The final chapter in Nehemiah ends with his anger and rebuke once again direct toward the people who have drifted back into ungodly ways. Does the Holy Spirit act like this? ◊
Ever have to be reprimanded again for something you’ve already been warned about?
How about in a spiritual sense? Ever get right with God spiritually only to drift back to old ways?
What does God do? Does He chastise us and take us to the proverbial woodshed?
Actually, sometimes it seems like He does. And like a good parent reprimands a wayward child, sometimes we the children of God need it as well.
Nehemiah Restores Us Like the Holy Spirit
Recall that Nehemiah first orchestrated the demotivated people in Jerusalem to rally together and rebuild the damaged walls around the entire city (see chapters 1-4). He boldly led and encouraged the people and stood up to the surrounding enemies who mocked the people and tried to discourage their rebounding back as a nation after 70 years in exile.
Remember that while the Jewish temple had already been rebuilt (see the Book of Ezra) and worship sacrifices per their Hebrew law had been reestablished, the Jews in Jerusalem were still feeling insecure, vulnerable, and psychologically unsettled. It’s like they had post-traumatic syndrome with the broken city walls being a constant reminder of their sinful past and current unprotected state.
Beyond rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah also restored civil and spiritual order with the first set of reforms in lending and financial affairs. He led the people in the rereading of the Scriptures (Law) to convict them of their past national sin and their current waywardness regarding marriages with local pagans, Sabbath adherence, and financial support of the Temple and priests (see chapters 5-10).
Notably, sometime after the completion of the walls and city gates around the city, Nehemiah was appointed governor of the region and oversaw the ceremonial dedication of the walls and resettling of the families in and around the city boundaries (see chapters 11-12). Nehemiah also spent some time back in Persia to see the king, Artaxerxes, the one who initially released him to help the Jews 12 years earlier.
As posited by Jack Hayford in his wise teachings on Nehemiah, I too see Nehemiah as a picture of the Holy Spirit after we commit in faith to God (temple worship reestablished).1 Often we are still mired in the broken rubble of our past lives. We believe in God, but our spiritual psychological make-up is still anything but fully secure.
The Holy Spirit comes within us to comfort, rebuild, and restore us back to the fullness of our human personality. God’s Spirit strengthens and fortifies our heart, mind, and soul against our spiritual Enemy that would mock and have us retreat back to our old worldly ways of sin.
As we see, the Holy Spirit never gives up on us and, like Nehemiah in chapter 13, is relentless in calling us out and holding us accountable to our renewed commitments.
Nehemiah’s Second Round of Reforms
After 12 years since his arrival, Nehemiah returns to Persia and then after some time there (we don’t know how long), he returns to Jerusalem:
But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem…. (Nehemiah 13:6-7)
While he was away, the Jewish high priest, Eliashib, gave Tobiah – one of the original enemy mockers in the earlier days of the rebuilding effort (Nehemiah 2:10) – a large room to stay in the temple.
Nehemiah was not pleased and took swift action:
…Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense. (Nehemiah 13:7-9)
Nehemiah also learns that the financial support for the Levites, who were supposed to work in the temple, stopped and the service workers had to return to fieldwork to support themselves:
I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them….So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts….They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites. (Nehemiah 13:10-13)
Additionally, he saw people working and conducting business on the Sabbath:
In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads….I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:15-18)
…before the Sabbath, I ordered the gates to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day….I warned [the merchants] and said, “…If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. (Nehemiah 13:19-22)
And finally, Nehemiah was infuriated when he found that some Jewish men were marrying foreign women. And that some children of these marriages could not speak the language of Judah.
Again, Nehemiah is not pleased. His reaction is even physical:
Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned?…Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:23-27)
God is Serious About Obedience
How are we to take this? That God will beat us up if we make sinful mistakes? Not necessarily. But then again, God and the Holy Spirit are like strict parents who are relentless in their love for mankind.
And some of mankind are slow on the uptake, or some haven’t fully read the memo.
But God, while firm and strong, is loving and directive. Our Helper, the Holy Spirit, is God in spirit and, as promised by Jesus, available to help us in this present world when we come to God through faith in Jesus.
Like Nehemiah, the Holy Spirit helps us rebuild and refortify our lives that come to God in various levels of brokenness. We are encouraged, strengthened, protected, and instructed in God’s ways going forward. When we stumble, the Holy Spirit reminds us and yes, even rebukes us in our disobedience. But it’s out of holiness and love and a commitment to reshape us to the fullness of what we were always intended to be as His precious creation.
Are you being reformed?
One of the sons of Joiada, son of Eliashib the high priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me – Nehemiah 13:28
1 See Rebuilding the Real You, God’s Pathway to Personal Restoration, by Jack W. Hayford, Regal Books, 1986, Glendale, CA, 1976.
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