Want a magnificent example of the power of tough, righteous, manly confrontation? Gird up your loins and read Nehemiah 13.
When God allowed the Jews to return from captivity to rebuild Jerusalem, He brought Nehemiah along to serve as their governor. This great man inspired them to accomplish mighty feats (Nehemiah 1-6). He oversaw their repentance, forsaking of sin and return to God (Nehemiah 8-9). After 12 years, he returned to his job in the court of King Artaxerxes of Babylon.
Later, when Nehemiah had opportunity to return to Jerusalem, he was grieved to see that these Jews had reverted to many of their sins.
First, he learned of the shocking whereabouts of an enemy of the Jews, Tobiah. Years earlier, this man had schemed to influence politics in Jerusalem, and tried to stop Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts; Nehemiah dealt with him forcibly (Nehemiah 4, 6). But in Nehemiah’s absence, Tobiah had infiltrated the city, managed to deceive the high priest into viewing him as a friend, and actually taken up residence inside the temple compound!
Nehemiah reacted instantly: Like Christ with the moneychangers, he furiously gathered Tobiah’s things and threw him out! (Nehemiah 13:8). He commanded the temple workers to cleanse the areas Tobiah had used and restore them for their intended purpose (verse 9).
This godly leader then realized that the people had stopped tithing—another point he had corrected during his first governorship (Nehemiah 5). The Levites were having to support themselves, neglecting the temple service. Again he assertively set the errant Jews back on track, and then authorized officers to enforce the law (Nehemiah 13:11-14).
Nehemiah also had to correct the Jews’ Sabbath-keeping. Some were treading winepresses and hauling goods into Jerusalem during holy time; Phoenician traders were doing a great business on the Sabbath right in Jerusalem. “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah,” Nehemiah wrote, “and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your father thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath” (verses 17-18). As the next Sabbath approached, he commanded that the gates be shut and set sentries to ensure no one brought goods into the city during the Sabbath (verse 19).
Locked out, the traders set up camp just outside the gates. They weren’t even Israelites, but Nehemiah was so determined that they not bring their sin into the city that he turned his righteous wrath on them: “Why lodge ye about the wall?” he shouted. “If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you!” They could tell he was not a man to mess with. They never came back on the Sabbath (verses 20-21).
Finally, Nehemiah learned of their return to intermarriage with the surrounding Gentiles. “And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves” (verse 25). He reminded them that marrying foreign women had derailed even the kingship of Solomon! (verses 26-27).
The high priest’s own grandson had married the daughter of Sanballat, governor of Samaria and Nehemiah’s archenemy! This grandson was unwilling to sever the marriage, so he was banished from Israel (verse 28). Josephus says he later become the Samaritan high priest.
Think deeply on the lessons of Nehemiah 13. It powerfully shows how God uses zealous, righteous leadership to correct His people and keep them spiritually clean, for their own good. It illustrates the constancy and mercy of a bold, godly man: Though Nehemiah had once before corrected the people for all these sins, when they again became ensnared, he didn’t give up on them. He went right back to work—with fiery zeal—restoring their relationship with God!
Throughout these events, Nehemiah repeatedly asked God to remember him for his righteous deeds (verses 14, 22, 31). He knew well his own weaknesses and sins. Yet he acted so zealously for God in purging sin from Judah that God answered his prayer: The Bible records nothing negative about the life of this great man of God.