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A Return to Separation - (Neh. 13)

Studies in Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:07:08
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Nehemiah comes back to clean house and cleanse God’s people from sin.

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Introduction:

Illustration -
Backsliding | Someone Once Said …
No one is so empty as the man who has stopped walking with God and doesn’t know it.—Jerry White*
Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it.—Theodore H. Epp*
We must not just take it for granted that we are in touch with God. Joseph and Mary lost a whole day of fellowship with Jesus because they “supposed him to be in the company.” They took for granted something of which they should have made sure. “He [Samson] wist not that the Lord had departed from him” (Judges 16:20). He was out of touch with God and did not know it.—J. Oswald Sanders*
Samson’s last chapter was a sad story of binding, blinding, and grinding.—Vance Havner*
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.Hebrews 2:1
The captain gives earnest heed to the charts lest he drift unconsciously shorewards!—F. W. Boreham*
* Jerry White, The Power of Commitment (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1985), 55.
* Theodore H. Epp, The Backsliding Christian (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1956), 7.
* J. Oswald Sanders, The Best That I Can Be (Robesonia, PA: OMF Books, 1984), 37.
* Vance Havner, In Times Like These (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1969), 37.
* F. W. Boreham, Shadows On the Wall (New York: Abingdon Press, 1922), 41. [Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 41.]
Relapsing fever - infectious disease characterized by recurring fever symptoms; caused by spirochetes ...transmitted by lice ...and by ticks ...; sudden onset with violent febrile symptoms, which persist for about a week in cases contracted from lice and for a shorter time when tick-transmitted; the attack ends with a crisis with profuse sweating, after which patient is fairly well until, about a week later, symptoms return; penicillin and other antibiotics have proved effective against the disease. [“Relapsing Fever,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).]
Spiritually speaking Nehemiah encountered the truth that "all have sinned..." mankind has been infected with sin, and is ever prone until glory to relapse and return to its own demise (i.e. dogs & pigs).
Does this mean we just give up, and stay in the pigpen? Never!
Nehemiah, having established them already in God's Word, now upon his return calls them afresh and anew to separate from the world and unto God. Notice these particulars concerning his course of action:

I. The Bible Is Given Prominence (Neh. 13:1-3)

Nehemiah 13:1–3 KJV 1900

On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.

A. Nehemiah's Second Return:
1. His visits as recorded:
And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” (Nehemiah 2:6, KJV 1900)
But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king:” (Nehemiah 13:6, KJV 1900)
2. The Timing of His Second Visit - 433 BC
a. He would never have let these things occur
b. He comes back to clean house
c. Probably several years after previous Governorship
Years ago, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Today the world has taken so many things out of the church, and the church has taken so many things out of the world, that it is difficult to know where you are” (The Servant As His Lord, p. 17). “Today the world has so infiltrated the church,” said Vance Havner, “that we are more beset by traitors within than by foes without. Satan is not fighting churches—he is joining them.” [Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Determined, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 141–142.]
B. Public Reading of the Scriptures:
1. Exposed a problem of the remnant
2. Take them through the book
C. The Remnant Challenged to Separation
1. On that day= not temple dedication
2. Tobiah- Ammonite
AMMONITES [AM muhn ites] — a nomadic race descended from Ben–Ammi, Lot’s son, who became enemies of the people of Israel during their later history. During the days of the Exodus, the Israelites were instructed by God not to associate with the Ammonites (Deut. 23:3). No reason is given in the Bible for such hostility, but the rift between the two peoples continued across several centuries.
In the days of the judges, Eglon, king of Moab, enlisted the aid of the Ammonites in taking Jericho from the Hebrew people (Judg. 3:13). In Saul’s time, Nahash, the Ammonite king, attacked Jabesh Gilead. Saul responded to the call for help and saved the people of Jabesh Gilead from being captured by Nahash (1 Sam. 11:1–11).
Later in the history of the Israelites, Ammonites were among the armies allied against King Jehoshaphat; God caused confusion among them, and they destroyed themselves (2 Chr. 20:1–23). The prophets of the Old Testament often pronounced God’s judgment against the Ammonites (Jer. 9:26; Amos 1:13–15). Archaeological evidence suggests that Ammonite civilization continued from about 1200 b.c. to 600 b.c. [Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).]
As a co-conspirator with Sanballat and other, Tobiah sought to thwart Nehemiah’s administration first by insinuating his insurrection against the Persian overlords (2:19), and then by public ridicule of the restoration program (4:1–3). When these measures failed to deter Nehemiah, Tobiah was among those who planned military raids against Jerusalem to disrupt the rebuilding of the city walls and to dishearten the builders (4:7–9). When these raids also failed to [accomplish] their purpose, Tobiah plotted—again unsuccessfully—to lure Nehemiah out of the city in order to assassinate him (6:1–3).
Later Sanballat and Tobiah hired a prophet (and apparently incited others of the prophetic corps) to speak false oracles to Nehemiah in order to lure him into committing a ritual transgression (6:10–14), thereby discrediting himself. Since Nehemiah was probably a eunuch and was certainly a layman, it would have been unlawful for him to enter the temple (Lev. 21:17–24; Dt. 23:1); even to flee to the altar to seek asylum would have been unlawful under the circumstances (cf. Fensham, p. 204). Finally, in league with certain Jewish nobles, Tobiah staged a letter-writing campaign to enhance his own position and frighten Nehemiah (6:18f.).
Nehemiah’s unmitigated opposition to Tobiah and his allies may be attributed to both religious and political motivations. Nehemiah’s religious reforms (9:1–5; 13:15–22), his concern about personal sin (6:13), his appointment of godly officials (7:1f), his expulsion of Tobiah from the temple chambers and subsequent purification of those rooms (13:4–9), and his unshakable faith in God (2:20; 4:9; etc.) all indicate his seriousness about maintaining the purity of the temple cult. For this reason he conceded Tobiah and the others no legal or religious authority in Jerusalem (2:20). [A. E. Hill, “Tobiah,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 865.]
3. Infiltration into the temple
4. Reflection on the Numbers passage
And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel. And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me: Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” (Numbers 22:3–6, KJV 1900)
5. Eliashib is a compromiser

II. Nehemiah Expels Tobiah (Neh. 13:4-9)

Nehemiah 13:4–9 KJV 1900

And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

A. Eliashib's Guilt
1. He knew better
2. Cf. Leaven in the lump
3. Allowed him a place in the storehouse
B. Eliashib's Evil Alliance

III. Provision for God’s Servants (Neh. 13:10-14)

Nehemiah 13:10–14 KJV 1900

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.

A. "Remember me"
1. He wanted his good deeds to last
2. Do not wipe out the good deeds that have been done
B. Returning to the Tithe
1. The Priesthood had been neglected in his absence
2. He discerns it, it was not told unto him
3. Why is the House of the Lord Forsaken (Malachi)
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, Even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be meat in mine house, And prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, If I will not open you the windows of heaven, And pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, And he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; Neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:8–11, KJV 1900)
4. He appointed those who he found faithful
Someone asked the American Episcopal bishop Phillips Brooks what he would do to resurrect a dead church, and he replied, “I would take up a missionary offering.” Giving to others is one secret of staying alive and fresh in the Christian life. If all we do is receive, then we become reservoirs; and the water can become stale and polluted. But if we both receive and give, we become like channels; and in blessing others, we bless ourselves. American psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger said, “Money-giving is a good criterion of a person’s mental health. Generous people are rarely mentally ill people.” Someone wrote in Modern Maturity magazine, “The world is full of two kinds of people, the givers and the takers. The takers eat well—but the givers sleep well.” [Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Determined, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 146–147.]

IV. Honor the God of the Sabbath (Neh. 13:15-22)

Nehemiah 13:15–22 KJV 1900

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

A. Judah's Dishonor
1. They had forsaken the Sabbath
2. They were lapsing back into sin
B. Tyre's Cuplability
They had brought in merchandise
Before the exile there was a growing impatience with the sabbath law. Amos in the 8th century bc could see the merchants chafing at the weekly shut-down of business (Amos 8:5); and sure enough, by Jeremiah’s time they had had their way. Load after load of merchandise poured in and out of the city on the sabbath. Jeremiah’s warning of what must follow (Jer. 17:19–27) was clearly in Nehemiah’s mind as he saw the forbidden burdens[84] in transit (15; cf. Jer. 17:21, etc.) and spoke of history repeating itself (18). The bustling scene of verses 15 and 16 shows how rapidly the trickle which must have begun in Nehemiah’s absence (cf. verse 6) had become—as such trickles do—a flood. [84 The condemnation of the healed man in John 5:10 for carrying his pallet missed the point of Jeremiah’s prohibition and equally of our Lord’s command.] [Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 143.]
C. Procedures for Enforcing the Sabbath
1. He enforced policies
2. To keep the Sabbath
3. He appoints people he can trust. To watch the gates
4. He was not afraid to lay his hands on people

V. Separation from the Ungodly (Neh. 13:23-31)

Nehemiah 13:23–31 KJV 1900

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

A. Intermarriage Among Heathen
1. They had taken heathen wives again
2. Ashdod=Philistines
3. Ammon= Tobiah
Twenty years before, Ezra had dismissed the strange wives, but the evil had risen again. Alas, how sadly do children expose the inconsistencies of their parents, and betray the evil of unequal marriages! We see plenty of this around us; and where there is such a union, the balance is almost certain to turn in favor of the world and against vital godliness, Deut. 7:4; 2 Cor. 6:14. Nehemiah did not hesitate to add strong acts to strong words. Josephus says that this expelled priest was Manasseh, and that he went to his father-in-law, Sanballat, who built for him a temple on Mount Gerizim like that at Jerusalem, and that this was the origin of the religious rivalry and hatred between Samaritans and Jews, John 4:20. [F. B. Meyer, Through the Bible Day by Day: A Devotional Commentary, vol. 4 (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1914–1918), 33–34.]
B. The Poor Example of Solomon
1. The Holy Spirit uses a good illustration
It doesn’t take long for the enemy to capture leadership, and too often the people will blindly follow their leaders in the path of compromise and disobedience. [Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Determined, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 142.]
2. In peace he wrote Proverbs
3. Yet he did sin by taking Strange (outlandish) given to idolatry Women
But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.” (1 Kings 11:1–8, KJV 1900)
And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” (Ecclesiastes 7:26, KJV 1900)
4. He even drives away the son of the high priest
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:3–4, KJV 1900)
C. The Connection to Sanballat
Son of the high priest had married Sanballat’s daughter
D. Nehemiah's Faithfulness
1. Put off the old ways and get back to the Covenant
2. He remained faithful to his God throughout his life
3. Theme = Remember me for good
The faithful servant and the dying thief join in the same petition, v. 31. To be remembered by Jesus Christ is enough reward for any of us! [F. B. Meyer, Through the Bible Day by Day: A Devotional Commentary, vol. 4 (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1914–1918), 34.]

Conclusion:

Reasons For Backsliding | What causes people to forget God’s faithfulness so quickly?
bible reading: Deuteronomy 8:10–20
key bible verse:
Deuteronomy 8:11 KJV 1900

Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:

Pride leads to backsliding. In times of plenty, we often take credit for our prosperity and become proud that our own hard work and cleverness have made us rich. It is easy to get so busy collecting and managing wealth that we push God right out of our life. But it is God who gives us everything we have, and it is God who asks us to manage it for him.
bible reading: Judges 2:6–19
key bible verse:
Judges 2:17 KJV 1900

And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.

Selfishness leads to backsliding. Why would the people of Israel turn so quickly from their faith in God? Simply put, the Canaanite religion appeared more attractive to the sensual nature and offered more short-term benefits (sexual permissiveness and increased fertility in childbearing and farming). One of its most attractive features was that people could remain selfish and yet fulfill their religious requirements. They could do almost anything they wished and still be obeying at least one of the many Canaanite gods. Male and female prostitution were not only allowed but encouraged as forms of worship.
Faith in the one true God, however, does not offer short-term benefits that appeal to our sinful human nature. The essence of sin is selfishness; the essence of God’s way of life is selflessness. We must seek Christ’s help to live God’s way.
bible reading: Mark 4:1–20
key bible verse:
Mark 4:18–19 KJV 1900

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

Distractions can cause backsliding. Worldly worries, the false sense of security brought on by prosperity, and the desire for things plagued first-century disciples as they do us today. How easy it is for our daily routines to become overcrowded. A life packed with materialistic pursuits deafens us to God’s Word. Stay free so you can hear God when he speaks.
Preventing Backsliding
How can we keep from forgetting God’s faithfulness?
bible reading: Luke 9:57–62
key bible verse:
Luke 9:62 KJV 1900

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Commitment to Jesus prevents backsliding. What does Jesus want from us? Total dedication, not halfhearted commitment. We can’t pick and choose among Jesus’ ideas and follow him selectively; we have to accept the cross along with the crown, judgment as well as mercy. We must count the cost and be willing to abandon everything else that has given us security. With our focus on Jesus, we should allow nothing to distract us from the manner of living that he calls good and true.
bible reading: James 5:15–20
key bible verse:
James 5:19–20 KJV 1900

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Commitment to other believers prevents backsliding. Clearly this person who has wandered away is a believer who has fallen into sin—one who is no longer living a life consistent with his beliefs. Christians disagree over whether or not it is possible for people to lose their salvation, but all agree that those who move away from their faith are in serious trouble and need to repent. James urges Christians to help backsliders return to God. By taking the initiative, praying for them, and acting in love, we can meet them where they are and bring them back to God and his forgiveness. [Adapted from: Neil S. Wilson, The Handbook of Bible Application (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2000), 49–50.]
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