Nehemiah 13 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Nehemiah 13)

Verse 1

[1] On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;

That day — Not presently after the dedication of the wall and city, but upon a certain day, when Nehemiah was returned from the Persian court to Jerusalem, from which he had been absent for some considerable time, in which some errors and abuses had crept in.

Not come — Not be incorporated into the common-wealth of Israel, nor be joined with any Israelite in marriage.

Verse 3

[3] Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.

Multitude — All the heathenish people with whom they had contracted alliance.

Verse 4

[4] And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:

Eliashib — The high-priest.

Chamber — Of the chambers, the high-priest having the chief power over the house of God, and all the chambers belonging to it.

Tobiah — The Ammonite, and a violent enemy to God's people.

Verse 5

[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.

Prepared — By removing the things out of it, uniting divers small chambers into one, and furnishing it for the use of Tobiah when he came to Jerusalem: whom he seems to have lodged there, that he might have more free communication with him.

Verse 6

[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:

But, … — Eliashib took the occasion of my absence to do these things.

Came I — From Jerusalem; where he had been once and again.

Verse 8

[8] And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.

Grieved me — That so sacred a place should be polluted by one who in many respects ought not to come there, being no priest, a stranger, an Ammonite, and one of the worst of that people; and that all this should be done by the permission and order of the high-priest.

Verse 10

[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.

Not given — Which might be either, 1. from this corrupt high-priest Eliashib, who took their portions, as he did the sacred chambers, to his own use, or employed them for the entertainment of Tobiah, and his other great allies. Or, 2. from the people, who either out of covetousness reserved them to themselves, contrary to their own solemn agreement, or were so offended at Eliashib's horrid abuse of sacred things, that they abhorred the offering and service of God, and therefore neglected to bring in their tithes, which they knew would be perverted to bad uses.

Fled — To his possession in the country, being forced to do so for a livelihood.

Verse 11

[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.

Contended — I sharply reproved those priests to whom the management of those things was committed, for neglect of their duty, and breach of their late solemn promise.

Why, … — You have not only injured men in with-holding their dues, but you have occasioned the neglect of God's house and service.

Gathered — To Jerusalem from their several country possessions.

Set — Restored them to the exercise of their office.

Verse 12

[12] Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.

Bought — Out of the respect which they had to Nehemiah, and because they saw they would now be applied to their proper uses.

Verse 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.

Faithful — By the consent of those who knew them. Such he now sought out the more diligently, because he had experience of the perfidiousness of the former trustees.

Verse 16

[16] There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem — The holy city, where God's house was; and where the great judicatories of the nation were. So this is added as an aggravation of their sin, that it was done with manifest contempt of God and man.

Verse 17

[17] Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?

Nobles — Their chief men and rulers; whom he charges with this sin, because though others did it, it was by their countenance or connivance: probably too by their example. If the nobles allowed themselves in recreations, in idle visits and idle talk on the sabbath day, the men of business would profane it by their worldly employments, as the more justifiable of the two.

Verse 19

[19] And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.

At the gates — Out of a diffidence in those, to whom the keeping of the gates was committed.

Verse 22

[22] And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

Cleanse — Because the work they now were set upon, though common in its nature, yet was holy in design of it, and had respect unto the sabbath: and, because the day in which they were to do this was the sabbath-day, for the observation whereof they were obliged to purify themselves.

Gates — The gates of the city; not daring to trust the common porters, he commits the charge of them upon the sabbath-days, to the Levites, to whom the care of sanctifying the sabbath did properly belong.

Mercy — Whereby he intimates, that though he mentioned his good-works, as things wherewith God was well-pleased, and which he had promised to reward, yet he neither did, nor durst trust to their merit, or his own worthiness, but, when he had done all, he judged himself an unprofitable servant, and one that needed God's infinite mercy to pardon all his sins, and particularly those infirmities and corruptions which adhered to his good deeds.

Verse 25

[25] And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Cursed — Caused them to be excommunicated and cast out of the society of God's people. This and the following punishments were justly inflicted upon them, because this transgression was contrary both to a plain law of God, and to their own late solemn covenants.

Smote — I caused to be beaten with stripes, according to the law, Deuteronomy 25:2, such whose faults were most aggravated; to whom he added this punishment over and above the former.

Plucked off — Or, shaved them. The hair was an ensign of liberty among the eastern nations; and baldness was a disgrace, and token of slavery and sorrow.

Verse 28

[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.

And one, … — Said by Josephus to be that Manasses, who by Sanballat's interest procured liberty to build the Samaritan temple in mount Gerizim; to which those priests who had married strange wives, or been otherwise criminal, betook themselves, and with, or after them, others of the people in the same or like circumstances.

Chased — From my presence and court, from the city and temple, and from the congregation and church of Israel.

Verse 31

[31] And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

For good — This may well be the summary of our petitions. We need no more to make us happy but this.