The Protector: Nehemiah—Repel Unrighteousness
By Joel Hilliker
Want a magnificent example of the power of tough, righteous, manly confrontation? Gird up your loins and read Nehemiah 13.
When God allowed the Jews to return from captivity to rebuild Jerusalem, He sent Nehemiah to serve as their governor. This great man inspired them to accomplish mighty feats (Nehemiah 1-6). He oversaw their repentance, forsaking of sin and return to God (Nehemiah 8-9). After 12 years, he returned to his job in the court of King Artaxerxes of Babylon.
Later, when Nehemiah was able to return to Jerusalem, he was grieved to see that the Jews had reverted to many of their sins.
First, he learned of the shocking whereabouts of Tobiah, an enemy of the Jews. Years earlier, this man had schemed to influence politics in Jerusalem and tried to stop Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts; Nehemiah dealt with him forcibly (Nehemiah 4, 6). But in Nehemiah’s absence, Tobiah had infiltrated the city, deceived the high priest into viewing him as a friend, and actually taken up residence inside the temple compound!
Nehemiah reacted instantly: Like Christ with the moneychangers, he seized Tobiah’s things and threw him out! (Nehemiah 13:8). He commanded that the areas Tobiah had used be cleansed and restored for their intended purpose (verse 9).
This godly leader then realized that the people had stopped tithing—another point he had corrected during his first governorship (Nehemiah 5). The Levites were having to support themselves, thus neglecting the temple service. Again he assertively set the errant Jews back on track, and then authorized officers to enforce the law (Nehemiah 13:11-14).
Nehemiah also had to correct the Jews’ Sabbath-keeping. Some were treading winepresses and hauling goods into Jerusalem during holy time; Phoenician traders were doing a great business on the Sabbath right in Jerusalem. “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah,” Nehemiah wrote, “and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath” (verses 17-18). As the next Sabbath approached, he shut the gates and set sentries to ensure no one brought goods into the city on the Sabbath (verse 19).
The traders set up camp just outside the gates. Nehemiah was so determined that they not bring their sin into the city that he turned his righteous wrath on them: “Why lodge ye about the wall?” he shouted. “If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you.” They could tell he was not a man to trifle with. They never returned on the Sabbath (verses 20-21).
Finally, Nehemiah learned of the Jews’ intermarriage with surrounding Gentiles. “And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves” (verse 25). He reminded them that marrying foreigners had derailed even the great King Solomon! (verses 26-27).
The high priest’s own grandson had married the daughter of Sanballat, governor of Samaria and Nehemiah’s archenemy! This grandson was unwilling to sever the marriage, so he was banished from Israel (verse 28).
Think deeply on the lessons of Nehemiah 13. It powerfully shows how God uses zealous, righteous leadership to correct His people and keep them spiritually clean, for their own good. It illustrates the constancy and mercy of a bold, godly man: Though Nehemiah had once before corrected the people for all these sins, when they again became ensnared, he didn’t give up on them. He went right back to work—with fiery zeal—restoring their relationship with God!
Throughout these events, Nehemiah repeatedly asked God to remember his righteous deeds (verses 14, 22, 31). He knew well his own weaknesses and sins. Yet he acted so zealously for God in purging sin from Judah that God answered his prayer: The Bible records nothing negative about the life of this great man of God.