When Nehemiah had asked the king for leave to go to Jerusalem, Artaxerxes had made him give a time when he would return to him. In verse 6, we find that he had done so in the thirty-second year of the king’s reign – a journey that would take far more than a month to make, in each direction. And he well may have been gone for several years. When he came back to Jerusalem, he found that Tobiah the Ammonite had been given a chamber in the house of God (verse 4 and 7)! Nehemiah angrily threw all of his possessions out, and had the chambers cleansed and restored (verses 8-9).
He also found that the people had not been giving the Levites their portion as commanded (verses 10-13), and that the Sabbath was being profaned (verses 15-22). Nehemiah promptly sets those things right, appointed treasurers over the storehouses, set guards at the city gates before the Sabbath to keep people from bringing loads of wares in, and warned those lodging outside the city in wait they he would “lay hands on them” if they continued to do so. Nehemiah was fed up. The Lord had restored their Temple and the Wall and they were out of captivity – now they were sinking deeply into sin again! Then, in verses 23-28, we find that the people were again marrying the foreigners and idol-worshipers that had been forbidden in the Law. In Ezra 9 and 10, we find Ezra confronting this problem (see Ezra 9:1-2). Apparently, his measures had not been effective. Notice that in Ezra 9:3, Ezra tore his garments and pulled out his hair when he found out about it. In verse 25 of this chapter, Nehemiah, upon learning of it, confronted the guilty and beat them and pulled their hair out!
In verse 30-31, Nehemiah ends the book on a positive note, listing the reforms he had made when he returned. He was merely reporting a better condition of the state of affairs, and asking God to remember him for the good he had done. Nehemiah always gave the glory to the Lord – especially for the rebuilding of the wall.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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