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Nehemiah 12:44-13:31 – Nehemiah’s Final Reforms

Summary

The story of Nehemiah concludes with Nehemiah correcting a series of abuses during a second term as governor.

Analysis

In many ways these final verses function as a coda or an appendix to the narrative that was so dramatically concluded with the procession and dedication of the walls in chapter 12. Their presence is a sober reminder that the process of reform and restoration was not completed with the reestablishment of worship or the rebuilding of the temple and the walls. The church must always be reformed, as both Calvinist and Lutheran strains of Protestantism tirelessly remind us.

Nehemiah's reforms in chapter 13, following an absence of unspecified length (vv. 6-7), seem to be grouped together because they all deal with purification. The six reforms may be briefly described as follows:

  • Separation from foreigners, a persistent problem, here has to do with the banning of foreigners from the "assembly of God" (vv. 1-3). Decisive here are Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Numbers 22-24; and an anecdote from the time of David (Nehemiah 12:44-47).
  • The eviction of his old nemesis, Tobiah--who had inappropriately been given rooms in the temple by Eliashib, one of the priests, while Nehemiah was in Babylon--served to purify the temple (13:4-9).
  • The community's lack of support for the Levites and temple singers forced them to abandon the temple to work their fields in order to survive. After rebuking the people, Nehemiah set up a system by which the temple personnel would be supported (vv. 10-14).
  • Violation of the Sabbath commandment by Jews and foreigners alike was quickly corrected, while additional measures were taken to prevent a recurrence (vv. 15-22).
  • As in Ezra's day, the problem of intermarriage required Nehemiah's attention. Unlike Ezra, however, Nehemiah does not demand the divorce of these women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. He does rebuke the community, including physical abuse, and makes them promise not to intermarry in the future (vv. 23-27).
  • Closely related to this, Nehemiah was chagrined to learn that even the high priests were not exempt from the threat to the community presented by intermarriage. This was especially painful for the governor since it involved a marriage to the daughter of his archenemy Sanballat (vv. 28-29).


A very terse summary of Nehemiah's attempts to keep the community pure from corrupting outside influence brings the work to a somewhat prosaic conclusion (vv. 30-31).

Nehemiah 12:44-13:31

Temple Responsibilities

44 On that day men were appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and for the Levites from the fields belonging to the towns; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 45They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46For in the days of David and Asaph long ago there was a leader of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers. They set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the descendants of Aaron.

Foreigners Separated from Israel

13On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2because they did not meet the Israelites with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.

The Reforms of Nehemiah

4 Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5prepared for Tobiah a large room where they had previously put the grain-offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6While this was taking place I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king 7and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room. 9Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain-offering and the frankincense.

10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields. 11So I remonstrated with the officials and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’ And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses the priest Shelemiah, the scribe Zadok, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan son of Zaccur son of Mattaniah, for they were considered faithful; and their duty was to distribute to their associates. 14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

Sabbath Reforms Begun

15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them at that time against selling food. 16Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of merchandise and sold them on the sabbath to the people of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17Then I remonstrated with the nobles of Judah and said to them, ‘What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day? 18Did not your ancestors act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.’

19 When it began to be dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the sabbath. And I set some of my servants over the gates, to prevent any burden from being brought in on the sabbath day. 20Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21But I warned them and said to them, ‘Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.’ From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. 22And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favour, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

Mixed Marriages Condemned

23 In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; 24and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. 25And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and 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. 26Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?’

28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, son of the high priest Eliashib, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; I chased him away from me. 29Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priests and the Levites.

30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31and I provided for the wood-offering, at appointed times, and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

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10 February 2011

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