“You have been washed clean, . . . you have been sanctified.”
1. What disturbing developments did Nehemiah discover when he returned to Jerusalem? (See opening image.)
RESIDENTS of Jerusalem are talking. A notorious foreigner is staying in a temple chamber. Levites are abandoning their assignment. Instead of taking the lead in worship, elders are trading on the Sabbath. Many Israelites are marrying non-Jews. These are just some of the disturbing developments that Nehemiah discovers when he returns to Jerusalem sometime after 443 B.C.E.
2. How did Israel become a sanctified nation?
2 Israel was a nation dedicated to God. In 1513 B.C.E., the Israelites were eager to comply with Jehovah’s will. They said: “All the words that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” (Ex. 24:3) So God sanctified them, or set them apart as his chosen people. What a privilege that was! Forty years later, Moses reminded them: “You are a holy people to Jehovah your God. It is you Jehovah your God has chosen to become his people, a special property, out of all the peoples that are on the surface of the ground.”
3. What was the spiritual state of the Jews when Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem a second time?
3 Sadly, Israel’s initial enthusiasm about being a holy nation did not last long. Although there were always some individuals who served God, the Jews in general were often more concerned about appearing to be holy, or devout, than they were about doing God’s will. By the time that Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem a second time, about a hundred years had passed since a faithful remnant had returned from Babylon to restore true worship. Once again, the nation’s zeal for spiritual things was flagging.
4. We will consider what factors that can help us to remain a sanctified people?
4 Like the Israelites, Witnesses of Jehovah today have been sanctified by God in a general sense. Both anointed Christians and those of the “great crowd” are holy, set apart for sacred service. (Rev. 7:9, 14, 15; 1 Cor. 6:11) None of us want to lose our sanctified standing before God as the Israelites eventually did. What can help us to prevent this from happening so that we can remain holy and useful in Jehovah’s service? In this study, we will consider four factors highlighted in Nehemiah chapter 13: (1) Avoid bad associations; (2) support theocratic arrangements; (3) put spiritual things first; and (4) preserve your Christian identity. Let us now examine each of these points.
AVOID BAD ASSOCIATIONS
5, 6. Who were Eliashib and Tobiah, and why might Eliashib have been associating with Tobiah?
5 Read Nehemiah 13:4-9. We are surrounded by unclean influences, so it is not easy for us to remain holy. Consider Eliashib and Tobiah. Eliashib was the high priest, and Tobiah was an Ammonite and likely a petty official in the Persian administration of Judea. Tobiah and his associates had opposed Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. (Neh. 2:10) Ammonites were forbidden to come onto the temple grounds. (Deut. 23:3) So why would the high priest provide space in a temple dining hall for such a man as Tobiah?
6 Tobiah had become a close associate of Eliashib. Tobiah and his son Jehohanan had married Jewish women, and many Jews spoke highly of Tobiah. (Neh. 6:17-19) One of Eliashib’s grandsons was married to the daughter of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, who was one of Tobiah’s closest associates. (Neh. 13:28) These ties may explain why High Priest Eliashib allowed an unbeliever and opposer to influence him. But Nehemiah showed loyalty to Jehovah by throwing all of Tobiah’s furniture outside the dining hall.
7. How do elders and others avoid defiling their sanctified position before Jehovah?
7 As a people dedicated to God, our first loyalty must always be to Jehovah. Unless we adhere to his righteous standards, we will not remain sanctified before him. We must not let family ties overshadow Bible principles. Christian elders are guided by Jehovah’s thinking, not by their own opinions or feelings. (1 Tim. 5:21) The elders carefully avoid doing anything that might compromise their standing with God.
8. What should all dedicated servants of Jehovah remember when it comes to their associations?
8 We do well to remember that “bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) Some of our relatives might not be a positive influence in our lives. Eliashib had set a good example for the people by fully supporting Nehemiah in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. (Neh. 3:1) In time, however, the unwholesome influence of Tobiah and others apparently led Eliashib to do things that left him defiled before Jehovah. Good associates encourage us to engage in useful Christian pursuits, such as reading the Bible, attending Christian meetings, and sharing in the field service. Family members who influence us to do what is right are especially loved and appreciated.
SUPPORT THEOCRATIC ARRANGEMENTS
9. Why were the temple arrangements being disrupted, and whom did Nehemiah blame for this?
9 Read Nehemiah 13:10-13. It appears that contributions to the temple had all but stopped by the time Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem. Not having this support, the Levites were abandoning their assignments and going off to work in their fields. Nehemiah blamed the deputy rulers for the situation. Apparently, they were not caring for their duties. Either they were not collecting the people’s tithes or they were not forwarding them to the temple, as they had been assigned to do. (Neh. 12:44) So Nehemiah took steps to have the tithes collected. He appointed trustworthy men to oversee the temple stores and future distributions.
10, 11. What privilege do God’s people have in supporting true worship?
10 Is there a lesson here for us? Yes, for we are reminded that we have the privilege of honoring Jehovah with our valuable things. (Prov. 3:9) When we make contributions to support his work, we are merely giving to Jehovah what already belongs to him. (1 Chron. 29:14-16) We may not think that we have much to give, but if the desire is there, all of us can have a share.
11 For many years, one large family invited an elderly special pioneer couple to join them for a meal once each week. Although the parents had eight children, the mother used to say, “What are two more plates at a table set for ten?” A weekly meal may not seem like much, but how thankful those pioneers were for the hospitality shown! They, in turn, proved to be a blessing to their hosts. The encouraging words and experiences of the couple helped to motivate the children to make spiritual progress. All of them later took up the full-time ministry.
12. What fine example is being set by appointed men in the congregation?
12 Another lesson is this: Like Nehemiah, appointed men today take the lead in supporting theocratic arrangements. Others in the congregation benefit from their example. In this, elders also imitate the apostle Paul. He supported true worship and gave helpful direction. For instance, he offered a number of practical suggestions on how to make contributions.
PUT SPIRITUAL THINGS FIRST
13. How were some of the Jews not respecting the Sabbath?
13 Read Nehemiah 13:15-21. If we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with material things, our spirituality can gradually be lost. According to Exodus 31:13, the weekly Sabbath was to remind the Israelites that they were a sanctified people. The Sabbath day was to be set aside for family worship, prayer, and meditation on God’s Law. For some of Nehemiah’s contemporaries, though, the Sabbath had become just another day
14, 15. (a) What can happen to us if we do not limit our commercial interests? (b) How can we enter into God’s rest?
14 What can we learn from Nehemiah’s example? One lesson is that we should limit our commercial interests. Otherwise, we might easily become distracted
15 Although Christians are not required to observe a weekly Sabbath, Paul tells us that “there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” He added: “The man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own.” (Heb. 4:9, 10) As Christians, we can enter into God’s rest by obediently working in harmony with his advancing purpose. Are you and your loved ones giving family worship, meeting attendance, and the field ministry first place in your lives? We may have to be resolute with our employer or business associates, especially if they do not respect our theocratic priorities. In effect, we may need ‘to close the gates to the city and chase the Tyrians away’ in order to give priority and proper attention to sacred things. Because we have been sanctified, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Does the way I live demonstrate that I have been set apart for Jehovah’s service?’
PRESERVE YOUR CHRISTIAN IDENTITY
16. How was the very identity of the nation as a sanctified people being threatened in Nehemiah’s day?
16 Read Nehemiah 13:23-27. In Nehemiah’s day, Israelite men were marrying foreign women. During his first visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah had all the older men sign a written agreement pledging that they would not marry pagans. (Neh. 9:38; 10:30) A few years later, however, he found that not only had Jewish men taken foreign wives but they were about to lose their very identity as God’s sanctified people! The children of these foreign women could not read or speak Hebrew. When they got older, would they identify themselves as Israelites? Or would they rather think of themselves as Ashdodites, Ammonites, or Moabites? Without knowing the Hebrew language, was it likely that they would be able to understand God’s Law? How could they get to know Jehovah and choose to serve him instead of the false gods their mothers worshipped? Swift and decisive action was needed, and Nehemiah took such action.
17. How can parents help their children to have a personal relationship with Jehovah?
17 Today, we need to take positive action in order to help our children acquire a Christian identity. Parents, ask yourselves, ‘How well do my children speak the “pure language” of Scriptural truth? (Zeph. 3:9) Does my children’s conversation reflect the influence of God’s spirit or that of the world?’ Do not quickly become discouraged if you see room for improvement. It takes time to learn a language, especially when we are surrounded by distractions. Your children are facing tremendous pressures to compromise. Therefore, patiently use your Family Worship sessions and other opportunities to help your children to develop a close relationship with Jehovah. (Deut. 6:6-9) Highlight the benefits of being different from Satan’s world. (John 17:15-17) And work to reach the heart.
18. Why are Christian parents in the best position to prepare their children for making a dedication to Jehovah?
18 Ultimately, each child will make his or her own decision about serving God. Yet, there is much that parents can do. This includes setting a proper example, specifying clear boundaries, and discussing with your children the consequences of decisions. Parents, no one is in a better position than you are to prepare your children for making a dedication to Jehovah. They need your help to acquire and preserve their Christian identity. Of course, all of us need to be on guard so that we do not lose our figurative “outer garments”
REMEMBERED “FOR GOOD”
19, 20. How can we be remembered by Jehovah “for good”?
19 One of Nehemiah’s contemporaries was the prophet Malachi, who revealed that “a book of remembrance began to be written up . . . for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.” (Mal. 3:16, 17) God will never forget those who have reverential fear of him and love for his name.
20 Nehemiah prayed: “Do remember me, O my God, for good.” (Neh. 13:31) Like Nehemiah, our names will be in God’s book of remembrance if we continue to avoid bad associations, support theocratic arrangements, give spiritual matters priority, and safeguard our Christian identity. Let us ‘keep testing whether we are in the faith.’ (2 Cor. 13:5) If we maintain our sanctified relationship with Jehovah, he will remember us “for good.”