Nehemiah
Introduction 1-3 Separation on the Basis of the Word 4-9 An Enemy Removed from the House of God 10-13 The Levites Forgotten 14 Prayer of Nehemiah 15-22 The Sanctification of the Sabbath Restored 23-28 The Evil of Mixed Marriages 29 Prayer of Nehemiah 30-31 Purification and Restoration and Final Prayer
Introduction

Nehemiah 12 would have been a nice ending of the book. However, it would not have been a correct and fair ending. In the chapter before us it becomes clear that on earth perfection is not reached. In spite of the dedication of the wall with the good things that are present with the people, not everything is good. In this chapter we learn that discipline is necessary to preserve the holiness of the city. Nehemiah exercises personal discipline. That is not possible now. Discipline is the responsibility of the entire local church (Mt 18:15-2015“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.16But if he does not listen [to you], take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.18Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.19“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.20For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”).

Here we see a great contrast between Nehemiah’s commendable zeal in discovering and acting with various forms of deviation, and the constant tendency of the people to deviate from obedience to God. In a sense, this second task that he has before him, is more demanding than the first, the rebuilding of the wall. It is about moral aberrations, about inner unfaithfulness.

A deviation has two characters. On the one hand, there is the truth of separation that is maintained unilaterally. Then the position is everything, while the situation is neglected. The result is Pharisaism: doctrinal correctness in main points, but in practice cold, tight and heartless. We find there a glory in separation, but also a denial of the more important things of true Godliness and Divine charity.

On the other hand, there is an over-sensitivity to everything that smells of purity. Every remark about purity is received with amplification. The reaction of the masses of the people to this is indifference and carelessness. As a result, there is room for idolatry and the people become as ungodly as their fathers who were deported for that reason.

This chapter contains the warning never to detach condition from position, never to detach godliness from grace toward people in need.


Separation on the Basis of the Word

1On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel.

The Israelites return to the first principles. What they have read several times in Deuteronomy 23 about the Ammonite and Moabite, they now apply (Deu 23:3-43No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their [descendants], even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD,4because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.). Not only the Word is needed, also the Spirit is needed to make the Word alive for us. Mixed principles are rejected. The mixing is not with the world, the unbelievers, but with relatives, those who claim a connection with God’s people, but do not belong to them.

With God the defamation that has been done to His people will not be time-barred. Time has not changed the sin and the character of those people. The attitude of these peoples towards God’s people is twofold. They do not do something and they do something. They do not give bread and water, but they do everything possible to bring a curse on God’s people. This is how the Christian world acts, by those who profess to be God’s people, but have no life out of God. They do not give the people of God food and refreshment. Instead, they will try to put a curse on God’s people.

As soon as the people have heard the law, they will act accordingly. There is direct obedience. That is often lacking today. When God says something clearly, man begins to reason. Man must first understand the reasonableness of something if he is to obey it. That is not the way it works here in Israel and it is not the way it works in everyone who trembles before God’s Word. There are also those who read the Word, but then react like the Roman governor Felix who says to Paul: “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you” (Acts 24:2525But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”). These are those indecisive people. For a moment they are impressed, but they do not make a decision.

It is a trick of the enemy to let God’s people mingle with those who have no life out of God. This takes away the power of the people. Those who do not belong to God’s people, but are nevertheless accepted into them, bring with them a way of thinking and acting that is contrary to God’s will. This has a negative effect on the people of God. Then there must be broader thinking and action against evil is out of the question. Where these elements occur, strong action must be taken against them. That happens here.


An Enemy Removed from the House of God

4Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, 5had prepared a large room for him, 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. 6But during all this [time] I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, 7and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense.

Another evil is discovered, this time when Nehemiah is back in Jerusalem. He returned to the court of the king of Persia after the dedication of the wall, and there he will again have practiced his ancient profession of cupbearer. When he has done this for some time, he asks permission again to go to Jerusalem. The situations he encounters then lead him to take firm action against the prevailing wrongs of various kinds.

By the way, he only acts when the evil is confirmed. His action seems harsh. Nehemiah’s action, however, is not hard; sin is hard and bitter. Nehemiah’s harsh action is like Paul’s harsh action against false brethren, because they undermined the truth of the gospel, and against Peter, because he and Barnabas were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, (Gal 2:4-5,11-144But [it was] because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.12For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he [began] to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.13The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how [is it that] you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?).

The first evil he notices concerns a man who, because of his high position, enjoys prestige among the people. It concerns the high priest Eliashib (verse 44Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah,; verse 2828Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me.; Neh 3:11Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred [and] the Tower of Hananel.). However, an official status among the people of God is no guarantee not to go astray. Eliashib manages to defile the house of God by giving a room to an enemy of God’s people, the Ammonite Tobiah. He has prepared a large room for the great adversary of God’s work. This seems generous, while Nehemiah’s performance could be considered scary. But with Eliashib we see the generosity of the flesh, while what Nehemiah does is entirely in accordance with the thoughts of God.

The room where Tobiah has taken up residence, is a room where everything that is important for the service in the house of God has been stored before. Previously, the people have committed themselves to make sure that there will be no lack of it (Neh 10:32-3932We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God:33for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.34Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood [among] the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law;35and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the LORD annually,36and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God.37We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns.38The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.39For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.). They have solemnly declared not to leave the house of their God to its fate.

We are now twelve years later. The room is empty in terms of the means by which the service in God’s house can proceed. Instead, the enemy has been offered this room to live there. If our lives are not filled with service to God, the devil will use our lives to serve his purpose. Our lives will then contribute to the destruction of service to God.

Nehemiah is not the man to bypass evil and pretend not to see it. When he sees what happened, he is not going to kindly ask Eliashib to remove Tobiah from the temple. He becomes angry and takes all of Tobiah’s things and throws them out of the temple. This is an anger that rightly comes over sin that occurs unpunished in God’s house. Every God-fearing person rebels against such insolence. Eliashib’s behavior is so contrary to God’s holiness, that any slowness to act against it must be considered sin.

It is not the presence of evil that destroys the character of the Lord’s Table, but the refusal to judge it. The most terrible evil is no reason to stay away from the Lord’s Table. It evokes the obligation to do everything to remove evil. In the church it is not a matter that can be dealt with by one person. God wants the church to act as a whole. When Paul has heard of the terrible evil found in the church in Corinth (1Cor 5:11It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.), he does not write that they are no longer a church of God now, but that they must remove the evil.

Tobiah, the man of whom Nehemiah has said that he has no portion in Jerusalem (Neh 2:2020So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”), was given a room in the house of God during his absence. This was only possible because of inattention on the part of the gatekeepers.

What ‘Tobiah’ have we given room in our hearts, because ‘Nehemiah’ has been absent from us for a time? Who or what is central to our lives, if it is not (anymore) the Lord Jesus and His interests? Which of Tobiah’s household goods has entered the temple of our lives and driven out the Holy Spirit as far as His activity is concerned? Many Christians afford powers to influence their lives that only the Holy Spirit should have.

We should throw out Tobiah and all of his household goods without pardon. What is in our bookcase, what magazines do we read, what movies do we watch, what do we look for on the world wide web, what music do we listen to? Do we have to throw something out of our collection? What place does the wardrobe occupy in our thinking? There must be room for God and the service to Him!

Nehemiah is not at all impressed by Eliashib’s high place. On the contrary, it requires all the more incisive action and public punishment (cf. Gal 2:11-1411But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.12For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he [began] to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.13The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how [is it that] you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?; 1Tim 5:2020Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful [of sinning].). He does not apologize either. He acts in a way that we see later with the Lord Jesus when He cleanses the temple (Jn 2:14-1614And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated [at their tables].15And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;16and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”).

The rooms are defiled by the habitation of Tobiah. Therefore, they must first be cleansed before anything can be brought back into them that is for the glory of God. If we have allowed things into our lives or into the church, it is not enough to remove them. The removal must be done with a confession that it has been made possible by our inattention. We will have to dedicate ourselves again to the Lord, in the knowledge that there is no guarantee in us that it will not happen again.


The Levites Forgotten

10I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given [them], so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. 11So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. 12All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses. 13In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.

The evil of an enemy in the house of God is not an isolated thing. Nehemiah learns that Tobiah has been able to get a room there because it is empty. This is the result of the failure of the people to bring there what is for the maintenance of the Levites. And once the enemy dwells there, what originally belonged in it no longer comes into it. Where the enemy is admitted into the house of God, the servants of God are neglected.

Nehemiah observes that the Levites no longer care for God’s house. Because they are no longer cared for, they feel compelled to work for their own sustenance. This is at the expense of the work of God. The workers then no longer receive the contributions they need to perform their service. When other interests come into play, this attitude of God is no longer considered. The Corinthians must also be reminded of this matter (2Cor 8:1111But now finish doing it also, so that just as [there was] the readiness to desire it, so [there may be] also the completion of it by your ability.).

Nehemiah addresses the leaders of the people with a penetrating question. The character and dedication of leaders is often reflected in the attitudes and actions of the people. This gives leaders a great responsibility. Without, so it seems, waiting for an answer, Nehemiah takes measures. He brings the Levites together and reminds them of the task assigned to them. They must resume their service in the house of God.

The question of verse 1111So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. is related to what they promised in Nehemiah 10 (Neh 10:3939For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.). What was promised there is not done. Only the Lord Jesus never forgot the house of God or left it to his fate. The zeal for it has consumed Him (Jn 2:1717His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”). Love for Him will also mean love for the house of God. Love for God’s house is a measure of our love for God.

Everything that does not belong in God’s house has been thrown out by Nehemiah. Thus the return of the Levites and the things that do belong in it will be replaced. He will make sure that the Levites will be provided for again and that they will be able to perform their task with respect to the house of God. Nehemiah also ensures that only reliable men perform the task of division (cf. 2Cor 8:18-2118We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in [the things of] the gospel [has spread] through all the churches;19and not only [this], but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and [to show] our readiness,20taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift;21for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.).

Being reliable is one of the most valuable characteristics of a believer. It is a characteristic that every believer can adorn and toward which he can aspire. Being reliable does not mean being flawless, but being mindful of what is fair and just in everything we do. The believer is not judged by the size of his gift or effort, but whether he has faithfully done what the Lord has commanded him to do (1Cor 4:22In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.). Especially when it comes to money, someone must be unquestionably trustworthy, faithful.


Prayer of Nehemiah

14Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.

Nehemiah turns to God because only He can perfectly appreciate and reward what he has done for His house. He does not ask for reward. He knows Himself to be a slave who has only done what He ought to do (Lk 17:1010So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done [only] that which we ought to have done.’”). But he also knows that God is not unjust to forget what has been done for Him (Heb 6:1010For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.).

Nehemiah is only concerned that he submits his work to God for judgment and that he can say that he has been busy out of love for God’s house. Therefore, he can ask Him not to blot out his work. He knows that he has been busy in agreement with God. Yet he does not boast of this, but humbly asks God to keep what he has done for Him.

In the same way, we too may recommend our works to the Lord and ask Him to confirm the works of our hands (Psa 90:1717Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
). If we cannot go to Him in sincerity with all that we have done, we have not been working for Him. We have to confess that and then we can go back to Him and work with Him and for Him.


The Sanctification of the Sabbath Restored

15In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading [them] on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought [them] into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished [them] on the day they sold food. 16Also men of Tyre were living there [who] imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold [them] to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. 17Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the sabbath day? 18Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.” 19It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates [so that] no load would enter on the sabbath day. 20Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21Then 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 use force against you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. 22And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. [For] this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.

If the house of God is neglected, the sabbath is secularized. Instead of being consecrated to the LORD, it is used for satisfying one’s own pleasures, and thus degraded to an ordinary day. The people have forgotten what they promised in Nehemiah 10 (Neh 10:3131As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego [the crops] the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.).

While Nehemiah is in the process of making everything right again for the service in the house of God, he sees the sabbath being profaned. He warns the traders. Then he approaches the nobles and talks to them about these evil practices. There is nothing against trade, as long as it is not on the sabbath. He points out that it is for this very reason that God has brought disaster upon the people (Jer 17:21-2721Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.22You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.23Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction.24“But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares the LORD, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it,25then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever.26They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the LORD.27But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.”‘“). Then he takes measures to stop this evil work by having his servants posted at the gates.

When he sees that there are traders who spend the sabbath just outside Jerusalem to enter as soon as the gates open, he takes action against them as well. He knows what an impact it has if the evil that has been removed is near. The traders might indeed not be able to bring the Jews to violate the sabbath commandment, but the Jews would be reminded of it all the time. Their minds would be filled with the things they could do tomorrow, with the profits they would gain. God would be driven out of their minds. To deal with this evil, he has Levites guarding the gates in addition to his servants.

Before the Levites guard the gates, they must first cleanse themselves. In order to guard the gates, there must be nothing with them that would prevent them from doing their duty properly. Similarly, we, too, can only keep imminent evil at a distance if we have removed from our lives what may be a connecting factor to the evil we must stop.

The sabbath commandment is a commandment that like no other commandment asks every Israelite for simple obedience. The reasonableness of any other commandment can be seen after contemplation because it governs the relationship between God and people and between people. The sabbath commandment is given because God wants the sabbath to be held. Surely in doing so He has the welfare of man in mind. But fallen man considers especially the sabbath commandment to be something difficult. The sabbath is the clearest test of obedience to man under the law.

The Christian does not live “under law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14b14For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.). Therefore, he is not under the sabbath commandment. He stands in the freedom of Christ in heaven. Every Christian who truly understands this will not be living a loose life. His life is subject to Christ. The norm of his life is not the law, but Christ. He is interested in everything Christ is interested in. Christ’s interest is particularly in the house of God, the church.

For the church it is not the sabbath, but Sunday that is the special day of the week. This does not mean that what applies to the sabbath in Israel applies to Sunday in Christendom. It is a day that is in a special way of the Lord. A remarkable connection in the use of words in two biblical texts clearly indicates this. We read of “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Supper of the Lord” (1Cor 11:2020Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,) and of “the day of the Lord” (Rev 1:1010I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like [the sound] of a trumpet,). I quote the footnote that the TELOS translation puts in Revelation 1:10: “In the Gr. there is an adjective derived from ‘Lord’ (i.e. different from e.g. in 1Thes 5:22For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.), in the sense of belonging to the Lord. The word is further only found in 1Cor 11:2020Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,.

These two Scriptures show how much the Supper of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord, celebrated by the congregation, is connected with the day of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord. It is clear that the day of the Lord is no other than the first day of the week, Sunday. There are several indications in Scripture that the first day of the week is the day of the meeting of the church (Mk 16:2,62Very early on the first day of the week, they *came to the tomb when the sun had risen.6And he *said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, [here is] the place where they laid Him.; Lk 24:13,33-4913And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.33And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them,34saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”35They [began] to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.36While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.”37But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.38And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?39See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.41While they still could not believe [it] because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”42They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish;43and He took it and ate [it] before them.44Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,46and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,47and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.48You are witnesses of these things.49And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”; Jn 20:19-2919So when it was evening on that day, the first [day] of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace [be] with you.”20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace [be] with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, [their sins] have been forgiven them; if you retain the [sins] of any, they have been retained.”24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”26After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace [be] with you.”27Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”29Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed.”; Acts 2:11When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.; 20:77On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.). And if it is a day that belongs especially to the Lord, there is every reason to spend that day as such.

In this spending, the Lord gives us complete freedom – except that He says to us to “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb 10:2525not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.). Any thought of acting under the pressure of a law is foreign to the freedom in which the Christian stands. If, however, the interest in God’s house diminishes, the day of the Lord also becomes more and more a day in which one’s own pleasures are satisfied. We may still visit the church, but for the rest we hang out in front of the TV, surf the Internet endlessly, go out and do all kinds of things, but without dedicating ourselves to the service of our Lord.

Hanging out in front of the TV is not an activity (well, activity …) that is a Christian’s honor. A Christian is expected to live consciously for the Lord every day of his life. But if Scripture itself marks a day especially as ‘His’ day, it is surely a call to dedicate ourselves to His house on that day. On that day we can, for example, concentrate a little more on fellowship with our fellow believers.

It is good to have a day on which we, as far as possible, distance ourselves from things that we, by order of the Lord, have to concern ourselves with on the other days of the week. It is just like the Lord’s Supper. We will, if it is good, be occupied with His death every day. After all, we owe everything to Him. But how good it is to have a special opportunity to think about His death, to remember it, when we come together for that purpose as a church.

After Nehemiah has again given the sabbath its rightful place among the people, consecrated this day anew to God, he again speaks out for God (verse 22b22And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. [For] this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.). He does this every time he has done a work. He asks if God will remember him with regard to what he has done for the maintenance of the sabbath. Last time he asked this concerning what he has done for God’s house. He places each work separately before God’s face.

He asks if God will have compassion on him. After his resolute performance there may have been a feeling of exhaustion. It takes a lot of effort to show God’s people the right way and to correct what is wrong. As long as the effort has to be made, there is strength. But when the work is done, you can feel very tired. We may say that to the Lord.

We also feel that our actions, no matter how powerful they may be, are still carried out in great weakness. Then, like Nehemiah, we may call upon God’s great lovingkindness. He knows who we are, He knows us through and through, for He has made us. To remember that gives courage to go on. That’s what Nehemiah does.


The Evil of Mixed Marriages

23In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon [and] Moab. 24As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. 25So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 27Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” 28Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me.

Nehemiah perceives a new evil. Things don’t go well in the families of the Judeans. He notices that from the speech of the children of those families. He speaks to the Judeans about it and becomes so angry that he curses them, strikes some of them and pulls out their hair and makes them swear by God that they will not continue with this sin. His fierce reaction shows how great this evil is.

Nehemiah points the company to Solomon. With all due respect to King Solomon, but he too has sinned greatly in this (1Kgs 11:1-81Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,2from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, [for] they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love.3He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away.4For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father [had been].5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites.6Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father [had done].7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon.8Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.). The fact that he is especially privileged by God has not saved him from this great evil. God does not conceal evil, not even from those closest to Him. By quoting Solomon as an example, Nehemiah shows that a privileged position is not a license for sin. It is precisely the evil that privileged people do that God will punish, because they should know better (Amos 3:22“You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
).

Nehemiah points to Solomon without regard for persons. Without distinction Nehemiah deals with the family of the high priest Eliashib. What began with the preparing of a large room for Tobiah (verses 3-43So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel.4Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah,) ends in a marriage between the grandson of the high priest and the daughter of the enemy of God’s work (Neh 2:1010When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard [about it], it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.). And just as Nehemiah has thrown Tobiah out of God’s house with all his things (verse 88It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room.), so he drives away the man who made this horrible connection.

We are dealing here with a priest. He has violated a clear precept. What applies to the whole people, that he may only marry one of his people, definitely applies to a priest (Lev 21:7,147They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God.14A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people,). He is someone with an exemplary function. If such a person goes wrong, he may under no circumstances remain in his position, but must be acted upon according to the example set by Nehemiah.

If the real interest in God’s house diminishes, friendships with the world take their place. We may ask ourselves: Which ‘daughter of Sanballat’ has captured our love and robbed our hearts of our faithfulness to the Lord? Which ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’ has drawn us away from the Lord? Which ‘Delilah’ has taken away our spiritual strength (Jdg 16:16-2116It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death.17So he told her all [that was] in his heart and said to her, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any [other] man.”18When Delilah saw that he had told her all [that was] in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all [that is] in his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands.19She made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him.20She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.21Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison.)?

We learn important lessons from the wrong commitments made by the children of families who belong to God’s people. We see a commitment to the world reflected in the language our children speak. The mother’s teaching (Pro 1:88Hear, my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;
) has an important place in the child’s development. A child expresses itself as it learns from its mother. Nehemiah hears a mix of the language of Judea and language of Ashdod, in which the language of Ashdod predominates.

The language of Ashdod is the language spoken in Ashdod, a Philistine city under God’s judgment (Jer 25:2020and all the foreign people, all the kings of the land of Uz, all the kings of the land of the Philistines (even Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron and the remnant of Ashdod);). Philistines are a picture of confessors of Christendom, but without having new life. They are those Christians who occasionally produce a biblical sound, but who do not submit their lives to the will of God (2Tim 3:55holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.). They live for here and now. Space is only given to God and His Word in so far as they can use it to impress and profit.

The popularity of the (Dutch) New Bible Translation is a topical and disconcerting example of this. This book was launched on the market with a media spectacle that has never been shown before around the presentation of a Bible translation (2010). Everything breathes a worldly way of thinking and doing, while people say they want to promote the Word of God.

Who raises our children? Do we do this ourselves, by means of and subject to God’s Word? Someone wrote: We are dealing with a first generation raised not by a mother and father, but by the media. Shall we allow the media to raise our children? Do you honestly face the following questions: Does your child know the SMS-language, twitter-language, street-language and sports terms better than the language and terms of the Bible? Does your child know the songs of the world better than the songs of God’s children?

If you have to answer (one of) these questions with ‘yes’, it is high time to change this. Don’t you feel able to do this? Ask for help! But don’t let that situation continue. Call with all your strength to God for help. Confess your failure to Him and to your children. Then He will surely show the way out. Share your need with others. Seek prayer partners to fight with you in the prayers for your children and also those of others.

The alarm bell must be sounded. No more time must be wasted. Every second counts. It’s about the families of God’s children. Parents lose contact with their children. They seem to have to watch powerlessly as their children get stuck in the world wide web. I don’t mean to say that you should know as much about the Internet as your child does. The question is what your contact with God is like. It doesn’t get out of His control.

Put your trust in Him again and be prepared to follow His instructions with all your heart. He says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psa 32:88I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
). We may take an example from Ezra and be encouraged by it: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. … So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty” (Ezra 8:21,2321Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.23So we fasted and sought our God concerning this [matter], and He listened to our entreaty.).

Let us respond to the call of Jeremiah:
“Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones” (Lam 2:19b19“Arise, cry aloud in the night
At the beginning of the night watches;
Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones
Who are faint because of hunger
At the head of every street.”
).


Prayer of Nehemiah

29Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

After his powerful action against the wrong alliances, Nehemiah addresses God again. He brings the evil of especially the priests before God. He explains to God, as it were, why he was so angry. It is unacceptable to him that God is approached by a priesthood that does not correspond to God’s holiness.

What goes wrong in the families of God’s children has great consequences for the priesthood. And where the priesthood is defiled, God is robbed of what is rightfully His (cf. Joel 1:1313Gird yourselves [with sackcloth]
And lament, O priests;
Wail, O ministers of the altar!
Come, spend the night in sackcloth
O ministers of my God,
For the grain offering and the drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your God.
). Believers who live in connection with the world cannot properly perform their ministry as priests and Levites. If such people do want to approach God, God is not taken seriously. Does that also give us a feeling of indignation? How do we feel when people do not take us seriously?


Purification and Restoration and Final Prayer

30Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, 31and [I arranged] for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

Nehemiah is not just busy with getting rid of the wrong. Surely this is necessary, but then it is necessary to fill the vacant space with the good. Nehemiah purifies the Levites. In this he is a picture of the Lord Jesus (Mal 3:33He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.). Then he appoints each one in the task that is to be performed.

Criticism of certain things in the church can be justified and necessary. But it should never happen from the sidelines. Real commitment to the things that are not good will manifest itself in a commitment to follow God’s instructions again.

These last acts we read of Nehemiah have to do with the service in the house of God. He makes sure that priests and Levites can do the work that can be expected of them again. In veiled terms he involves the whole people, for he also arranges the supply of wood (Neh 10:3434Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood [among] the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law;) and the first fruits (Neh 10:35-3735and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the LORD annually,36and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God.37We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns.). He knows that the result is for the glory of God. As far as the acts of Nehemiah are concerned, this is a beautiful and fitting ending of this book. He has done it all for that.

We see Nehemiah working to the very end to motivate others to do the work according to their position and competence. Such motivating people are needed today as well. The motive for his service is to serve and please his God. He has set a vivid example of leadership as God desires.

The book ends with a prayer from Nehemiah (verse 31b31and [I arranged] for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.). The book also begins with a praying Nehemiah. In this fascinating book we have read the memoirs of this active man of God. Now he asks if God wants to remember him. This is not pride, but humility. He commends his work to God. He gives it to Him to judge and trusts in His goodness. Nehemiah must have it from God, from God’s thinking, for God’s thinking is doing.

Nehemiah has shown that his life’s work could only take place under constant prayer. He prayed and built the wall and people’s lives. He has also prayed while building for all kinds of people and things. He prays, while building, and builds, while praying. Therefore the Lord Jesus tell His disciples, and us, that “at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:11Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,).