We see this happen so often throughout the Bible. The leader leaves for a little while and everything goes to pot. Nehemiah had gone back to his duties with the King and the people of Jerusalem reverted back to lost sheep without a shepherd. Even the priests and leaders of the city were slipping. This reminds us how important good influences and great leadership are on our lives.
Now, its easy to start judging and mocking these people for their failures and lack of obedience, but we need to remember the background to this story. These people had just come out of decades of captivity in foreign lands with foreign gods and foreign cultures. They have been immersed and raised in cultures that lived for themselves and worshipped other gods. A majority of the people living in Jerusalem may have truly wanted to follow the Lord's law and live for Him, but slowly faded away and back in to their comforts or their habits. Its easy to slip a little here and a little there in the every day mundane things and then find yourself far off from where you wanted to be and have no idea how you got there. I can definitely relate, can't you?
Let's take a look into what is going wrong:
Ammonites and Moabites were being included in the assembly of the Lord
- it was in the Book of Moses that they should not be included because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them.
Eliashib the priest has given one of the temple rooms to Tobiah the Ammonite
- Tobiah the Ammonite was neither a priest nor a Levite so it was unlawful for him to be living in the temple
- Tobiah the Ammonite was one of the main people against the rebuilding of the walls
The portions assigned to the Levite and singers for the service had not been given to them
- the people had vowed to support and maintain the temple
There were men working on the Sabbath as well as merchants from other cities selling in Jerusalem on the Sabbath
-Observing the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments the Lord gave us
- There were strict rules to working and selling on the Sabbath, all of which were read to the people of Jerusalem and fully understood at the time they made their vows
The people of Jerusalem were marrying foreigners when it was a strict law of the Lord not to.
- there was a very obvious reason to this law and the pages of history proved its significance. Many of the Lord's people and important leaders had been tempted and influenced by foreign women into worshipping other gods and having foreign idols
- The Lord's people were to be holy and set apart from other people. They had a covenant with the Lord and had been blessed by them as His people. Intermarrying was strictly forbidden.
On a different note, I have to admit that I get a little offended when I read some things in the Old Testament about excluding outsiders and not allowing intermarriages etc. For example, Verse 1:
"On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God"
My first instinct is to be upset and angry that the Lord would exclude people that want to be apart of his assembly. People that want to worship Him or become a part of His people. I am so used to Jesus being my Savior and our call to go out and make fishers of men from every tribe tongue and nation that I forget about the Holiness of God. I forget about why we needed Jesus in the first place. I forget that we are such sinners that we needed a Perfect Lamb to make atonements on our behalf because our God is so Holy that He despises and damns even the smallest speckle of sin. Our Holy God demands absolute holiness and not one of us can give that to Him.
I am so thankful for my Jesus.
So after God reminds me of this, my anger begins to subside and I start to see the text in a different light. It is not "why Lord, WHY, were you so mean that you excluded people and didn't let them into your assembly because they made a mistake" it is now "Oh Lord WHY did you choose to lavish a people undeserved of You with your blessing?!" "Why did you not blot us out from the earth?" "Why do you put up with our sin over and over again." "Jesus why did you die for us" "Why do you choose to love us." "Why do you choose to love me....."
"For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession."
1 John 3:1
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"