It hurts when people break their promises. In today’s reading, we see that Nehemiah is in for some big disappointments. Seeing that everything is in order, and having completed his mission, Nehemiah returns to his old job in Susa (Nehemiah 13:6). Scholars believe he stayed there for a year or more before making another trip to Jerusalem (v. 7). He is in for a rude shock. When he arrives, he finds out, much to his frustration and anger, that the very points that the Jews had promised to observe in the binding covenant have been blatantly broken.
First, the promised tithes have reduced to a miserable trickle (v. 10). The storerooms in the temple are meant for the tithes given by the people and materials for the worship of God, but sadly, Eliashib the high priest, who is in charge of the storerooms, has let his friend Tobiah use a large room (v. 7).
Tobiah, being a layman and a foreigner, has no right to be in the temple. It is sacrilegious for him to occupy ″a room in the courts of the house of God″ (v. 7). How could Eliashib, who should have known better, allow this? How could Tobiah, who had mocked God and His people, be allowed to stay in God’s holy temple? By letting him stay there, Eliashib has done an ″evil thing″ (v. 7). We are also told that the high priest is ″closely associated with Tobiah″ (v. 4). If God’s servant makes an evil alliance with God’s enemies, he will soon be used by them to bring dishonour to God’s name.
Nehemiah is ″greatly displeased″ and evicts Tobiah (v. 8). He then has the storerooms purified, because the presence of Tobiah and his possessions have desecrated them. After this, he orders the rooms to be filled with ″the equipment of the house of God″ (v. 9).
Eliashib had allowed Tobiah to occupy the large room because it was empty. And it was empty because the people had neglected to bring their tithes and offerings into the temple. As a result, the Levites did not receive their support and had to go out into the fields to earn their income (v. 10). The priests also suffered as a result. These are the consequences of the people’s disobedience, adversely affecting the worship of God in the temple. Nehemiah rebukes the leaders for breaking their promise to not neglect the house of God (v. 11; see 10:39). He then appoints trustworthy men to be in charge of the temple storerooms and ensures that the flow of tithes is restored (13:12-13).
The implication here for us is that we have to be careful that spiritual enemies do not set up camp in and among us. It can happen subtly and imperceptibly. Regular Scripture reading and prayerful self-examination will help us to be on our guard.
How can spiritual enemies gain entry into our hearts and churches? How can they affect our walk with God, and our worship and service?
We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). How can we detect the enemy’s presence in this temple? What should we do if we find this to be so?