Summary: This message is about stewardship of life’s blessings -- home, leaders and financial resources.
February 9, 2003
1On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel.
Tobiah Expelled and the Temple Cleansed
4Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, 5had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, 7and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense.
10I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. 11So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. 12All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses. 13In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen. 14Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.
Nehemiah 13:1-14 (NASB)
Will Rogers was one of America’s most well-beloved humorists. It is a folklore story that during World War I the American naval forces were having a lot of problem catching German submarines. Rogers was asked what he thought ought to be done. It is reported that Rogers thought for a minute and then offered this piece of sage advice: Well, I’ll tell ya what oughta be done; jus’ heat-up that ocean out there; heat it right up to boilin’ temperature, an those ol’ submarines will just bubble up to the top.
When everyone stopped laughing, one wag asked, Will, how do you suggest we boil the ocean? Rogers replied, I was asked to solve the problem about them submarines. I gave y’all the big picture solution -- now ya gotta work out the details for yerself!
“Boiling the ocean” is a good analogy for examining closely our lifestyles and our discipleship. The examining fire that boils the “sea” of our lives is the Word of God. Paul expressed it this way:
16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. 2 Timothy 3.16 NLT
Now, with the picture in our minds’ eyes of God’s Word boiling the seas of our lives, let’s return to the story of Tobiah’s Goods. Ezra and Nehemiah had spent considerable time and energy bringing reform and restoration to God’s people Israel, to restoring temple worship and returning dignity and strength to the nation. Then Nehemiah’s 12-year term as governor ended, and, as promised, he returns to report to the king of Babylon. He is gone for an extended period of time, perhaps several years. Evidently Ezra died at some point either before Nehemiah left, or before he returned.
Of course while the cat’s away the mice play. During Nehemiah’s absence Tobiah came back into the picture and convinced Eliashib, priest in charge of the temple, to empty a large chamber in the temple buildings for him to occupy. Who was this Tobiah?
TOBIAH (Toh bi’ uh) Personal name meaning, “Yah is good.” One of the major adversaries to Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts at Jerusalem, Tobiah was a practicing Jew who lived in a residence chamber in the Temple. He is called an “Ammonite” (Neh. 2:10, 19) probably because his family fled to that territory at the destruction of Jerusalem. He enjoyed aristocratic favor and had the title “servant” bestowed on him by the Persian ruler. He opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem because it would weaken his political authority in the area. Tobiah allied with Sanballat and Geshem in trying to thwart Nehemiah. (from the Holman Bible Dictionary)