend to: a weak high priest, Sabbath violations, and marrying foreign wives. 

The High Priest Eliashib had been put in charge of the chambers of the Temple. This priest emptied the chambers of what should have been there – the utensils of gold and silver used in the Temple rituals, the grain for grain offerings, and the incense – and gave Tobiah those chambers as a place to live. When Nehemiah returned, he was angry with the priest and with Tobiah. He threw all of Tobiah’s household furnishings out and brought back the things that should have been there. 

He also discovered that the tithes for the Levite singers were not being paid, so all those who should have been singing God’s praises went back to their fields to grow their food. Nehemiah asked why the Temple was forsaken. He gathered the officials together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithes, and Nehemiah appointed new treasurers over the storehouses who were faithful. 

Judeans were treading wine presses on the Sabbath, bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys to bring them into the city on the Sabbath. There were also merchants with all sorts of luxury items for sale on the Sabbath. Nehemiah rebuked the nobles of Judah, “What is this evil thing you are doing, profaning the Sabbath? Didn’t your ancestors act this way, and didn’t our God bring all this disaster to this city? Yet you bring wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” 

He then ordered that the gates to the city be closed from sundown Friday until sundown on Saturday. That stopped the trafficking of trade goods on the Sabbath. 

Jews married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. Half their children spoke only the language of Ashdod and could not speak the language of Judah. Nehemiah said, “I contended with them, cursed them, and pulled out their hair; 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.” He reminded them of Solomon’s sin of marrying foreign women who led him into idolatry. And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of the high priest Eliashib was the son-in-law of Sanballat the protagonist who wanted the walls of Jerusalem to remain unbuilt. 

The zeal of the people for the Law of God may have carried them too far away from God’s Love. 

Which is more important? Ritual obedience or sincere love of God?  

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PRAY FOR YOURSELF 

My Father in Heaven, my Lord said the Sabbath was ?made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The abuse of the Sabbath that Nehemiah saw was comparable to what Jesus saw when he entered the Temple after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Jews had kept from idolatry, but had created a hard, burdensome set of ritual traditions. When the greatest commandment is to love God with our entire being and the second greatest is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, ritual obedience seems to take a back seat. How do we have a balance between love and ritual? Can You help me find that balance? This is my prayer in the name of Jesus, Your Son, AMEN! 

MY PRAYER FOR YOU (and for myself) 

Holy Father my prayer for all who read this and for myself, is that we think about how Nehemiah enforced the Law. When he cursed people, beat them, and pulled out their hair, he does not leave us with a Christ-like pattern of behavior. Were those things appropriate for him, but not for us? I am confident that if I tried to make people follow me in that way, I would lose all credibility with them While Nehemiah showed great leadership in getting the wall built around the city, I wonder about what I see in the final chapter of his book. I offer this prayer for myself, and for all who read this for us to think about in view of the teachings of Jesus, in whose name I pray, AMEN! 

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