The story of NehemiahThe governor of Jerusalem who rebuilt the city walls after the exile More concludes with Nehemiah correcting a series of abuses during a second term as governor.
In many ways these final verses function as a coda or an appendix to the narrative that was so dramatically concluded with the procession and dedication of the walls in chapter 12. Their presence is a sober reminder that the process of reform and restoration was not completed with the reestablishment of worship or the rebuilding of the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More and the walls. The church must always be reformed, as both Calvinist and Lutheran strains of Protestantism tirelessly remind us.
Nehemiah’s reforms in chapter 13, following an absence of unspecified length (vv. 6-7), seem to be grouped together because they all deal with purification. The six reforms may be briefly described as follows:
- Separation from foreigners, a persistent problem, here has to do with the banning of foreigners from the “assembly of God” (vv. 1-3). Decisive here are Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Numbers 22-24; and an anecdote from the time of DavidSecond king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More (Nehemiah 12:44-47).
- The eviction of his old nemesis, Tobiah–who had inappropriately been given rooms in the temple by Eliashib, one of the priests, while Nehemiah was in Babylon–served to purify the temple (13:4-9).
- The community’s lack of support for the Levites and temple singers forced them to abandon the temple to work their fields in order to survive. After rebuking the people, Nehemiah set up a system by which the temple personnel would be supported (vv. 10-14).
- Violation of the SabbathSabbath is a weekly day of rest, the seventh day, observed on Saturday in Judaism and on Sunday in Christianity. In the book of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day; in the Gospel accounts Jesus and his disciples are criticized by some for not... More commandment by Jews and foreigners alike was quickly corrected, while additional measures were taken to prevent a recurrence (vv. 15-22).
- As in Ezra’s day, the problem of intermarriage required Nehemiah’s attention. Unlike EzraScribe who helped establish Jewish practices in Jerusalem after the exile. More, however, Nehemiah does not demand the divorce of these women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. He does rebuke the community, including physical abuse, and makes them promise not to intermarry in the future (vv. 23-27).
- Closely related to this, Nehemiah was chagrined to learn that even the high priests were not exempt from the threat to the community presented by intermarriage. This was especially painful for the governor since it involved a marriage to the daughter of his archenemy Sanballat (vv. 28-29).
A very terse summary of Nehemiah’s attempts to keep the community pure from corrupting outside influence brings the work to a somewhat prosaic conclusion (vv. 30-31).