Twelve years after the people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned to Persia. Some time later, he asked the king to allow him to return to *Judah (Nehemiah 13:6). There, Nehemiah discovered that the people were doing many wrong things. In this chapter, we can read what Nehemiah did about these serious problems.
v1 On that day, they read aloud the book of Moses. And the people were listening. The book said that God’s special people must never let the *Ammonite and *Moabite people join them. v2 This was because the *Ammonite and *Moabite people had not given the *Israelites food and water. They had paid Balaam to declare that evil things would happen to the *Israelites. But our God changed that. He did good things for them instead. v3 The people heard this law, so they separated themselves from all foreigners.
This seems to mean a particular day after Nehemiah returned to *Judah. It seems that, until then, the people had neglected to read the law of God. But on that particular day, they heard the law. Then they knew that they had not obeyed God’s commands. God’s law said that they must never allow the *Ammonite and *Moabite people to join the people of God. The *Ammonites and *Moabites were *descendants of Moab and Benammi, the sons of Lot. Moab and Benammi were born after Lot’s daughters made him *sin (Genesis 19:10-38). The *Ammonites and *Moabites were always the enemies of the *Jews. The *Moabites encouraged the *Jews to serve false gods at the time of Moses (Numbers 25:1-5).
So the people obeyed God and they separated themselves from all foreigners.
(God did not want the *Israelites to marry people from other nations. This was because the *Israelites were God’s special people. But God still cared about the people from other nations. In fact, God’s plan was to use the *Israelites so that he could do good things for people from every nation (Genesis 12:3). So people from other nations could still serve the real God. For example, Ruth was from Moab, but she became an *ancestor of Jesus. So God even allowed *Moabites to join his special people, the *Jews, if they really *worshipped him. See Ruth 1:16-22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32.)
v4 Before this, Eliashib the priest was responsible for the rooms of the house of our God. He was a relative of Tobiah. v5 Eliashib allowed Tobiah to use a large room. This was a room where people used to store the gifts of grain, *perfume and the *temple equipment. They also stored there the *tithes of grain, new wine and oil. The law said that the people should give these things to the *Levites. And there were also gifts for the singers and the people who guarded the gates. People also stored the gifts for the priests in this room.
When Nehemiah was away in Persia, the priest Eliashib allowed Tobiah to use a large room in the *temple. Tobiah was one of the enemies of the *Jews. He had tried to stop the people building the walls of Jerusalem again (Nehemiah 2:10; 2:19; 4:3). Also he was an *Ammonite. God’s law said that the *Jews must not allow *Ammonites to join them (Nehemiah 13:1). Tobiah was also a relative of Eliashib the priest. It seems that someone from Eliashib’s family had married Tobiah or someone from his family. The *Jews had promised not to marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30). So they had done something that they promised not to do. And this was a very important matter, because they made this promise to God.
The room that Tobiah used was a special room. The people stored the equipment for the *temple there. They also stored their *tithes and gifts for the priests in this room. So, when Tobiah used the room, they did not have anywhere to store the *tithes. Also some *Levites and *temple servants lived outside Jerusalem. They probably stayed in this room when they came to Jerusalem to serve. So when it was their time to serve in Jerusalem they did not have anywhere to stay.
Eliashib was the chief priest (Nehemiah 13:28). He was responsible for the entire *temple. And he was very important. But he was allowing Tobiah to use this room. And Eliashib had also allowed members of his family to marry foreigners. Eliashib was the leader of the priests. But even he was not obeying God’s law. So even the chief priest was not doing the things that the *Israelites promised to do (chapter 10).
v6 When this happened, I was not in Jerusalem. In the 32nd year of the rule of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon, I had returned to the king. Some time later, I asked the king to allow me to go back. v7 So I went back to Jerusalem. Then I discovered the evil thing that Eliashib had done. He had provided Tobiah with a large room inside the walls of the house of God. v8 I was very angry about this. So I threw all Tobiah’s property out of the room. v9 I ordered people to clean the rooms. I told the priests to carry out a special ceremony so that the rooms would be holy again. Then I put back into the room the equipment for the house of God. I also put back the gifts of grain and the *perfume.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he discovered what Eliashib had done. So Nehemiah was very angry. This does not mean that Nehemiah could not control his temper. It means that he acted in a strict way. He wanted to show that he was very unhappy about the situation. Jesus showed a similar reaction in a similar situation (John 2:12-17).
Nehemiah said that Eliashib had done something evil. So Nehemiah threw all Tobiah’s property out of the room. The room was a special holy room. But it was not still holy because Tobiah the *Ammonite had used it. So Nehemiah ordered people to clean the rooms. Then the priests carried out a ceremony to make the rooms holy again. They probably carried out special *sacrifices to do this. Then Nehemiah put the equipment and the gifts of grain back into the room.
v10 I also discovered that the *Levites had not received their share of the gifts from the people. So the *Levites and the singers, who did the work, had to go back to work in their own fields. v11 So I was angry with the officials. I said, ‘You should not have neglected the house of God.’ I gathered the *Levites and the singers together. And I made them go back to work in the *temple.
Nehemiah also discovered that the people had not given their *tithes and gifts to the *Levites. They had promised to give one tenth (1/10th) of their crops for the priests and the *Levites (Nehemiah 10:35-39). Then the priests and the *Levites could serve God and they could take care of the *temple all the time. But this was another promise that the people had failed to do. Instead the *Levites and the singers had gone back to their own fields. They had to produce their own food so they were not doing their work in the *temple.
Perhaps the people did not bring the *tithes and gifts because there was nowhere to store them in the *temple. Tobiah was using the special room. But perhaps the room was already empty even before Tobiah began to use it. Perhaps it was empty because the people were not still bringing their gifts to put into the room.
Nehemiah blamed the officials who were the leaders of the people. The people had promised not to neglect the house of God (Nehemiah 10:39). But Nehemiah said that they had neglected the house of God. And he made the *Levites and the singers return to their work in the *temple.
The *prophet Malachi lived about that time. God spoke to the people by Malachi. He said that the people were cheating God. They did not bring their gifts and their *tithes to his house (Malachi 3:8-10).
v12 Then all the people of *Judah brought the *tithes of grain, new wine and oil. They brought them to the special rooms in the house of God. v13 Then I appointed men to look after the rooms where the people stored the *tithes. These men were Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the teacher and Pedaiah the *Levite. I appointed Hanan to help them. Hanan was the son of Zaccur and was the grandson of Mattaniah. Everybody knew that these men were honest. Their job was to give shares to all their companions.
So the people again started to bring their *tithes and gifts to the house of God. Nehemiah was wise and he appointed a team of good men to look after this work. The men whom Nehemiah chose were honest men. Everybody knew this. These men looked after the special holy rooms. These rooms were special because these rooms stored the *tithes and gifts only. The men that Nehemiah chose shared these things with the priests and the *Levites.
v14 ‘You know what I have done, my God. I have done these good things for the house of my God and its work. Do not allow anyone to stop these arrangements.’
Nehemiah was a man who prayed often. He always wanted to do the right thing for God and for God’s work. So he prayed that the gifts for the *temple would continue.
v15 In those days, I saw that men in *Judah were working on the 7th day of the week. (But the 7th day of the week should be a holy day for rest.) They were squeezing juice out of fruit to make wine. Also, some men were bringing grain and they were loading it on horses. They also brought wine, fruit and other loads into Jerusalem. And they were doing this work on the 7th day. I warned them, ‘Do not sell food on this day.’
v16 Some men from the city called Tyre lived in Jerusalem. They brought fish and all kinds of goods into Jerusalem. Then they sold these things in Jerusalem on the 7th day to the people of *Judah. v17Then I told the important men in *Judah, ‘You should not be doing this wicked thing. You are spoiling the 7th day.’ v18 Your *ancestors did the same thing. That is why God allowed bad things to happen to us and to this city. Now you are making him angry with *Israel again, because you are spoiling the 7th day.
Nehemiah also discovered something else when he returned to *Judah. He saw that some of the people were working on the 7th day of the week. They were also loading grain on horses. Maybe some of this was grain that they should have given to the *Levites (Nehemiah 13:10). The *Jews were also buying goods from the people of other nations on the 7th day of the week.
God had ordered the people to rest on the 7th day. He told them to allow their animals and their foreign servants to rest also (Exodus 23:12). But they were working and they were making their horses work too. The 7th day was a special day when the people *worshipped God. The people had promised that the 7th day of the week would be special and holy for God (Nehemiah 10:31). Again, they had failed to do something that they promised. And this was an important matter, because they made this promise to God.
Again, Nehemiah blamed the important men of *Judah. He said that their behaviour was wicked. He reminded them about their history. God had punished their *ancestors because they did not rest on the 7th day of the week. That was why God had allowed foreign nations to destroy Jerusalem. Now the people were making God angry again. Nehemiah probably remembered the words of the *prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had warned the people just before God had sent them into *exile. He told them not to carry loads on the 7th day of the week (Jeremiah 17:19-27).
v19 I gave an order. At nightfall before the 7th day, the guards must shut the gates of Jerusalem. They must not open the gates until the 7th day is over. I told some of my servants to guard the gates. They did not allow anyone to bring a load in on the 7th day. v20 Once or twice, the merchants and various traders spent the night outside Jerusalem, near the city wall. v21 But I warned them. I said, ‘You must not stay by the wall during the night. If you do this again, I will arrest you.’ After that, they did not come on the 7th day. v22 I told the *Levites to wash themselves and to make themselves holy. I told them to go and to guard the gates. Then they would keep the 7th day holy.
My God, you know about these things also. Be kind to me because of your great love.
Nehemiah gave orders that people must not trade on the 7th day of the week. He ordered the guards in Jerusalem to shut the gates of the city during the 7th day. He also spoke to the people from other nations who brought goods to sell. He warned them not to come on the 7th day of the week. He told the *Levites to make themselves clean and holy and to guard the gates of the city. Nehemiah believed that Jerusalem was a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1, 18). He wanted Jerusalem to remain a holy city that pleased God.
Nehemiah prayed again. He remembered God’s great love. And Nehemiah asked God to show his (God’s) kindness.
v23 In those days, I also saw men from *Judah who had married women from the nations called Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. v24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the languages of the other nations. They could not speak the language of *Judah. v25 So I told these men that their behaviour was wrong. I asked God to allow bad things to happen to them. I struck some of them and I pulled out their hair. I forced them to make a promise to God. I said, ‘You must not allow their daughters to marry your sons. You must not take their daughters to be wives for you or for your sons. v26 This was how Solomon the king of *Israel *sinned. There was no king as great as he was in any of the nations. God loved him very much and God made him king over all *Israel. But foreign women made him *sin. v27 And now, we hear that you also are doing the same wicked things. We must not *sin against our God. We must not marry foreign women.’
Nehemiah discovered something else when he returned to *Judah. Some of the men had married women from the nations called Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. God had ordered the people not to marry foreigners. He had also ordered the *Jews not to allow the *Ammonites and *Moabites to join them (Nehemiah 13:1-2). The people had promised God that they would not marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30). This was another promise to God that the people had failed to perform.
Although these people lived in *Judah, half of their children did not know the *Jews’ own language. They spoke the languages of other nations. They would not be able to read or to understand God’s law. It would be very easy for them to start to *worship the false gods of other nations.
Perhaps these men had married foreign women in order to make friends with people from other nations. Then these men could trade and they could make more money. But perhaps these men married the foreign women because these men had followed their emotions. Or perhaps there were not enough *Jewish women for all the men to marry. But whatever their reasons were, these men were not obeying God’s law.
Nehemiah was very angry. Again, his anger was not a mere emotion. He had full control over his behaviour. But he showed his disgust at what these men had done. He even pulled out their hair. Hair was very important to Jewish men. To lose their hair would cause them to be ashamed. Nehemiah was very strict with these men. But they respected his authority. And they accepted the punishment. Then Nehemiah forced these men to make a serious promise to God. Nehemiah ordered them not to marry foreign women. Also they must not allow their sons and daughters to marry foreigners.
Nehemiah reminded the people again about their history. God made King Solomon to be very wise. But even Solomon was not wise when he married foreign women. And they tempted him to *worship other false gods (1 Kings 11:1-13).
It seems that Nehemiah did not tell these men to send their foreign women away. That was how Ezra dealt with a similar problem many years earlier.
The *prophet Malachi lived about that time. God spoke to the people by Malachi about this matter too. He said that the people were not obeying God. When they married foreign women, they were not obeying God (Malachi 2:10-16).
v28 Joiada was the son of the chief priest Eliashib. The wife of one of Joiada’s sons was the daughter of Sanballat from Horon. So I chased Joiada’s son away from me.
Even the grandson of Eliashib the chief priest had married a daughter of Sanballat. Sanballat was one of the enemies of the *Jews. He had tried to stop the *Jews building the walls of Jerusalem again (Nehemiah 2:10; 2:19; 4:1-2). Nehemiah was very angry because Sanballat was now a relative of the chief priest. And Nehemiah showed complete disgust against Eliashib’s grandson. Nehemiah refused even to allow that man (Eliashib’s grandson) to remain in the same room. Nehemiah forced the man to go away.
v29 You know about these men, my God. They have made the priests unholy. They have spoiled the agreement that you made with the priests and the *Levites.
v30 So I removed everything that was foreign from the priests and the *Levites. I gave to them their tasks. Everyone had his own job to do. v31 I appointed people to bring the gifts of wood and the first of the grain and fruit at the right time.
You know about these matters, my God. Show your kindness to me.
Nehemiah prayed again. He knew that the priests had not obeyed God. They had not been good models for the people. Nehemiah tried to make the priests and the *Levites do the right things again. He removed everything foreign from them. He arranged for each of them to do his own proper tasks. He made sure that good people would collect the *tithes and the gifts at the right time.
Nehemiah recorded another of his prayers to end his book. He had always tried to do what was right. He only wanted to please God. And he asked God to show his kindness.
Ammonite ~ someone from the country called Ammon, or anything that has a relationship to the country called Ammon.
Arab ~ a member of a nation that opposed Nehemiah’s plans.
Assyrians ~ people from the country called Assyria.
ancestors ~ people from the same family in previous centuries.
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylonia, or anything with a relationship to Babylonia. The capital city of Babylonia was called Babylon.
descendant ~ a future member of a family.
exile ~ a period when people cannot live in their own country. This period may be for many years.
famine ~ a time when there is not enough food, so people become hungry.
introduction ~ the first section of a book. The introduction contains information that explains the contents of the book.
Israel ~ the entire nation that belonged to the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After the death of King Solomon, the nation split into two. The northern part became a separate country, called Israel. Then, the inhabitants were called *Israelites.
Israelites ~ the people from the country called *Israel. But the word is sometimes used to mean the people who came from the country called *Judah too.
Jehovah ~ a special name for God. This name means that God is always God. And it reminds us about the special relationship between God and his people.
Jews ~ all the people from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Or, just the people from the country called *Judah.
Judah ~ the south part of the nation that belonged to the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After the death of King Solomon, the nation split into two, and Judah became a separate country. Then, the inhabitants were called *Jews. Judah was also the name of a son of Jacob. God gave the region called Judah to this man’s (Judah’s) descendants.
Levites ~ the people of one of the 12 families of *Israel; they acted as assistants to the priests in the *temple.
Lord ~ a title for God to show that he is over all. But sometimes we translate *Jehovah as ‘Lord’.
lots ~ a method that seems to choose something by chance. But people would pray about the decision. They asked God to control the lots. And they believed that the decision came from God.
Moabite ~ a person from the country called Moab; or anything with a relationship to Moab.
orchard ~ a place to grow fruit trees.
perfume ~ oil that smells sweet.
Persian ~ a person from the country called Persia, or anything with a relationship to the country called Persia.
prophet ~ someone who tells God’s messages; a person whom God sends to speak for him; someone who is able to tell the will of God to other people; someone who declares God’s words. However, some people were false prophets. These people pretended to speak God’s words. But really, their messages came from the devil, or from their own imagination.
ruin ~ buildings and walls that have fallen down.
sacrifice ~ a gift to God by the *Jews. They gave such a gift when they asked God to forgive their *sins. The gift was often an animal or a bird. Sometimes people offered sacrifices to thank God for something.
shield ~ soldiers use these strong boards to keep themselves safe from attack.
sin ~ when people do bad things against God or other people; when people do not obey the commands of God.
spear ~ a long and thin *weapon of war which has a point. Soldiers throw them.
temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews *worshipped God.
tithe ~ one tenth (1/10th or 10%). The law said that the people must give a 10th of the harvest of oil, grain and wine to God. This 10th part was called a ‘tithe’.
tower ~ a tall, strong building.
trumpet ~ an instrument to make music or to sound an alarm.
vineyard ~ a place where fruit bushes grow. People use the fruit to make wine.
weapon ~ a tool of war that a soldier uses in attack or defence.
worship ~ to praise God and to give thanks to him; to show honour to God and to say that we love him very much. But some people worship false gods instead of the real God.