Nehemiah 9-13: Anything Defiled Can Be Purified and Made Right with God

They say confession is good for the soul. By the way, that’s NOT in the Bible! It’s actually an old Scottish proverb. Still, it’s true and we see that in the final chapters of the Book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem, the wall, the city and the temple are rebuilt, re-inhabited, re-dedicated and re-committed. Yet, what was made right with God doesn’t stay that way. Let’s dig in…

Check out the must-watch videos at the bottom: there’s a cool 3D tour of Nehemiah’s temple, and 2 Bible Prophecy videos regarding Israel’s future and the 3rd temple.

Nehemiah 9 – The People Confess Their Sins

On October 31, the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God. The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani—stood on the stairway of the Levites and cried out to the Lord their God with loud voices.

Then the leaders of the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah—called out to the people: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, for he lives from everlasting to everlasting!” Then they prayed:

“May your glorious name be praised! May it be exalted above all blessing and praise!

“You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham. When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him to give him and his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word.

“You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea. 10 You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his officials, and all his people, for you knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten. 11 You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land! And then you hurled their enemies into the depths of the sea. They sank like stones beneath the mighty waters. 12 You led our ancestors by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they could find their way.

13 “You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and instructions that were just, and decrees and commands that were good. 14 You instructed them concerning your holy Sabbath. And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees, and instructions.

15 “You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go and take possession of the land you had sworn to give them.

16 “But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands. 17 They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, 18 even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies.

19 “But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. 20 You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell!

22 “Then you helped our ancestors conquer kingdoms and nations, and you placed your people in every corner of the land. They took over the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and the land of King Og of Bashan. 23 You made their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and brought them into the land you had promised to their ancestors.

24 “They went in and took possession of the land. You subdued whole nations before them. Even the Canaanites, who inhabited the land, were powerless! Your people could deal with these nations and their kings as they pleased. 25 Our ancestors captured fortified cities and fertile land. They took over houses full of good things, with cisterns already dug and vineyards and olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate until they were full and grew fat and enjoyed themselves in all your blessings.

26 “But despite all this, they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They turned their backs on your Law, they killed your prophets who warned them to return to you, and they committed terrible blasphemies. 27 So you handed them over to their enemies, who made them suffer. But in their time of trouble they cried to you, and you heard them from heaven. In your great mercy, you sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies.

28 “But as soon as they were at peace, your people again committed evil in your sight, and once more you let their enemies conquer them. Yet whenever your people turned and cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them many times!

29 “You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands. They did not follow your regulations, by which people will find life if only they obey. They stubbornly turned their backs on you and refused to listen. 30 In your love, you were patient with them for many years. You sent your Spirit, who warned them through the prophets. But still they wouldn’t listen! So once again you allowed the peoples of the land to conquer them. 31 But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are!

32 “And now, our God, the great and mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of unfailing love, do not let all the hardships we have suffered seem insignificant to you. Great trouble has come upon us and upon our kings and leaders and priests and prophets and ancestors—all of your people—from the days when the kings of Assyria first triumphed over us until now. 33 Every time you punished us you were being just. We have sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved. 34 Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey your Law or listen to the warnings in your commands and laws. 35 Even while they had their own kingdom, they did not serve you, though you showered your goodness on them. You gave them a large, fertile land, but they refused to turn from their wickedness.

36 “So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. 37 The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”

The People Agree to Obey

38 The people responded, “In view of all this, we are making a solemn promise and putting it in writing. On this sealed document are the names of our leaders and Levites and priests.”

Nehemiah 9 NLT

Nehemiah 10

The document was ratified and sealed with the following names:

The governor:

Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and also Zedekiah.

(I’ll spare you the names of the priests, the Levites and the leaders. You can read them here.)

The Vow of the People

28 Then the rest of the people—the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand— 29 joined their leaders and bound themselves with an oath. They swore a curse on themselves if they failed to obey the Law of God as issued by his servant Moses. They solemnly promised to carefully follow all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the Lord our Lord:

30 “We promise not to let our daughters marry the pagan people of the land, and not to let our sons marry their daughters.

31 “We also promise that if the people of the land should bring any merchandise or grain to be sold on the Sabbath or on any other holy day, we will refuse to buy it. Every seventh year we will let our land rest, and we will cancel all debts owed to us.

32 “In addition, we promise to obey the command to pay the annual Temple tax of one-eighth of an ounce of silver for the care of the Temple of our God. 33 This will provide for the Bread of the Presence; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, the new moon celebrations, and the annual festivals; for the holy offerings; and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel. It will provide for everything necessary for the work of the Temple of our God.

34 “We have cast sacred lots to determine when—at regular times each year—the families of the priests, Levites, and the common people should bring wood to God’s Temple to be burned on the altar of the Lord our God, as is written in the Law.

35 “We promise to bring the first part of every harvest to the Lord’s Temple year after year—whether it be a crop from the soil or from our fruit trees. 36 We agree to give God our oldest sons and the firstborn of all our herds and flocks, as prescribed in the Law. We will present them to the priests who minister in the Temple of our God. 37 We will store the produce in the storerooms of the Temple of our God. We will bring the best of our flour and other grain offerings, the best of our fruit, and the best of our new wine and olive oil. And we promise to bring to the Levites a tenth of everything our land produces, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our rural towns.

38 “A priest—a descendant of Aaron—will be with the Levites as they receive these tithes. And a tenth of all that is collected as tithes will be delivered by the Levites to the Temple of our God and placed in the storerooms. 39 The people and the Levites must bring these offerings of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the storerooms and place them in the sacred containers near the ministering priests, the gatekeepers, and the singers.

“We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.”

Nehemiah 10 NLT

Nehemiah 11 – The People Occupy Jerusalem

(I’m skipping the names. You can read the whole thing here.)

The leaders of the people were living in Jerusalem, the holy city. A tenth of the people from the other towns of Judah and Benjamin were chosen by sacred lots to live there, too, while the rest stayed where they were. And the people commended everyone who volunteered to resettle in Jerusalem.

Here is a list of the names of the provincial officials who came to live in Jerusalem. (Most of the people, priests, Levites, Temple servants, and descendants of Solomon’s servants continued to live in their own homes in the various towns of Judah, but some of the people from Judah and Benjamin resettled in Jerusalem.)

From the tribe of Judah: … There were 468 descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem—all outstanding men.

From the tribe of Benjamin … a total of 928 relatives.

10 From the priests… (5 priests, and 1192 of their associates)

15 From the Levites … In all, there were 284 Levites in the holy city.

19 From the gatekeepers: Akkub, Talmon, and 172 of their associates, who guarded the gates.

20 The other priests, Levites, and the rest of the Israelites lived wherever their family inheritance was located in any of the towns of Judah. 21 The Temple servants, however, whose leaders were Ziha and Gishpa, all lived on the hill of Ophel.

22 The chief officer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, son of Hashabiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Mica, a descendant of Asaph, whose family served as singers at God’s Temple. 23 Their daily responsibilities were carried out according to the terms of a royal command…

(Read the rest of the people went to the surrounding villages.)

Nehemiah 11 NLT

Nehemiah 12

Here is the list of the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the high priest:… Read it here.

22 A record of the Levite families was kept during the years when Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua served as high priest. Another record of the priests was kept during the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 A record of the heads of the Levite families was kept in The Book of History down to the days of Johanan, the grandson of Eliashib….

Dedication of Jerusalem’s Wall

27 For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites. 29 They also came from Beth-gilgal and the rural areas near Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built their own settlements around Jerusalem. 30 The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.

31 I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward along the top of the wall to the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah. 35 Then came some priests who played trumpets, including Zechariah son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, a descendant of Asaph. 36 And Zechariah’s colleagues were Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani. They used the musical instruments prescribed by David, the man of God. Ezra the scribe led this procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went straight up the steps on the ascent of the city wall toward the City of David. They passed the house of David and then proceeded to the Water Gate on the east.

38 The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way to meet them. I followed them, together with the other half of the people, along the top of the wall past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 then past the Ephraim Gate to the Old City Gate, past the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel, and on to the Tower of the Hundred. Then we continued on to the Sheep Gate and stopped at the Guard Gate.

40 The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. So did I, together with the group of leaders who were with me. 41 We went together with the trumpet-playing priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah— 42 and the singers—Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam, and Ezer. They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director.

43 Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Provisions for Temple Worship

44 On that day men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the offerings, the first part of the harvest, and the tithes. They were responsible to collect from the fields outside the towns the portions required by the Law for the priests and Levites. For all the people of Judah took joy in the priests and Levites and their work. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as commanded by David and his son Solomon, and so did the singers and the gatekeepers. 46 The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph. 47 So now, in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel brought a daily supply of food for the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Levites. The Levites, in turn, gave a portion of what they received to the priests, the descendants of Aaron.

Nehemiah 12 NLT

Nehemiah 13 – Nehemiah’s Various Reforms

On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly.

Before this had happened, Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, the frankincense, various articles for the Temple, and the tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil (which were prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers), as well as the offerings for the priests.

I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign, though I later asked his permission to return. When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.

10 I also discovered that the Levites had not been given their prescribed portions of food, so they and the singers who were to conduct the worship services had all returned to work their fields. 11 I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, “Why has the Temple of God been neglected?” Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties. 12 And once more all the people of Judah began bringing their tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the Temple storerooms.

13 I assigned supervisors for the storerooms: Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah, one of the Levites. And I appointed Hanan son of Zaccur and grandson of Mattaniah as their assistant. These men had an excellent reputation, and it was their job to make honest distributions to their fellow Levites.

14 Remember this good deed, O my God, and do not forget all that I have faithfully done for the Temple of my God and its services.

15 In those days I saw men of Judah treading out their winepresses on the Sabbath. They were also bringing in grain, loading it on donkeys, and bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on that day. 16 Some men from Tyre, who lived in Jerusalem, were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise. They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem at that!

17 So I confronted the nobles of Judah. “Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?” I asked. 18 “Wasn’t it just this sort of thing that your ancestors did that caused our God to bring all this trouble upon us and our city? Now you are bringing even more wrath upon Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!”

19 Then I commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be shut as darkness fell every Friday evening, not to be opened until the Sabbath ended. I sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 The merchants and tradesmen with a variety of wares camped outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I spoke sharply to them and said, “What are you doing out here, camping around the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you!” And that was the last time they came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to guard the gates in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath.

Remember this good deed also, O my God! Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love.

23 About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 Furthermore, half their children spoke the language of Ashdod or of some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all. 25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land.

26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”

28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, so I banished him from my presence.

29 Remember them, O my God, for they have defiled the priesthood and the solemn vows of the priests and Levites.

30 So I purged out everything foreign and assigned tasks to the priests and Levites, making certain that each knew his work. 31 I also made sure that the supply of wood for the altar and the first portions of the harvest were brought at the proper times.

Remember this in my favor, O my God.

Nehemiah 13 NLT

Key Points

  • They read and re-read the Book of the Law. We have to read and re-read the Bible daily! If we want a relationship with the Living God — Jesus Christ — there’s no better way to get to know Him than reading or hearing His Word. Each time you read it, you’ll understand more, be moved more and be convicted more.
  • Interestingly, this is last book of the history of the Jews in the Old Testament and it includes the longest prayer in the whole Bible.
  • This prayer recites everything that God did for the Jewish people.
  • They reiterate how the people in the past (“they”), their ancestors, sinned and disobeyed God over and over again.
  • Then it changes to “we” sinned. It was a prayer of repentance.
  • They vowed to never sin again — to stay Holy before the Lord. Would God approve of your life?
  • The leaders signed and sealed the vow — it was a solemn promise. When we are born again, Jesus seals His promise to us with His Seal — the Holy Spirit!
  • The temple and the wall were rebuilt, now the city had to be re-inhabited. It was a ghost town.
  • They were poor. The houses needed to be rebuilt. They were outnumbered against their many enemies. They moved in against all odds.
  • Then they dedicated the temple by giving thanks for God’s faithfulness.
  • Nehemiah returned to Persia to resume his job as King Artexerxes’ cup bearer in 433 BC. He did tell the king that he would return. For a Jew to return to serve a pagan king took dedication and integrity.
  • He went back to Jerusalem to correct sins — they were the same issues, the same compromises that led their ancestors into trouble. They were the same sins the people vowed never to do again! The sincerity of their promise grew thin.
  • They had to purify the temple area occupied by the enemy. That shows us that anything defiled can be purified and made right with God. That includes us!

God has not changed since then. He gave us the Bible, His Word, so that we could engage with Him. Let’s see what the folks at Spoken Gospel have to say….

God’s word makes us holy. When Ezra read the story of God’s people to Israel, they were moved by the endless ways God had shown grace and mercy to them throughout all their disobedience. When we engage with the Bible it does the same. It convicts us, shapes us, and makes us into the people of God.
And the apostle Matthew says that Jesus has fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17).

Hearing and believing the story and commands of Jesus make us into God’s people. As God has uniquely loved us in Jesus, we’re compelled to uniquely obey God. Like Israel, when we hear and believe the acts of grace and mercy God has shown us in Jesus we become more and more God’s separate and holy people (2 Corinthians 3:18). The good news for the consistently hardhearted is that the story of Jesus can melt our hearts and make us holy. What the law did for Israel, Jesus does for us through his Gospel

And now as God’s holy people, we live empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are the separated people of God, living according to new standards of love and sacrifice. We are not marked off by physical walls, but by the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 1:13). God has not changed. But when God’s people listen to God’s word, they are changed from one degree of glory to the next. 

Israel never recovered from her idolatry and exile. The nation and land would pass from empire to empire until the time of Jesus. But Jesus does what Nehemiah wanted to do, but couldn’t. On the cross, Jesus acts as our stand-in (1 Peter 3:18). And God remembers his good deeds instead of our evil (2 Corinthians 5:21). Like a faithful priest, Jesus intercedes for us and makes a way for us to be a new people of God who can faithfully live in God’s city and Kingdom. 

That’s because when Jesus leaves his people to go back to the King, we are not fated to fall back into our patterns of sin (John 14:18). Unlike Nehemiah, Jesus leaves us with his Holy Spirit to continue the obedience he began in us (Galatians 5:16). Because of the Spirit, we are not fated to continually break the commands we have vowed to keep. 

Instead, we’re empowered by God to obey Jesus’ commands as we wait for his return. And when he does, a New Jerusalem and a new Kingdom will come too (Revelation 21:2). The home and city Israel hoped for, will finally come. Jesus won’t just bring a tenth of his people, but all his people inside his walls. And with far more joy than all Israel’s singers could muster, we will sing with full-throated triumph as we enter into our final home with God (Revelation 19:6).

See For Yourself 

I pray the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to see the God who has an eternal plan to bring us hope and a future. And may you see Jesus as the fullness of God’s plan who brings us the hope of an eternal home with him by dying in our place on the cross.  

Spoken Gospel

Are you part of God’s eternal plan?

If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

Best 3D model of Nehemiah Jerusalem ever created!


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Top image by Tim Shirey/Suzanne Peavy of Child Evangelism Fellowship Europe from FreeBibleImages.org (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

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