Bible Study Series on the Book of Nehemiah
Nehemiah 13:4-9 Tobiah Part 2: Get him off the throne!
by I Gordon
Neh 13:4-7 'Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils, and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.'
Bit of a jump I know, but the last part of this study is in Chapter 13, starting in vs 4. This is the only other section in the book of Nehemiah where we see the influence and tactics of the enemy. I'm sure there is a lot of good stuff in chapters 8-12 but genealogies have never done much for me. But in Neh 13:4-7 we have a new picture of Tobiah and how God's people use him. The scene is this: the walls and gates are fully restored, and many of the exiles have come back to dwell safely in Jerusalem. (Neh 7:4-73). The law of God is read to them, bringing both joy and repentance (Ch 8&9). The Levites are again instructed how to perform their priestly duties. With Nehemiah at the helm, everything is coming back into order and Israel is again living by the truth of God's word. This is the closest they have got to being a godly nation once again. Surely they couldn't ruin it from here could they? What in the whole wide world could possibly go wrong?
Well, something huge actually. We read in vs 4 'Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, and the frankincense...' So right in the heart of the temple, in the room that was formerly used to store the offering for God, sat Tobiah and his possessions! He had got in! Before this, even though many on the inside spoke of his good deeds, he was still on the outside. But now he was not only within the walls, but he was right in the place where he always saw himself - in the center of the Temple! How could this happen? Surely Nehemiah would have stopped it? Well, the answer is in vs 6 where we read 'But during this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty second year of Artaxerxes... I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked to leave from the king.' Nehemiah wasn't there! He set everything in order, then left for a short time and straight away they put the old nature in the heart of the temple! I don't know about you, but I reckon this is one of the clearest pictures of what happens in our own lives, our church life, and the history of God's people as a whole. All three pictures will now be looked at.
Our Life: When the presence and feelings have gone...
We saw earlier that Tobiah, the 'good' of our sinful nature, can get in through complacency and pride after a spiritual high or victory. But what this book also teaches us is that he can take over when Nehemiah leaves. So who is Nehemiah a picture of? I believe that Nehemiah is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the master builder of our salvation. When Nehemiah was around, Tobiah didn't have a chance. But unfortunately, the presence of Nehemiah is not always going to be there.1 This is how it is in our Christian lives. It's easy to 'trust the Lord' and be strong when Nehemiah (Jesus) seems close but what happens when his presence leaves?2 Well, what happened here is that they put Tobiah in the temple! They moved the true offerings out of the temple and replaced it with the old nature. The picture couldn't be clearer and its something we do all the time without knowing it!
What is the offering that God wants today? He wants us to offer ourselves. 'Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to offer yourselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your spiritual service of worship.' (Rom 12:1) So that is what people do, but its done with Tobiah sitting in the offering room in the temple. We offer him our abilities and strengths. We consecrate ourselves and re-surrender time and time again but it only amounts to offering up the old man because we have forgotten one very important principle. And that is, that we are to offer and 'present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead.' (Rom 6:13) If Tobiah is sitting in the temple we will seek to by-pass the death sentence on ourselves and offer God our natural strength. The offering that God accepts is as one alive from the dead. Recognising that we died with Christ and have no strength in ourselves, we offer to God our bodies to live in and through.
Offering God the good of your old nature is not what He is after. Being good is not good enough! After eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the human heart was pulled in both directions - towards evil and towards being good. But none of it was faith and none of it was dependence upon God. Most of us who have become Christians know fairly well that our good works can't save us, but we tend to think that once saved it's our job to grow and live the Christian life. Sure, we'll pray for 'help' and 'power' from God, but in the end it's up to us! If this is your understanding, then of course you will let Tobiah in, and give him a prominent position in God's temple. Why not, he's a good man isn't he? He can help can he not?
One Deceitful Old Man!
Even Faithful from Pilgrim's Progress was tempted to go after the Old Man (Tobiah). Please look at what happened after he had been talking to the Old Man. It's long but I have to write the whole thing!
Christian: Did you meet with any other assault as you traveled?
Faithful: When I came to the hill of difficulty, I met a very aged man who asked me who I was and where I was going. I told him that I was a pilgrim going to the Celestial City. Then he said "You look like an honest fellow; would you be content to live with me for the wages I shall give you?" Then I asked him his name and where he lived. He said his name was the First Adam and that he lived in the town of Deceit. I asked him then what kind of work he had and what wages he would pay. He told me that his work contained many delights and for my wages I should be his heir. I asked him what kind of house he had and what other servants. So he told me that his house contained all the delicious things in the world and his servants were his children. He said he had but three daughters: The Lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, and that I could marry them all if I liked. Then I asked him how long he wanted me to live with him, and he said as long as he himself lived. At first I was somewhat inclined to go with this man... but looking at his forehead as I talked with him, I saw written "Put off the old man with his deeds."
Christian: And then what?
Faithful: I told him that he could quit talking for I would not come near the door of his house. Then he reviled me and told me he would send one after me who would make my way miserable...Now when I had got about half way up, I looked behind and saw someone coming after me swift as the wind...As soon as the man overtook me, he knocked me down. When I came to myself I asked him why he had treated me so. He said "Because of your secret interest in the First Adam."
We'll look at what the answer is for this but I first want to look at this situation from the Church level.
The Church: Lights, camera, action.
We read earlier vs 4 which said that 'Eliashib the priest, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him...' One question must be asked - Why would a leader of God's people give Tobiah such a position once Nehemiah had left? Eliashib, for one reason or another, cannot have truly known Tobiah's nature. If he did, then Eliashib must have come under pressure to allow Tobiah in. And while it doesn't say it, the nobles of Jerusalem who had earlier written letters to Tobiah may have pressured him. They had spoken of his good deeds in Nehemiah's presence.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear and that is that not long after Nehemiah left, he was replaced with Tobiah. Scary thought that we would replace the true presence of God for the religion and manipulation of the old nature, but it is done none the less. Look at some of the hype and 'performances' in the western church. Even the world can spot it. Evangelism comes down to using the worlds marketing principles. Psychology has replaced the Bible in counselling. Fame and riches are now the will of God for our lives because 'Jesus was extremely rich when he was on earth!' The worship is usually of the rock band up the front, and for goodness sake, somebody unplug that person on the keyboards that just has to start up the emotional music when the preacher begins giving the altar call!3 For just a moment, try to put any of these principles into the context of the early church.
Now don't get me wrong. It's not all like this fortunately, but there's certainly enough of it around to see Tobiah at home in the western church. So getting back to the first question. Why does Tobiah get such a place in the church? I think it is mainly due to the pressure to perform, which incidentally, comes because of our fascination with numbers and outward success. The structure of the church doesn't help much either because it keeps the masses silent while one man is left to keep the show rolling. A lot of the church leaders who use these methods genuinely want people saved and growing in their Christian lives, but they are pragmatists - the end justifies the means. What did Nehemiah do when he got back? He 'threw all of Tobiah's household goods out of the room... and they cleansed the room; and I returned the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings... ' (vs 8-9) In other words, Nehemiah didn't care what success or good works Tobiah did. If the source of the deeds was the flesh, then God wouldn't accept the results4. The end certainly didn't justify the means. Again Nehemiah found himself back where he began - getting rid of the rubbish and re-establishing truth. What else could he do? Just leave Tobiah there and act like everything's ok? No, this was the only way to go ahead.
Our Need: To get to the heart of the problem
Neh 13:8-9 'And it was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah's household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense.'
This of course is the answer, both for individuals and for churches, because this is the only cleansing that gets to the heart of the matter. A lot of people talk about being cleansed and forgiven because they can clearly see their sin, guilt and eventual hypocrisy, but it only amounts to what they do, not what they are. That kind of cleansing becomes a drag because you never get anywhere. It's just a vicious circle of cleansing, trying harder, blowing it, cleansing, trying harder...This is what it's like under the law. As we saw in the Pilgrim's Progress quote above, someone came after Faithful and knocked him down. This man was Moses because Faithful had been talking to Adam the First. And Moses will do this every time we try living through our own strength. Living by the law actually causes us to sin more, which causes Moses to whack us again!5 And then we seek more forgiveness, more strength and decide to give it a better shot! (Is this the one lesson that takes our whole life to learn?)
The cleansing that Nehemiah used went straight to the heart of the matter - getting rid of the source of the problem. Nehemiah didn't simply warn people not to talk or act like Tobiah6. He went straight to the temple and cleared the whole place out!.
It's easy to deal with Tobiah's (fleshly old nature) outward sins, trying to pick them off one by one, and forget about the source of those sins. This cleansing dealt to the source of the problem: Tobiah and all his belongs were thrown out! Watchman Nee gave the best example of this that I can remember (hope I can!):
Lets say you got fed up with all the alcohol in the city and decided to get rid off it all. Well, you go from house to house, finding and smashing all the bottles, determined to get on top of the situation. The problem is, that while you are going from house to house, the local factory is producing more and more bottles! If you don't go to the source of the problem (the factory) you are wasting your time! The Apostle Paul made a wonderful discovery that finally set him free. He found out that he was the problem! (Rom 7:24-25) And if he was the problem, then he couldn't be the answer. He then discovered two things:
- That the law of the Spirit of life can set you free from the law of sin and death.
- And that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8.1-2)
Once this had happened, the true offerings could be made to God, and no more would Tobiah's influence spread within the walls. (That is, just as long as they didn't start writing those letters again!) There, it sounds easy doesn't it??? In reality we can only learn this through experience. The Bible says to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We grow in His grace as we see our need and rely upon His strength in our daily walk. That's the only way. You may grow in the knowledge of Him through reading this study but you will not grow in grace. That only occurs as we put into action the knowledge that we have learnt. Tobiah is not meant to be in the temple. They weren't even to correspond with him, but were to treat him as though he was dead. It makes sense to follow this advice and only present ourselves to God on the basis of life from the dead - on the basis of who God is and not who we are. Do that and Tobiah will not gain a foothold in your life.
Conclusion to our Nehemiah Study
The Holy Spirit has inspired every book in the bible. He could have chosen anything He wanted to put in. He chose to include this book about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. And while I once thought it was a nice historical book about one man's determination and commitment, I now know that the Holy Spirit put definite types and pictures in it to teach God's people how to resist the enemy and build a strong salvation. Now that is not the only focus of the book and I'm not saying I got it all right, but like Ruth, Esther, and other historical "story" type books, there is much more in these books than we can usually see. God has layers in His truth and He is ALWAYS interested in teaching His people how to grow, overcome the enemy and be fruitful!
So what did we see? Who is the enemy and how does he act? How do we combat it? I've tried to sum up what's been said in this table.
||Form of Attack
||Stage of Wall
||In the mind - fear, doubt and mockery
||Armour of God - Helmet of Salvation
||Physical trials and attacks
||Alert, Sword of the Spirit, Full armour on
||Compromise - worldly success and wealth
||Full - No gates
||Remember the good eternal work of God
||Fear of man and slander
||Full - No gates
||Fear of God and living for eternity
|Sanballat/Tobiah (Satan/Sinful Nature)
||Full - No gates
||Know, love and live by the truth
|Tobiah (Sinful nature)
||Influenced by his 'good works'
||Recognise the deception, treat Tobiah as dead!
|Tobiah (Sinful nature)
||Tobiah at home in the temple
||Full cleansing and remove him from his place of honour!
Stay Close to the Cross & Resurrection
Hopefully you get the picture. What does need to be stressed though, even at this late stage is that all of our defense is based around the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the victory that He won for us.
- If Sanballat attacks, use the armour of God. But realise that every piece of the armour is an aspect of Jesus' victory. He is the truth, He is our peace, He is our righteousness, He is our faith, He is our salvation, He is the word of God.
- If Geshem tries to lure you out, remember the real home that Jesus is preparing for us, and the closeness of eternity.
- If Tobiah seems less than dead, reckon again on the resurrection and Jesus' life in us, and present yourself to God as alive from the dead! Don't carry on corresponding with him but treat him as though he were dead.
Thanks for reading this study and I hope you have benefited from it. May God Bless!
Appendix: Nehemiah and the two comings of Jesus
While reading this last section on Tobiah sneaking in when Nehemiah was away, it occurred to me that there is a bigger picture here. So far, most of the studies have been on how to recognise and defeat the Christian's three enemies - Satan (Sanballat), the World (Geshem), and the Old Nature (Tobiah), and it's been mostly from the individuals level. But I now think that the book of Nehemiah also gives us a wider view of history, spanning the first and second comings of Jesus. Have a look at some of the comparisons:
Jesus' First Coming
- The cupbearer of the king- The book starts with Nehemiah as the cupbearer to the king. Such a position allowed him to sit at the right hand of the king, as he had to drink the king's cup to test it for poison. He therefore had to be willing to die for the king if necessary. In like manner, Jesus was willing to drink the cup the Father had for him (Matt 26:39-42), even though it meant his death.
- Willing to forsake his high position - Nehemiah was willing to forsake this high position he had with the king for the sake of God's people. Likewise, though Jesus dwelt at the right hand of the Father, He was willing to give up his riches with the Father and become poor for our sake ( 2Cor 8:9).
- The journey to Jerusalem - Upon seeing the condition of Gods people and the state of Jerusalem, Nehemiah left the king and went to Jerusalem to free his brothers from the bondage of their enemies. This pictures how Jesus, when the appointed time had come, left the Father and came to Jerusalem to free his brothers from their spiritual bondage.
- Weeping over Jerusalem and God's people - Upon seeing Jerusalem, Nehemiah wept openly about her state. Likewise with Jesus who wept over Jerusalem ( Luke 19:41).
- Begin building the walls of salvation, overcoming the enemy - Nehemiah then began building the walls of Jerusalem to restore God's glory and bring salvation and protection for God's people. In building the walls, Nehemiah had to overcome the efforts of Sanballat (Satan), Geshem (the World), and Tobiah (the Old Nature). Jesus began rebuilding our salvation and restored the glory to God's name that had been lost (John 17:4). In doing so he defeated Satan's attacks, the call of worldly compromise, and nailed the old nature to the cross! (Matt 4:1-11, Col 2:13-15, Rom 6:6)
- Reestablishing the truth and priesthood - Before going back to the king, Nehemiah re-established the truth of Gods word and set the priesthood up again so that all would be done according to God's covenant. Before going back to the Father, Jesus established the church, the truth of the new covenant and the priesthood of all believers (Matt 26:26-30, Acts 1:3, 1 Pet 2:9, Rev 1:6).
- While gone, God's people allow Tobiah back in - While Nehemiah was back with the king, Gods people gave Tobiah a prominent place within the house of God, because he was a relative who they had known for a long time and they were not able to see through his 'good deeds'. While Jesus has gone back to the Father, yeah well... judge for yourself what the church has done with the old fleshly nature!
Jesus' Second Coming
- On his return, God's enemy is thrown out! - When Nehemiah returns from the king, he goes back to Jerusalem and finding God's enemy in Jerusalem, he throws Tobiah out and cleanses the whole place. When Jesus returns from the Father, he comes back to Jerusalem, and defeats God's enemies there (Zech 12:1-9, Zech 14:1-4) removing everything that is not of God. Cleansing is then set up for the people (Zech 13:1 - This happens straight after he defeats Israel's enemies in Zech 12:1-9 and they finally recognise him! Zec 12:10).
- The Temple, Priesthood and Sabbath reinstated - Nehemiah then sets up the temple and priesthood again, and reinstates the Sabbath rest. After cleansing Jerusalem, Jesus again sets up the temple and priesthood (Ezekiel Chapters 40-47) and initiates the true Sabbath rest - the millennial reign (1000 years of Jesus' kingdom Isaiah 2:1-4, 11:1-10, 66:17-25).
- Obedience to truth and righteousness - Even after this period Nehemiah still wouldn't tolerate sin or actions that were not based on God's word. At one stage he 'struck some of them and pulled out their hair' (a real man!!) and drove another away from him. Now I'm not saying that Jesus is going to be a hair puller, but in his millennial reign he will 'rule with an rod of iron' (Rev 2:26, 12:5, 19:15)
I hope you can see some of the similarities. Obviously, not everything is the perfect picture (I sort of hoped Nehemiah was going to die and then come back to life - but that may be asking too much!), but hopefully there is enough there to see why I think Nehemiah is a type of Jesus.