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!

  1. Exclusion of Foreigners

    1. 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?

      1. What if they had intermarried with your family and
        you were now breaking up families when all they
        wanted to do was worship God?

    2. 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.)

      1. 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?

    3. Read Nehemiah 13:4-5. Are Eliashib and Tobiah friends? (It
      seems so for the Bible says they were “closely

      1. What kind of room is Tobiah given in the Temple? (A
        storage room.)

      2. Would you let a friend sleep in your church if it had
        a spare storage room that was not being used?

    4. Read Nehemiah 13:6-8. Is this appropriate? Why not just
      politely ask Tobiah to leave?

      1. 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.)

    5. 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.)

    6. Let’s step back and see how you would apply all of these
      decisions today. Is it appropriate to make decisions with
      your heart?

      1. 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?

        1. Note that the decisions Nehemiah is making have
          strong spiritual overtones. Does that make a
          difference when applying these ideas to current

      2. 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.)

      3. Is God’s rule of law always binding?

  2. God’s Law and the Tithe.

    1. Read Nehemiah 13:10-12. What is the problem? (The Levites
      were not being paid, so they went back to earning a living
      by farming.)

    2. 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.)

      1. If you see inappropriate actions by church
        leadership, does it affect your willingness to give?

        1. 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.)

        2. 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?

    3. 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.)

    4. 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.)

    5. 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.)

      1. Why would Nehemiah think God would hold him
        responsible for this? (Nehemiah was in charge –
        although he had been gone when things had

  3. God’s Law and the Sabbath

    1. 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
      on Sabbath.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 10:31. What has happened to this solemn
      promise made three chapters before? (It has also been

      1. 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

      2. What is the reason for the Sabbath? (To celebrate God
        as our Creator.)

      3. 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.)

    3. Read Nehemiah 13:17. Who is Nehemiah suing here? (Once
      again, the leaders.)

    4. 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.)

    5. 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.)

      1. Is this a reason for Christians to support laws which
        protect moral values? Or, is Nehemiah’s situation

  4. Intermarriage

    1. Read Nehemiah 13:23-25. How good is an oath entered into
      because of beatings and hair-pulling?

      1. Read Nehemiah 10:30. They had previously entered into
        an oath contract on this very point!

      2. 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
        punish crimes.)

    2. 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
      to apply.)

    3. 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?

  5. Next week: Dealing With Bad Decisions.