“In those days 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: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 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, and in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 13:15-16)
When Nehemiah returned, not only had Tobiah taken over the temple, but the people were no longer obeying the law. Some of them were squeezing the grapes on the Sabbath day, while others were harvesting crops or hauling their produce to market, in violation of the law. Phoenician businessmen were opening their stores on the Sabbath,
After completing the wall, in Nehemiah 10:29-31, they had agreed to do obey God’s law “They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes; And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt."
Twelve years after making the agreement, people seemed to have forgotten. Nehemiah tried reminding them of the agreement, but it didn’t have mush effect.
“Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 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.” (Nehemiah 13:17-18)
Finally, Nehemiah confronted his brother and the other leaders, demanding why they had ignored the agreement, knowing that they were violating their contract(covenant) with God> Didn’t they understand that the struggles they had had for a hundred fifty years were the result of not keeping God’s law, By doing the same thing again, they would only cause themselves more problems.
“And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.” (Nehemiah 13:19)
Exercising his authority as governor, Nehemiah ordered that the gates of the city be closed at sundown before the Sabbath and not reopened until daylight the day after to prevent people going out to their fields or bringing in loads of produce.
“So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:20-21)
Blocked by the closed gates, the traders and farmers camped around the city to wait for them to open the gates. After a couple of weeks, Nehemiah warned them that they were trespassing and would be arrested if they continued to camp there. After that they decided it wasn’t worth coming on the Sabbath.
“And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” (Nehemiah 13:22)
He placed the Levites in charge of seeing that the gates were shut as part of their service for God, taking the authority away from the political leaders. It was not a popular move but he was trusting God to take care of him.
“In those days also 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. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?” (Nehemiah 13:23-27)
Part of the agreement in Nehemiah 10:29-31 was that they would not get intermarry with the people around them and forget about God, and especially not the Ammonites or Moabites. When Nehemiah returned, he found that many had married into those groups, and were not even teaching their children the Hebrew language. Obviously they weren’t teaching them to follow the Jewish customs if they didn’t think it worth learning the language.
He reminded them how Solomon got in trouble as a result of his messing around with women who didn’t worship God. It wouldn’t be very smart to just go along with what they were doing.
“And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.” (Nehemiah 13:28)
Eliashib, the high priest had allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to take over part of the temple. One of priests was his grandson, and was married to Sanballat the Horonite’s daughter. Leviticus 21:14 was specific who a priest was allowed to marry. “A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.” Nehemiah removed him from the priesthood because he wasn’t qualified.
“Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.” (Nehemiah 13:29)
By allowing a man who wasn’t qualified to serve as priest, they had defiled the priesthood, making a mockery of God’s covenant with the Levites, and with the priests. The main reason for writing my book, The Man For The Job: Choosing A Shepherd For God’s Flock was that so many churches are bringing reproach on the Lord by choosing men who are not qualified as pastors. Nehemiah Took God’s guidelines seriously.
“Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.” (Nehemiah 13:30-31)
Though his actions were unpopular, they had to be done if Israel was to please God. In the process, he eliminated others who were not qualified and made the priests and Levites understand what their responsibilities were. He also made sure the people understood their responsibilities.