The Devoted Patriot
Nehemiah 13:7-31
And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah…

The story commences with the return of Nehemiah to Babylon. Either through the reports that his enemies had sent to the court, or the leave of absence having expired (Nehemiah 2:6), Nehemiah returns to the king to report himself, and to seek permission for a further sojourn in Jerusalem. The fact that Ezra is absent at the same time strengthens the opinion that the misrepresentations of those about them moved the jealousy of the king and led to their recall. It is scarcely possible to think of the swift and complete destruction of the religious life of the city apart from a deeply-laid plot on the part of the foes who saw in the recall of Nehemiah their own Opportunity, and whose plans were carefully laid and boldly carried out as soon as he had left. The building of the walls and gateways of the city had been followed by a yet bolder effort for the security of Jerusalem. Taking advantage of the fervour of the new religious life which had sprung up amongst them, Nehemiah had gathered the people together and got them to enter into a very solemn covenant, which they had signed and sealed. The list of those who signed this covenant is given — in itself a suggestion that it was not signed by all. The first name is that of Nehemiah: and next to his we should naturally look for that of Eliashib, the high priest, and of Jehoiada his son. But these two are conspicuously absent. So then it is plain that before the departure of Nehemiah there were two parties whose antagonism could only be fierce and bitter; a party which had surrendered itself to the strictest observance and enforcement of the law, and another party which had entangled itself by heathen relationships; and of this latter party the first and foremost was Eliashib, the high priest. As soon as Nehemiah has gone this Eliashib at once becomes the head and ruler of the city. Now comes the collision of the two parties; on the one side a people like the Puritans of old — stern, resolute, exclusive, hateful of everything that swerved a hair's breadth from the letter of the law. On the other side was the party of the court — hand in glove with the wealthy "people of the land"; eager for their own advancement and position. Eliashib, the leader of the courtiers, had nothing to expect from the covenanters but a stem and bitter opposition. To strengthen his position, and perhaps for his own personal security, he gathers about him these from the outside, intending doubtless to draw the line sharply as soon as they had served his purpose, but finding, as such men always do, that he has to yield step by step, until everything that the law held sacred was broken down before the influx of "the people of the land." A swift and terrible reaction followed the high-pitched fervour of the great revival. First to be swept away were the reforms that Nehemiah had introduced in the matter of mixed marriages. That which the high priest himself had sanctioned by the example of his own family was speedily imitated, until it seems to have become a rage amongst the people, many of the Jews putting away their own wives for these women of Ammon and Moab and Ashdod. The Book of Malachi throws a lurid light upon the condition of things in this as in other respects (Malachi 2:11, 14, 16). Eliashib seeks further to strengthen his position and to weaken his opponent's by a concession to the greed of the people, as he had previously indulged their lust. The tithes and offerings which were claimed by the priests and Levites were withheld from them, or the people brought only that which was diseased or torn by the wild beasts; the people robbed God, as Malachi says. Thus the female came to be neglected, as the priests had to go "every one to his own field." With this must have fallen every barrier for the protection of Jerusalem. When thin us had reached such a pass it was evident that the heathen had everything their own way. The occupations of the people went on as if there were no Sabbath day. The wine presses were trodden; the corn was carried; the asses were laden; through the city gates same the men of Tyre with their fruit and fish for sale; foreigners filled the streets with their cries, and the place rang with the noisy chaffering of those who stood to sell and those who came to buy. With them these strangers brought their evil ways, and their foul idolatries — the sorceries of which Malachi speaks (Malachi 3:5). Such is the state of things which Nehemiah finds on his return to Jerusalem. Perhaps his coming was unlooked for, the enemy hoping to keep him still at the court of the king. We have thought perhaps of Nehemiah as the graceful courtier, the stately cupbearer, whose appearance would have much to do with his high position. But here is a very different man. He seems to stand before us with knitted brows and flashing eyes — a man who does not hesitate to lay hands upon the offenders, and whose words terrify the city. Nehemiah's indignation is kindled first by the tidings of the desecration of the House of God; and hastening thither he faces Eliashib on his own ground, and with his own hands he flings out the "household stuff" of the intruding Tobiah, and has the chambers cleansed from the defilement, and the holy vessels set again in them. That Eliashib and his party should have submitted to such a high-handed proceeding may seem surprising; but the conscience of the people was with Nehemiah, and they felt that it was useless to resist one of such resoluteness, backed by such authority as he possessed. Then he priests and Levites were again set in their places, and the provisions were duly delivered, treasurers being appointed to receive and distribute the offerings of corn and oil and wine. Meanwhile the rulers had gathered themselves together, as they did when Christ came to the temple. The interference with the hope of their gains stirred their resentment; for to those nobles a working day was not to be lightly parted with, since others did the Work of which they reaped the advantage. Nehemiah orders the gates to be shut at sunset on the Sabbath eve, and that none shall enter bearing burdens until the day is done. Yet more difficult and involved was the matter of the mixed marriages. But in this as in everything else Nehemiah would tolerate no half measures. When the people gathered to protest, he tells us that "I contended with them, and cursed 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." Jehoiada, the son of the high priest, and the son-in-law of Sanballat, thought doubtless to screen himself behind these high relationships. But instead of defence it added to the wrong, and the indignant governor chased him out of the city, and forbade him to return. Taking refuge-in Samaria with others who resented the action of Nehemiah, he set up there a rival temple and service, and thus cleared the way for the reforms which were established in Jerusalem. Looking back over the chapter, we see a lesson for all time and for us: that we can never loosen the law of God in one particular without loosening it in all. The law of God is one, and to break it in any point is to endanger it in all. The thickening of the ills about Eliashib one by one until everything is lost, is the story of the destruction of the individual and the nation.

(M. G. Pearse.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

WEB: and I came to Jerusalem, and understood the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a room in the courts of the house of God.

Personal Purification of the Believer
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