Nehemiah 13:4-14 - Making Promises...or Keeping Th

Dr. Steve Viars January 18, 1997 Nehemiah 13:4-14

- If we're looking for a "and they all lived happily ever after" conclusion, we're going to be sorely disappointed by Nehemiah 13.
- But one of the interesting things about the Scripture is -- God never sugar-coats the history of His people.
- In fact, that’s one of the arguments for the inspiration of the Scripture...that they are patently honest...even when sin and failure have to be addressed.
- We're told that secular historians, studying secular history, have a real dilemma on this issue because even when they find a tablet describing a king from a particular time period, they can never be sure if they are actually reading true history or a set of fabrications by a puppet of the king trying to make him look good.

- You wouldn't draw that conclusion from reading the Scriptures...God's word is patently honest.
- Of course the fact that God was willing to write history in that way puts us in a great position because we stand to benefit from, and learn from the failures of God's people in the past so we will not repeat their sinfulness.
- So it may not be a happy ending, but it certainly is a HELPFUL ending, and that’s what we need the most.

- I think it would be best to read the verses first, and then we'll add some historical notes that will tie what we're reading together.

- READ 13:4-14

Introduction - Important Chronological Background

1) The events of Nehemiah 13:4-14 occur after Nehemiah had been gone from Jerusalem for a period of time serving King Artaxerxes, and then returned to the city.

- We do not know the exact chronology, so apparently the Lord did not think we needed to know it.
- Here's a couple of verses that help us begin to put some things together:

Nehemiah 5:14 Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor's food allowance.

Nehemiah 13:6 But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king,

- Some writers question whether Nehemiah would have stayed in Jerusalem for the entire twelve year period before returning to Artaxerxes. These verses don't say that directly but they seem to indicate it.

- What we don't know for sure is how long between the time Nehemiah formally went back to the king, and how long before he returned to Jerusalem and found the conditions described in this chapter.

2) The people had previously committed themselves to living for God a particular way.

- You remember that in chapter 10, after the great spiritual work that had been done in the 7th month, the great climax was the people making promises to God.

- INPUT - What are some of the promises they made?

a. Promises regarding their children

1. would not let them marry unbelievers - 10:30

2. would dedicate their first born to service in the temple - 10:36

b. Promises regarding the Sabbath - 10:31

- They promised not to conduct business on the Sabbath.

c. Promises regarding their giving - 10:32-39

- A significant part of their promise had to do with their ongoing support of the temple.
- And remember, no one was coercing them to say what they were saying.
- They had spent a month studying the Scripture and they were committing themselves to living in obedience to the Scriptures.

- In short, the point of Nehemiah 13 is ---- they broke their promises.

3. Eliashib the high priest failed in several key ways.

- We have heard this man's name repeatedly in this study.
- the reason is that Eliashib worked very closely with Nehemiah, and had been given positions of leadership during the time Nehemiah was governor.
- But when Nehemiah left, this man made some horrible decisions:

a. Gave Tobiah a room in the temple.

- Verse 5 of chapter 13 is an absolute shock.

- Tobiah had been an enemy of Nehemiah and God's people throughout this entire story.
- The text has made that patently clear.

- Tobiah was also an Ammonite.
- The Ammonites found their national origin in the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters, and had been a thorn in Israel's side throughout their history.
- Verse 2 of chapter 13 tells how these people were to be forbidden from the temple because of their wickedness, including the event where they hired Balaam to curse God's people.

- So Eliashib, along with the rest of God's people had received clear instruction on this matter before Nehemiah left.

- If we dig a little deeper, we can start to untangle how this came about.
- We're not sure what is meant by verse 4 which says that Eliashib was related to Tobiah --- that can be translated a couple of different ways.
- But here's what we do know:

Nehemiah 13:28 Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me.

- the point is --- one of Eliashib's descendants was married to one of Sanballet's daughters!

- that explains a passage we came across way back in chapter 6:

Nehemiah 6:15-19 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.

- Now, with that in mind, let's talk about some lessons we can learn about making commitments to God:

I. It's One Thing to Make a Promise to God, It's Something Else to Keep It.

A. Remember the commitments of chapter 10!

- There's an obvious emphasis in this text ---- when Nehemiah returned, it wasn't a new set of issues that had to be addressed --- they were exactly the same things the people knew they were to do after having studied the Scriptures the seventh month...
- that’s why they made the promises they made in chapter 10.
- they just failed to do what they had agreed to do.

B. Remember also that the emphasis on the dedication day was their ongoing commitment and holiness.

- An interesting thing about chapter 12 is that there is little said about the dedication service itself (except for the way they people got to the service --- on the walls with the singers and musical instruments)
- the emphasis of what God tells us about that day is that the people made promises to continue to support His work (12:44-47), and to keep themselves unspotted from the world (13;1-3).

- and again, when Nehemiah returned, he was not faced with a new set of issues.
- It was simply a matter of lack of faithfulness....lack of follow through.

- you could summarize the text this way:
C. When its all said and done, there's often a lot more said than done!

- You remember the story our Lord told in Matthew 21 about the two sons.
- He asked one son to go work in the vineyard---the son replied --- I will, but then he didn't go.
- The second son, when asked the same question refused, but latter repented and went.
- Jesus' question was --- who did the will of the father?

- now of course, we all agree that it would have been better for the son to have initially said yes, and then followed through.

- but the point is --- the initial "yes" isn't worth much without the follow through.

- cf. I Cor. 4:2 - It is required in stewards...

- What is especially disconcerting about this story is that these people had witnessed the abundant blessing of God first hand.
- they had personally been involved in some "glory days."

- When our Lord was speaking of the end days, He told his disciples,
- Matthew 24:12 And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.

- I want to ask you this morning --- Are you committed to "follow through"?

- INPUT - Areas in which believers will especially struggle here?
- Reasons for the struggle?

II. When a Believer is Being Blatantly Disobedient, Someone Must Love Him Enough to Help Him Change.

- Its important that we also learn some lessons from the way Nehemiah handled these situations.
- It would be wrong for us to "sugar-coat" his response.
- The text is very blunt, on purpose.
- let's think about that for a moment.

A. All anger is not sinful.

- We'll be studying anger in much more detail in our new upcoming series.

- cf. Psalm 7:11

B. Nehemiah was angry and should have been

- as time allows -- develop:

1) How he used his anger to solve problems

2) How some folks have no place in their thinking for decisive leadership.

3) cf. Swindoll --- this kind of sin must be dealt with decisively.

- cf. p. 203

C. Protecting God's people from worldly influence is a critical part of leadership.

- Nehemiah was angry in part because Eliashib thought they could have someone like Tobiah around without it hurting them.
- cf. I Cor. 5

- cf. parents who don't seem to be particularly concerned about the influences of the world on their children ---- cf. Psalm 1

- (may want to point out --- this passage is not in the context of American civil government ---- passages like this should not be used by elected officials today to justify power-plays and mean spirited abusive leadership).

III. Godly, Decisive Leadership Can be Exercised With a Clear Conscience

- Some might read these events and conclude --- I bet Nehemiah was ashamed of all of this later.
- There clear evidence in the text that he wasn't, because he shouldn't have been.

Nehemiah 13:14 Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and five grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

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