On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written…
etc. These verses record two cleansings - the one of the congregation, and the other of the sanctuary of the Lord; the one by the people, and the other by a single servant of Jehovah. Taking them together, we learn -
I. THAT THE BIBLE SHOULD BE READ WITH A SPECIAL VIEW TO ITS BEARING ON OUR OWN LIVES (ver. 1). "On that day they read in the book of Moses, ... . and therein was found written that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;"... and "when they had heard the law they separated," etc. (vers. 1, 3). The Israelites listened not only to understand and admire and be moved with joy and gladness, but to learn what they should do, that they might conform more perfectly to the will of God. We may read our Bible from
(1) the antiquarian point of view, or
(2) the poetical, or
(3) the professional, or
(4) perfunctorily, as a part of the day's routine;
but we shall not have treated it as it deserves to be treated, as its Divine Author would have us use it, as our own spiritual necessities demand that it should be approached, unless we come to it in the spirit of those old words, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" We must study it devoutly, to learn what there is in us to be uprooted, about us to be avoided, absent from us to be implanted and cultivated.
II. THAT PLAIN DUTY, HOWEVER PAINFUL, MUST BE DONE FORTHWITH (vers. 3, 7, 8, 9). It is very soon told that "it came to pass when they had heard the law that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude." But the act of separation, of expulsion, must have been an exceedingly painful one. The "mixed multitude" must have been closely allied to and inwoven with "the congregation," and there must have been great rents and gaps made in families and connections and friendships for this excommunication to be thoroughly carried out. When, too, Nehemiah returned from Babylon, and found the house of the Lord used for an enemy's storehouse, it must have "grieved him sore" (ver. 8), not only to find this fact in existence, but also to have to put himself into direct antagonism with the high priest, and to reflect so sternly on his conduct as he did (vers. 8, 9). So Paul must have been troubled to withstand Peter to the face (Galatians 2:11), and we know how "out of much affliction and anguish of heart" he wrote "with many tears" a letter of reproach to the Church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:4). We are told that we are to deal tenderly and graciously with offenders; those who are spiritual restoring such "in the spirit of meekness" (Galatians 6:1); but when the integrity, the purity, the reputation of the family, the Church, the society absolutely demand severe measures, we must take them. We should in such cases act,
(1) where possible, after remonstrance and giving opportunity for repentance;
(2) with all possible regard to wounded feelings;
(3) with manifest attention to the directions of Scripture;
(4) thoroughly and speedily, lest slackness or delay should do as much harm as entire unfaithfulness.
III. THAT SIN HAS FAR-REACHING CONSEQUENCES IN ITS TRAIN. There was written in the law "that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever," etc. (vers. 1, 2). There is nothing so cruel in the end as undue leniency in the presence of sin; there is nothing so kind and wise, all things considered, as the manifestation of "righteous indignation" against iniquity. God's revealed anger at the transgressions of his people was one side of his mercy - the less pleasant to our view, but not the less necessary for our redemption. Hence, among other things, his severity and apparent harshness. Hence such an act of judgment as this against the Ammonite. An act of inhospitality, and then of seductive treachery, done a thousand years before, leading to exclusion from privilege now! What a long train of consequences has sin! How far in its injurious results may one guilty action reach!
"Oh, mortal man, beware
Lest one wrong act should bring an age of care!"
IV. THAT INDIVIDUAL MEN HAVE A GREAT AND GRAVE POWER FOR GOOD AND EVIL (vers. 4, 5, 8, 9). One man, the high priest, had very gravely compromised the people by admitting Tobiah, the enemy, to a chamber of the house of the Lord. It is impossible to say how much evil might not have arisen from this foolish step had not Nehemiah come in time to take effective action against it. But it is not every Eliashib who has a Nehemiah to correct his follies and save his country from their consequences. One man in high office, or with great faculties, or with peculiar charms, may commit a large body of people to folly and sin, and may bring down on their head saddest visitations. On the other hand, one wise and strong man, acting energetically, may do as Nehemiah did - "cast forth" the evil (ver. 8), and "cleanse the chambers," and restore sacred places to a sacred use (ver. 9). Exalted station is much coveted by men, but it has grave responsibilities attached to it by God. We may be well content to be without its burden of obligation; or if, in God's providence, that should rest on us, it becomes our duty prayerfully and earnestly to rise to the height of our opportunity, and dedicate it to the service of our God and our race. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;