Nehemiah 13:28--How Ezra and Nehemiah Put Israel Back on Track
Nehemiah 13:28-30 refers to certain men—a Biblical cast of characters. It’s important to understand who they were. Sanballat and Tobiah were enemies of Israel, trying to sabotage the project of restoring God’s temple and the city of Jerusalem. Eliashib, Israel’s high priest, was actually allied with these two wicked men (13:4)! Earlier in the chapter we read of him allowing Tobiah to occupy the very room within the temple which was supposed to be used for storing tithes and offerings—which the priests weren’t bothering to collect from the people. This evil situation developed during the twelve-year period when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem, serving the king of Persia.
This is like what happened to God's church in the 1970s when Mr. Armstrong was away from headquarters on his world tours. In Nehemiah's day, enemies of God’s Work infiltrated the Levitical priesthood (a symbol of the New Testament ministry) and influenced high ranking officials in his absence, turning them away from God’s mission and purpose. Eliashib the high priest rebelled against the spirit of all that Nehemiah had been trying to achieve in Jerusalem. Likewise, when Mr. Armstrong returned home from touring the world he learned that his own son had been corrupted by others who brought in liberalism from the outside, that the liberalism was spreading like cancer and that the government of God had been shut off right below his level. Satan had found a way to infect God's church with a slow and subtle infiltration.
In Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:1-3, 6-9 and 6:1-19 we read of many trials which the Jews faced as they tried to restore Jerusalem during the Persian period. God had predicted that the city would be rebuilt “in troublesome times“ (Daniel 9:25). One very difficult problem was that the Jews who were trying to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple were accused of insurrection against the civil government (the Persian empire was actually the second in a series of four world-ruling empires prophesied in the book of Daniel, ordained by God—Romans 13:1-2; Daniel 4:17, 25, 32). Their enemies accused them of intending to set up Nehemiah as king!
Note Nehemiah 6:17-19. This tells of a spy network—double agents in Judah—who were passing on information about Israel’s restoration plans to foreign enemies. Notice that interracial marriage facilitated the spies’ ability to do this.
In Nehemiah 13:28 we read that Sanballat’s family had married into the family of the high priest. This was illegal according to God’s law (Leviticus 21:13-15; Ezekiel 44:22)—a major sin which defiled the very priesthood (v.29)! Incredible!
Nehemiah returned to find this dreadful situation at Jerusalem. He had to get the restored Jewish community back on track! The fact that God had given Israel a city and a temple of its own once again was supremely important—even though Israel was not a sovereign nation, but a vassal state under the dominion of the Persian empire (Nehemiah 9:36-38). This Jewish restoration paved the way for Christ's first coming (Daniel 9:25-26), and was a model of the ultimate restoration of Israel which will occur at Christ's second coming and the ultimate fall of Babylon (Daniel 9:24; book of Revelation).
Let’s back up in our study to the beginning of the Persian restoration. Zerubbabel and Joshua were like Moses and Aaron, because they were the human leaders—one the civil leader, one the religious leader—at a time when God was bringing Israel out from bondage in order to establish them in the Promised Land. “Obviously this Persian restoration was not as important as the Exodus had been, but the Bible ranks it pretty high!” Dad commented (see Nehemiah 12:1).
We want to look at the sons of Joshua in this record. In verse 22, we read of Johanan, or Jonathan, and in verse 26 we want to note that Joshua is a son of Jehozadak. If you compare this to 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 you can trace it all the way back to Aaron. This is how we know that Joshua was a high priest. These passages show that Joshua was of the priestly line, the high priest of his day—but without a temple! In fact, Zerubbabel was of the kingly line, a direct descendant of kings David and Jehoiachin, mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy—but a king without a throne!
At this point let’s pause to look up that law forbidding the priests to intermarry with another race. Leviticus 21:14-15 expressly forbids this. Also see Ezekiel 44:22, showing that in the world tomorrow, the same prohibition against interracial marriage will apply to the priests! This is a very serious matter.
It is entirely possible that God made sure Ezekiel recorded his millennial temple vision so that the Israelites who lived during the Persian period would understand easily that God’s laws were still valid! The fact that Israel had gone into captivity didn’t nullify their obligation to obey His laws. Read Ezekiel 44: 4-6, 9-12. In this section God commanded His people to “mark well those who may enter the temple.” God cared deeply about keeping the priesthood pure.
Getting back to Nehemiah’s time, when Eliashib the high priest allowed Tobiah—an enemy and uncircumcised foreigner—to come into the temple, he was sinning greatly. And marrying into the priestly line was simply unthinkable!
Let’s see what happened when Ezra stepped into this picture. Ezra 6:14-15 is actually about 60 years later, in time sequence, than Ezra 7. The first few verses of Ezra 7 are a greatly abridged genealogy of Ezra. He too was of the priestly line. We must notice as well that Ezra was an expert scholar, a scribe of the highest caliber. In fact it was through Ezra that God preserved the entire Old Testament. Ezra canonized it, put the finishing touches on it (including such editorial comments as “and so it is to this day” found throughout the books of Moses and elsewhere).
Ezra had excellent reasons for including genealogies in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. Nehemiah 7:5 shows that God put it into Nehemiah's heart to record the genealogy. It was very important for the Jews of that time to be strongly connected with their roots. These lineages linked the meager remnant of Israel during the Persian period to the time of kings David and Solomon when Israel had flourished, and to the history of Israel before the disastrous Babylonian captivity. This genealogy was a link to their history and a link to God, to the time when God's throne was ruling Israel through its kings—or was supposed to be (consider 1 Chronicles 29:23).
It is worth noticing that in Malachi 4:4-6 there is a note regarding Elijah the prophet at the end of the age. He restores the truth of who Israel is to the Israelites! (That’s what “turning the hearts of the children to their fathers” means.) Mr. Armstrong accomplished this to a degree, but not to a full extent. It appears that the final Elijah will use what Mr. Armstrong brought to light in his book The United States and Britain In Prophecy to educate the modern day nations of Israel as to who they are and what that means—as well as educating them in their own law (the books of Moses), especially chapters like Leviticus 26!
Back to the story: during the Persian era, there was trouble from without and trouble from within, with extensive interracial marriage wreaking havoc on the Israelites. Ezra arrived on the scene, and found this state of affairs as disgusting as Nehemiah did. Being an expert in the law, he recognized immediately the seriousness of this. The people knew that this was wrong too. Ezra prayed for the nation. He no doubt remembered Joshua’s great mistake—permitting hostile Canaanites to remain in the land which God was giving to Israel (Joshua 9).
Note: Joshua's mistake was not merely forgetting to ask God for His counsel—although that is the main reason why Joshua was duped—no, the primary evil of the mistake was that Israel did not remain racially separated from the nations around them—which led directly and inevitably to religious corruption (the nations worshipped other gods). Ezra did not want to repeat Joshua's error! He knew the only end for a racially intermixed Israel would be a return to captivity.
In Ezra 10 the nation swore they would break up the interracial marriages. A covenant to do this was made. You can compare accounts in Nehemiah 13:23-27. It had gotten so bad that the leaders, the people and the priests (supposed to be teachers of the law, spiritual guides) were all infected with this sin. Notice the solution: all of the foreigners and the half-breed children had to leave the land. It was that important!
To refresh just how critical this is, read Deuteronomy 7:1-4, Joshua 9 and Judges 2-3. It was imperative that Israel be separate from the world in order to remain close to God (Exodus 20:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). It was a preventive measure. God’s entire way of life is based on stopping evil before it happens. (Consider the Biblical health laws that are designed to prevent one from becoming sick—and Matthew 5 which shows that the observance of the spirit of the law is the key to the prevention of physical sin.)
There is a huge lesson in all of this. It is the very first lesson in the Bible—that of the two trees in the garden of Eden. Never follow Satan instead of God. Think about Joshua’s great mistake. It resulted in a league being made with God’s enemies (who did not regard Him as the Supreme Being of creation!)—this league allowed Satan to get his foot in Israel's door through interracial marriage. Close family ties that crossed religious boundaries caused the people of God to follow the devil!
Think about this in the context of the church today. Can Satan be disguised even as a Church of God minister? Yes! (See 2 Cor. 11:14-15.) It is clear that many ministers today are stamping out the doctrines which God put into the church through Mr. Armstrong. This kind of thing has been happening to the Work of God for over 6,000 years: whenever God creates something, Satan tries to destroy it. (Revelation 12 shows that even before God's child was to be born, Satan was ready and waiting to kill it.)
Let’s get back to the story. Linking Ezra 10:6 and Nehemiah 13:28 we see that Ezra was extremely distressed when he found that Eliashib’s grandson, a high priest—had fallen into this evil. Ezra couldn’t bear to eat or drink. In recording these events, however, Ezra was kind to the people involved—he did not mention many specifics about the defiled priesthood, probably out of respect for the leaders and a genuine desire not to promote a spirit of gossip. Nonetheless the truth is there: the high priest and the general priesthood were corrupt at the core. A high priest had to be put out of his office due to interracial marriage. This made Ezra sick, literally.
Again recall Mr. Armstrong’s very similar circumstances with his son. What do you do when someone very high up the church authority ladder is discovered to be in league with enemies of the Work? You love this someone very much! The only answer is: you have to put God first—put the unrepentant sinners out (remove the liberal ministers who would not change). Mr. HWA was in effect cleansing the priesthood. He did his best to put Satan’s ways out of God's church; ministers who wouldn't give up those ways had to be put out. This is the principle found in Malachi 2 and 3 regarding purifying the sons of Levi. It happened in Ezra’s day and again in the 1970s. Mr. Armstrong, as the highest ranking member of the church—the apostle—had the right and duty to cleanse the church. Ezra and Nehemiah had the authority to cleanse Israel (Ezra 10:18-19).
Now let’s read Malachi 2:1-9 and 3:1-3. The priests (or today, the ministers) are supposed to be God’s faithful messengers, accurately relaying His Word to the people (1 Corinthians 4:2 also). Sometimes they fail to do this. In order to clean things up, God sends correction from the top down. God's correction comes like a powerful cleaning agent. It burns! It really cleans things up. The history in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time is prophetic history that will be fulfilled again—it comes right down to our time today. The Elijah prophecy is for the second coming of Christ.
Mr. Armstrong cleansed the church, as when Haggai and Zechariah came along and got the temple built. Now, decades after Mr. Armstrong, the Work has gone awry, fallen asleep. It needs cleansing—it needs the spirit found in Ezra and Nehemiah.
In conclusion: while realizing the gravity of this, let’s also remember that we’re all human. We all need forgiveness. The priests repented and offered sacrifices in Nehemiah’s time, according to the laws given in Leviticus 4. If done sincerely, God accepts this, whatever the sin is. We are all guilty of sin. All seven churches of Revelation 2-3, both the ones needing strong correction and the ones generally doing well, still need to be perfected during their human lifetimes. All people, ministers and brethren alike, can be forgiven. Let's all have a forgiving heart toward others regarding the problems in the church today—but let's not allow any of Satan's sinful ways to enter our midst, not one bit.
This Bible study was given by Matthew Kalliman on 9/11/09