Nehemiah’s Pleas to God
“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” (v. 14).- Nehemiah 13:1–14
Much of the book of Nehemiah is drawn from Nehemiah’s memoirs of his service in Jerusalem, so the work is punctuated by personal observances and prayers that Nehemiah uttered at the time of the events described or later as he was writing the history. Several of these prayers call on the Lord to remember Nehemiah’s faithful service as the governor of postexilic Judah (e.g., Neh. 5:19; 13:14, 31). They are, in essence, appeals to God to reward him for his obedience. Such appeals may seem strange to us, for we are not quick to ask for the Lord to repay us for our faithfulness. However, Scripture contains many prayers in which the saints speak of God’s dealing with them according to their righteousness or innocence, the implication being that God blessed them for their obedience (e.g., Pss. 7:8; 18:20, 24; 73:13). These examples show that at times it is right for us to humbly appeal to how we have faithfully served the Lord as we ask for His blessing, even as we remember that we have never served God perfectly.
Today’s passage reveals some of the good that Nehemiah did in his second term as governor of Judah. According to Nehemiah 13:6, we see that “in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon,” he returned to the Persian palace. From chronological indicators found in other texts such as Nehemiah 1:1, we can determine that Nehemiah left Jerusalem in 433 BC, twelve years after the wall was finished in 445 BC. Evidently, Nehemiah believed that Judah was in a good enough state defensively and spiritually that he could go back to being the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes I, also known as “king of Babylon” because Babylon was part of the Persian Empire.
In Nehemiah’s absence, however, things went downhill fast. Tobiah the Ammonite, who had opposed Nehemiah and the wall project, had a chamber in the temple, violating the law that impenitent Ammonites could not enter the sanctuary (13:1–5). Through family connections—Tobiah was related by marriage to many Jews, including Eliashib the priest (v. 4; see 6:17–18)—Tobiah had set up camp in the place that was to be most free of pagan influence. Hearing this, Nehemiah rushed back to Jerusalem sometime after 433 BC, taking up the governorship again and ejecting Tobiah. Nehemiah also found that the Levites were not being supported as the law prescribed, and he acted to rectify that situation (13:6–14). The people needed a righteous governor to remain faithful to the Lord.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “Deeds done for the house of God and the offices of it, for the support of religion and the encouragement of it, are good deeds. . . . They shall in no wise lose their reward.” The Lord will reward those who are zealous for His worship. If we are zealous for His worship, we can rightly expect a reward, particularly in the age to come.
Passages for Further Study
1 Cor. 3:10–15