The International Bible Lesson (Uniform Sunday School Lessons Series) for Sunday, August 25, 2013, is from Nehemiah 13:10-22. Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further and Study Hints for Teachers discuss five questions to help with class preparation and in conducting class discussion. For the easy to print International Bible Lessons, Commentaries, and Study Hints for Teachers, please visit the International Bible Lesson Commentary website. The weekly International Bible Lesson is posted each Saturday before the lesson is scheduled to be taught on the International Bible Lesson Commentary website, the Bible Lesson Forum, and in The Oklahoman newspaper.
(Nehemiah 13:10) I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.
The people were supposed to give a tithe for the support of the Levites, and the Levites were to give a tithe of what they received for the support of the temple. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem from visiting the Persian King, where he made his report on his work, he discovered that the giving of tithes was not being done as commanded by God; therefore, the Levites had to go back to work in their fields in order to support themselves and their families.
(Nehemiah 13:11) So I remonstrated with the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.
Nehemiah returned as governor and he called on the Jewish officials to account for why they had disregarded and not enforced the law of God on tithing. When he gathered the leaders together and reprimanded them, he also assigned them to do their various duties and collect the tithes for the Levites.
(Nehemiah 13:12) Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.
The storehouses were similar to warehouses that surrounded the temple and were used to store the tithes for distribution to the priests and Levites. The tithes brought indicate the type of agricultural practices of the Israelites. The grain would have probably been mostly wheat, the wine was from their vineyards, and the oil was from their olive groves.
(Nehemiah 13:13) And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses the priest Shelemiah, the scribe Zadok, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan son of Zaccur son of Mattaniah, for they were considered faithful; and their duty was to distribute to their associates.
The priests Nehemiah chose to serve as treasurers were known to be faithful in previous duties, and their ancestors were important families from the tribe of Levi. Their duty was to give the Levites the tithes they were supposed to receive and also collect a tithe from the Levites. They would have been honest tax (or tithe) collectors.
(Nehemiah 13:14) Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.
Nehemiah wanted God to remember how he had done his duty to bring decency and order to the priests and the people through his reforms. He had purposed to do good for the temple and the service of the Levites in the worship of God. He prayed that his reforms would not be reversed or wiped out in subsequent years. He wanted God to protect him from all of his enemies, and to remember his good deeds as a good reason to protect him.
(Nehemiah 13:15) In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them at that time against selling food.
The Sabbath began at sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday. A priest blew a trumpet to officially indicate the beginning and the ending of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day to honor and worship God and learn God’s word from the Scriptures (as the synagogues later practiced). The fourth commandment established the Sabbath, and it encouraged rest for servants and animals as well as their masters.
(Nehemiah 13:16) Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of merchandise and sold them on the sabbath to the people of Judah, and in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah described the commerce of his day. Just as the Israelites were supposed to collect enough manna in the wilderness on the day before the Sabbath because God would give them no manna on the Sabbath, the Jews were not supposed to buy or sell food on the Sabbath or do other kind of trading but buy enough for the Sabbath before the Sabbath began.
(Nehemiah 13:17) Then I remonstrated with the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day?
The nobles of Judah were very wealthy Jews who profited greatly from trade in and around Jerusalem seven days a week. They encouraged foreign sellers to come to Jerusalem on the Sabbath rather than obey the law of God. Nehemiah called this what it was “evil.”
(Nehemiah 13:18) Did not your ancestors act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.”
Nehemiah told the nobles why their actions were evil. They were profaning the Sabbath by dishonoring God on the very day God had set apart for people to honor Him, learn of Him, study His law, and rest from their labors. God had punished Jerusalem in 587 BC with the destruction of the city and the temple because the Israelites had rebelled against Him and profaned the Sabbath, and these nobles were doing the same thing and leading others to do the same thing again, which would lead to God’s just punishment again.
(Nehemiah 13:19) When it began to be dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the sabbath. And I set some of my servants over the gates, to prevent any burden from being brought in on the sabbath day.
Nehemiah could not trust the Jewish nobles or the foreign traders to do what was right in obedience to God or him. He knew that they would not obey him as the governor of Judah and Jerusalem, so at sunset he barred the gates of Jerusalem and he set his own guards suitably armed to prevent the violation of the Sabbath.
(Nehemiah 13:20) Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice.
Nehemiah brought a quick stop to the profaning of the Sabbath with his measures of enforcement. It would not be profitable and perhaps somewhat dangerous for merchants to sleep outside the city gates with their goods. In addition to this wasted time and money on their part, Nehemiah warned them to quit camping outside the city gates or he would punish them.
(Nehemiah 13:21) But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath.
Nehemiah knew that they could complete all of their business the week before the Sabbath began or during the six days after the Sabbath ended. He probably did not want the city gates barred throughout the Sabbath, because this could prevent worshipers from coming to the temple from outside the city to worship on the Sabbath. If his threat did not mean imprisonment, it could have meant a severe beating. Nehemiah left them (or those of us reading this) in doubt about how he would punish them.
(Nehemiah 13:22) And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
Nehemiah established order and enforced God’s law, and then he turned the responsibility over to the Levites to do their job. They were to enforce the Law of God and make certain that the Sabbath was truly observed. Nehemiah was humble and knew that he was not perfect, so he prayed for God to spare him (or save him) not because of all he had done to honor and obey God and enforce God’s law, but because of God steadfast love. He also prayed for God to spare him because he was in danger of assassination by the nobles of Jerusalem and Judah. Almost 500 years later, the nobles and religious leaders of Jerusalem arranged the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Five Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further
1. What happened when the Israelites stopped paying their tithes?
2. What did the political leaders do while Nehemiah was away reporting to the King of Persia?
3. What criteria or standard did Nehemiah use when he chose treasurers?
4. How many people today could honestly pray as Nehemiah did in Nehemiah 13:14? What do they need to do to be able to honestly pray as Nehemiah did?
5. Who was responsible for profaning the Sabbath? What did Nehemiah need to do to stop them from profaning the Sabbath?
— © Copyright 2013 by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr. Permission Granted for Not for Profit Use.
Begin or close your class by reading the short weekly International Bible Lesson at International Bible Lessons at http://internationalbiblelessons.org. To print the International Bible Lesson Commentary in Large Print and the International Bible Lessons in three different sizes and for the Study Hints for Thinking Further, go to the International Bible Lessons Commentary website.