Nehemiah 13: Remember, O God!
August 19, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
If you are ever discouraged that the work you are called to appears endless, or that you are one moment doing well and the next moment all is going wrong, or that time eats away at your finest endeavors, or that what you manage at one point to do faithfully, later on you must battle again to attain obedience in a particular area of your life—in short, if you ever wonder whether what you are doing is really having any impact, read this chapter! Nehemiah has achieved the most remarkable reforms, and yet as soon as his back is turned, it all goes to pot again.
The issues are various, but one in particular is quite remarkable. The priest Eliashib, as soon as Nehemiah was temporarily out of the picture, installed the great enemy of God’s people in specially designated, and plushly provided rooms in the house of God (13:7). This would be like putting an enemy of the state in a palatial bedchamber in the White House, or like giving a persecutor of Christians a platform presence at the next Christian rally. It was an obscene, offensive, derogatory, and dangerous action. Nehemiah, once the deed is discovered, acts swiftly and decisively.
In addition to this, the money for the support of the Levites was no longer being paid (so the house of God was forsaken) (13:10), work was being done on the Sabbath (so the worship of God was diluted and God’s wrath stored up) (13:15), believers were marrying unbelievers (so treachery against God was done) (13:23).
Throughout, Nehemiah, when he returns, puts everything right again. He asks several times for God to “remember” him for these actions (13:14, 22, 31). Is this incipient legalism? Is Nehemiah asking for God to do good to him because he has been a good person? Or is he looking at his zeal for God’s house as a fruit of his faith in God? He also asks God to remember those who rebelled against God. However we analyze or make suppositions about the inner workings of Nehemiah’s motivations at this point, it is clear that Nehemiah is understandably asking God to be gracious to him. He is serving God, and he asks for God’s help, for God to look down and bless him.
Perhaps he is reflecting on Psalm 106. There the Psalmist appeals to God’s gracious, merciful covenant, confesses the sins of God’s people, and asks God to remember and save his people, as he did when they were in Egypt:
1 Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
3 Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you save them,
5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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