Nehemiah 13

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Principles of Separation Nehemiah's Second Administration Separation from Foreigners A Golden Age
(12:44-13:3)
13:1-3 13:1-3 13:1-3  
The Reforms of Nehemiah   Nehemiah's Reforms The Second Mission of Nehemiah
13:4-9 13:4-9 13:4-9 13:4-9
13:10-13 13:10-14 13:10-13 13:10-13
13:14   13:14 13:14
13:15-18 13:15-18 13:15-18 13:15-22a
13:19-27 13:19-22 13:19-22a  
    13:22b 13:22b
  13:23-27 13:23-27 13:23-27
13:28 13:28-29 13:28 13:28
13:29   13:29 13:29
13:30-31 13:30-31 13:30-31a 13:30-31a
    13:31b 13:31b

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This chapter illustrates how quickly things can deteriorate. Apparently Nehemiah had returned to the Persian court for a period of time.

 

B. Note the problems:

1. violations of the holiness of the temple, vv. 4-9

2. lack of support promised to the Levites, vv. 10-14

3. violation of Sabbath requirements, vv. 15-22

4. return to mixed marriages, vv. 1-3,23-29

 

C. Note Nehemiah's Actions:

1. threw Tobiah out, v. 8 and cleansed the temple storerooms, v. 9

2. restored the Levites to their posts, v. 11 by charging the population to tithe again, v. 12

3. brought in honest stewards from different areas of social life to administer the tithes, v. 13

4. stopped Sabbath trading:

a. confronted the nobles, v. 17

b. closed the gates at dusk, v. 19

c. warned the traders themselves, v. 21

d. appointed Levitical city gate keepers, v. 22

5. stopped the inter-religious marriages by force, v. 25

6. excommunicated part of the family of the high priest, v. 28

 

D. This chapter seems to end the book on a negative note, but in reality it is a note of restoration and purification.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:1-3
 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.

13:1 "they read aloud from the book of Moses" The VERB (BDB 894, KB 1128) is a Niphal PERFECT. Whether this is an informal reading like Ezra 8:1-8 or a specifically called for reading like Deut. 31:11 the Feast of Tabernacles, is uncertain (cf. 8:4; 9:3).

These two post-exilic books are characterized by a reverence and desire for the word of God. They hear it and they respond in repentance and faith. The trend is set! They are becoming people of the book! At this point the book was about a thousand years old (i.e., depending on the date of the Exodus), but it was still relevant and crucial for their relationship with YHWH. Cultures change but revelation does not!

▣ "there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God" This is a direct reference to Deut. 23:3-6, which shows that the Mosaic law was available and well known.

This sounds so racist to us, but two things must be noted.

1. These people had to restore a pure people unaffected by Canaanite or pagan culture and myths.

2. Ruth, David's ancestor, was from Moab and she is in the line of the Messiah, as is Rachel the Canaanite prostitute!

See SPECIAL TOPIC: RACISM at Ezra 10:3. See Special Topic: 'Olam (forever) at Ezra 3:11.

▣ "the assembly of God" This is the only place in the OT where the word for assembly, Qahal (BDB 874), and the word Elohim (BDB 43) are placed together. This term Qahal is what the translators of the Septuagint replace with ecclesia, which is the early church's self-chosen title. This shows they were identifying themselves with the Old Testament people of God.

13:2 "Balaam" The account of Moab and Ammon's (who were relatives of the Jews, cf. Gen. 19:30-38) treachery is found in Num. 22:3-11.

Balaam seems to be a spokesperson for God (cf. Num. 22:8-13,18,20; 23:4-5,12,16; 24:1-2). He honored God, but sought his own personal interest. This whole account is a strange and bizarre event!

1. God's prophet hurts Israel

2. God says "go," but is angry when he does

3. a talking donkey

4. Israel's sudden turn to fertility worship

 

"However, our God turned the curse into a blessing" This is a major theological affirmation and world-view. This has been the history of mankind from Gen. 3. This role reversal concept is so clearly seen in

1. Abraham, Gen. 15:12-21

2. Joseph, Gen. 45:1-15

3. Moses, Exod. 2

One of the best popular books I have ever read that was such a blessing to my life is Hannah Whithall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

13:3

NASB, TEV
NJB"foreigners"
NKJV"the mixed multitude"
NRSV"those of foreign descent"

The term (BDB 786 I) as used in this text, seems to imply a racism on God's part, but this very same term is used in Exod. 12:38 to describe the believing Egyptians who accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt. The term, although literally referring to descent, is used in a religious sense. In Exodus 12 it is used in a positive sense and here in a negative sense.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:4-9
 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.

13:4 "Eliashib the priest" He will become the High Priest (cf. 3:1). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are not in chronological order. Themes and patterns from the past, that moderns do not understand, mold the outline of these books. Events seem out of place to us who are accustomed to sequential, cause and effect, history. Their way of doing history was not bad, but different (selective and theological), as are the Gospels.

▣ "over the chambers of the house of our God" There were many storage rooms in the temple, some along the sides of the main shrine and others in the gates (cf. 12:44). These rooms were to store the tithes of the Levites (cf. v. 5) and the necessities of the cultus rituals. They also housed the money sent from Persia. In this case they converted one of the large rooms into a personal residence for Tobiah (cf. v. 5).

NASB"being related"
NKJV"being allied"
TEV"who was related"
TEV"had for a long time been on good terms"
NJB"who was close to"

The ADJECTIVE (BDB 898) means "near." It can mean (1) close neighbors (cf. I Chr. 12:40) or (2) relatives (cf. Lev. 21:2-3; 25:25; Num. 27:11; Ruth 2:20.

▣ "Tobiah" Tobiah (BDB 375, "YHWH is my good") was an Ammonite who opposed Nehemiah (cf. 2:10,19; 4:3,17; 6:1,12,14,19; 13:4,7,8). As Ezra and Nehemiah resisted the inroads of foreigners in Israel's life, it was inevitable that foreigners of influence and ambition would have places of leadership in Nehemiah's absence and would be hostile to the return to a Mosaic law which excluded them (cf. v. 3), but not all, as vv. 4-9 make plain.

13:5 "grain offering" This was a special flour used to make the cakes for the daily offering.

"frankincense" This (BDB 526 I) was a white tree resin from southern Arabia used in the incense which was placed daily in the Holy Place (cf. Exod. 30:34).

"the contribution for the priest" The Jews tithed to the Levites (cf. 10:38); the Levites tithed to the priests (cf. 10:38).

13:6 Nehemiah served as governor from 445 to 433 b.c. At that time he returned to the court of Artaxerxes I where he stayed for an indefinite period of time. It was long enough for the Jews to relapse from his reform efforts.

Artaxerxes is called king of Babylon. This seems unusual to us because he was king of Persia and yet, Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius I are also referred to as the king of Babylon.

13:7 "in the courts of the house of God" Exactly what court this refers to is uncertain, but it was unlawful for anyone but Levites to be in this temple area.

13:8 Nehemiah was not a gentle man as was Ezra. His anger was both personal and religious. To him God's house was being violated by an evil man.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:10-14
 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. 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.

13:10 Not only was Tobiah allowed to reside in the temple precincts, but the Levites had not been distributed their allotted portions (cf. Num. 18:21-32; Neh. 10:37).

"each to his own field" The Levites were allowed a small portion of land next to the Levitical cities (cf. Numbers 35 and Joshua 21) to supplement what they received from the people (cf. Num. 35:4; Josh. 21:3).

13:11

NASB"reprimanded"
NKJV"contended"
NRSV"remonstrated"
TEV, NJB"reprimanded"

This Hebrew VERB (BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal IMPERFECT) means "a dispute," "a controversy," or "a legal court case." It is used in 5:7; 13:11, 17, 25. It shows the seriousness of these violations.

"then I gathered them and restored them to their posts" "Them" must refer to the Levites who had left the temple service to farm their own small plots of land (cf. v. 10).

13:13 "in charge of the storehouse I appointed" This verse has been used by some to say that Ezra came after Nehemiah because in Ezra 8:33 there were already four treasurers appointed. We know so little about this period that this cannot be used as evidence for a theory of the historical relationship between Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra and Nehemiah are mentioned together in 12:26,36,38.

The VERB and NOUN are from the same root (BDB 69), which means "treasure," "treasury," or "store," "storehouse." Edwin Yamauchi, Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 362, tries to catch the word play by "I made treasurers over the treasuries."

NASB, NJB"they were considered reliable"
NKJV, NRSV"they were considered faithful"
TEV"I could trust these men in being honest"

The key term (BDB 52) is "faithful," which becomes the term "amen." See SPECIAL TOPIC: AMEN at Neh. 5:13.

13:14 "Remember me for this, O my God" The VERB (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used in the sense of supplication, not command. Nehemiah's devotion to YHWH can be clearly seen in his numerous prayers throughout the book (e.g., 5:19; 13:22,31). His leadership skills were derived from his intimate faith in YHWH.

▣ "loyal deeds" Here Nehemiah uses the term hesed to describe his own acts (cf. II Chr. 32:32, where it applies to Hezekiah's acts). However, in v. 22 he uses the term hesed to describe God's loyal covenant acts.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Lovingkindness (Hesed)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:15-18
 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."

13:15 "on the sabbath" From Exod. 31:14 and Jer. 17:19-27, we see the seriousness of the Sabbath-breaking practices which originally were part of the apathy and idolatry that caused the exile!

In this short space of Nehemiah's return to the Persian court, the offensives against God's law had reappeared. In the past it was non-Jews who sold produce on the Sabbath (cf. 10:31; 11:16), but now it was the Jews themselves! They flaunted it, even in Jerusalem (cf. v. 16).

13:16 "the men of Tyre" See Ezek. 27:12-36 and 28:16. These merchants coming on the Sabbath was first mentioned in 10:31.

13:17 "profaning the sabbath day" This VERB (BDB 320 III, KB 319, Peel PERFECT) means "to pollute," "to defile." It is used often in connection with the Sabbath (cf. Exod. 31:14; Isa. 56:2,6; Ezek. 20:13,16,21,24; 22:8; 23:38).

The Mosaic covenant promised blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience (cf. Deut. 27-29). The first covenant depended on human performance, but the reality of Genesis 3 doomed it from the start. It thereby forms the need for a new covenant based on YHWH's character and the Messiah's performance. These Jews should have known and done better:

1. the recent experience of the exile

2. the regular reading of the word of God

3. the godly leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah

 

13:18 YHWH's covenant with all of its blessings was also a great responsibility. Not only for the Israelites, but for the eternal redemptive purposes of God. The Israelites had reaped the consequences of disobedience time and time again (cf. Neh. 9), but still each generation rebelled. Herein is the problem of the Mosaic covenant. It depended on human performance which was affected by the fall of Gen. 3.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:19-22
 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.

13:19 Nehemiah uses his official governmental authority to close the city on the Sabbath. Godly leadership can affect society.

13:20 "the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem" The reason that Nehemiah would not allow this was because of the temptation for the citizens to walk outside and purchase goods on the Sabbath. Also, the visible reminder of their presence caused problems.

13:22 "the Levites. . .as gatekeepers" The city as a whole was considered holy to Nehemiah, and he appointed Levites to guard the city gates (cf. 7:1).

"For this also remember me, O my God" This is another of Nehemiah's prayers for God to remember his covenant deeds and leadership (e.g., vv. 14,22,31; 5:19). This is in contrast to Nehemiah's prayers for God to remember those who violated His covenant (cf. 6:14; 13:29).

The paradox of biblical faith is clearly seen in this verse. Nehemiah asked God to remember (BDB 209, Qal IMPERATIVE) his deeds, but he based the request on the covenant faithfulness (hesed, BDB 338) of God! God's relationship with fallen humanity is both relational and obedient (cf. Luke 4:46).

"Your lovingkindness" See Special Topic: Hesed at 13:14.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:23-29
 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. 29Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

13:23 "in those days I saw that the Jews had married women" There is some problem as to the relationship between Ezra 9 and 10 and Nehemiah 10. We cannot answer all of the questions about this, but it is obvious that it was a recurring problem which was not solved by either leader.

▣ "Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab" Not only were these pagan people, but they were enemies of the returning Jews. Their inclusion in the people of God was mandated by Moses (cf. v. 1).

13:24 "As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod" The Hebrew idiom is difficult to translate. It is not certain if they spoke a mixture of one language and the other or simply spoke the other, but it does show the major problem of these mixed marriages was that the education of the children was being done by their pagan mothers. This corrupted the purity of the monotheism of YHWH. These children could not read nor understand God's word.

"the language of Judah" This must refer to Hebrew (cf. II Chr. 32:18). The other people groups in the Persian Province Beyond the River probably spoke a dialect of Aramaic (although it is possible they retained a working knowledge of the ancient tribal language) as did most Jews. The need for a knowledge of Hebrew (learned in synagogue school) was to be able to read and understand God's word.

13:25 This shows the emotional intensity and the seriousness of their sin ("cursed" [BDB 886, KB 1103, Peel IMPERFECT]; "struck" [BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil IMPERFECT]; "pulled out their hair" [BDB 595, KB 634, Qal IMPERFECT]; "made them swear" [BDB 989, KB 1396, Hiphil IMPERFECT]; also in v. 28, "drove them away" [BDB 137, Hiphil IMPERFECT]).

"I contended with them" The VERB (BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal IMPERFECT) is used several times in this context (cf. vv. 11,17,25; and 5:7).

13:26 See the tragic account in I Kings 11.

13:27 "by acting unfaithfully against our God" This term "unfaithfully" (BDB 591, KB 612, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) is also used in Ezra 10:2,10 to describe Jews marrying pagan women. In Arabic this same root is used for treason, treachery, and betrayal. God is the victim! This term speaks of intimate, personal relationships (cf. Num. 5:11-31, esp. vv. 12,27). This is the very VERB used to describe Moses' act of rebellion in striking the rock (cf. Num. 20:10-12; 27:12-14).

13:28 "even one of the sons of Joiada" This shows that the family of the high priest was involved in these inter-racial marriages even to the point of marrying the daughter of Sanballat, the enemy of the people of God. Verse 29 records Nehemiah's prayer/curse!

13:29 "Remember them" Another prayer of Nehemiah, but this one is a curse!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:30-31
 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.

13:30-31 Nehemiah restored the order established before he left (cf. v. 11).

Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past, vol. 11, thinks that when Nehemiah sent away Manasseh, the son of Joiada, grandson of Eliashub, the high priest, that he started the Samaritan schism and built the rival temple on Mt. Gerizim (p. 310).

13:31 "Remember me, O my God" This book is characterized by Nehemiah's prayers for God to remember

1. His word - 1:8

2. His servant, Nehemiah - 5:19; 13:14,22,31

3. His enemies - 6:14; 13:29

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did the leaders of Jerusalem make alliances with Tobiah and Sanballat?

2. How long was Nehemiah gone from Jerusalem?

3. List the problems which had occurred in his absence. Why was he so upset about these abuses?

4. What is the relationship between Ezra's dealing with mixed marriages and that of Nehemiah's?

 

Passage: