COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 13:4 And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of
our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7 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. 8 And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.” (Neh 13:4-8)
The wall of Jerusalem has been completed and dedicated. Arrangements have been made for the gathering of the tithes and offerings, and the care of the priests, Levites, singers, and porters. However, things will not remain in an acceptable condition. The dreadful “leaven of malice and wickedness” (1 Cor 5:8) will creep in among the people. Recovery from lethargy and retrogression does not insulate one against defection. Unless a sensitive heart is maintained, and the Lord kept prominent in one’s thinking, degeneration will find its way back among the people. Personal experience will confirm this is true. However, it is far better to learn from the Scriptural record than to learn from the fish’s belly, as Jonah did. Besides that, there is really no guarantee that learning will take place while in disobedience.
THE BAD JUDGMENT OF ELIASHIB THE PRIEST
“ 13:4 “And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.”
Already, numerous problems had been encountered among the children of Judah themselves. During the rebuilding of the wall Judah claimed their “the strength of the bearers of burdens had diminished, there was too much rubbish, and they were not able to build” (4:10). They had become afraid of their enemies (4:11-12). A cry arose from the people against their brethren because of unfair treatment (5:2-5). Noadiah and other prophets sought to make Nehemiah afraid (6:14). Some Jews told Tobiah the words that Nehemiah had been speaking, which prompted him to send threatening letters to Nehemiah (6:18-19). Now, years later, another circumstance arises that must be confronted by the man of God. It again involves corruption within the ranks.
ALLIED WITH TOBIAH. This time, the trouble is found with “Eliashib the high priest.” He had faithfully worked on the wall (3:1). His house was located in the wall, so that he was an inhabitant of Jerusalem (3:20-21). Yet, he had maintained an association with one of the greatest opponents of the wall project – “Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite” (2:10). Tobiah had clearly revealed the kind of person he was. He was “grieved” to even hear that Nehemiah came seeking “the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10). He had “laughed” the people “to scorn, and despised” them in their rebuilding of the wall (2:19). He is the one who viewed the wall and said, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Neh 4:3). He was angered to hear the breaches of the wall had been repaired (4:7). He joined with Sanballot in hiring a prophet to speak against Nehemiah (6:12). He had sent inflammatory letters to the “nobles of Judah” (6:17). Tobiah also sent threatening letters to Nehemiah himself (6:19). His nature had been revealed.
And how does Eliashib view such an avowed enemy of the work and man of God? He was “allied with Tobiah!” The word “allied” means “a relation,” either by blood or marriage. Other versions read, “was related to Tobiah,” NASB and “was closely associated with Tobiah.” NIV The enemy Tobiah had married into the tribe of Judah. As it is written, “he was the son in law of Shechaniah the son of Arah; and his son Johanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah” (6:18). Shechanian and Meshullam were both priests, and hence probably related to Eliashib (8:4; 12:3). Not only had Tobiah married the daughter of a priest, but his son had married one also. This inveterate enemy of the Jews had then performed some reportedly “good deeds” among the people (6:19). Here is a classic example of what mingling with the heathen can do – when there is an attempt to join light and darkness, and righteousness with unrighteousness.
A GREAT CHAMBER. As an “Ammonite” (2:10), Tobiah was forbidden to come into the congregation of the Lord (13:1; Deut 23:3). Notwithstanding that prohibition, Eliashib not only provided him a place of residence, but “provided him with a large room” NIV that had been set aside for Temple use. Thus Eliashib valued his relationship to Tobiah more than his relationship with the God of heaven. That is the liability of developing ungodly associations. They invariably upstage a personal association with God.
PROPER USE. Eliashib did not simply build Tobiah an abode, but cleared out an area of the Temple “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.” NASB This was an area where the people had covenanted to store the supplies given for the priests, Levites, porters, and singers (10:38-39).
With the passing of time, a place where provisions for those who served God had been stored was converted into living quarters for one of the most consistent opponents the Jews ever faced. Notice how carefully the Spirit speaks of the area provided for Tobiah. It was a place for the storage for the things “which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests.” NKJV Thus the commandment of God was pushed to the side in favor of accommodations for an enemy of God!
One might wonder how such a thing could happen. It was the result of “evil communications,” or “bad company,” which invariably “corrupts good manners” (1 Cor 15:33). To this very day, there is a marked tendency among the people of God to ignore this solemn warning, just as Eliashib the priest did. It is imperative that we learn from this.
IT HAPPENED WHEN NEHEMIAH WAS AWAY
“ 13:6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king.”
IN ALL THIS TIME. Other versions read, “while all this was going on,” NIV and “while this was taking place.” NRSV The expression “all this” refers to the actions of Eliashib, which never would have taken place if Nehemiah had been present. Notice the manner of Nehemiah’s reference to this uncomely event. It is referred to as a unique period of time – a time when unholy things were transpiring. How it must have grieved Nehemiah to hear of the uncomely conduct of Eliashib, for the message did get back to him. God has so governed His kingdom that things requiring correction are soon learned by those who are ordained to correct them. As it is written, “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter” (Eccl 10:20).
I WAS NOT AT JERUSALEM. Originally, when Nehemiah had left the king’s court for Jerusalem, king Artaxerxes had asked him, “For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?” (2:6). That was “in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king” (2:1). Nehemiah tells us that at that time, he properly informed the king, providing him with a timetable. “So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time,” or “gave him a definite time” (2:6). Now, we again learn the length of that period. Nehemiah left in the twentieth year of Artaxerces reign, and was found again in Babylon in the thirty-second year of his rule. He had, therefore, “governed” the land of Judah for twelve years. He states this precisely in the fifth chapter: “I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years” (5:14). Now he has returned to the king to give an account of his matters.
One small thought here: how would the average leader respond to giving an account for the last twelve years of his life? To me, the very thought of such accountability is most arresting. Yet, it is even more challenging to consider giving an account for ones entire life, something that will take place for everyone at the day of judgment.
I CAME UNTO THE KING. Word concerning the conditions at Jerusalem reached Nehemiah quickly. Before one year was up, he went to the king to obtain permission to correct the conditions. Prior to this, he had apparently given a full account on his affairs during his twelve-year leave of absence. The response of the king to Nehemiah’s request reveals his report was received with the king’s approval, and that the integrity of Nehemiah was not questioned.
The phrase “after certain days” comes from a Hebrew expression that often means “at the end of days,” YLT or “within a full year,” as in Exodus 25:29-30. Although it is not certain, this suggests that “after certain days” could have been as long as one full year.
One of the rewards of faithful stewardship is the consideration of special circumstances. Conversely, those who are unfaithful stewards, having no favorable report to give, will not receive special consideration in the time of need. Although this ought to be apparent, it is obvious that many within the Christian community do not live with this in mind. This is an aspect of the law of sowing and reaping that is chronicled throughout Scripture: “they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same,” (Job 4:8) “Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices,” (Prov 1:31), “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up” (Hosea 8:7), “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy” (Hosea 10:12), “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6), and “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). Now Nehemiah’s faithfulness and dependability will bring him consideration from the king.
I OBTAINED LEAVE. Nehemiah obtained what he asked for: “And after some time I asked leave of the king.” RSV Other versions read, “I got the king to let me go,” BBE and “but after some time I asked the king for permission to leave.” NJB He asked at the appropriate time, after he had given his report, and before things got completely out of hand in Jerusalem.
Notice the thoughtfulness and obedience of Nehemiah. He did not abuse the king’s favor. He did not return to Jerusalem until he had “permission to leave.” NJB The word “leave” means to ask for a leave of absence, or to inquire carefully. Nehemiah’s words were no doubt “fitly spoken” (Prov 25:11), and his cause “ordered” well (Job 13:18).
SERIOUS ENOUGH FOR NEHEMIAH TO RETURN
“ 13:7 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. 8 And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.”
I CAME TO JERUSALEM. Once the proper permission was granted, Nehemiah “came to Jerusalem.” This was probably around 532 B.C., over twelve years after the wall was completed. The distance from Shushan to Jerusalem was significant – approximately 885miles Southeast of Jerusalem, as the crow flies. Depending on the route taken, it could be necessary to cross both the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Yet, Nehemiah provides not even the smallest details involved in that journey, covering desert and hostile areas. Moved along by the Holy Spirit, he only speaks of the matter at hand – getting to Jerusalem.
A small application. One small lesson to learn from this is that HOW we arrive at various stages of spiritual life is not as important as being there. Arriving is infinitely more important than the experiences along the way. Some have had to go through fire and water to get where God has called them, but their arrival at the destination was the point.
I UNDERSTOOD THE EVIL. Here is Nehemiah’s godly assessment of what Eliashib had done. Remember, he had provided a location for Tobiah the Ammonite to reside, and it was in a place reserved for storing supplies for the servants of God. Some might view such provision as being hospitable. Nehemiah saw it as “the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah.” Another version reads, “the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.” NASB Other versions read, “I understood the evil,” DOUAY “I learned about the crime,” NJB “I understood the mischief,” Septuagint and “learned the extent of this evil deed.” NLT
The idea is that what he saw was even worse than what he had heard. There was no acceptable way of viewing it. Eliashib’s deed was an eruption of corruption, and an overflow of wickedness. How will this affect the man of God?
IT GRIEVED ME SORE. Other versions read, “grieved me bitterly,” NKJV “it was very displeasing to me,” NASB “I was greatly displeased,” NIV “I was very angry,” NRSV “It seemed to me exceeding evil,” DOUAY and “I became very upset.” NLT
The heart of Nehemiah was unusually sensitive, and a year in the court of Artaxerses had not dulled that sensitivity. Those who love and serve the Lord do come to a point where they cannot tolerate iniquity in any form. What Jude affirms comes to pass in them: “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).
And just what was it that so grieved Nehemiah? That something devoted to God was being used for common purposes! Oh, that the fellowship of such devout people were greatly enlarged in this day, when, in our own country, this sin has become common.
THE HOUSEHOLD STUFF WAS CAST OUT. Nehemiah does not speak with anyone about this matter, but sets out to correct it himself. Eliashib and Tobiah have had no regard for the house of God, and Nehemiah will have no regard for the possessions of Tobiah. He “threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room.” NASB Other versions say he threw out “all the household furniture of Tobiah.” NRSV and “all of Tobiah’s belongings.” NLT
The violence with which the man of God reacted was prompted by his love for the Temple and service of God, and his hatred for corruption.
It is not possible to read this account without recalling similar cleansings that took place during Christ’s earthly ministry. The first took place during the early part of that ministry, “when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables” (John 2:15). Upon seeing this, His disciples “remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17). The second was during the latter part of His ministry when He “began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).
Hezekiah also had the Temple of his day cleansed. Of that occasion it is written, “And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron” (2 Chr 29:16).
There is a similar cleansing that must take place among the people of God. Defiling and corrupting influences, whether people, practices, or things, must be removed from the place where God dwells, both personally and collectively (2 Cor 6:16-18; James 4:8; 1 Cor 5:7).