1. NEHEMIAH’S FIRST ACTIONS
a. After the Jews settled in their homeland and pledged themselves to obey God, what happened in the absence of Nehemiah? Nehemiah 8:18; 9:1, 2; 10:28–31; 13:6.
b. What situation did he find upon his return to Jerusalem? Nehemiah 13:7.
“Idolaters not only gained a foothold in the city, but contaminated by their presence the very precincts of the temple. Through intermarriage, a friendship had been brought about between Eliashib the high priest and Tobiah the Ammonite, Israel’s bitter enemy. As a result of this unhallowed alliance, Eliashib had permitted Tobiah to occupy an apartment connected with the temple, which heretofore had been used as a storeroom for tithes and offerings of the people.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 669.
c. In defiance of the word of God (Deuteronomy 23:3–6), what did Eliashib, the high priest, do? What first step did Nehemiah take in the work of reform? Nehemiah 13:7–9.
2. WHEN TO APPEAL FOR COOPERATION
a. As the offerings had been misapplied, in what sense did many people become discouraged? Nehemiah 13:4, 5. What were many servants of the temple led to do out of necessity? Nehemiah 13:10.
“In defiance of [God’s command], the high priest had cast out the offerings stored in the chamber of God’s house, to make a place for this representative of a proscribed race. Greater contempt for God could not have been shown than to confer such a favor on this enemy of God and His truth.
“On returning from Persia, Nehemiah learned of the bold profanation and took prompt measures to expel the intruder. . . .
“Not only had the temple been profaned, but the offerings had been misapplied. This had tended to discourage the liberalities of the people. They had lost their zeal and fervor and were reluctant to pay their tithes. The treasuries of the Lord’s house were poorly supplied; many of the singers and others employed in the temple service, not receiving sufficient support, had left the work of God to labor elsewhere.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 670.
b. How did the people respond to Nehemiah’s decisive leadership in making reformatory efforts? Nehemiah 13:11–13.
“Nehemiah set to work to correct these abuses. He gathered together those who had left the service of the Lord’s house, ‘and set them in their place.’ This inspired the people with confidence, and all Judah brought ‘the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil.’ Men who ‘were counted faithful’ were made ‘treasurers over the treasuries,’ ‘and their office was to distribute unto their brethren’ [Nehemiah 13:11–13].”—Ibid.
“The success attending Nehemiah’s efforts shows what prayer, faith, and wise, energetic action will accomplish. Nehemiah was not a priest; he was not a prophet; he made no pretension to high title. He was a reformer raised up for an important time. It was his aim to set his people right with God. Inspired with a great purpose, he bent every energy of his being to its accomplishment.”—Ibid., pp. 675, 676.
3. SABBATHKEEPING RESTORED
a. How was the sign distinguishing the Israelites from the heathen disregarded during Nehemiah’s absence? Nehemiah 13:15, 16.
“Another result of intercourse with idolaters was a disregard of the Sabbath, the sign distinguishing the Israelites from all other nations as worshipers of the true God. Nehemiah found that heathen merchants and traders from the surrounding country, coming to Jerusalem, had induced many among the Israelites to engage in traffic on the Sabbath. There were some who could not be persuaded to sacrifice principle, but others transgressed and joined with the heathen in their efforts to overcome the scruples of the more conscientious. Many dared openly to violate the Sabbath. . . .
“This state of things might have been prevented had the rulers exercised their authority; but a desire to advance their own interests had led them to favor the ungodly.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 671.
b. How and why did Nehemiah rebuke the leaders for their neglect of duty? Nehemiah 13:17, 18.
“Not inclined to abandon their purpose, ‘the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice,’ hoping to find opportunity for traffic (Nehemiah 13:20).”—Ibid., p. 672.
c. How did Nehemiah act to correct this state of things? Nehemiah 13:19–23.
“[Nehemiah] also directed the Levites to guard the gates, knowing that they would command greater respect than the common people, while from their close connection with the service of God it was reasonable to expect that they would be more zealous in enforcing obedience to His law.”—Ibid., p. 673.
“For evils that we might have checked, we are just as responsible as if we were guilty of the acts ourselves.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 441.
4. STANDING BY OUR CONVICTIONS
a. How did God help Nehemiah to arouse the consciousness of the people to the need of a decided reformation in their marriage relationships? Nehemiah 13:23–27.
“These unlawful alliances [from intermarriage and association with idolaters] were causing great confusion in Israel; for some who entered into them were men in high position, rulers to whom the people had a right to look for counsel and a safe example. Foreseeing the ruin before the nation if this evil were allowed to continue, Nehemiah reasoned earnestly with the wrongdoers. . . .
“As he set before them God’s commands and threatenings, and the fearful judgments visited on Israel in the past for this very sin, their consciences were aroused, and a work of reformation was begun that turned away God’s threatened anger and brought His approval and blessing.”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 673, 674.
b. What was one thing that Nehemiah did, in his human weakness, that a worker in the Lord’s vineyard should never do? Nehemiah 13:25.
“Reformers must advance, not retreat. They must be decided, firm, resolute, unflinching; but firmness must not degenerate into a domineering spirit.”—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 151.
c. What was the main reason why Eliashib, the high priest, his son, and his grandson became disqualified for the priesthood? Nehemiah 13:28, 29. What happens to those who have opinions but have no convictions? Matthew 15:14.
“There were some in sacred office who pleaded for their heathen wives, declaring that they could not bring themselves to separate from them. But no distinction was made; no respect was shown for rank or position. Whoever among the priests or rulers refused to sever his connection with idolaters was immediately separated from the service of the Lord. A grandson of the high priest, having married a daughter of the notorious Sanballat, was not only removed from office but promptly banished from Israel.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 674.
5. LESSONS FOR US TODAY
a. What lessons should we learn from the work of Ezra and Nehemiah? Isaiah 57:12–14; Romans 15:4.
“In the work of reform to be carried forward today, there is need of men who, like Ezra and Nehemiah, will not palliate or excuse sin, nor shrink from vindicating the honor of God. Those upon whom rests the burden of this work will not hold their peace when wrong is done, neither will they cover evil with a cloak of false charity. They will remember that God is no respecter of persons, and that severity to a few may prove mercy to many. They will remember also that in the one who rebukes evil the spirit of Christ should ever be revealed.
“In their work, Ezra and Nehemiah humbled themselves before God, confessing their sins and the sins of their people, and entreating pardon as if they themselves were the offenders. Patiently they toiled and prayed and suffered.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 675.
“[This] work of restoration and reform . . . presents a picture of a work of spiritual restoration that is to be wrought in the closing days of this earth’s history. . . .
“In the time of the end every divine institution is to be restored. The breach made in the law at the time the Sabbath was changed by man is to be repaired. God's remnant people, standing before the world as reformers, are to show that the law of God is the foundation of all enduring reform and that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is to stand as a memorial of creation, a constant reminder of the power of God. In clear, distinct lines they are to present the necessity of obedience to all the precepts of the Decalogue. Constrained by the love of Christ, they are to cooperate with Him in building up the waste places. They are to be repairers of the breach, restorers of paths to dwell in.”—Ibid., pp. 677, 678.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How did Nehemiah promote his reformatory efforts?
2. How was Sabbathkeeping restored?
3. God has a present truth in every generation. What is His will today regarding the sanctity and preservation of marriage?
4. Explain the relevance of the experiences of Ezra and Nehemiah in our time.
5. What question should we all ask ourselves as Christ’s witnesses?