Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. Nehemiah 13:30
Nehemiah is shaken to find the solemn commitments the people made have not been kept. One priest has made apartments for Tobiah, the Jews’ enemy, in the temple storerooms (4, 5)! The support promised to Levites has been withdrawn (10), and the Sabbath is not being kept (15-18). And the people are again intermarrying with the pagans around them (23-28). Nehemiah corrects these failures.
But after Nehemiah’s death, the people sink again into the same patterns of disobedience. We know this, for the last of the writing prophets, Malachi, paints a similar picture of decline, showing how deeply the sins Nehemiah struggled to correct are ingrained in the character of God’s people.
Nehemiah’s governorship of Judea lasts 12 years, after which he returns to Susa. While he is gone, the Jews gradually abandon their “binding agreement” to carefully obey God’s Law. When Nehemiah returns for a second term as governor of Judea, he finds that the Jews’ old enemy Tobiah has actually been provided guest quarters in the temple compound itself. He also learns that services at the temple have been abandoned. God’s tithes have not been paid, and the Levites who served at the temple have been forced to go back to their farms in order to survive. The people work on the Sabbath, and at Jerusalem the holy day of rest has been transformed into a market day! (vv. 23-31). Nehemiah vigorously corrects each abuse, calling on God to “remember” his faithful service… and the priests who defiled their office (vv. 29-30).
Thus the last of the OT’s historical books ends on a note of uncertainly. If the people of God so quickly abandoned His Law in the brief absence of Nehemiah, what will happen to them in the centuries that lie ahead? Will they be ready when God’s Deliverer, from David’s line comes?
“Remember.” The Heb. Word zakar had a range of meaning, indicating not only mental acts but also behavior appropriate to the memory. Thus, to remember the covenant means to be faithful to its laws and rulings. When one appeals to God to remember there is no implication He can “forget.” Instead the phrase is a request that God might respond in an appropriate fashion. When Nehemiah asks God to remember him for the good he has done, he expresses faith that God will reward him.
No compromise. The fiery nature of Nehemiah is shown in enforcing his reforms. He throws the household goods of Tobiah out of the temple, he rebukes officials, confronts violators, and even assults the most guilty. His zeal reminds us of Jesus, who in similar fury overturned the money changers’ tables and drove them from the temple with a whip (Matt. 21:12-13).
So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. 27 Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?”
–> While we wait for the return of our Lord and savior.