Nehemiah 13

Nehemiah 13: Time to Clean House!

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10 –  ‘ now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things they did’.   Paul is warning us believers through the ages  not to be idolaters and test the Lord. He reminds us of the judgment of God on the children of Israel in Numbers 25 when 23,000 died . Paul warns us –‘ these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings.’ ( I Cor. 10:11)

So once again we read of the backsliding of the nation of Israel and of the consequences. The final chapter starts with a reminder from the Law of Moses  no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God. They were by God’s decree to be excluded from Israel.

Yet in Nehemiah’s absence, the priest Eliashib begins a close association with Tobiah, the Ammonite.  Do you remember who the Ammonites and Moabites are?  They are the descendants of Lot’s sons by his two daughters. In Genesis 20 we read of this horrific episode in the life of Lot after he and his two daughters escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The descendants of these two sons, who were the product of Lot’s incest, were to become the bitter enemies of Abraham’s descendants.

Now when we read of God’s decree to exclude them, if we are not careful, we suspect God of racial discrimination, or prejudice and bigotry.  We must be careful not to listen to those who say  the God of the Old Testament is a harsh God. But the God of the New Testament is a loving, forgiving God.  But remember the scripture clearly tells us God does not change, He is the same today as He was yesterday as He will be tomorrow and  forever.  We also are forgetting that man looks on the outside , but God looks on the heart. He knows the heart, the attitude and intention of everyone.  And God is clear-  have nothing to do with the Ammonites or the Moabites. Paul is writing to New Testament believers in I Corinthians and he is telling us these things happened to Israel as an example to us.

If you think the Lord Jesus was ‘ easy’ on sin remember what he taught. “ If your right eye offends you- gouge it out and throw it away.” Jesus  takes  sin lightly? I don’t think so! Read what happens to those who are lost- who saw the light, but preferred darkness and you will see a Just and Holy God send them into the lake of fire.

In spite of the specific warning of God’s word, when Nehemiah returned from King Artxerxes and came back to Jerusalem, he found Tobiah the Ammonite living in the house of God in a room Eliashib the priest had prepared for him. Tobiah, the Ammonite had taken up a large room in the House of God. Here again we see the people of Israel stray when they are not under direct leadership.  When Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for 40 days, the children of Israel wanted Aaron to make them an idol of gold. The golden calf incident recorded in Exodus 32 and 33 shows us once again how God reacts to sin. Now in Nehemiah’s absence the people disobey God’s direct commandments.

The place where God was to dwell among His people – the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple later in Jerusalem was to be God’s dwelling place. This was  His place of authority and fellowship with His people. God could not tolerate the Ammonite, or Moabite or any evil in His presence.

The tabernacle, and later the temple where God’s Glory would appear in the Holy of Holies was a picture and example of what God would accomplish in the coming of Jesus to earth to die for our sins, be resurrected and ascend to heaven. For the tabernacle and temple’s Holy of Holies was a foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Spirit to take up residence and indwell and make His abode in the heart of believers.

Without a doubt one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit will actually enter a heart, settle down and be at home there . Christ will live in any human heart that welcomes Him.

Our heart becomes the home –  the house , the dwelling place of God.

He said to his disciples ( and us), “ If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” ( John 14:23) “ that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” ( Ephesians 3:17)

Jesus had to ascend to heaven after the crucifixion and resurrection in order for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost. “ Now I am going to Him who sent me, …it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor(Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16)

Then came the Day of Pentecost in Acts. The Spirit of the Living Christ was given to the church and to the individual believer  as the Lord Jesus said he would. God no longer dwelled in the Holy of Holies in a temple built by man’s hands, now through the miracle of the outpoured Spirit, God would dwell in the human heart.

Do you see the symbolism of Tobiah the Ammonite taking up residence in the House of God?  The Ammonites and Moabites are a symbol of the enemy that lives within each of us- the old nature, the flesh. Taking up room in the very space reserved for God in our lives- the heart, the home of God.

The Lord Jesus twice in his earthly ministry cleansed the House of God and drove the moneychangers out.  Nehemiah acts in much the same way- he threw Tobiah and all his possessions out of the room and then ordered the room purified.

You realize as a born-again believer you are not your own and have been bought with a price. And as such, your body now is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Paul is saying God will no more tolerate evil in your life, than He tolerated it in Old Testament times from the wilderness to the times of the tabernacle and the temples.

Before we know it evil has invaded quietly, easing our standards, ignoring the truth of Gods’ Word. We no longer  take sin seriously, we forsake assembling with believers and as a result we see attendance drop in our churches. When attendance drops then giving suffers  and budgets suffer, missions and outreach go unfunded. And sadly we also neglect daily devotional time, prayer and Bible study.

Watch what happened when Tobiah, ( think Old Sinful Nature) takes up residence in the place of God.  Did you see which room, Tobiah was occupying?   The large room formerly used to store grain offerings, incense, temple articles of worship, tithes, new wine and oil. We discover these gifts intended for God’s house and the Levites had been misappropriated and the Levites were not paid and had to neglect their duties in order to work. This is always the place our old nature wants to take up residence- where our possessions are- where our treasure is. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.

Nehemiah throws Tobiah and all his household goods out of the house of God.  It is time for you to clean house?  Is it time for you to ask the Lord to search your heart- His Home and see if there is any offensive way in you?  ( Psalms 139)

Notice sadly what happens to children in these situations: “ Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who married women from Ashod, Ammon and Moab. Half of the children spoke the language of one of the other  peoples and did not  know how to speak the language of Judah.” ( Nehemiah 13;24)  They did not speak the language of Judah- so guess what? They did not read or know the Holy Scriptures!  They did not know God’s Word. In just one generation, scriptural illiteracy can enter in and children no longer know the books of the Bible, the stories of God and His people and there comes a generation who no longer understands or cares for the Word of God.

Do you realize the Lord knows what is behind the closed and locked doors in your life, you do not want Him to enter.  Behold, He stands and knocks and anyone who hears His voice and invites Him in – He will come in and fellowship with.


What are we to do in the 21st century?  Are we not to allow unbelievers in the church? Of course we are to invite, witness to and bring lost people to the church, for that is the Great Commission. However, we are to make clear to them what salvation is, what role repentance, faith, Bible study and the spiritual disciplines play.

Let’s revisit the Great Commission once again to see what is says and does not say:

“ All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything  I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

Notice our command is to make disciples. A disciple is a learner, a follower. We make disciples at His command and in His power. Making a disciple requires discipline. Discipline is training that corrects, molds and perfects.  We are also commanded to teach them not just about the Lord Jesus , but are to teach them to obey everything He has commanded us to do.

“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” ( I Timothy 4:7)

Here is why it is so important for God, in the 3rd person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit to be enthroned in the heart and center of the believers life. Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, His presence in one’s life creates a hunger and desire for holiness. His office is to magnify Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives each believer a desire to be like Christ.  ‘ For it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose.’( Phil. 2)

The natural man has no desire or passion to magnify Christ. But this is what God is doing in each believer’s life:  the Spirit of God is using the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. He is conforming us to the image of His Son. And we are promised- He will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)

God uses the following catalysts to change us:

  • People- iron sharpens iron ( Proverbs 27:17)
  • Circumstances- Romans 8:28 tells us God uses these to work together for good
  • Spiritual disciplines which include: Bible study/obedience, prayer, meditation, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting and learning.

Of course you realize the desire to be like Christ will be challenged daily by the enemy who wants to occupy the place reserved for God- our old selfish nature- the Flesh. We each have a Tobiah who wants to occupy the throne and take over the treasury of your life, for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.

The scripture could not be any clearer:  “ …the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that please you..” ( Galatians 5:17)

So we have a battle against an enemy within- the flesh, who is aided and abetted by two allies- the world and the devil.

Remember we are not defeated- we are victorious, we fight from a position of victory. The victory has been gained for us at Calvary.  We fight to persevere and hold the ground- to pass it on to the reinforcements who are coming after us. These are those we are making disciples of now to carry on the fight.

I like that Nehemiah, did not throw his hands up in defeat and say I am sick and tired of you people. He rolled up his sleeves and began the work of restoring what the enemy had taken. What a testimony to perseverance!

How are we equipped to keep on keeping on?  “ His divine power has give us everything we need for life, and godliness through knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1)  Pretty clear answer, isn’t it?  God has equipped us and made all we will ever need spiritually through our knowledge of Him. That is how we escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  We use the mighty weapons God has provided that allow us to take captive the thoughts of evil desires.

“ For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith-goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; godliness ; and to godliness, brotherly kindness,love.  For if you possess these qualities in INCREASING MEASURE, THEY WILL KEEP YOU FROM BEING INEFFECTIVE AND UNPRODUCTIVE IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.” (2 Peter1)

We must practice these spiritual discipline and utilize these weapons God has provided to persevere in the daily conflicts.

In chapter 13 of Nehemiah, the people of Israel neglected to practice the spiritual disciplines-when you fail to practice- you fail.

Pistol Pete Maravich scored more points than anyone in college basketball history. His ability to dribble, shoot, pass and do amazing things led to a successful pro-career and end up in the Hall of Fame.  He became a Christian in his mid-30’s and suddenly died in 1988 of a heart attack at the age of 40.   A year before he died, Maravich said this in an interview:

“ The key to my ability was repetition. I practiced and practiced and practiced again. I gave the sport of basketball my total commitment. I tried everything I could in every way I could to perfect my skills. It was like an obsession. It paid off for me as a player. I’m not so sure in life. If I had given that same devotion then to my faith, which is what I do now, I’ d have been a better person in the long run.”

Are you willing to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness?  We see in Nehemiah, the story of a man who did just that.  We also see those who kept drifting away, allowing self to take the place of God like the priest allowed Tobiah to take up the large room in the House of God, the room reserved for God Himself and His storehouse.

Is it time to take the practice of spiritual disciplines seriously in your life?

Is it time to clean house in your life put God back where He belongs?

Their enemies had laughed at their efforts and said the wall would not hold the weight of a fox. Now two large groups walked confidently on top of the wall. Remember Nehemiah had told his enemy that ‘the God of heaven will give us success!”   Have we forgotten that truth?  Have we forgotten the One who began a good work will surely be able to complete it. Do we realize as Hudson Taylor did when we do God’s Work, God’s way , we will never lack for God’s supply?

The dedication of this mighty work said to the enemy and unbelievers- God’s Work will stand.

Here was physical proof right before their eyes of the power of God and the reality of faith.

May we learn the lesson of sacrifice which is necessary to rebuild and maintain what has fallen into ruin.

We are give of ourselves.

We are to give our praise- even when we do not ‘ feel’ like it. For we are to live by faith, not by feelings.

We are to give of our gifts to build up the body.

That is God’s blueprint and it still works today.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14