Today I only read two chapters in Nehemiah (12:27-13:31). Nehemiah had served as governor for 13 years, and in 432 BC returns to Susa for an unspecified length of time. He receives permission to come back to Jerusalem and hold a dedication ceremony for the wall. When he returns, he discovers that during his absence, the people have already broken the covenant they have made. He is furious with righteous anger.
He finds three major offenses have led the people away from God. First, they neglected the house of God. They made an “arrangement” with Tobiah to give him space in the temple to store his personal goods, removing the holy things of God that should have been there. They stopped paying the Levites for their work as commanded by the Law, and so the Levites and musicians responsible for the worship services had left Jerusalem and gone back to their fields.
Second, they failed to honor the Sabbath. Instead of stopping work and worshiping God, the people were involved in trade, buying and selling as usual. The day had no meaning for them anymore.
Third, they had intermarried with women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. The children were speaking foreign languages, and not being taught Hebrew (and thus would not have been taught the Law, as it would have only been in Hebrew). Nehemiah points out that one of the sons of the high priest had even married the daughter of Sanballat.
Tobiah…Sanballat…do those names sound familiar? They should. These were the two main leaders in the attacks, distractions, frustrations, and intimidation during the construction of the wall. They were Israel’s enemies, and yet the people had compromised with them in the worst ways possible. They made “backroom” deals for political purposes using the temple and entered into a marriage covenant tying themselves together. No wonder Nehemiah was upset! He reacts strongly, swiftly and decisively. He literally “cleans house,” calling the people out on their sin and making quick decisions to restore things to right.
What’s the takeaway? What happened to the people illustrates the need for strong, godly leaders who are not afraid to preach and teach the truth and hold the people they shepherd accountable. Pastors, fathers and mothers, teachers. If you have a position of responsibility for other believers, whether they are children, teens, or adults, take it seriously, because whenever there is a vacuum of godly influence, the enemy is standing ready to come in and take advantage.
There’s a reason Jesus compared His followers to sheep. We need a shepherd! Was it Nehemiah’s fault the people regressed back into sin? Of course not. We are all individually responsible for our own decisions. But this story does teach us how important it is to have godly leadership in our lives – leaders who will not back down on the truth, who will confront sin and call it what it is, and who will hold those under their care accountable for their actions as people who proclaim themselves as Christ-followers.