Between the events of chapter ten wherein God’s people reaffirmed their commitment to His Word, will, and ways and here in chapter thirteen, there was apparently a gap of around ten to twelve years. In that time, sadly, the commitments that the people had made had waned and they had returned to their old ways in the exact areas they promised not to.
Nehemiah hears of this and sees this and is quick to do something about it (vv.1-3). Whilst he is away in Persia (v.6) the revival of chapter ten is in full-speed reverse to the point where Eliashib the priest gives a large chamber inside the temple complex to Tobiah, who in time gone by was an enemy of the rebuilding work (2.10).
Nehemiah was very angry, something like the righteous anger felt by Jesus in John 2.13-22, and throws Tobiah and all his household furniture…out of the chamber (v.8). Nehemiah is living a life of radical obedience to God, and will not accept anything less from the people.
Seeking total obedience from the people Nehemiah reiterates the need to financially support God’s house (vv.10-14), to respect and obey the Sabbath (vv.15-22), and to take seriously the call to live holy and separate lives, including their relationships (vv.23-29).
Chapter thirteen end with this,
“So I purified them of everything foreign, and I assigned specific duties to the priests and the Levites.
I also provided for the wood offering at the appointed times and also for the firstfruits.
Please remember me for good, O my God”.
Nehemiah’s primary concern was that the people lived a life of total and radical obedience to God. Nehemiah wanted the people to be obedient to the Word, will, and ways of God. Over a relatively short period of time they had promised to live this life of radical obedience but then slipped away from it.
For you and for me, we see that the law is powerless to stop us sinning, slipping, and missing the mark. Yes, robust implementation of it may bring short term relief from sin in our community, as it did here in Nehemiah,. But, at the core, it is powerless to change the hearts of people and therefore powerless to prevent us from sinning.
There is only one way that you will ever be able to resist sin and temptation’s hold on your life, and Paul knew it well when he wrote this to the Romans,
“…God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”.
Romans 8.3-4, (NET)
What the law promised to do, Jesus did. I read recently that if we were able to save ourselves from sin’s consequences and condemnation then the death of Jesus would have been noble, but unnecessary. David Guzik wrote this, a fitting way to conclude our daily walks through Ezra and Nehemiah,
“We aren’t saved by some vow we make, or some leaf we turn over, but by trusting in who Jesus is, and what He has done to save us”.