Tackling Compromise Before it Tackles You (Neh. 13:1-31)
In the first season of the popular TV show 24, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is a federal agent charged with protecting a presidential candidate from an assassination plot. He was given that responsibility because in the uncertain world of espionage he possesses that rare character trait of integrity.
In the show’s first episode, Jack’s integrity is already put to the test. Because he turned in other federal agents for bribery, some of his own comrades have turned against him. In particular, Jack’s immediate boss has come down hard on him and tried to persuade Jack not to be so honest in his job. Jack has an explosive confrontation with his boss and will not budge on this point. Just after the confrontation, Jack bristles with intensity as he explains his actions to his closest partner.
“You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time. And pretty soon, all you’re doing is compromising, because that’s how you think things are done. You know those guys I blew the whistle on? You think they were the bad guys? They weren’t the bad guys. They were just like you and me, except they compromised once.”
I think Jack Bauer, although most of the time it is questionable whether what he does or says is right, hit it on the spot here regarding compromise. It starts off as “just once” before it becomes the norm. You give the Enemy an inch and it becomes a mile. You do not wake up one day and decide to compromise. It is one small decision that leads to several “small” decisions which like termites left untreated in your house, will bring the entire structure down before you know it. Continual dripping of water over time wear away even the hardest of stones. We see it in Kings where certain kings destroy a lot of idols, but leave one area, the high places, alone, thus leading to the destruction of the people. Jesus said you cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24) and to the church at Laodicea, where worldliness, materialism, pride and self-sufficiency led them to compromise, Jesus said essentially, “you make me sick” (Rev. 3:14-22). James tells us friendship with the world makes us enemies of God (James 4:4). Compromise is very deadly to our faith!
We saw the nation of Israel be people of conviction in Neh. 10 standing up to make some promises to prevent compromise in their lives. I am sure they did not wake up one morning and decided to compromise. It happened gradually. When convictions are not continuously cultivated, compromise returns and complacency results. General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, once said to a group of new officers, “I want you young men always to bear in mind that it is the nature of a fire to go out; you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
As we wrap up our study on Nehemiah today, we see that compromise has killed the people’s convictions over time. So far Nehemiah has cleaned up the city, rebuilt the walls, expelled the enemies, unified the nation, and brought the people through an extended period of revival. Neh. 13, as a result, is about how Nehemiah retires and finds a nice house by the beach and sits all day on his rocking chair smoking a cigar…NOT! We are actually going to flash forward several years later and find that the people of God, after all that they have seen and experienced have compromised. Nehemiah serves 12 years as governor total and returns to his job in Persia as a cupbearer (Neh. 13:6; 1:1). After a period of time, he returns to find that it was much easier to rebuild a broken down wall in 52 days than to build God’s people into what they should be. Here is the point of the chapter for us today:
Compromise kills our convictions so tackle it immediately with holy zeal.
We are going to see what compromise will do to our faith if we not tackle it immediately. Jot this first thing down:
I. Compromise defiles the holy (Neh. 13:1-9).
Let’s pick up the story in Neh. 13:1. You may remember that several times already the people had made commitments to separate from Gentiles (Neh. 9:2, 10:28). This wasn’t a racial issue, but a religious one. Often associations with the Gentiles led to marriage and eventually the worship of idols. Apparently once again we see here that they were not complete in their separation as at some point they heard the Word of God (Deut. 23:3-4) about this and were convicted again. This is how compromise starts, with partial obedience, which is still disobedience.
You may remember Ammon and Moab were the children and grandchildren of Lot, when he had an incestuous relationship with this own daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). Their descendants have always been the enemies of the Jews. According to Neh. 13:2, they have always failed to help God’s people and even Balaam was hired by the Moabites to curse them (Num. 25). So why create any alliances with these people? They have done nothing but harm to us! Separate from them! Look at Neh. 13:3. They agreed once again to separate.
Unfortunately, but not totally! Compromise sets in. This time, it came straight from the spiritual leadership. Look at Neh. 13:4. Eliashib the priest, who is a high religious official in all of Israel, had the job of protecting the most important piece of real estate in the world, but ended up giving it over to the Enemy. This is not the same Eliashib who was a high priest and helped build part of a wall (Neh. 3:1), because high priests were not in charge of storerooms. By the way, these “chambers” were like small warehouses connected to the temple proper, where store utensils, equipments, tithes (Neh. 10:38) and contributions were stored.
And why would he do such a thing? My translation has he was “related” to Tobiah. Other translations say he was “closely associated with” Tobiah (NIV). We are not sure exactly if he was related by blood or he was a close ally. But Tobiah we do know married a Jewish woman as his son also (Neh. 6:17-19). We know him to be an incredibly slick, as Michael Jackson would say, smooth criminal. Really he’s a fox with his wily ways, sneaking into the Jewish community! (Neh. 4:3). He’s always on the inside track, getting all of the information as to what is going on with the Jews. Because he married into a prominent Jewish family, he is very well connected to the Jewish social scene. Now that Nehemiah was gone, guess who’s moving in?!
Let’s refresh our memory again of this guy. Tobiah we know is an arch enemy of Nehemiah. He had mocked him when Nehemiah showed up to rebuild the walls (Neh. 2:19). He was a leader in military conspiracy to frighten and perhaps attack physically when wall was half its height (Neh. 4:1-9). He was probably part of a plot to assassinate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:2). He conspired to ruin Nehemiah’s reputation (Neh. 6:9) and even wrote threatening letters to Nehemiah (Neh. 6:19). He hated God, God’s law and God’s people (except those who agreed to associate with him). Here’s the other thing: He was an Ammonite (Neh. 2:19). Didn’t they just read from the law to separate from Ammonites in Neh. 13:1? Did Eliashib miss the memo? He didn’t miss it, he just didn’t do anything about it. He compromised. I am sure Tobiah does not just one day come and rent a place in God’s temple. One conversation led to another and one meal led to another and before you know it, he’s moving in!
An Ammonite living in the center of Jerusalem’s worship! He wasn’t just well connected to the Jews, but he has his very own apartment where God’s glory was supposed to dwell! You can just picture the smile on his face as he sits in the nerve center of Jerusalem. This is blasphemy! It is like hanging up a picture of Bin-Laden in the White House or as pastor Art Azurdia says, a picture of Martin Luther in the Vatican.
Look at how Nehemiah reacts when he comes back to town in Neh. 13:7-8. Notice what he calls Tobiah living in the chamber: EVIL, which in Hebrew means wickedness, something contrary to the law of God. Notice how Nehemiah did not react. He did not organize a meeting and bring the leaders together to look at it from every perspective. He didn’t even pray about it. There are times where we need to act, especially when God has already been definitive about an issue from His Word. He does not delay, dialogue or even try to find out a place for Tobiah to live.
What a powerful foreshadowing of what Jesus himself will do 450 years later in Temple (John 2:12-22). Can you picture this scene? Imagine the commotion. I picture some priests and Levites nearby asking each other what the noise is all about and making a beeline to the scene, only to find out that the door of the storehouse open, with furniture, clothing saucers, cups and personal items flying right past them! They look inside and guilt fills their faces. Nehemiah says, “Take it all out. I don’t care how you do it or where you take it, but it’s all got to go!” Notice the plural “chambers” in Neh. 13:9. So not just that the room Tobiah stayed in, but every other room too! Fumigate it! It was as though the presence of Tobiah defiled the whole place. Nehemiah did not want even the smell of Tobiah to linger in the temple. We don’t even know where Tobiah is at that moment, but you can imagine him coming back to his apartment that night and seeing all of his belongings gone, and grain filled up to the ceiling of his living room. He was not a happy camper!
Loved ones, compromise is deadly because it defiles the holy things of God. The Holy Spirit moves into a corner (Paul says He is grieved in Eph. 4:30) and what is supposed to be sacred, become profane. Paul tells us that we are the temple of God and that the Holy Spirit abides in us (1 Cor.3:16; 6:19). We have to make sure sin does not have a room, not even a closet, in our lives. We cannot even have a secretly decorated room in our heart for sin to make itself at home.
Listen to John Piper as he talks about Rev. 3:20: “But Christ did not die to redeem a bride who would keep him on the porch while she watched television in the den. His will for the church is that we open the door, all the doors of our life. He wants to join you in the dining room, spread a meal out for you, and eat with you and talk with you. The opposite of lukewarmness is the fervor you experience when you enjoy a candlelit dinner with Jesus Christ in the innermost room of your heart.”
This is why we do not compromise. We lose fellowship and intimacy with Jesus Christ. We lose His companionship. We can no longer sing, “He walks with me and He talks with me along life’s narrow way.” We take His holy blood and step on it as the writer of Hebrews says (Heb. 10:29). We look at His holy nail pierced hands and we brush it away as though it means nothing to us. So what do we do? We deal with impurity and compromise immediately. We don’t let it linger any more. We don’t need to pray about it. We stop it. It hurts the Lord. It defiles the holy, especially our bodies and the things that are supposed to be sacred unto God. Secondly,
II. Compromise disregards the priority of worship (Neh. 13:10-14)
It gets worse. In Neh. 13:10, he finds out that those who are supposed to serve God are no longer doing it because they are not getting paid. As a result, they have moved out of town and started working to feed their families. Remember their conviction in Neh. 10:39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.” This meant they were going to pay the temple tax, provide wood for the altar, and bring the required tithes and offerings to the priests and Levites (Neh. 10:32–39).
Nehemiah returns to find that the very thing they had signed and promised they would do, they failed to do. Now we don’t know if they stopped bringing their tithes to the storehouse because Tobiah was living there or if they stopped bringing their tithes, thus opening up a room for Tobiah later?
Regardless, how does this happen? Well, I’ll tell you how: compromise. The economy gets tight and you stop giving your tithe one week and the resolutions get ignored. It soon gets easier to live with that nagging conscience. By the way, during this time is when Malachi came by saying you rob God (Mal. 3:8-10). They were robbing God, when they neglected the priority of worship. They had tightened your fist and closed their wallets. This is the passage where God asks the people to test Him if they would give.
Nehemiah confronts them verbally (the word confronted means a verbal combat) in Neh. 13:11. Notice Nehemiah does not put together a financial task force. He rebuked the officials. Why the officials? Because these were the guys who signed the resolutions (Neh. 9:38-10:27). They were the ones who made big, bold, righteous public promises. You have to be accountable for your actions! Not only does he reprimand the leaders, he re-instructs them and restores them to their original occupations of service.
By the way, in Neh. 13:13, the mention of Zadok as the scribe probably means Ezra was dead. He ends with a prayer, which is typical for Nehemiah in Neh. 13:14. He must have been so frustrated! But he continues to cultivate his own convictions and keep his focus on God’s glory. See the issue is more than are the stomachs and families of the Levites. The issue is that worship stops. There is no second team to come in and replace these guys. There are no guest Levites. Compromise defiles what is holy and as a result, kills your worship.
We have talked a lot about worship and it has been one of the themes especially in the second half of the book of Nehemiah. If I am spending my entire week running on empty, starving myself spiritually by neglecting the Word of God, not having a care in the world for God and then if I show up here on Sunday. How excited you think I will be to worship? I am hurting myself more than helping by offering up empty words to Him. When the holy things get defiled, other stuff takes place in your mind and thoughts and your worship is lost. Pastor Art Azurdia asks the following questions to see if compromise has crept in our lives causing us to neglect worship as a priority in our lives:
“Is worship on the Lord’s Day a priority for your family? Or do you attend church when you haven’t made other plans? Dads, do you prepare your family for the Lord’s day? Or is it a hurried affair without a forethought? What is more important to you? The style of music or substance of what you are singing? What is the sentiment of the conclusion of the worship service? Is it, ‘I sure enjoyed the service today!’ Or is it, ‘isn’t God great?’” Thirdly:
III. Compromise excuses wickedness in the name of financial gain (Neh. 13:15-22).
It gets even worse. What was their second resolution or conviction they made in Neh. 10? Look at Neh. 10:31: “If the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or any holy day.” Look at what happens in Neh. 13:15. Nehemiah is walking around and seeing people trampling on the grapes barefoot to make wine…ON THE SABBATH. Merchants are selling, Jews are buying…ON THE SABBATH! Again he confronts the leadership and calls what they are doing evil (Neh. 13:17). Nehemiah cannot believe this. Haven’t you guys learned anything from the disastrous consequences of the past? Neglecting the Sabbath was the very reason God used the Babylonians to take you out to Exile in the first place!
How did this happen? Compromise! Worship is neglected, the Enemy is moved into the Temple, what else do you expect? All other areas of your life start to get compromised. God is not on the throne. Greed and covetousness sets in. It happened slowly. One Friday, somebody may have said, “You know, those grapes are going to go bad if we don’t do something tomorrow. The economy is tight. If we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to have to go out there. I think saw the Shallum family out there last Saturday. Yeah I know it’s the Sabbath, but it’s just this time. It’s harvest season and we can’t lose these grapes. We can’t be legalistic. God has been good to us.” And before you know it, everyone’s doing it and it becomes “well I won’t say anything, if you won’t” and compromise excuses wickedness in the name of financial gain.
Nehemiah, man of action, moves again to fix this in Neh. 13:19. Let’s shut the doors of the city first. But he noticed that right outside the gate, some foreign merchants sat outside. Most likely Jews would sneak out at night during the Sabbath and try to make a deal with these people. Look at what Nehemiah says in Neh. 13:21. The English is too nice here. What he’s really saying is, “If you come back again, I’m going to throw your foreign backside out of town!” I will use force without reservation to physically remove you. Ha! Notice their reaction! He must have been so intimidating! By the way, most Bible scholars think Nehemiah is in his mid-sixties or early seventies here. That’s when you are supposed to retire, but not Nehemiah!
You know, there are a lot of Christians who think Christianity is Christianity and business is business and the two shall never meet. Hey, this is how everyone plays the game. It’s alright if I cheat here or be dishonest over here. See the progress here? God and worship are neglected and soon compromise tackles you in your work. The issue is not the Sabbath day. The issue is that you start to think God will not provide for your needs. You don’t think God will honor your obedience to His Word. You don’t really believe that to “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33) is true and you take matters into your own hands. God was not first. Business was first. Money was their idol. The sign of their loyalty to God was lost. Their witness was lost. Gentiles no longer saw any difference between them and the Jews. Nehemiah calls it “an evil thing.” Look at what he does to solve the problem. He tells the religious leaders to get right with God and I want you to take this holy job of making sure nothing gets in through these gates on the Sabbath day (Neh. 13:21). Again, Nehemiah prays to make sure he himself is right with the Lord. Jot this last point down:
IV. Compromise, left unchecked, will destroy our legacy (Neh. 13:23-31).
Well, it get’s even worse. Remember their resolution and conviction in Neh. 10:30: “We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.” Now look at Neh. 10:23. Nehemiah saw Jewish men consciously and willfully marrying foreign women who worshipped idols. This was a distinct violation of the law of God.
What really angered Nehemiah was when he was talking to the children, he realized they could not speak Hebrew. They were speaking the language of their pagan Gentile mothers. Now this isn’t like our parents angry at us for not knowing our native tongue. This is because the Old Testament Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and this was their only access to the Word of God. If you could not read the Law, how were you going to be able to obey it? So they are one generation away from complete paganization. Seeds of total apostasy are being sown and the legacy of faith is compromised and will be soon destroyed. In just a few years, the nation went from revival to rebellion.
Again, how do you deal with compromise? Immediate action fueled by holy zeal. Nehemiah curses them in Neh. 13:25. This is because they said in Neh. 10:29 that if they failed to keep God’s Word on this, that God was free to curse them. This is more than saying profanity. It is worse. It is asking God to make them accountable to their end of the bargain. He then is violent toward them and humiliates them and asks them to not do this again. He was worried about legacy. Think ahead Jewish men! These children will be more inclined to marry people who can speak their own dialect! They will be lost and this community will be destroyed! He is disappointed that they do not know better or learn from Solomon (Neh. 13:26-27).
Sadly, we see that even in the spiritual leadership, this intermarriage took place. Eliashib, the high priest, not the same guy as we talked about earlier, but the guy who helped build part of the wall (Neh. 3:1), had a grandson who married Sanballat’s daughter. Eliashib’s grandson is supposed to be a priest. Instead he has desecrated that (Neh. 13:29). Nehemiah chases him out of town. He is fighting his enemies to the end!
The summary of the chapter is given in Neh. 13:30-31. He concludes with another “Remember me” prayer. Derek Kidner says of these prayers, “Nehemiah’s private self is completely of a piece with his public one: single-minded, utterly frank, and godly through and through. … [His plea to be remembered] springs from love, not self-love, as his tireless zeal for God has testified. …Further, the plea springs from humility, not self-importance, for it is an appeal for help. … Nehemiah is committing himself and his cause (cf. 29) to the only safe hands.” Stephen Davey says, “That is another way of saying, ‘Lord, I want to live life so that when you think of me, You will have good thoughts; when You observe my ways, my choices, and my lifestyle, You will be pleased with me.” This was Nehemiah’s passion.
Compromise kills our convictions. We need to deal with it immediately with holy zeal. What does it mean to be a person of holy zeal for the Lord? The famous nineteenth-century Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle in his book Practical Religion, says it best:
“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, through-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies, whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor, whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence, whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish, whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise, whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame, for all this the zealous mans cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it; he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him… This is what I mean when I speak of “zeal” in religion. (p. 130).”
I want to be that man. But the truth is I have failed. We have all failed. And this how the Old Testament ends. Did you know that? This is the end of Old Testament history. The Bible is not arranged chronologically. And as you finish Nehemiah, you are left with this conclusion: God’s people cannot keep God’s law. They keep failing…over and over and over and over again. Is there any hope?
450 years later, God answered that question. All of our compromising, all of our failed promises, broken commitments and lost convictions were punished on Him. All of the righteousness we could never supply for ourselves, he has earned for us. We can’t keep God’s law, but He has! Nehemiah ends on a bummer, with the reader looking for a Savior. And how does the NT Scriptures open? Matt. 1:21. He will save His people from their sins. So as we end Nehemiah, we are reminded that we too have failed. We are like Israel. We too easily compromise. But we look upon the One person who never compromised. We see Him full of zeal to the end. It is He who lives in us to help us become all that He is and asks us to be.
“24: How Compromise Starts” submitted by Bill White to http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/weekly/05-07-18/24howcompromisestarts.html accessed December 3, 2009.
As quoted in Wiersbe, 137.
 “When zeal and sin collide” http://www.spiritempoweredpreaching.com/downloads/399_23.mp3 accessed December 3, 2009.
 Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M., & Stamm, J. J. (1999). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament(electronic ed.)(1262–1263). Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.
Piper, J. (2007; 2007). Sermons from John Piper (1980-1989). Desiring God; Minneapolis, MN.
“When zeal and sin collide” Ibid.
As quoted in Hughes, R. K. (1996). Acts : The Church Afire. Preaching the Word (237). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.