The Reforms of Nehemiah
Nehemiah 13 records the events of Nehemiah’s second term as governor. After his first twelve-year term as governor, Nehemiah returned to the court of King Artaxerxes. During his absence, the people slipped back into many of their old sinful practices. When Nehemiah heard about these things, he asked permission of the king to return to Jerusalem. Upon returning, Nehemiah encountered four problems that required his immediate attention.
The first problem Nehemiah encountered is recorded in verses 4-9. Upon returning to Jerusalem, Nehemiah was shocked to learn that Eliashib, the high priest, had provided Tobiah a suite of rooms in the Temple complex. Tobiah was Nehemiah’s old archenemy who had tried to frustrate the work of God during Nehemiah’s first term as governor. Nehemiah wasted no time in dealing with the problem. He personally evicted Tobiah, throwing all of his belongings out of the room and ordering that the rooms be fumigated!
The second problem which Nehemiah encountered is recorded in Nehemiah 13:35-39. This problem concerned the support of the Temple and the Temple servants. The people stopped tithing and bringing their gifts into the storehouse. Because of this, many of the Levites had to find support away from the Temple thus neglecting the work of God and the education of the people. Nehemiah rebuked the leaders for allowing this to happen, restored the Levites to their posts, and reestablished the system of collecting tithes.
The third problem with which Nehemiah had to contend is recorded in Nehemiah 13:15-22. This problem concerned the violation of the Sabbath. The spiritual laxity of the people found expression in their violation of the Sabbath. The day had become just another day on the calendar. It was business as usual on the Sabbath. Nehemiah addressed the problem by rebuking the leaders for allowing the problem to continue. He also ordered that the gates of the city be closed throughout the Sabbath to keep out the merchants who were guilty of violating the Sabbath. Nehemiah posted guards at all the city gates to insure that his orders were carried out. He even threatened to use force against any who violated his orders.
The fourth problem with which Nehemiah had to contend is recorded in Nehemiah 13:23-29. This problem was the old recurring problem of intermarriage of the Jews with pagans. This was of grave concern to Nehemiah because the integrity and distinctiveness of the Jewish people was being compromised. The children could not speak the Hebrew language and as such could not read the Scripture. This was a dangerous situation that threatened the very existence of the Jewish people.
Nehemiah dealt with the violators by contending with them and even striking them and pulling out their hair. He reminded them that if wise Solomon’s heart had been turned away from the Lord by his foreign wives, then they could not expect to do any better. Nehemiah concluded his memoirs with a prayer, asking God to remember him for the work that he had done. That prayer has certainly been answered. His memoirs have become a part of the Holy Scripture!
We should not allow evil to dwell in our hearts.
During his absence from Jerusalem, Eliashib the high priest allowed Tobiah, an enemy of God, to take up residence in God’s house. We should be careful lest we allow the enemies of God to take up residence in our hearts and consequently cause our love and loyalty to God to wane. F.B. Meyer said, “When Nehemiah returned from a long sojourn in Persia, he cast out all Tobiah’s goods and restored the chamber to its proper use. If we have given up a chamber in our hearts to any Tobiah, we must be prepared to do likewise.”
We should be careful lest we allow past sins to trouble us.
During Nehemiah’s absence from Jerusalem, the people allowed many of their past sins to rise and trouble them anew. These were the very sins that had brought the wrath of God upon their fathers. Nehemiah addressed the matter by having the people put their sin away immediately and make things right immediately. He wasted no time in dealing with the sins that threatened the spiritual and national well being of the people. We too, should deal with sin swiftly and be on guard lest old sins rise to haunt and trouble us anew.