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©Michael Player

Chapter 13:4-14 (ESV)

Posted on November 16, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 13:4-14 (ESV) -  Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 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.

Question to consider: Why was Nehemiah not in Jerusalem?

When Nehemiah first requested that king Artaxerxes let him return to Jerusalem to restart the building campaign, the king asked, “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” His term as governor of the vassal state of Israel was always meant to be temporary, and he appointed his brother, Hanani to govern once he left. Apparently, under Hanani’s watch, Eliashib the priest was appointed over the chambers of the temple. Eliashib used that appointment to empty out the warehouse which stored the equipment, oils, grains, and wine necessary to maintain the ministry of the holy place— things like the table of the showbread, lampstand, and altar of incense. In their place, he built a fancy apartment for his relative, Tobiah the Ammonite— one of the enemies of Israel who interfered with the rebuilding project.

It doesn’t say how they were related, but I’d imagine it was a close relation in order for Eliashib to do such a thing. We know that the men of Israel sent away their Ammonite wives so it’s possible that his wife was of Ammonite descent but had converted to Judaism. Although it's possible that her conversion was genuine, it could also have been politically motivated to keep the connection open between Eliashib and her father. However Eliashib and Tobiah were related, allowing Tobiah, a Gentile, to live inside its courts was a sin against God. Gentiles were not allowed to enter the temple court, let alone live there. I would guess that word got back to Nehemiah via his brother Hanani. Nehemiah made a special trip back to Jerusalem to throw Tobiah out on his ear. When he found out that Eliashib had also forsaken the house of God by keeping the portion owed to the Levites so they had to abandon their duties and raise their own food to feed their families, he appointed new leadership. Honestly, I am surprised Eliashib wasn't stoned to death for his actions.

While it is good that word got back to Nehemiah to intervene, it makes me wonder why Hanani hadn’t taken these steps himself. Personally, I am not one who enjoys conflict, but the solution is not to avoid it or sweep it under the rug but to resolve it. Strength in leadership requires someone to stand up for what is right even if it is unpopular.

Nehemiah’s prayer was not in throwing Tobiah out of Jerusalem but in allowing this situation to arise to begin with. When it comes to filing a leadership role, it is important to be able to discern the character of potential candidates. We tend to judge people based on external qualities and job experience rather than character and discernment skills.


Dear heavenly Father, please help us to find people of character when filling leadership positions in the church and to be the kind of people who stand for truth and for our neighbor even when it is difficult to do so. Amen.