What does it say?
The priests and the Levites who returned to Jerusalem with the governor Zerubbabel are listed. The chief priestes and Levites who had come up with Zerubbabel during the reign of Darius as well as those who served in the days Nehmiah the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe. The Levites from all the land were sought out for the dedication of the the wall of Jerusalem. Choirs were appointed to sections of the wall. Great sacrifices were offered and they rejoiced and their joy was heard from afar. The people gave to the priests and the Levites their dues as was required by the law. On that day, the book of the law was read allowed and it was heard that Moses said, “No Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God,” so, they applied this to all foreigners. During Nehemiah’s absence, Tobiah the Ammonite official had been given a room in the temple; this displeased Nehemiah, so he cleaned Tobiah’s things out of the room and restored its proper use. Also, the Levites had abandoned the house of God because the people had not given them the tithe of grain, wine and oil; Nehemiah restored the Levites to their post and the people gave as required by the law. The sabbath day had become like any other day of the week, goods were being brought into Jerusalem and sold to the people; therefore, Nehemiah rebuked Israel. Nehemiah commanded that the gates of Jerusalem be shut on the sabbath (sun down to sun up) and he appointed Levites as guards; for a while, merchants came and camped outside of the gate but after being threatened by Nehemiah they came no more. Nehemiah found that all Israel and even the priest were intermarrying with the people of the land, women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab; Nehemiah rebuked them, speaking of to the people about how Solomon was lead astray by foreign women. So, Nehemiah once again purified Israel of everything foreign and appointed tasks for the priests and the Levites and appointed times for supplies to be brought into the house of God.
What does it mean?
It did not take long for Israel to revert to everyman doing as he saw fit. The leaders had agreed in writing to keep the covenant, and all of Israel rejoiced at the dedication of the wall. During Nehemiah’s absence, reporting to king Artaxerxes, the agreement was abandoned. Nehemiah resorted to making laws to enforce the covenantal commandments. This shows that man left to himself will always revert to his sin nature. All of mankind is by nature sinful. Unless the natural man is under threat of loss in the natural realm he will not keep the moral law of God. This set up the situation of Jesus day, the Pharisees burdened the people with commandments and traditions; therefore, Jesus called them hypocrites, quoting Isaiah: Matthew 15:8-9 (NASB)
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”
A situation was being set up at the end of Nehemiah; if a man and or laws were not in place to force obedience to God’s law, the people would not keep God’s law because it was not in their heart to do so. People do not need legalism. They need a new heart. They need to be born again.
What shall I do?
I shall preach law to the proud and gospel to the humble. Legalism is a great deal of work because someone has to be in place to enforce the law. The only means that we are given to convert people is the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. (Rom. 1:16) It isn’t that law should not be preached because it is the law which brings the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:19-20) However, the answer isn’t more law but the gospel. The law cannot save anyone but is solely the tutor to bring men to Christ. (Gal 3:24)