Introduction: There is some bad advice that seems rampant today. If
your heart tells you to do something, then you should do it. Even for
those desiring to follow God, the line we should follow in life is
sometimes a little hard to see. After all, Jesus told us in Mark
12:31 to love your neighbor yourself. That may seem to put love
first. But true love involves obedience to God’s law. Let’s explore
that issue as we dive into our Bible and learn more!
- Exclusion of Foreigners
- Read Nehemiah 13:1-3. Put yourself in Jerusalem when this
decision was made. Assume you have friends who are
descended from the Ammonites or Moabites. They want to
worship God with you. What would your heart tell you to
do? Prevent friends from worshiping God because of
something that happened ten generations ( Deuteronomy 23:3-6) before?
- What if they had intermarried with your family and
you were now breaking up families when all they
wanted to do was worship God?
- Let’s focus on Nehemiah 13:2. What is the reason to
exclude the Ammonite and Moabite descendants? (Their
ancestors did not bring food and water when the Israelites
passed by. And they tried (unsuccessfully) to bring a
curse on God’s people.)
- Do you think some would say that is not that serious,
certainly not serious enough to break up families and
prevent those you love from worshiping with you?
- Read Nehemiah 13:4-5. Are Eliashib and Tobiah friends? (It
seems so for the Bible says they were “closely
- What kind of room is Tobiah given in the Temple? (A
- Would you let a friend sleep in your church if it had
a spare storage room that was not being used?
- Read Nehemiah 13:6-8. Is this appropriate? Why not just
politely ask Tobiah to leave?
- Why throw him out at all? (The NIV Commentary on the
Old Testament gives us an important clue. It tells us
that Tobiah was an Ammonite.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:9. What does this tell us about the
storage room in which Tobiah was living? (It should have
been used to store the grain offerings.)
- Let’s step back and see how you would apply all of these
decisions today. Is it appropriate to make decisions with
- There are a number of “heart” controversies these
days. In my country, there is the question of illegal
immigration. This also involves the question of what
to do about the children of illegal immigrants. This
involves the same kind of generational issue: the
children did nothing wrong. Should they be punished
for what their parents did?
- Note that the decisions Nehemiah is making have
strong spiritual overtones. Does that make a
difference when applying these ideas to current
- In my church there is the issue of female ordination.
In other churches there is the issue of homosexual
ordination. Do you see a difference between these
modern issues and the issues of Nehemiah’s time? (To
the extent they involve “heart” arguments, as opposed
to arguments based on Scripture, they are the same.)
- Is God’s rule of law always binding?
- God’s Law and the Tithe.
- Read Nehemiah 13:10-12. What is the problem? (The Levites
were not being paid, so they went back to earning a living
- Focus on Nehemiah 13:11. What is the answer to Nehemiah’s
question? Why do you think the people stopped paying
tithe? Do you think this has something to do with the
Tobiah controversy? (One commentary suggested that the
Hebrew word used here suggests that Nehemiah filed some
sort of legal proceeding against the leaders. Since he
aimed his charges at the leaders, and not the people, this
suggests the leaders were at fault.)
- If you see inappropriate actions by church
leadership, does it affect your willingness to give?
- Should it? (Whatever the leaders might have
done, the hardship fell upon the Levites. The
proper response is to keep supporting the
church and reform the leadership.)
- Nehemiah is the Governor, so he is the top
leader. What if the top leader supported the
leaders engaged in inappropriate behavior? What
should you do then?
- Read Nehemiah 9:38 and Nehemiah 10:35. Do you recall our
discussion of this? We agreed that they signed a contract
to obey God which included an agreement to support the
temple! What does this suggest about the probability of
Nehemiah filing some sort of legal action against them?
(This makes perfect sense now.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:13. What other answer does Nehemiah have
to the problem? (He cleans house. He replaces the leaders
who do not keep their promises.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:14. What is Nehemiah asking God to do in
this prayer? (To remember his faithfulness, and not the
problems of the moment.)
- Why would Nehemiah think God would hold him
responsible for this? (Nehemiah was in charge –
although he had been gone when things had
- God’s Law and the Sabbath
- Read Nehemiah 13:15-16. How would you describe this
problem? (The Sabbath was treated as any other work day.
They were engaging in secular work and commercial trading
- Read Nehemiah 10:31. What has happened to this solemn
promise made three chapters before? (It has also been
- Let’s discuss this a bit. What is the reason for
raising and selling food on the Sabbath, and treating
it like any other work day? (You are providing for
- What is the reason for the Sabbath? (To celebrate God
as our Creator.)
- Do you see how the two conflict? (The Sabbath
celebrates God as our Creator and Protector. We are
not up to that task. These people thought their work
was the key to survival and not their God.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:17. Who is Nehemiah suing here? (Once
again, the leaders.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:18. Why does Nehemiah invoke the lesson
of history? (Remember when we studied Nehemiah 9? It
recited the unfaithfulness of their ancestors which led
them to enter into a contract to be faithful. That
contract specifically mentioned not trading on the
Sabbath. Nehemiah 10:31.)
- Read Nehemiah 13:19-22. I thought we all agreed that a
person changed from the inside out. External rules never
changes a person’s heart. How do you explain this?
(Perhaps Nehemiah’s first goal was to change the
situation, rather than change hearts.)
- Is this a reason for Christians to support laws which
protect moral values? Or, is Nehemiah’s situation
- Read Nehemiah 13:23-25. How good is an oath entered into
because of beatings and hair-pulling?
- Read Nehemiah 10:30. They had previously entered into
an oath contract on this very point!
- If this is a lesson about church discipline, I have
certainly been on the wrong side in the past. Do you
think this a lesson about discipline in the church?
When young people enter into a mixed marriage, or sex
without marriage, or have a child outside marriage,
is hair-pulling (or the modern equivalent)
appropriate? (One difference is that Nehemiah
represented government authority. He had authority to
- Read Matthew 13:24-30. Does this teach us a different
lesson about the use of church authority? (Before you
answer, read Matthew 13:36-42. Because Jesus explains
that the “field” is the world, this does not seem to be a
direct comparison. However, the caution about the danger
of uprooting the wheat when you pull the weeds does seem
- Friend, do have a problem with relapsing into sin? Do you
tend to judge with your heart instead of your mind?
Nehemiah reminds us that obedience is important to God.
Why not ask the Holy Spirit to help you have a right
understanding of this?
- Next week: Dealing With Bad Decisions.