Perseverance is the
ultimate mark of great leadership.
admonished his people during WWII: "Never give up.
Never, never, never, give up." And they
When we come to the final
chapter in Nehemiah it is as if he stands shouting
to his people: Never give up. Never, never, never!
We have come to the last
chapter in the history of Israel in the Old
Testament, and we still see the great Jewish leader
fighting hard battles to the very end. There will be
400 silent years before God speaks again to His
people. Old Testament revelation comes to a close
with Nehemiah and the prophet Malachi.
John White writes: "To
the end of his days Nehemiah retained the same goal
that mobilized the laws to rebuild the walls and
that made him intervene earlier to abolish
exploitation of the poor. Nehemiah was not a
flash-in-the-plan leader but one who remained as
long as he lived, consistent to his original vision"
(Excellence in Leadership, p. 127).
Nehemiah went back to
Persia in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes. What
he tells us in chapter thirteen takes place sometime
Nehemiah probably served
two governorships in Judah. The first would have
extended from the twentieth to the thirty-second
year of Artaxerxes, 445 B.C. to 433 B.C.
We don’t know how long
Nehemiah has been gone, but it is sufficient time
for the leadership and the people to slip back into
their old ways of sinning and forsake the new
covenant they had signed (10:1, 28-39).
Several scholars suggest
the problems faced in chapter thirteen seem to have
been between his first twelve year assignment and
the second assignment some time later. There are
major problems that have developed in Judah.
We have no way of
determining how long the interval between the
governorship lasted, but it was sufficient to reveal
the spiritual problems in the nation.
Howard Voss and Cyril
Barber suggest Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem
between 425 B.C. and 420 B.C., which would be near
the end of the reign of King Artaxerxes.
His second governorship
dealt with the same old spiritual problems he had
dealt with ten-twelve years earlier. When you
compare the covenant that the people signed in
chapter ten with the problem in chapter thirteen the
only difference is in chapter thirteen the people
still dedicate their first born to the LORD.
However, problems still remain for the
intermarriages with pagans, the Sabbath observances,
provisions for the Temple and the tithes.
This is a good time to
read the Book of Malachi, the last of the Old
Testament prophets. He wrote shortly before 432 B.C.
(possibly 450 B.C.) and parallels the conditions of
Ezra and Nehemiah. It best fits the situations in
this chapter, after the first visit of Nehemiah and
before the return from Persia in 432 B.C. God sent
the prophet with a message that dealt with the same
problems Nehemiah encountered.
PROBLEMS THAT NEVER GO
The same sins that ruined
their national life before their captivity had
attacked again and again. Nehemiah faces exactly the
same problems he dealt with earlier; i.e. the purity
of God’s people, desecration of the Sabbath, and
marriage with heathen people. The focus is on
separation, service and sanctification.
How sad that we face
again and again the same besetting sins in the
Reading the Word
The first thing they did
was go back again and read the Word of God.
The portion referred to is Deuteronomy 23:3-5. Then
they enforced the marriage laws.
"On that day they read
aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the
people; and there was found written in it that no
Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly
of God, because they did not meet the sons of Israel
with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them
to curse them. However, our God turned the curse
into a blessing. So when they heard the law, they
excluded all foreigners from Israel" (Nehemiah
The cancer of paganism
still infected the nation and it had to be removed.
The historical background
is found in Numbers 22:3-11. The Ammonites and
Moabites had resisted Israel’s march to the Promised
Land. The enemies hired a false prophet whose curse
backfired and was turned by God into a blessing upon
Israel (Num. 22-25).
Tobiah had been a
ruthless enemy to the building of the wall. Yet,
while Nehemiah was away he wormed his way into the
Temple. The high priest allowed it to happen (vv.
The room he occupied had
been one of the Temple storerooms, which was a side
room for storing grain offerings. From that
advantage Tobiah could oppose God’s work with
pretense of support it.
"Now prior to this,
Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the
chambers of the house of our God, being related to
Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where
formerly they put the grain offerings, the
frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain,
wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers
and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the
priests" (Nehemiah 13:4-5).
Eliashib is the high
priest and had given his daughters in marriage to
Sanballat the Horonite of Samaria (v. 28). Yes, he
is the same evil person encountered earlier (2:10,
The high priest has
provided Tobiah with rooms in the Temple where the
Temple articles, tithes, and offerings would
normally be stored. That is like letting the fox
stay in the chicken house.
decisive action (vv. 6-9)
When Nehemiah found what
had happened in the Temple he exploded with
In verse six Artaxerxes
is called "king of Babylon" because his rule over
Persian Empire included Babylon.
"I came to Jerusalem and
learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for
Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of
the house of God. It was very displeasing to me, so
I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the
room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the
rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the
house of God with the grain offerings and the
frankincense" (vv. 7-9).
Perhaps this is what
Malachi had in mind when he said because of "the
evil thing" God was sending a curse on this
priesthood (Mal. 2:2).
Make no apology for the
righteous indignation of Nehemiah, Malachi or Jesus.
Every manner of evil is
condoned today in the name of tolerance.
Where is the Nehemiah who
will stand up to evil and defend the righteousness
Reforms for the
Temple (vv. 10-14)
Because the tithes for
the operation of the Temple had not been paid, the
Levites and the singers had left town and returned
to their villages and farms in order to make a
"I also discovered that
the portions of the Levites had not been given them,
so that the Levites and the singers who performed
the service had gone away, each to his own field"
The people had probably
lost confidence in the spiritual leadership because
of the lack of integrity of the high priest
That still did not excuse
disobeying the biblical command to give God what He
Nehemiah tacked the
problem by rebuking the religious leaders,
reinstating the Levites and the tithe-collections.
"So I reprimanded the officials and said, ‘Why is
the house of God forsaken?’ Then I gathered them
together and restored them to their posts. All Judah
then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil
into the storehouses. In charge of the storehouses I
appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe,
and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them
was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah;
for they were considered reliable, and it was their
task to distribute to their kinsmen" (vv. 11-13).
Prayer of Nehemiah in
verse fourteen: "Remember me for this, O my God, and
do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have
performed for the house of my God and its services."
Sabbath Reform (vv.
The Sabbath had become
secularized once again and desecrated by the
resumption of the commercial activities, harvesting
of grain, and treading of grapes. Vendors from Tyre
brought their fish for the markets. Of course,
vendors don’t come unless the people are ready to
Note the words used to
describe Nehemiah's action as a leader. "I
admonished" (v. 15), "I reprimanded the nobles of
Judah" (v. 17), "commanded" (v. 19), "I stationed"
(v. 19), "I warned" (v. 21), "I will use force
against you" (v. 21), "I commanded the Levites" (v.
There was nothing
indecisive about Nehemiah. He rebuked the nobles,
locked the city gates, ran the merchants outside the
gates, and told the Levites to guard the city on the
Another prayer of
Nehemiah is recorded in verse 22. "And I commanded
the Levites that they should purify themselves and
come as gatekeepers to sanctify the Sabbath day. For
this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion
on me according to the greatness of Your
Family Reform (vv.
Intermarriage with the
surrounding pagan nations plagued Israel. It led the
people into idolatry.
Domestic disobedience is
stated in vv. 23-24. "In those days I also saw that
the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and
Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the
language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to
speak the language of Judah, but the language of his
Israel was rearing
children and grandchildren who could not speak or
understand the language of the Scriptures. How could
they know Yahweh?
Action of Nehemiah in
verse 25 gets quite intense. The passage is strong
because the problem is great. "So I contended with
them and cursed them and struck some of them and
pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God,
"You shall not give your daughters to their sons,
nor take of their daughters for your sons or for
Nehemiah "cursed" them
does not mean he used profanity. He does not use the
LORD’S name in vain. Nehemiah cursed them in the
sense that he treated them with contempt, to revile
in the severest terms.
He also got a little
rough with them. He "pulled out their hair," meaning
he "made slick or polished" their face or head. The
situation was desperate and it called for desperate
Do you have some sins,
favorite ones, that you had allowed to return home?
Perhaps you have even invited them back. They will
suck the spiritual life out of you and leave you
spiritually drained. But just like Nehemiah, no sin
can remain in the temple if you grab it by the neck
and throw it out. Who is the enemy guest you have
allowed in the temple of the Holy Spirit? What
severe, even radical, action will you take to regain
control and cleanse your temple?
ABIDING PRINCIPLES AND
1. Nehemiah was obedient
to God and His Word. He refused to compromise. He
was obedient to the will of God. He condemned the
evils severely. He had fearless convictions and
stood by them.
2. Nehemiah kept focused
on the right issues. He refused to let people side
track him. He knew his priorities and stuck with
them. He kept focused on his goals and objectives.
Nehemiah kept working for a permanent correction to
the evils of his day. But he also had the future of
the nation in mind.
3. He was a man of
prayer (13:14, 22, 29, 31). He was bold in the
presence of God. He was consistent in his devotion
to the Lord.
4. Nehemiah took
bold action when he knew it to be the will of God.
When you deal with sin you have to deal with it head
on. You cannot put off what must ultimately be done.
The longer you wait, the worse it gets.
5. Has a Tobiah
wormed his way into your life and now sits enthroned
where Jesus Christ should be? Is the temple of the
Holy Spirit cluttered with Tobiah’s filth and
defilement? Do you need to do some spiritual temple
cleaning so Christ will be the Lord of your personal
life? What are some attitudes, thoughts, behaviors,
and compromises that diminish your love for Christ?
6. Has a daughter
of Sanballat captured your affection and stolen your
loyalty to Christ? How sad when Christian youth
choose to enter into a marriage covenant with
unbelievers. It would be far better to break your
heart now than later when life really gets
complicated. Yes, it does grieve the heart of God.
7. There can be no
half-measures in the Christian life. Throw Tobiah
out of the temple. Clean it up now.
8. Nehemiah was
abandoned to the will of God. That is the first
requirement of a great leader and all followers.
This great builder,
reformer and Jewish leader was a man with his faith
focused on Yahweh. He concluded his testimony to
God’s faithfulness praying, "Remember me, O my God,
The apostle came to the
end of his life’s ministry and declared: "I have
fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I
have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up
for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord,
the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day;
and not only to me, but also to all who have loved
His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Even so, come, Lord
Index to this Series on
13:1-31 Reforms of Nehemiah
Leader with a Focused Faith