Summary: How to remain faithful to God for the long haul.
In some ways I wish that the book of Nehemiah had ended with chapter 12. There we saw the prepared, participating, purified passionate praise of the people that permeated their culture. No doubt that was one of those mountaintop experiences that we find throughout the Scriptures.
On the other hand I’m glad that the Bible is realistic enough to show that we can’t live on the mountaintops all the time. And this is certainly what we see in Nehemiah chapter 13. So go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the last chapter of the book of Nehemiah.
Let’s set the stage a bit before we dive into the text. As I mentioned at the very beginning of our journey through Nehemiah, the first 12 chapters of the book record the events that take place over a time period of less than one year. The events recorded in those chapters begin with Nehemiah praying and preparing to return to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding of the walls. Then after a journey that probably took several months, Nehemiah arrives at Jerusalem and, after surveying the conditions, leads the people in the process of rebuilding the walls. In spite of constant opposition, the construction is completed in only 52 days.
Several days later the people assemble to listen to Ezra read the Scriptures and the people respond by obeying what they hear and they observe the Feast of Booths a short time later. After that the people gather to confess their sins and then make a covenant with God to obey His Word. In that covenant in chapter 10, the people make 4 promises to God:
• They promise to submit to God’s Word
• They promise to live in a manner that is distinct from the surrounding nations
• They promise to observe the Sabbath as God commanded
• They promise to take care of God’s house – the Temple
You’ll want to keep those promises in mind as we look at chapter 13 this morning.
Finally, in chapters 11 and 12, we see the people gather once again and engage in passionate corporate worship.
Although there is a bit of ambiguity about the exact order in which the events in chapter 13 take place, we can get a pretty good idea of the general time frame. Look with me at verses 6 and 7:
While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem…
(Nehemiah 13:6-7 ESV)
We know from chapter 2 that Nehemiah originally travelled to Jerusalem in the 20th year of the reign of King Artaxerxes. So after serving for governor there for 12 years, Nehemiah returned to his duties in Susa. Sometime later – we’re not exactly sure how long – Nehemiah apparently retires from his service to the king and returns to Jerusalem. As we’ll see this morning, during his absence, the people had turned away from the commitments they had made to God, so Nehemiah is returning to a Jerusalem that is much different than the one he left a few years earlier. It is probably during this time that the prophet Malachi ministers and he addresses many of the same issues Nehemiah is going to confront on his return.
So with that background in mind, let’s read through chapter 13 together. I’m only going to make a few brief comments as we read through the chapter and then we’ll wrap up by developing some principles that we can apply in our own lives.
On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
(Nehemiah 13:1-3 ESV)
The phrase “on that day” is the one that leads to some ambiguity when it comes to the exact order things took place. It’s pretty evident this is not on the same day as the worship gathering in chapter 12, but rather takes place after Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem. And it seems likely that based on the first phrase in verse 4 that this takes place after the events in the rest of chapter 13.
While we don’t have time this morning to explore this section in great detail, what we do note here again is that the people immediately took action to obey God’s Word when they were exposed to it.