COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 13:9 And before this, Eliashib the priest, Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. 10I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. 11Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. 12Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. 14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.” (Neh 13:9-14)
The zeal of the house of the Lord has consumed Nehemiah. Having found that Tobiah the Ammonite had been living in the chambers of the house of the Lord, the man of God has thrown his household goods from the chambers. He now sets out to cleanse the Temple of defilement, and again arrange for the gathering, storage, and distribution of provisions for the servants of God. He questions the rulers concerning their attitude toward the house of the Lord, then directs a return to the proper respect for the house of God and those who served in it. In this account we see the effect that faith in, and love for, the Lord and things pertaining to Him has upon the heart of those possessing that faith.
CLEANSE THE CHAMBERS!
“ 13:9 “Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.”
Having purged the sacred chambers of the household goods of Tobiah, Nehemiah now addresses the influences of those goods upon the area reserved for holy purposes. Although the idea of purging or cleansing is not common in our day, it is a fundamental aspect of man’s association with the God of heaven. Sin has defiling effects that must be addressed. This applies to individuals themselves, as well as other matters that are related to our association with the Lord.
THE CONCEPT OF “CLEAN.” As far back as Noah, the Lord began formally teaching men the distinction between “clean” and “unclean.” Noah was to bring into the ark clean beasts and fowls of the air in multiples of seven (Gen 7:2-3). Other living creatures were brought into the ark in multiples of two (Gen 6:19-20). Following the flood, Noah built an altar and offered to the Lord “of every clean beast and every clean fowl” (Gen 8:20). Under the Law, a “difference” was made between “unclean and clean” (Lev 10:10; 20:25). Unclean things were not acceptable to God, and could not be consumed by men. Through the Prophets, the Lord commanded the people not to touch the unclean thing. Those who carried the vessels of the Lord were also commanded, “be ye clean” (Isa 52:11). The priests were commanded to “cause” the people to “discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezek 44:23). When the servants of God failed to distinguish between clean and unclean, the Lord reprimanded them (Ezek 22:26).
There are things God will NOT accept – and this includes both people and things. There are also people and things God will not reject. The words “clean” and “unclean” assist in defining those things.
THEY CLEANSED THE CHAMBERS. This is where Tobiah had been living, and the area needed to be cleansed of the defilements he caused. What was originally dedicated to the Lord had thus become defiled and profaned when used by the ungodly.
When Moses instituted the Tabernacle service, he cleansed the altar (Lev 29:36) and the Levites (Num 8:6). During the revival of Hezekiah’s time. The Temple was cleansed. Unclean things that were found in “the inner part of the house of God” were taken out, carried outside the confines of the city (2 Chron 29:15). A special water for purification was compounded of the ashes of a “red heifer” mixed with water (Num 19:9). There was also a cleansing that was made with sacrificial blood and anointing oil (Ex 29:21; Lev 8:30). In this cleansing people became aware that defilement was associated with death, and that the life of an innocent victim was required to make a person or thing clean again – whether it was the ashes or the blood of the sacrifice.
THE VESSELS BROUGHT BACK. Once the chambers were cleansed, the vessels and offerings for which they were intended were brought back where they belonged. From this we learn that in order for Tobiah to move into the holy chambers, the goods for which they were intended had to be moved out. The holy and the unholy could not dwell together. As long as Tobiah was in the chambers, the sanctified vessels and offerings were somewhere else.
A WORD ABOUT BEING CLEAN. In our time a church-culture has been developed that has removed a consciousness of clean and unclean. Notwithstanding that condition, the people of God are commanded, “touch not the unclean thing”(2 Cor 6:17). They are also apprised that “no unclean person . . . hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). There is such a thing as yielding our capacities “to uncleanness” (Rom 6:19) – something that is identified with our prior lives, and for which no provision is made in Christ Jesus. “Uncleanness” is something from which repentance is mandatory (2 Cor 12:21). It is listed in “the works of flesh” (Gal 5:19), and is not to be “once named” among those who wear the name of Christ (Eph 5:3). When found within a professed believer, “uncleanness” is to be mortified, or put to death (Col 3:5).
Something that is “unclean” soils the soul, interrupts fellowship with God, and rivets the heart to “this present evil world.” Such is not always apparent by definition, but it is invariably made known by its effects.
Before the things of God can be resident in us, our own inner chambers must be purged from defilement. That is initially accomplished when we are “forgiven” of “all trespasses” (Col 2:13). It is the responsibility of all believers to maintain that state of cleanness (2 Cor 7:1), availing themselves of the forgiveness of God (1 John 1:9).
THE TREASURIES ARE STOCKED ONCE AGAIN
“ 13:10 And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. 11 Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. 12 Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.”
Nehemiah always extended himself to set things right. He not only purged the house of God of Tobiah and his belongings, he cleansed the chambers, restoring them to their intended use. Cleansing without proper use only compounds the problem. Jesus taught this in His account of the expulsion of an unclean spirit. When that spirit revisited his original dwelling and found it empty, he rallied seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and re-occupied that place. The last condition was, Jesus said, “worse than the first” (Matt 12:43-45). Thus, Nehemiah does not leave the chambers empty, treating them like a religious museum. Rather, he puts them into holy use once again.
NEGLECTED PORTIONS. Even though the people had made a solemn covenant to provide for the Levites (Neh 9:38; 10:37-38), their commitment grew weak, and finally the allotted portions were no longer being given to the Levites and the singers. In about one year, and in Nehemiah’s absence, the people had gone backward.
Once the chambers had been given to other purposes, the Levites and the singers lost their portion. This neglect was apparently commensurate with Tobiah moving into these chambers. Proper distribution could not be made from a place that had not been set aside for that purpose. Thus, within a short period of time, the Levites and the singers no longer received the portion due to them – ordained by God, instituted by David the man of God, and promised in solemn covenant by the very people who now neglected them.
EVERY ONE TO HIS FIELD. Once the Levites and singers no longer received the allotment due them, they returned to their own “fields,” forced to supply their own needs. Thus, the living which these servants were to obtain from the chambers of the house of God, was now wrought out in their own fields. Apparently, this was perfectly acceptable to the populace, who allowed the condition to continue until it was duly noted by Nehemiah. The man of God saw what the people had come to accept. Yet, he himself could not, and would not, accept it. The conditions were wrong, and he knew it.
CONTENDING WITH THE RULERS. Nehemiah goes straight to the “rulers.” He perceives this as neglecting “the house of God,” not merely failing to fulfill some technical requirements. I assume these were the ones “appointed over the chambers for the treasures” (12:44). Why had they allowed this to happen? Why had they succumbed to the foolish judgment of Eliashib? Why had they allowed the goods of the chambers to be removed? Why had they allowed Tobiah to remain in the chambers over which they had charge? Why had they forgotten the servants of the house of God? Nehemiah was not asking for information. The whole condition was unacceptable and inexcusable. Thus the man of God calls them into account, not allowing the matter to pass unchallenged.
THE SERVANTS AND PROVISIONS RESTORED. The ones gathered by Nehemiah were the Levites and the singers, who had returned to their own fields. He again put them in the Temple where they belonged, and in the courses where they had been assigned (Neh 10:39). When the servants were where they belonged, then the tithes were again brought by all of Judah into the treasuries.
ABOUT OUR DAY. When due regard is not given to those who labor in the Word and in the doctrine (1 Tim 5:17), a dangerous circumstance is introduced. First, a disdain for the work of the Lord itself is revealed. Secondly, men must leave the Word of God to serve tables – in this case, their own. All manner of justification for “tent-making preachers” may be sought, but it cannot hold up under Divine scrutiny. God has “ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Jesus told His disciples, “the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt 10:10). Paul enjoined, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Gal 6:6).
When this ordinance is not duly honored, a circumstance is introduced that greatly inhibits the servant of the Lord. The work of God has never been sustained by a democratic process – neither under the Old nor the New covenants. At some point, an intense interest in the work of the Lord must be generated among the people of God. In our case, due regard must be developed for “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It is a sin of enormous magnitude for that house to be “forsaken.”
FAITHFUL MEN APPOINTED, AND NEHEMIAH’S PRAYER
“ 13:13 And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.”
Nehemiah does not ask the people to choose men from among themselves, as the Apostles did (Acts 6:3). The people were in a spiritually debilitated state, and were not able to carry out such an assignment. Woe to that person who asks ungodly people to make provision for the work of the Lord! Nehemiah saw a condition that others had not been able to see, and thus he rises to remedy the situation in the energy of his faith.
TREASURERS. There had been some previous appointments of men over these chambers. “And at that time (the dedication of the wall) were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures” (Neh 12:44). The original custodians were not reinstalled. I assume these were the “rulers” Nehemiah upbraided for forsaking the house of God (v 11). Someone else was now assigned to take their place, as in the case of Judas, who fell by transgression (Psa 109:8; Acts 1:20). It is the Lord’s manner to displace the unfaithful, giving their role to another. Thus Jesus said, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Mat 21:43). This is a principle with which we should be familiar. Nehemiah knew it well.
THEY WERE COUNTED FAITHFUL. Four men were appointed over the newly-cleansed and stocked chambers: Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah and Hanan who were Levites. These men were acquainted with the work of the Lord, and did not require training or orientation. These were men who had been “first been proved” (1 Tim 3:10), showing themselves faithful in their present circumstances. Their faith had been lived out before the people, confirming they were trustworthy.
Thus Nehemiah did what Paul enjoined Timothy to do: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). In the work of the Lord, over and above natural aptitude and carnal credentials, proven faithfulness is imperative. God has never represented Himself as ordaining sloths, the lukewarm, or the uninterested.
THEIR OFFICE. The managers were not outsiders, but were from the same stock as those for whom they would be providing. Thus it is written, “their office was to distribute to their brethren.” That distribution included gathering the goods, storing them, caring for them, and making appropriate distribution of them.
Nehemiah does not take for granted that the people will do what is right. He places men in charge who will see to it that the work is done. This is precisely what the Holy Spirit does in the administration of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-7).
REMEMBER ME, O MY GOD. Nehemiah is acutely aware of the living God. He is also in the midst of a people who have proven to be less than reliable and trustworthy. Such people will not be able to fully appreciate what Nehemiah has done. For this reason, the man of God does not look to the people for approval or commendation, as many are wont to do. Instead, he calls upon the Lord to take due note of what he had done, and why he has done it. Earlier, while the wall was being completed, Nehemiah prayed similarly: “Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19). Samson asked the Lord to “remember” him (Judges 16:28). Hannah asked the Lord to “remember” her (1 Sam 1:11). David also pled with the Lord, “Remember me” (Psa 106:4). Jeremiah prayed, “remember me, and visit me” (Jer 15:15). And, who can forget the thief on the cross who also cried out, “Remember me” (Luke 23:42).
Nehemiah knew that men would forget what he had done, for with the passing of time, those who are not spiritual soon forget notable works. He knew his deeds could be blotted out of both memory and record, and thus prayed that would not be the case. God did, indeed, answer his prayer, for we are reading the record of Nehemiah’s “good deeds.” In this sense, his works “do follow” him, remaining accessible to men (Rev 14:13).
The knowledge of Divine recognition will sustain the kingdom laborer. Even if men do not have regard for dedicated workers, yet those very workers can confess with Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim 1:12). Keeping what is committed to Him is the same as God not forgetting the good deeds of Nehemiah.