Return from Exile: Nehemiah 13 (2)
Pray Psalm 79.1, 2.
O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance;
Your holy temple they have defiled;
They have laid Jerusalem in heaps.
The dead bodies of Your servants
They have given as food for the birds of the heavens,
The flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.
Sing Psalm 79.1, 2.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
O God the nations all Your inheritance have spoiled!
Your City have they ruined, Your temple they have soiled!
Your servants’ bodies all to the birds of heav’n are thrown;
the flesh of all Your faithful the jaws of beasts now own.
Read Nehemiah 13.1-9; meditate on verses 4-9.
1. What was going on in the storerooms?
2. How did Nehemiah respond?
Reading these verses, a line from an old Pogo comic comes to mind: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
While Nehemiah was in Susa, reporting his progress to Artaxerxes (v. 6), the priest assigned to manage the storerooms cleared a large one out and turned it into an apartment for Tobiah, the Ammonite enemy of God and His people (v. 4). A rat had taken up residence in the temple of the LORD.
What was Eliashib thinking? Did he consider that bringing a little Ammonite presence into the temple would befriend an avowed enemy? Help the temple realize its purpose? Nehemiah returned and cleaned house, throwing out all Tobiah’s personal effects, cleansing the storeroom, and restoring it to its proper use (vv. 7-9). In so doing he foreshadowed Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem (Jn. 2.13-22). Both these episodes speak to a great need in many churches today. We have so besmirched ourselves with worldly ways of “doing church” that we look next to nothing like those New Testament churches that turned their world upside-down. Until we return to doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way, the rats that have invaded our churches will continue to degrade and diminish them.
But it’s not the rats’ fault. We are our own worst enemy, who simply will not be guided by Scripture alone, but, insisting that we know better than God how to do His work, open our storerooms to every worldly program, entertainment, organizational scheme, fund-raising gambit, wind of false teaching, or marketing effort that we think will make us “successful.” Likewise we who compromise with the world in any way—robbing God of tithes, using the Lord’s Day for our own ends, neglecting His Word and prayer, pursuing worldly desires rather than the Kingdom of heaven—are corrupting our souls as surely as Eliashib corrupted the storeroom.
Eliashibs of the Christian world: Repent!
Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like
a city broken down, without walls” (Prov. 25.28).
Thus spoke Solomon regarding the people of his day, about people like Eliashib, about folks like Esau, and about captive Christians today.
Esau had spent the day hunting and now he was tired and hungry.
So tired and hungry that he gave away everything that was dear to him for a bowl of lentil soup and a biscuit.
“And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25.34).
Eliashib thought he knew better than Nehemiah, and by extension God, how to run things in the temple.
How to make them more user-friendly. How to be more inclusive and hip. How to bring in the crowds.
So while Nehemiah was away, the mice (or in this case a big rat) played (Neh. 13.4-9).
The writer of the book of Hebrews has a few words to say about how to rule over our own spirit, and what not doing so resembles:
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord:
looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God;
lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble,
and by this many become defiled;
lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau,
who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
For you know that afterward,
when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected,
for he found no place for repentance,
though he sought it diligently with tears” (Heb. 12.14-17).
Or as The Living Bible states it: “Watch out that no one becomes…careless about God as Esau did…afterwards when he wanted those rights back again, it was too late, even though he wept bitter tears of repentance. So remember, and be careful.”
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4.23).
Unless we keep close watch on our hearts, stay in the Word of God daily, confess and repent of things He convicts us of (Heb. 4.12), and turn to follow Jesus (Lk. 9.23), we run the risk of ending up like Eliashib, allowing a rat in the storeroom, or worse yet, becoming the rat, and who, for the love of Pete, wants that?
1. What are some of the “rats” you contend with when it comes to keeping your heart well stocked with the things of the Lord?
2. Nehemiah threw the rat and all his stuff right out of the temple. How does his action counsel us in dealing with the “rats” that seek to infest our soul?
3. How can believers help one another keep the “rats” out of their soul?
You also, whatever infidelity and uncleanness you discover among the faithful, immediately cast it out so that after the hearts of believers (which are the Lord’s storerooms, since they are full of the riches of the virtues), have been purified, the vessels of the Lord may be brought in—that is to say, those same hearts that just before were vessels of error through sin may again become vessels of the Lord through correction, and there let the sacrifice of good works and the incense of pure prayer be found where before there was a den of thieves. The Venerable Bede (672-735), On Ezra and Nehemiah 3.35
Pray Psalm 79.10-13.
Pray for revival in churches all over the world, that God would call His people to repentance, pour out His Spirit with power, renew His people in His covenant, and send us forth to seek and advance His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Give thanks for what God will do in and through you today.
Sing Psalm 79.10-13.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Why should the nations mock and say, “Where now is their God?”
Let there be known among them harsh vengeance for our blood!
Hear, LORD, our groans and sighing; preserve us by Your pow’r.
For we are fairly dying each day and hour by hour.
Reproach those who reproach us with judgment sevenfold!
Let thanks and praise to You by Your precious flock be told.
We are Your sheep, O Savior, we thank You all our days.
Look on us with Your favor as we declare Your praise.
T. M. and Susie Moore
Two books can help us understand our own captivity and lead us to seek revival and renewal in the Lord. The Church Captive asks us to consider the ways the Church today has become captive to the world. And Revived! can help us find the way to renewal. Learn more and order your free copies by clicking here and here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter, available free by clicking here.