Lesson 11

Backslidden People

(Nehemiah 13)
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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 associated.")


      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 issues?


      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 deteriorated.)


  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 broken.)


      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 yourself.)


      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 different?


  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.

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Lessons on Ezra and Nehemiah

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