“You have been washed clean, . . . you have been sanctified.”
1. What did Nehemiah see when he returned to Jerusalem? (See opening picture.)
THE people of Jerusalem are shocked. Why? A known opposer of Jehovah is allowed to stay in a room at the temple. The Levites are no longer doing their assigned work. Instead of putting Jehovah first, the elders are doing business on the Sabbath day. And many Israelites have married women from other nations. These are just some of the problems Nehemiah sees when he returns to Jerusalem.
2. Why was Israel a holy nation?
2 About a thousand years earlier, the Israelites were willing to obey Jehovah. They said: “All the words that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” (Exodus 24:3) God chose them to be his people and wanted them to be holy and separate from other nations. This was a great honor! 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 had happened to true worship when Nehemiah made his second trip to Jerusalem?
3 Sadly, the nation of Israel did not do what it promised to do. There were always some individuals who served God, but most of the Jews were not willing to obey Jehovah and only pretended to be holy. Nehemiah made a second trip to Jerusalem about a hundred years after a remnant had returned to rebuild the city. They wanted to rebuild it so that they could worship Jehovah again. But by the time Nehemiah made this second trip, true worship was no longer first in the Jews’ lives.
4. How can we remain holy and acceptable to Jehovah?
4 Like the Israelites, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sanctified by God. Both anointed Christians and those of the “great crowd” are holy and serve only Jehovah. (Revelation 7:9, 14, 15; 1 Corinthians 6:11) The Israelites lost their relationship with Jehovah because they did not remain holy. We do not want the same thing to happen to us. So how can we remain holy and acceptable to Jehovah? Nehemiah chapter 13 teaches us four ways that will help us to do this. They are (1) avoid bad association; (2) support Jehovah’s work; (3) put Jehovah’s service first; and (4) protect our Christian identity. Let us now discuss each of these ways.
AVOID BAD ASSOCIATION
5, 6. Who were Eliashib and Tobiah? Why may Eliashib have given Tobiah a place in the temple?
5 Read Nehemiah 13:4-9. We are surrounded by bad influences that can make us unholy, or unclean. The Bible tells us about High Priest Eliashib and a man named Tobiah, who was an Ammonite probably working for the Persian king. Tobiah and his friends had tried to make Nehemiah stop rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. (Nehemiah 2:10) It was against God’s Law to allow Ammonites to come onto the temple grounds. (Deuteronomy 23:3) So why would the high priest give such a man as Tobiah space in a temple dining hall?
6 There are three reasons: First, Eliashib was a friend of Tobiah. Second, Tobiah and his son Jehohanan had married Jewish women, and many Jews said good things about Tobiah. (Nehemiah 6:17-19) Third, Tobiah was a very close friend of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, who was a member of High Priest Eliashib’s family. Sanballat’s daughter was married to one of Eliashib’s grandsons. (Nehemiah 13:28) All these relationships may explain why Eliashib allowed Tobiah to tell him what to do, even though Tobiah was not an Israelite and was opposed to the work of God’s people. But Nehemiah showed loyalty to Jehovah by throwing all of Tobiah’s furniture outside the dining hall.
7. How do all of God’s people, including elders, make sure that they remain holy?
7 We are God’s dedicated people, so our loyalty to Jehovah must come first in our life. Sometimes, though, we might be tempted to ignore Bible principles because we want to be loyal to our family. But if we do not live by Bible principles, Jehovah will begin to view us as unholy. Christian elders make decisions based on Jehovah’s thinking, not based on their own opinions or feelings for others. (1 Timothy 5:21) The elders are careful never to do anything that would make them harm their friendship with God.
We need to associate with people who encourage us to do good things
8. What should we remember about our association?
8 Never forget that “bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Even some of our relatives could be bad association, that is, they might influence us to do bad things. At one time, High Priest Eliashib was a good example and worked with Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. (Nehemiah 3:1) But Tobiah and others were bad association for Eliashib. They influenced him to do things that were wrong, and this made him unholy. We need to associate with people who encourage us to do good things, such as reading the Bible, attending the meetings, and going in field service. We can be especially grateful when our family members encourage us to do what is right.
SUPPORT JEHOVAH’S WORK
9. What was the situation at the temple? What did Nehemiah do to correct the situation?
9 Read Nehemiah 13:10-13. The Levites were not doing their assigned work at the temple. Why? People were contributing very little money to the temple, so the Levites had to work in their own fields to care for their families. And the rulers who were assigned to collect the tithes were either not collecting them or not sending them to the temple. (Nehemiah 12:44) Nehemiah made sure that these contributions were collected, and he appointed faithful men to give the tithes to the Levites.
10, 11. How can we support true worship?
10 What can we learn from this account? It is an honor to use our valuable things to support Jehovah’s work. (Proverbs 3:9) When we make such contributions, we are giving back to Jehovah what already belongs to him. (1 Chronicles 29:14-16) We may think that since we have little to give, our contributions are too small to honor Jehovah. But if we are willing to give, he is happy to accept our gift.
If we are willing to give, Jehovah is happy to accept our gift
11 For many years, one family with eight children invited an elderly special pioneer couple to join them for a meal once each week. The mother used to say that since she was already cooking for ten people, it would not be difficult to cook for two more. This may seem like a small thing, but those pioneers were very thankful! The pioneers also helped the family by telling good experiences and encouraging the children to make progress in the truth. Later, the children all began full-time service.
12. What good example do elders and ministerial servants set?
12 The account about Nehemiah also teaches us that elders and ministerial servants should be an example in Jehovah’s worship. This helps others in the congregation. The apostle Paul was a good example for the congregation. He supported true worship and suggested ways in which each Christian could plan ahead to make contributions.
PUT JEHOVAH FIRST
13. What were some Jews doing on the Sabbath?
13 Read Nehemiah 13:15-21. If we use too much time thinking about material things and working to obtain them, we can lose our relationship with Jehovah. Exodus 31:13 explains that the Israelites were supposed to use the weekly Sabbath as a time to remember their relationship with Jehovah as his separate and holy people. The Jews were told to use the Sabbath day to worship with their families, to pray, and to meditate on God’s Law. But some of the Israelites in Nehemiah’s time used the Sabbath day to do business, just as they used the other days of the week. So Nehemiah chased the foreign merchants out of the city and closed the gates before the Sabbath began.
14, 15. (a) What can happen if we spend too much time trying to make money? (b) How can we enter into God’s rest?
14 What can we learn from this? One lesson is that we should not become distracted and spend a lot of time trying to make money. We can be distracted by our work, especially if we enjoy it. But remember that Jesus said that we cannot slave for two masters. (Read Matthew 6:24.) Nehemiah could have made a lot of money, and he could have used his time doing business with the Tyrians and other merchants. But what did he do instead? (Nehemiah 5:14-18) He worked hard to help his brothers and to bring honor to Jehovah’s name. In the same way, Christian elders and ministerial servants spend their time and energy on helping the congregation. Members of the congregation love them for this. As a result, God’s people love one another, have peace with one another, and feel secure.
15 Christians are not required to keep a Sabbath day each week. But Paul said 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.” (Hebrews 4:9, 10) As Christians, we can do “sabbath resting,” that is, enter “into God’s rest,” by obeying Jehovah and working to support his purpose. Are you and your family putting Jehovah first in your lives by having family worship, attending the meetings, and going in field service? Our employer or the people we work with may not think that these things are important. So we may have to be firm and make it clear to them that Jehovah’s work is the most important work to us. This is similar to what Nehemiah did when he chased the Tyrians away and closed the gates of the city. He was putting Jehovah first. Because we are God’s separate and holy people, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Do I show by the way I live that I put Jehovah first?’
PROTECT YOUR CHRISTIAN IDENTITY
16. How were the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day in danger of losing their identity as God’s separate and holy people?
16 Read Nehemiah 13:23-27. In Nehemiah’s day, Israelite men were marrying foreign women. The first time Nehemiah was in Jerusalem, all the older men signed a written agreement and promised that they would not marry foreign women. (Nehemiah 9:38; 10:30) But during his second visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah found out that Jewish men were marrying foreign women and were about to lose their identity as God’s separate and holy people. The children of these foreign women could not read or speak Hebrew. When those children got older, would they think of themselves as Israelites? Or would they think of themselves as foreigners, that is, as Ashdodites, Ammonites, or Moabites? If they could not understand Hebrew, it would be unlikely that they could understand God’s Law. It would be difficult for them to get to know Jehovah so that they would choose to serve him instead of the false gods their mothers worshipped. Nehemiah acted quickly to protect the Israelites’ identity.
17. How can parents help their children to have their own relationship with Jehovah?
17 We need to take action to help our children to have a Christian identity. Parents, ask yourselves, ‘How well do my children speak the “pure language,” that is, how well do they understand Bible truth and how much do they talk about it? (Zephaniah 3:9) Does what my children talk about show that they are influenced by God’s spirit? Or are they influenced by the world’s spirit?’ Do not quickly become discouraged if you see that your children need to improve. It takes time to learn a language, especially when there are many distractions. The world tries to pressure your children to disobey God. So be patient, and use your family worship and other opportunities to help your children to have a close relationship with Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) Remind them of why it is good for us to be different from Satan’s world. (John 17:15-17) And do all you can to reach their heart.
18. How can Christian parents help their children to make progress so that they choose to dedicate themselves to Jehovah?
18 Your children have to decide for themselves whether they will serve God or not. But as parents you can help them in many ways. You need to be a good example, explain clearly what conduct is unacceptable, and help them to understand what the consequences of bad decisions can be. Parents, your children need you to help them develop their Christian identity. You are the best ones to help them to make progress so that they choose to dedicate themselves to Jehovah. All of us need to protect our Christian identity, that is, to live by God’s standards and to be the kind of person he wants us to be.
JEHOVAH WILL REMEMBER US “FOR GOOD”
19, 20. What can we do so that Jehovah will remember us “for good”?
19 The prophet Malachi explained that Jehovah remembers ‘those in fear of Him and those thinking upon His name’ and that He puts their name in “a book of remembrance.” (Malachi 3:16, 17) God will never forget those who fear him and who love his name.
20 Nehemiah prayed: “Do remember me, O my God, for good.” (Nehemiah 13:31) He wanted Jehovah to remember how he had served Him. God will remember us too in his book of remembrance if we avoid bad association, support Jehovah’s work, put him first in our life, and protect our Christian identity. We must ‘keep testing whether we are in the faith.’ (2 Corinthians 13:5) If we do our best to remain part of Jehovah’s separate and holy people, he will remember us “for good.”