At the end of Chapter 12, Nehemiah went back to Susa to report to the king after spending 12 years in Jerusalem. “After some time” (13:6), Nehemiah asked the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem. When Nehemiah arrived back in Jerusalem, he found that the situation had grown very dire and the people were not being faithful to the Lord. It was around this time (440-420 BC) that the Jewish people received “the oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi” (Mal 1:1). There were six primary commitments that the Jewish people had made to the Lord in the “oath of obedience” (Neh 10).
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem he discovered that they had violated their promises. Specifically:
- They promised not to intermarry with the people of the land (10:30), but “the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab” (13:23).
- They promised to do no work on the Sabbath (10:31), but they were working (13:15).
- They promised to regularly give the required temple tax (10:32), but we can infer from the rest of their failures that they neglected this as well.
- They promised to take care of the provisions for the temple, such as gathering the wood that was needed for the sacrifices (10:34-35), but “Elisashib the priest…had prepared a large room for [Tobiah], 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” (13:4-5 & 13:31).
- They promised to give the firstborn of all to the Lord (10:36), but “for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and one of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people” (13:24).
- They promised to be faithful to give the tithes the Lord commanded of them (10:37), but “I discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them” (13:10).
Nehemiah, who had worked very hard to rebuild the wall, renew the Covenant, and reform the people, realized that the need for reformation amongst God’s people is continual. As long as sin is in this world, God’s people must be vigilant.
Exclusion & Expulsion
Christians should be vigilant to exclude and expel those things in our life that do not contribute to our spiritual maturity. What in your life needs to be removed? What is hindering your relationship with Jesus Christ? What is keeping you from having peace and joy? Paul told the church in Colossae, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry…put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col 3:5-9). Hebrews 12:1 says, “Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles.” Get rid of the Ammonites and Moabites in your life. Cast out the Tobiah in your temple!
Sanitation & Restoration
Christians should be vigilant to regular cleansing and restoration. As you cast out of your heart what is not pleasing to God, replace it with what is pleasing to Him. What is not in your life that needs to be there? What do you not have enough of in your life that needs to be put on? Once again, Paul said to the church in Colossae:
Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…and so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, but on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col 3:10-17)
Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” After you drive Tobiah out of the temple, fill it with what is pleasing to God. Obey the Lord’s commands. Give faithfully of your time, talent, and treasure.
Remember Them & Remember Me
At the end of the book of Nehemiah, he prayed two very important prayers: Remember them and remember me. These prayers are significant because it shows that Nehemiah is working according to God’s strength and trusting that God is in control. Nehemiah prayed for God to judge his enemies. He prayed, “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites” (13:29). Nehemiah prayed similarly in 6:14). Nehemiah is asking God to bring perfect justice to them in accordance with His holiness and righteousness. Nehemiah knows that God is the perfect Judge. Nehemiah prayed for God to bless him. He prayed, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:14, 22, & 31). He prayed in Nehemiah 5:19 “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.”
Just as Nehemiah worked very hard to bring reformation to God’s people, let us work for reformation. Until the day Jesus returns or death takes us to Him, as long as sin is in this world and our enemy roams, Christians must be vigilant. Put off what is sinful and put away what hinders. As the Apostle Paul said, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealously. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:13-14). O my God, remember them and remember me!