COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 13:26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. 27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? 28 And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. 30 Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; 31 And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh 13:26-31)
Nehemiah has dealt harshly and forthrightly with those who have taken wives from heathen nations. In so doing, they had transgressed the Law of God (Ex 34:15-16; Deut 7:13), and violated the covenant they made with God (Neh 10:30). In the beginning, before the flood, the world began to degenerate when the “sons of God” took unto themselves wives from “the daughters of men” (Gen 6:2-5). When Israel first came into Canaan, Joshua warned the people that God would not fight for them if they intermarried with the heathen (Josh 23:12-13). In the days of the Judges intermarriage with the heathen pushed Israel into idolatry (Judges 3:5-7). In the days of Ezra, the people were found in the same transgression (Ezra 9:1,2). Now Nehemiah addresses this transgression again, as though the people had not learned anything from these well known facts. He will speak to them of one of their greatest kings, and of his fall.
THE SOBERING EXAMPLE OF SOLOMON
“ 13:26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.”
SOLOMON’S SIN. With great wisdom, Nehemiah draws upon the history of this sanctified nation. Now he makes an appeal to a single individual – Solomon. He says that Solomon “sinned regarding these things.” NASB A more liberal translation reads, “Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned?” NIV
The record of Solomon’s marriages is found in the eleventh chapter of First Kings. The Spirit makes clear that Solomon did this even though God had strictly forbidden such conduct. “But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites.” These were nations, the account reads, “concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you.” The reason for this prohibition was also spelled out quite clearly: “for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Ignoring that clear word, “Solomon clave unto these in love.” What is more, as he did in everything, his marriages were in staggering excessiveness. It is written, “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart” – just as the Lord said they would! (1 Kgs 11:1-3).
In matters of marriage, people still insist on saying they have a right to marry whomever they will. If this is really true, it would be even more true of a king – especially one that had been blessed with “wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (1 Kgs 4:29). However, he had no such right.
NO KING LIKE HIM. Truly, there was no king like Solomon. He “exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, and all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.” He had 4,000 stalls for horses (2 Chron 9:25), 1,400 chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. He made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem and cedars as common as fig trees in the foothills (1 Kgs 10:26-27). A single day’s meals for his staff consisted of ten fat oxen, twenty oxen out of the pastures, a hundred sheep, beside deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl. (1 Kgs 4:22-23). His wisdom had remarkable depth, including speaking 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, and expertise in all manner of vegetation, beasts, fowls, creeping things, and fishes (1 Kgs 4:32-33).
All of the things Solomon received were from the Lord, who appeared to him two times (1 Kgs 11:9). The Lord gave Solomon “wisdom and knowledge . . .riches, and wealth, and honor, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like” (2 Chr 1:12). Yet none of these things had the power to keep Solomon, stabilize his heart, or keep him from sin. It is written that Solomon “sinned” in taking to himself wives from among the heathen – and that in unparalleled abundance.
OUTLANDISH WOMEN CAUSED HIM TO SIN. Other versions refer to his wives as “pagan women,” NKJV “foreign women,” NASB and “strange women.” BBE The word translated “outlandish” means “strange,” and is used to describe everything from a foreigner to a adulterous woman. The word is used here to depict women who worshiped “strange gods” – idolaters. Further, when they married Solomon, they did not embrace his god, but kept their own gods, never ceasing to worship and serve them.
The extent of the influence of these “outlandish women” is staggering to consider – particularly when you ponder the man of wisdom whom, they brought down. It is written, “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” He followed after “Ashteroth the goddess of the Zidonians.” He also pursued “Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites”(1 Kgs 11:4). On a high hill East of Jerusalem, he built a high place for “Chemosh, and abomination of Moab,” and in a hill before Jerusalem a high place for “Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon” (1 Kgs 11:6-7). It is written that he also “did the same thing for all his strange wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (1 Kgs 11:8). The outcome of it all was this: “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice” (1 Kgs 11:9). It was for this reason that the kingdom of Israel was divided into two warring factions (1 Kgs 11:10-13).
APPLICATION. To this very day, there remains among the people of God an astounding amount of loose thinking about marriage. It is imperative that believers learn from these examples to take God seriously, marrying “only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39).
THE UNREASONABLENESS AND UNACCEPTABILITY OF SIN
“ 13:27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? 28 And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.”
SHALL WE HEARKEN UNTO YOU? There was a sense in which those who had intermarried with the heathen were making a statement – crying out, as it was, for others to follow them. They may not have been promoting their sin by words, but they were by practice. Thus Nehemiah asks if they should “hearken unto you to do all this great evil.” Other versions garble the meaning by reading, “Do we then hear about you,” NASB “Must we hear now that you are doing all thing.” NIV But this is not at all the sense of the text. Nehemiah is challenging these people by saying “Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil?” NRSV The idea is this: If a man like Solomon was brought down by strange wives, do you think we are going to listen to you on this matter, and thus fall again? Do not think for one moment that we will follow your wicked example!
Those who insist on sinning are leading others into sin as well, for no man lives to himself (Rom 14:7). If we are admonished, “neither be partakers of other men’s sins” (1 Tim 5:22), and “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet 3:17), then sinners DO exert influence over others. The very first sin resulted in Eve having influence over Adam (Gen 3:6). This is precisely why “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor 15:33). In this text, Nehemiah rejects such influence, and is aggressive to remove the influence of sin.
The marriages of these people are called a transgression against the Lord. I understand there is a sense in which “marriage is honorable among all” (Heb 13:4). However, that word is not a blanket statement, but more of an exhortation: “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” NASB The point of this text is that even though the institution of marriage itself is honorable, yet God will punish fornicators. Intimacy is for marriage alone, and will surely be judged if it takes place outside of that union. However, all marriages are not honorable. The marriages of Solomon were not honorable. The marriages of the people now addressed by Nehemiah were not honorable. The marriage of the Corinthian man who had his father’s wive was not honorable (1 Cor 5:1). The marriages of the woman at Jacob’s well were not honorable (John 4:18). And, marrying out of the Lord is not honorable (1 Cor 7:39). An “unequal yoke” is not honorable (2 Cor 6:14). The bed being “undefiled” and an “honorable” marriage are not synonymous.
THE GRANDSON OF ELIASHIB THE HIGH PRIEST. Now Nehemiah uncovers another travesty. One of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest (12:10), had married a daughter of Sanballot the Horonite – a consistent opponent of the work of the Lord (2:10,19; 4:1,7; 6:1,2,5,12,14)! This grandson, then, was one of the priests, which made his sin particularly reprehensible.
I CHASED HIM FROM ME. Having not only transgressed against God, but also having defiled the priesthood, Nehemiah “drove” NASB Eliashib’s grandson away. It is assumed that he was expelled from the area, not merely from Nehemiah’s physical presence. His priesthood ended that day, as he had defiantly brought sin among God’s people. Jewish history affirms he was driven from the city, and even from the land of Judea, over which Nehemiah was governor.
Here we see the differing impacts that pure religion and defiled religion have upon people. On the one hand, the intermarriages among the people were tolerated and sanctioned, with people living together peaceably with the enemies of God, who had transgressed against God. On the other hand, and after a godly manner, Nehemiah is repulsed by the practice, and drives the offender away from him, refusing to countenance his presence. There is a sense in which the validity of one’s religion can be measured by the degree to which one tolerates the presence of the ungodly.
NEHEMIAH PRAYS AGAIN. Nehemiah is living unto the Lord, and thus resorts to the Lord in every decision that he makes and action he takes. He asks the Lord to “remember” him because the priesthood has been defiled, with the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. In other words, the whole institution of the priesthood had been defiled by the transgression of intermarriage. In this, he is identified with Phineas, who also was zealous for God and “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Num 25:13).
FINAL APPOINTMENTS AND A PRAYER TO GOD
“ 13:30 Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; 31 And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.”
I CLEANSED THEM FROM ALL STRANGERS. The “them” of reference are the priesthood in particular, those in the service of God, and the people of God in general. God had made no provision for “strangers” in the priesthood. They were also excluded from the service of the Lord, or the work immediately associated with the Temple. “Strangers” were allowed within Jerusalem, but were obliged to keep the laws God had given to Israel (Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14; 31:12). However, they were not allowed in the capacity of husbands or wives (Deut 7:3). In the extraordinary cases of Ruth the Moabitess, she forsook her former gods and chose the God of the Hebrews, and thus was no longer a stranger (Ruth 1:16).
There is a sense in which those who know not God are defiling. A spiritual corruption proceeds from them that contaminates. It is true that we cannot totally avoid such people, for then “you would need to go out of the world” NKJV(1 Cor 5:10). One of the most effective ploys of the devil is to convince people they can, while choosing the company of the wicked, avoid their contamination. Such a thought is a deception, and those who embrace it have been deceived (1 Cor 15:33). If the influence of heathen women brought down wise Solomon, you may be sure that you will not be able to entertain such associations without being defiled.
Particularly in our country, there is a crying need for a cleansing. The church and its ministry has been defiled by ungodly associations. We stand in need of men like Nehemiah who will, in the strength of the Lord, “purge out the old leaven” (1 Cor 5:7).
APPOINTMENTS ARE MADE. Nehemiah now appointed wards, or “assigned duties.” NKJV He knows who has been faithful, and who is trustworthy, and he will make the assignments necessary to ensure the work of the Lord is carried on without corruption. Thus priests and Levites were each assigned “his own task.” NIV The work of the Lord must not be neglected, for the that would again “bring more wrath” upon the people (Neh 13:18). He also “made provision for contributions of wood at the designated times, and for the firstfuits.” NIV The people had previously covenanted to bring “the wood offering” into the house of God “to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law” (10:34; Lev 6:12). They had also covenanted to bring “the firstfruits” of all their ground and of “all fruit trees” to “the house of the Lord” (10:34; Ex 23:19). Now Nehemiah gives feet to that covenant, once again ensuring that everything will be done properly.
Application. In Christ Jesus, there are similar appointments that have been made – things that pertain to the gathering of the saints. There is to be a continuance in Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42). Prayers and supplications are to be made (1 Tim 2:1), and everything is to be done “unto edifying” (1 Cor 14:26). Comfort and edifying are to be ministered when we are “together,” as well as “teaching and admonishing one another one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16).
Part of the responsibility of spiritual leaders is to ensure that these indispensable ministries take place. This is not done to merely fulfill a requirement, but to equip the saints “for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12), as well as enable them to survive the onslaughts of the wicked one. However, we have entered into a new era where novices are setting the agenda for the assembly, and they have not done well. What is sorely needed for believers to be nourished, comforted, and exhorted, is gradually being excluded from the average American assembly. Instead of those vital essentials, a sort of entertaining agenda has been adopted that is brief, and does not promote faith and godliness. Like the days of Nehemiah, there are some fresh appointments that need to be made in this time – appointments that separate defiling influences from the church, and ensure the continuance of things that God Himself has ordained, and for which He has equipped the church.
A FINAL PRAYER. Here is one of the shortest prayers of Scriptural record – yet it is weighty in its content. “Remember me, O my God, for good.” The word “good” includes the idea of benefit, Divine favor, better, excellent, and valuable. Nehemiah has confronted evil things among the people, now he asks for good things from the Lord. These are things that will rejuvenate, equip, strengthen, and make glad! This is at least the seventh such prayer of Nehemiah, and a fitting conclusion to his book. He asked God to “Hear,” “Think” upon Him, “strengthen,” “think” upon their enemies, “Remember” him, and “spare” him (Nehemiah 4:4; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 13:14, 22, 29). Nehemiah lived ahead of his time, laving much the same spirit as David, the man after God’s own heart. This very evident throughout his book.