This devotional is written by Rebekah Holden. Actress & writer. Literature lover. Jane Austen fanatic.

Nehemiah 13:15-31

15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn't your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath."

19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, "Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you." From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God's name and said: "You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?"

28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.

29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.

30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.

Remember me with favor, my God.


‘Remember me with favour my God' (verse 31)

On first glance, this seems like a slightly terrifying passage with hair pulling, cursing and beatings, but on second reading, I realised that it is about a man that is passionate about doing what is right.

There is a repeated pattern in the Bible of God's people rebelling, God showing mercy and then history repeating itself.

The community of people that Nehemiah was governing has already been exiled once for disregarding God's law and were going the same way again after God had restored everything. You can see why Nehemiah got angry when he saw what was happening. This was a man that was passionate about doing right by God.

If he was at St Mary's, John Peters would probably call him a truth teller. By that I mean he cared more about speaking truth than being liked by people.

This was a special community, set apart with a strong identity as God's people, called to be different. However, they were in danger of losing that identity because they were so influenced by external pressures and were becoming like everyone else. Their example (or witness) was weakened.

In many ways I think Nehemiah must have had a lot of strength; he always aimed to do what was right, even if no one else was.

Whilst we are no longer under law, we still face external pressures that are harmful as modern Christians, just like Nehemiah's community did.

What would it look like if our primary motive was to please God above pleasing others? Can you think of modern examples of pressures that we face now?

Whilst I don't recommend pulling out men's hair in anger, a passion for what is right is not necessarily bad. Ask God if there are things in the world that he would like us/you to challenge rather than conform to.

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