James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 13:11 - 13:11

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James Nisbet Commentary - Nehemiah 13:11 - 13:11

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’


Nehemiah appears to have held office as governor for twelve years, and then to have returned for an indefinite period to the court of Artaxerxes, and to have afterwards resumed his functions in Jerusalem. The events of this chapter belong to that second term of office. When some leader’s restraining hand and inspiring presence are taken away, the mass is apt to drop down again into old evil ruts. So Nehemiah had much of his work to do over again when he came back. It is sadly seldom that a great religious guide can say as Paul could, ‘Not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.’ Two of the abuses he had to correct were:—

I. The profanation of the Temple.—One of the priests, named Eliashib, had charge of the rooms in the Temple court where were kept supplies of meat offerings, corn, frankincense, wine, and oil, to be used in worship with the sacred vessels of the Temple. Tobiah, a heathen, was connected with Eliashib by some marriage of relatives, and to provide a home for the heathen the priest moved out the Temple supplies and holy vessels, and fitted the place for Tobiah and his family. Nehemiah was not only grieved, but vexed. He promptly cast out the ‘household stuff of Tobiah,’ ‘they cleansed the chamber,’ and he had the Temple vessels and supplies brought into their proper place.

II. The withholding of tithes.—The Jews had always been taught, and had promised, to bring offerings for the altar of the Lord. They were to give the first-fruits of the ground and of the trees, the best of the flocks and herds, to the priest and Levites. Nehemiah found that this had been withheld. The officers of the Temple and the singers were not paid, and they had gone to their homes and their fields. Priests and people had not observed religious worship. Nehemiah contended with the nobles, asking, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’ If the people brought offerings, they were not the choicest of the flock, without blemish, but the lame and the sick, those of least value to use or to sell. They asked the same question that many do now about a wholehearted religious life, ‘Does it pay?’ The prophet Malachi reproved and rebuked. Read in the book of Malachi how he begged Israel to return and entreat the favour of God, and to any who would hear he gave the promise of blessing that those who fear the Lord shall be to Him ‘a peculiar treasure.’


‘We may adopt this chapter for the searching of our hearts before God; because, from time to time, abuses may creep into our own souls, and the temple of our spiritual life. May not the walls of our Jerusalem—the Jerusalem of our heart—become desecrated with impurity and uncleanliness? and may they not need something of that minute inspection which Nehemiah gave to Jerusalem on his return?’