Following Christ is not easy. We need His grace as we fight constant battles with temptations, and often the same temptations day after day. This reality is amply illustrated in the concluding chapter of Nehemiah, which finds Nehemiah dealing with familiar sins among his people.
Anyone who has done any gardening knows the battle against weeds is unending. You spend hours removing the weeds from your garden; then before you know it, they’re back, and you have to start all over again.
There is a spiritual analogy to this, beloved; godly living isn’t necessarily gaining victory over problems and temptations and then moving on to new challenges; sometimes it’s battling the same ones over and over again.
As we arrive now at the last chapter of Nehemiah, I think Nehemiah must have felt that he was pulling weeds all over again. The Jewish people had confessed their sins and even committed themselves to a written covenant before the Lord. But those sins resurface again here in chapter 13, and Nehemiah has to start all over again.
Now if you put the chronological pieces together—in Nehemiah 5:15 and here in 13:6—you’ll discover that Nehemiah served twelve years as governor of Judah and then returned to Persia to serve King Artaxerxes there. Then, after some time in Persia, he again asked the king for permission to return to Judah.
And as soon as Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he finds some of those weeds have grown back. In fact, he has to deal with four recurring sins that have, once again, gained a stronghold among the people. These are the same sins he had dealt with years earlier back in chapter 10.
The first situation involves the sin of compromise. Apparently, even before Nehemiah arrived, the Lord providentially began to address this sin.
We learn here in verse 1 that Scripture was being read publicly one day, and the text read happened to be one that condemned intermarriage with the unbelieving nations around them. But while Nehemiah was away, some of these idolaters had been accepted into the nation of Israel, and Jewish people had intermarried with them. But verse 3 says, “As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.” So again, God was already at work in their hearts.
This separation was not complete, though. The problem of compromise had reached right into the priesthood. When Nehemiah arrives, he finds that his old enemy, Tobiah the Ammonite, has, shockingly, been given an apartment inside the temple! Through marriage he is related to a priest named Eliashib, and Eliashib was in charge of the chambers where offerings were stored. Eliashib had cleaned some of them out and moved his relative in. Tobiah was an enemy of the people of Jerusalem; he was the man who opposed the rebuilding of the city and even threatened Nehemiah’s life. Now he is living inside the temple. You can’t make this up!
Well, Nehemiah wastes no time. He tells us here in verse 8:
I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers.
Nehemiah doesn’t hold any committee meetings, take a vote, or begin dialoging with Tobiah. He simply removes the sinner—and the sin—from the place of worship. Nehemiah personally throws out all this guy’s furniture, his clothes, his idols, and, no doubt, his razor and toothbrush too!
By the way, today your body as well as mine is called the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19); so, how do we deal with sin that moves into God’s temple? Do we manage it, excuse it, negotiate with it, or kick it out immediately? Well, Nehemiah had the right idea.
Now the second sin Nehemiah must confront is selfishness. He writes in verse 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 did the work, had fled each to his field.
The people have stopped bringing their tithes of food and provisions to the temple, so the Levites, who lived off those offerings, have gone back to farming. Because of the people’s selfishness, the worship system and schedule there in Jerusalem have been disrupted.
Once again, Nehemiah doesn’t waste any time here in verses 11 and 12:
I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.
Nehemiah also discovers upon his return to Jerusalem that the weeds of materialism have grown back inside the city gates. The people of God are doing business on the Sabbath, violating God’s law. We read here in verse 15:
In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.
Again, Nehemiah rebukes the leaders for allowing this. He says in verse 17, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?” He then has the gates of Jerusalem closed every Sabbath day and even chases away those people who try to set up their little vegetable stands outside the walls on the Sabbath (verse 20).
The final sin Nehemiah must deal with is just plain disobedience, specifically here in relation to marriage. He says in verse 23, “In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”
Now there are three problems with marrying these unbelieving women. First, it will introduce pagan idolatry back into Israel. Nehemiah recalls here in verse 26 that “foreign women made even [Solomon] to sin.”
Second, verse 24 tells us that many of the children from these mixed marriages could not speak “the language of Judah.” They did not know Hebrew, and that meant they could not read God’s Word and easily could lose their spiritual heritage.
And third, entering mixed marriages broke their own promise to God back in chapter 10. There they had promised to separate from the peoples of the land and not intermarry with these idolators.
In verse 25 Nehemiah severely rebukes those guilty of this sin, which includes even the high priest’s son. Verse 28 tells us Nehemiah literally chases off this disobedient, compromising priest!
So, here’s the example of Nehemiah in chapter 13. Instead of giving up because he has to start pulling weeds all over again, what does he do?
He tackles compromise immediately.
He handles selfishness honestly.
He attacks materialism directly.
He deals with disobedience unapologetically.
We ought to do the same. The Christian life is hard work. Temptation is not easy to overcome. In fact, temptation doesn’t diminish with age; it grows more deceptive and dangerous. The lure of compromise, selfishness, materialism, and disobedience can wear a lot of disguises today.
But let me tell you, beloved, trusting the Lord, relying on the Holy Spirit, and obeying the truth of God’s Word leads to victories. And when we do fall prey to temptation, let’s follow Nehemiah’s example and deal with it immediately, honestly, directly, recognizing that every time we confess our sins, the Bible says, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Now as we conclude our Wisdom Journey through the memoirs of Nehemiah—an ordinary man who followed God wholeheartedly—I can tell you that the world, the church, and the family today all need more people like him. We need ordinary believers who are willing to live for the approval of God, rebuilding and restoring their broken-down world, one person, one disciple, at a time. Begin with yourself and you entrust yourself to the Lord.