publicly the people of Judah had pledged themselves to obey the law of
God. But when the influence of Ezra and Nehemiah was for a time withdrawn,
there were many who departed from the Lord. Nehemiah had returned to
Persia. During his absence from Jerusalem, evils crept in that threatened
to pervert the nation. Idolaters not only gained a foothold in the city,
but contaminated by their presence the very precincts of the temple.
Through intermarriage, a friendship had been brought about between
Eliashib the high priest and Tobiah the Ammonite, Israel's bitter enemy.
As a result of this unhallowed alliance, Eliashib had permitted Tobiah to
occupy an apartment connected with the temple, which heretofore had been
used as a storeroom for tithes and offerings of the people.
the cruelty and treachery of the Ammonites and Moabites toward Israel, God
had declared through
they should be forever shut out from the congregation of His people. See
Deuteronomy 23:3-6. In defiance of this word, the high priest had cast out
the offerings stored in the chamber of God's house, to make a place for
this representative of a proscribed race. Greater contempt for God could
not have been shown than to confer such a favor on this enemy of God and
from Persia, Nehemiah learned of the bold profanation and took prompt
measures to expel the intruder. "It grieved me sore," he
declares; "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."
Not only had
the temple been profaned, but the offerings had been misapplied. This had
tended to discourage the liberalities of the people. They had lost their
zeal and fervor, and were reluctant to pay their tithes. The treasuries of
the Lord's house were poorly supplied; many of the singers and others
employed in the temple service, not receiving sufficient support, had left
the work of God to labor elsewhere.
to work to correct these abuses. He gathered together those who had left
the service of the Lord's house, "and set them in their place."
This inspired the people with confidence, and all Judah brought "the
tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil." Men who "were
counted faithful" were made "treasurers over the
treasuries," "and their office was to distribute unto their
result of intercourse with idolaters was a disregard of the Sabbath, the
sign distinguishing the Israelites from all other nations as worshipers of
the true God. Nehemiah found that heathen merchants and traders from the
surrounding country, coming to Jerusalem, had induced many among the
Israelites to engage in traffic on the Sabbath. There were some who could
not be persuaded to sacrifice principle, but others transgressed and
joined with the heathen in their efforts to overcome the scruples of the
more conscientious. Many dared openly to violate the Sabbath. "In
those days," Nehemiah writes, "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. . . . 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."
This state of
things might have been prevented had the rulers exercised their authority;
but a desire to advance their own interests had led them to favor the
ungodly. Nehemiah fearlessly rebuked them for their neglect of duty.
"What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath
day?" he sternly demanded. "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." He then gave
command that "when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the
Sabbath," they should be shut, and not opened again till the Sabbath
was past; and having more confidence in his own servants
than in those
that the magistrates of Jerusalem might appoint, he stationed them at the
gates to see that his orders were enforced.
to abandon their purpose, "the merchants and sellers of all kind of
ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice," hoping to find
opportunity for traffic, with either the citizens or the country people.
Nehemiah warned them that they would be punished if they continued this
practice. "Why lodge ye about the wall?" he demanded;
do so again, I will lay hands on you." "From that time forth
came they no more on the Sabbath." He also directed the Levites to
guard the gates, knowing that they would command greater respect than the
common people, while from their close connection with the service of God
it was reasonable to expect that they would be more zealous in enforcing
obedience to His law.
Nehemiah turned his attention to the danger that again threatened Israel
from intermarriage and association with idolaters. "In those
days," he writes, "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."
unlawful alliances were causing great confusion in Israel; for some who
entered into them were men in high position, rulers to whom the people had
a right to look for counsel and a safe example. Foreseeing the ruin before
the nation if this evil were allowed to continue, Nehemiah reasoned
earnestly with the wrongdoers. Pointing to the case of Solomon, he
reminded them that among all the nations there had risen no king like this
man, to whom God had given great wisdom; yet idolatrous women had turned
his heart from God, and his example had corrupted Israel. "Shall we
then hearken unto you," Nehemiah sternly demanded, "to do all
this great evil?" "Ye shall not give your daughters unto their
sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves."
As he set
before them God's commands and threatenings, and the fearful judgments
visited on Israel in the
past for this
very sin, their consciences were aroused, and a work of reformation was
begun that turned away God's threatened anger and brought His approval and
some in sacred office who pleaded for their heathen wives, declaring that
they could not bring themselves to separate from them. But no distinction
was made; no respect was shown for rank or position. Whoever among the
priests or rulers refused to sever his connection with idolaters was
immediately separated from the service of the Lord. A grandson of the high
priest, having married a daughter of the notorious Sanballat, was not only
removed from office, but promptly banished from Israel. "Remember
them, O my God," Nehemiah prayed, "because they have defiled the
priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites."
anguish of soul this needed severity cost the faithful worker for God the
judgment alone will reveal. There was a constant struggle with opposing
elements, and only by fasting, humiliation, and prayer was advancement
Many who had
married idolaters chose to go with them into exile, and these, with those
who had been expelled from the congregation, joined the Samaritans. Hither
some who had occupied high positions in the work of God found their way
and after a time cast in their lot fully with them. Desiring to strengthen
this alliance, the Samaritans promised to adopt more fully the Jewish
faith and customs, and the apostates, determined to outdo their former
brethren, erected a temple on Mount Gerizim in opposition to the house of
God at Jerusalem. Their religion continued to be
a mixture of
Judaism and heathenism, and their claim to be the people of God was the
source of schism, emulation, and enmity between the two nations, from
generation to generation.
In the work
of reform to be carried forward today, there is need of men who, like Ezra
and Nehemiah, will not palliate or excuse sin, nor shrink from vindicating
the honor of God. Those upon whom rests the burden of this work will not
hold their peace when wrong is done, neither will they cover evil with a
cloak of false charity. They will remember that God is no respecter of
persons, and that severity to a few may prove mercy to many. They will
remember also that in the one who rebukes evil the spirit of Christ should
ever be revealed.
work, Ezra and Nehemiah humbled themselves before God, confessing their
sins and the sins of their people, and entreating pardon as if they
themselves were the offenders. Patiently they toiled and prayed and
suffered. That which made their work most difficult was not the open
hostility of the heathen, but the secret opposition of pretended friends,
who, by lending their influence to the service of evil, increased tenfold
the burden God's servants. These traitors furnished the Lord's enemies
with material to use in their warfare upon His people. Their evil passions
and rebellious wills were ever at war with the plain requirements of God.
attending Nehemiah's efforts shows what prayer, faith, and wise, energetic
action will accomplish. Nehemiah was not a priest; he was not a prophet;
he made no pretension to high title. He was a reformer raised up
important time. It was his aim to set his people right with God. Inspired
with a great purpose, he bent every energy of his being to its
accomplishment. High, unbending integrity marked his efforts. As he came
into contact with evil and opposition to right he took so determined a
stand that the people were roused to labor with fresh zeal and courage.
They could not but recognize his loyalty, his patriotism, and his deep
love for God; and, seeing this, they were willing to follow where he led.
Industry in a
God-appointed duty is an important part of true religion. Men should seize
circumstances as God's instruments with which to work His will. Prompt and
decisive action at the right time will gain glorious triumphs, while delay
and neglect result in failure and dishonor to God. If the leaders in the
cause of truth show no zeal, if they are indifferent and purposeless, the
church will be careless, indolent, and pleasure-loving; but if they are
filled with a holy purpose to serve God and Him alone, the people will be
united, hopeful, eager.
The word of
God abounds in sharp and striking contrasts. Sin and holiness are placed
side by side, that, beholding, we may shun the one and accept the other.
The pages that describe the hatred, falsehood, and treachery of Sanballat
and Tobiah, describe also the nobility, devotion, and self-sacrifice of
Ezra and Nehemiah. We are left free to copy either, as we choose. The
fearful results of transgressing God's commands are placed over against
the blessings resulting from obedience. We ourselves must decide whether
we will suffer the one or enjoy the other.
The work of
restoration and reform carried on by the returned exiles, under the
leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, presents a picture of a work
of spiritual restoration that is to be wrought in the closing days of this
earth's history. The remnant of Israel were a feeble people, exposed to
the ravages of their enemies; but through them God purposed to preserve in
the earth a knowledge of Himself and of His law. They were the guardians
of the true worship, the keepers of the holy oracles. Varied were the
experiences that came to them as they rebuilt the temple and the wall of
Jerusalem; strong was the opposition that they had to meet. Heavy were the
burdens borne by the leaders in this work; but these men moved forward in
unwavering confidence, in humility of spirit, and in firm reliance upon
God, believing that He would cause His truth to triumph. Like King
Hezekiah, Nehemiah "clave to the Lord, and departed not from
following Him, but kept His commandments. . . . And the Lord was with
him." 2 Kings 18:6, 7.
restoration of which the work carried forward in Nehemiah's day was a
symbol, is outlined in the words of Isaiah: "They shall build the old
wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair
the waste cities." "They that shall be of thee shall build the
old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations;
and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of
paths to dwell in." Isaiah 61:4; 58:12.
here describes a people who, in a time of general departure from truth and
righteousness, are seeking
the principles that are the foundation of the kingdom of God. They are
repairers of a breach that has been made in God's law--the wall that He
has placed around His chosen ones for their protection, and obedience to
whose precepts of justice, truth, and purity is to be their perpetual
In words of
unmistakable meaning the prophet points out the specific work of this
remnant people who build the wall. "If thou turn away thy foot from
the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath
a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor Him, not doing
thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own
words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee
to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage
of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
Isaiah 58:13, 14.
In the time
of the end every divine institution is to be restored. The breach made in
the law at the time the Sabbath was changed by man, is to be repaired.
God's remnant people, standing before the world as reformers, are to show
that the law of God is the foundation of all enduring reform and that the
Sabbath of the fourth commandment is to stand as a memorial of creation, a
constant reminder of the power of God. In clear, distinct lines they are
to present the necessity of obedience to all the precepts of the
Decalogue. Constrained by the love of Christ, they are to co-operate with
Him in building up the waste places. They are to be repairers of the
breach, restorers of paths to dwell in. See verse 12.