Nehemiah 13 Commentary

Nehemiah’s later reforms (13:4-31)

After serving twelve years as governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned to Persia for a period (see 5:14; 13:6). During his absence the religion of the Jews deteriorated, while the Jews’ old enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, gained some influence in Jerusalem. The high priest Eliashib was especially blameworthy in this. He allowed a member of the high priestly family to marry the daughter of Sanballat (see v. 28), and gave permission to Tobiah to live in one of the temple rooms. This was directly against the law that Nehemiah tried to uphold, for Tobiah was an Ammonite (see 4:3; 13:1). On his return Nehemiah quickly corrected the disorders (4-9).

Nehemiah discovered also that the people had broken an important covenant promise made at the time of the dedication of the city wall. They had not paid tithes, with the result that the Levites had to leave the service of the temple and work for their living in the fields (10-14; cf. 10:35-39).

People were also working and trading on the Sabbath, thereby breaking another of the covenant promises (15-18; cf. 10:31). Nehemiah quickly put an end to this. By closing the city gates on the Sabbath, he prevented people from bringing their goods into the city to sell. He also stopped them from selling outside the gate or waiting there in preparation for selling as soon as the Sabbath was past (19-22).

In Ezra’s day the people had taken an oath to put away their foreign wives, and in fact had done so (Ezra 10:19,44). Now the practice was widespread again, and threatened to corrupt Israel’s religion. With characteristic fearlessness, Nehemiah soon corrected the situation (23-29). There is no doubt that he, more than anyone else, helped the people of his day establish their way of life on a proper religious basis according to the law of God (30-31).

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