Nehemiah pulls hair in Jerusalem
Finding foreigners in the Law1During a worship service, someone read aloud excerpts from the Law of Moses. The Law says no person from Ammon or Moab are not ever allowed to join the people of Israel.
2The Law explained this by saying the people of Ammon and Moab refused to show the slightest hospitality to the Israelite refugees arriving during their Exodus escape from Egypt. Instead of offering them food and water, Moab hired a fortune-teller named Balaam to put a hex on them. But God had Balaam bless the people instead with promises of success.
3When the listeners heard that read from the Law, they stepped away from all outsiders whose families came from foreign lands.
Nehemiah’s kicks foreigner out of Temple4Before any of this happened, the priest Eliashib was responsible for the storage rooms at the Temple. He was related to Tobiah. 5Eliashib set Tobiah up in a private room at the Temple. Jews had used that room to store donations and gifts the people brought to the Temple: grain, frankincense, containers such as bowls, along with the required 10 percent tithe of grain, wine, and olive oil. The Law of Moses says those offerings belonged to Temple workers, such as Levites, singers, guards, and priests.
6I wasn’t in Jerusalem at the time. I was with Persian King Artaxerxes whose kingdom included Babylon. He was marking his 32nd year as king. I spent some time there and then got permission to leave. 7When I got back to Jerusalem, I discovered that Eliashib had given Tobiah his own private room on the courtyard, inside the Temple.
Nehemiah loses his temper with priests8I let my temper fly. I threw out all of Tobiah’s furniture.
9Then, on my orders, workers cleaned up the room. I brought back all the supplies that should have been stored in this room: containers devoted to God’s use at the time, grain given as offerings, along with frankincense.
10Next, I found out that no one had paid the Levites. Or the musicians. So, they had all gone back to working in the fields for food. They were supposed to be getting their share of offerings stored in the Temple supply rooms.
11I confronted the leaders and got into their faces, “Why aren’t you taking care of the Temple of God?” I called in all the Temple workers and told them to get back to work at the Temple. 12Then once again the people of Judah started bringing in their gifts and offerings to the Temple: grain, wine, and olive oil. We stored it in the supply rooms.
13I assigned two well-respected men as treasurers. They would oversee these donations and redistribute them to the workers as salary. The treasurers were Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scholar and scribe. Their assistants were Pedaiah the Levite and Hanan son of Zaccur and grandson of Mattaniah.
14God above, don’t forget what I just did. Remember the good things I’ve done for your house here on earth and for you, my God.
Nehemiah brings back the work-free Sabbath15I saw people working on the Sabbath like it’s Do Whatever You Want Day. They stomped grapes in winepresses. They loaded heavy bags of grain onto the backs of donkeys. Wine, too, with grapes, figs, and all kinds of merchandise. They hauled it all into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. I warned them: Don’t sell food today.
16People formerly from the coastal city of Tyre, but who now lived in Jerusalem, set up shop on the Sabbath. They sold fish and other merchandise to Jews on the Sabbath.
17I called in the city leaders and said, “What on earth do you think you’re doing? You’re trashing the Sabbath. That’s pure evil and you darn well know it. 18People, isn’t this exactly what your ancestors did? And isn’t that the reason God hammered us with this disaster, which we in Jerusalem are still trying to recover from? But now you provoke God again? You trash the Sabbath with your disrespect and dare him to hammer us again? Are you crazy?”
19The next Friday night, when it started to get dark at the beginning of Sabbath, I ordered Jerusalem’s doors closed. They stayed closed until Saturday evening, when Sabbath ended. I ordered some of my men to guard the gates, to make sure no one brought anything inside to sell until Sabbath was over.
20Merchants arriving that evening had to spend Friday night and all day Saturday outside the wall. For some of them, it happened more than once. 21I gave them fair warning: “What do you think you’re doing by camping beside our wall? If I catch you doing it again, I’ll arrest you.” After that, merchants stopped coming to sell on the Sabbath. 22I ordered Levite guards to go back to their duties and guard those gates and obey the Sabbath Day laws.
God in heaven, remember what I did today. Protect me, not because of what I’ve done but because of who you are—you are my great God, the God who never stops loving us.
Nehemiah’s rule: Jews marry Jews23I met Jewish men with foreign wives from the lands of Ammon and Moab and Ashdod. 24Half of their children couldn’t even speak our Hebrew language. But they could speak their mother’s language. Ashdod’s, for one. 25I tore into some of those men. I cussed them and cursed them. I beat them up the side of the head and pulled out some of their hair. Then I made them swear an oath: “I will not let my sons and daughters marry foreigners. Period.”
26And I asked them, “Don’t you remember the sins of King Solomon after he married those foreign women? Until he married them, he was the best king anywhere. God had loved him, and God backed him as the king of Israel. Yet those foreigners convinced even Solomon to sin. 27So tell me this, fellas, should we follow your example and betray God by marrying foreign women like Solomon did?”
Kicking out the high priest’s son28Jehoiada, the high priest’s son, married one of those women. Eliashib was the high priest. His son married the daughter of Sanballat from Beth-Horon. I ran him out of town for good.
29God above, remember that rotten family. They stink up the priesthood and spit on the covenant of their ministry as priests and Levites.
30So, I cleaned up that town. I got rid of everything that wasn’t kosher. I wrote job descriptions for all the priests and Levites. 31And I gave them the wood they needed to burn their offerings at the scheduled times such as the early part of each harvest.
Don’t forget who I am, God. Remember the good parts of my life.
“Law of Moses” can refer to the collection of five Bible books attributed to Moses, the first five in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Or it can refer to any part of that collection known as the Pentateuch. Often, Bible writers talking about the Law are referring to sections in Deuteronomy, a collection of speeches Moses made to the Israelites shortly before he died. He went over the most important laws with this new generation of Israelites, to make sure they understood their part of the agreement they had with God. Deuteronomy is a concise summary of the laws Moses said God gave him.
“Join the people of God” is often translated something like this: “enter the assembly of God.” It’s unclear what that means. It could mean foreigners weren’t allowed to worship with Jews at the Temple. Or it might mean they can’t convert to the Jewish faith. Or it could mean Jews should stay away from them. Whatever it means, the reader was apparently quoting Deuteronomy 23:3-6. But the ban on whatever Moses had in mind—worship with Jews, converting, marrying Jews—it wasn’t literally a ban forever: “Citizens of Ammon and Moab aren’t allowed…for 10 generations.” Ten generations was a stretch of time already long gone by Nehemiah’s day. Apparently, Jews in Nehemiah’s time considered “10 generations” a polite way of saying “never again.” One more note: a woman from Moab gave birth to a son named Obed who became the grandpa of King David (Ruth 3:21-22). That made King David one-eighth (12.5 percent) Moabite. In body parts, that’s equal to a little off the top and bottom: 1 head, 2 feet.
Balaam’s name showed up on an ancient inscription found in what is now Jordan’s city of Deir Alla. The inscription is a fragment of a collection of visions by “a divine seer” called “Balaam, son of Beor”—just as the Bible writers identified him. The Deir Alla Inscription said, “the gods came to him at night.” The inscription, painted in ink on a plastered wall, dates to roughly 800 BC, several centuries after Balaam and Moses.
It’s unclear if the Jews simply asked the outsiders to leave the event. In Ezra 10:3-44, they took it much further. Jewish men who married foreign women divorced them and sent them away, with their half-foreign children.
It’s unclear if this was “the” Eliashib—the man identified elsewhere as the high priest (3:1; 12:10). Here, he is simply the “priest.”
Is this “Tobiah the Ammonite” (2:10), who tried to stop the Jews from repairing Jerusalem’s city walls? He and the Samaritan, Sanballat, had family connections to the Jews (6:19). Given Nehemiah’s reaction to what happens, yes this appears to be “the” Tobiah, from Ammon. The writer doesn’t say how the two men were related.
Frankincense was one of the most exotic and expensive fragrances available, along with myrrh. Both come from sap of small trees and shrubs growing in what are now Saudi Arabia, northern Africa, and India. People would grind up the dried sap and put it in perfumes. They also burned it as a woody fragrance, and a sweet-smelling incense. They burned the incense in religious services. They also burned incense in homes as air fresheners in the days before soap and deodorants.
Numbers 18:8-32; Deuteronomy 14:27.
Year of reign number 32 for the Persian king translates to about 433 BC on our calendars.
A scribe was someone who could read and write. People would hire them to read and write letters, contracts, inventory lists. Scribes in New Testament times were a different breed. Those scribes specialized in the Jewish laws. Each of the major groups of Jews had their own scribes. These included the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. But in the time of Jesus, most scribes were Pharisees. This was the branch of the Jewish faith well-known for its meticulous devotion to observing the Law as they interpreted it and for insisting that everyone else do the same. In the Gospel of Mark, scribes represent the moral opposite of Jesus.
See Exodus 20:8-11; 35:2-3.
“Cussing” and “Cursing” come from just one Hebrew word that can mean a lot of different things: qalal. It can mean calling down a curse from God by wishing bad things to happen to someone. People in Bible times seemed to teach that those words of cursing or of blessing had the power to make things happen. But in this context of a man losing his temper badly enough to hit people and pull out their hair, when we read the Hebrew word that says he also qalal, cursed, memories of choice words spoken in a hot-headed blowup may come to mind. May God forgive.
Probably not a cat fight, but a way of disgracing someone and showing how despicable you think they are. It would be embarrassing to get publicly slapped around by the Alpha Male when you know you can’t return the disfavor.
See 1 Kings 11. Solomon sacrificed to idols, breaking the first of the 10 Commandments.
Literally, “Sanballat the Horonite.” An ancient document from the city of Elephantine in Egypt mentions Sanballat the Horonite as governor of Samaria, just north of Judah. The document puts Sanballat in that job as an old man with his sons helping him in about 408 BC. So, he may not have been governor almost 40 years earlier. “Horonite” takes some guessing. One of the most common is that Sanballat lived in the town of Beth-Horon, near Jerusalem, on an important road to the Mediterranean coast.
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