Nehemiah was not fooling around, he meant business. He pointed the people to God by reading the word of God, and then, crazily enough, he actually expected people to follow it (see Nehemiah 9.1-38)! He was serious about God’s business — and are we surprised, after all he’s done to rebuild the walls, the gates, and the temple?
The people heard the word of Moses regarding foreigners in their midst (see Deuteronomy 23.3-5), and Nehemiah worked with the people to separate from Israel all those of foreign descent (Nehemiah 13.3). Though the separating sounds pretty rough, it’s a reminder of God’s protection and provision for them in the past, especially in relation to some foreign groups who worked against the people of Israel as they escaped Egypt.
out on the street
When Nehemiah returned from seeing Artaxerxes, King of Babylon, he discovered that a priest named Eliashub had put a relation of his, Tobiah, in a chamber of the house of God (Nehemiah 13.4-9). Basically, Eliashub gave his “cousin” a place to live, a place that formerly kept the offerings of the Lord. Nehemiah threw Tobiah and his furniture onto the street, and he re-established the house of the Lord.
Nehemiah had worked to restore the priesthood in the temple, but he discovered that the Levites had basically returned to their homes and fields because the people were not providing the tithes of grain, wine, and oil (Nehemiah 13.10-14). With a cry to the people, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” he saw the tithes brought into the storehouses to provide for the temple and the priesthood that God’s house be honored and stewarded.
shutting it down
He saw people working on the Sabbath — treading out the winepresses and selling all manner of goods in the market (Nehemiah 10.15-18). He shut that practice down because people were profaning the Sabbath by not keeping it holy.
Last, but certainly not least, when he discovered that some Israelites had married foreign women and that their children did not even speak the language of Judah, he blew a fuse. He “confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair” (Nehemiah 13.25). Foreign women led Israel to sin in the past, and they would do it again.
Truth is, this kind of confrontation makes us uncomfortable. We probably read this and think, “What’s the big deal?” But, for Nehemiah, the big deal was the people of Israel — God’s own people. All of this was God’s business — the people, the temple, the city — and Nehemiah took it very seriously.
For his work was not just the rebuilding of the walls, the gates, and the temple, but the greater work of restoring the trust, confidence, and faith of the people of God. His work was nothing less than the complete, and most importantly, spiritual restoration of Israel — and that is serious business.
Bringing the restoring and healing power of the Lord to bear on our own lives is serious business, too, but we often fail to see how serious it is. We fail to see how things impact our souls because we get so focused on the stuff of this earth. Folks like Nehemiah remind us of the seriousness of our relationship with God, of the eternal truth of our souls. Folks like Nehemiah remind us that we belong to God, and that God means business in our relationship to him.
A text for the table: Nehemiah 13.1-31.
Image Credit: “Nehemiah, Old Testament Primer, 1919“