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Nehemiah: Chapter 13

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1On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2because they did not meet the Israelites with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.

4Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5prepared for Tobiah a large room where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6While this was taking place I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty‐second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king 7and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room. 9Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

10I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields. 11So I remonstrated with the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses the priest Shelemiah, the scribe Zadok, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan son of Zaccur son of Mattaniah, for they were considered faithful; and their duty was to distribute to their associates. 14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

15In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them at that time against selling food. 16Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of merchandise and sold them on the sabbath to the people of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17Then I remonstrated with the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day? 18Did not your ancestors act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.”

19When it began to be dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the sabbath. And I set some of my servants over the gates, to prevent any burden from being brought in on the sabbath day. 20Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. 22And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

23In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; 24and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. 25And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”

28And one of the sons of Jehoiada, son of the high priest Eliashib, was the son‐in‐law of Sanballat the Horonite; I chased him away from me. 29Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priests and the Levites.

30Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31and I provided for the wood offering, at appointed times, and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

8.1–13.31 : Celebration of renewal and reconstruction.

The great celebration that inaugurates the reconstructed community extends over several weeks, at least from the first day of the seventh month ( 8.2 ) to the twenty‐fourth ( 9.1 ), longer than any other celebration in the Bible. The narrative depicts four steps and a coda.

12.27–13.3 : Fourth step: a service of dedication: celebration, purification, procession, and separation.

12.27 :

The initiative for the grand finale again comes from the community (cf. 8.1 ).

30 :

Unique in the Hebrew Bible, the purification signals that Israel is holy and Jerusalem a “holy city” ( 11.1 ).

12.43–13.3 : Three additional communal actions on the day of dedication

( 12.43–44; 13.1 ).

12.47 :

The days of Zerubbabel and … Nehemiah, from the beginning of the return (Ezra 2) to Nehemiah.

13.1–3 :

In the climactic third action on that day, the community implements the Torah by separating from foreigners. No Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter, see Deut 23.3 .

2 :

Balaam, see Num 22–24.

13.4–31 : Coda.

Nehemiah's memoirs resume with a retrospective from a time after 433/2 BCE, after completing his twelve years as governor ( 13.6; 5.14 ). At some point after returning to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, discovered violations of the communal pledge of ch 10, and took steps to restore order.

4–9 :

Nehemiah purifies the desecrated Temple precinct.

4 :

The priest Eliashib, possibly, but not necessarily (the name was common in this era), the high priest (of 3.1 and 13.28 ). Appointed over the chambers, hence controlling the storage and distribution of Temple resources. Tobiah, Nehemiah evicts his old enemy (see 2.10n. ). On Tobiah's priestly relations, see 6.18 . Note that 13.2 emphasizes the Deuteronomic exclusion of Ammonites.

6 :

Artaxerxes's thirty‐second year, 433 BCE.

9 :

Cleansed, Tobiah's illegitimate presence contaminated the room.

13.10–13 : Nehemiah rectifies violations regarding Levites and singers

(cf. 10.37–39 ).

10 :

Levites … had gone, Tobiah's presence likely hastened the departure of Levites.

11 :

Gathered them, i.e., the dispersed Levites.

12 :

Should be read as “all Judah had brought.” Nehemiah alleges that the desertion of Levites resulted less from lack of contributions than from mismanagement, probably by Tobiah.

13 :

And I appointed, Nehemiah's new supervisors are representative of the groups involved. Considered faithful, an important trait because of previous corruption under Tobiah and Eliashib.

14 :

Conclusion: Nehemiah's plea for remembrance for these restoration efforts.

13.15–22 : Nehemiah rectifies sabbath violations

(cf. 10.31 ).

15 :

In those days, when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem. 16: Tyrians, merchants from Tyre.

19–22 :

Shutting the gates during the sabbath prevented foreign trading in the city during the sabbath.

22 :

They should purify themselves, purified Levites guard the gates ( 7.1–3; 11.1 ) to secure sanctity, especially on the holy sabbath. Such measures are unique to the book of Ezra‐Nehemiah, underscoring the holiness of the entire city.

13.23–29 : Intermarriage problems

(cf. 10.30 ). On marriage with foreigners in Ezra‐Nehemiah, see Ezra 9–10 , especially Ezra 9.1–15n.

23 :

Ashdod, a Philistine‐Phoenician city on the southeast coast of the Mediterranean.

26 :

Solomon, Solomon's marriages corrupted his relations with God (1 Kings 11.1–8 ).

28 :

Son‐in‐law of Sanballat, Sanballat (see 2.10n. ) from Samaria, a member of a group who considered themselves Israelite (but not Jewish, i.e., from Judah). According to nonbiblical sources, Sanballat's sons had Hebrew names, and apparently some Jews accepted intermarriage with the Samarians. Like Ezra, Nehemiah vehemently objects.

13.29–31 : Conclusion: Nehemiah's final calls for remembrance.

The purification of the priesthood and Temple administration was the most difficult and consequential task because of the status of the opposing priests. Therefore, Nehemiah presents restoring order and sanctity to the worship system as the crown of his achievement.

31 :

I provided for the wood offering … and for the first fruits, see 10.34–35 , in which the community pledges to provide these. For good, with “good” as the last word, Nehemiah invokes a final blessing.

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