When The Cat’s Away The Mice Will Play

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Discrimination

Have you ever heard it said,  “When the cat’s away, the mice will play,” If you like stories with happy endings you probably will not like Chapter 13 of Nehemiah. You will probably feel that the prophet should have quit with the great celebration, recorded in Chapter 12. This closing chapter is the story of a backward movement on the part of these people while Nehemiah was gone. Some may be disturbed by this apparent case of racial discrimination on the part of Israel. Why should the Ammonites and Moabites be excluded from their assembly? Many Ammonites and Moabites are found in the congregation of Israel. They got there because Israelite men married the daughters of the people, something which God had strictly forbidden in the Law of Moses.

The Ammonites and Moabites were forbidden to come into the assembly of God because they had refused to give food and water to Israel and had hired Balaam to call down a curse on them (vv. 1-3). Following the reading of the Law of Moses, the people of Israel started sending away anyone who had any foreign ancestors. Nehemiah tells how Eliashib the priest, who was  related [by marriage] to Tobiah, let him live in one of these rooms of the Temple storehouse (vv. 4-6). When Nehemiah returned and found out about this he became very angry and threw Tobiah and all of his furniture out. He then ordered the room to be cleaned and the temple utensils, the grain offerings, and the incense to be brought back into the room (vv. 7-9). He then called the leaders together and told them to start bringing the tenth of their wine, grain, olive oil etc. back into the store room (vv. 10-14). The people were also working and selling on the Sabbath. He put a stop to that and commanded the Levites to come and guard the gates to keep the Sabbath day holy (vv. 15-22).

Application

The story reveals clearly the way evil works. It invades us quietly. Before we are aware of it we have compromised ourselves and gone along with standards widely accepted around us. Lord help me to not compromise my witness for you and allow evil to take root in any shape or form in my life.

Nehemiah 13:1-22 (English Standard Version)

On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them-- yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. 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. In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath." As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, "Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you." From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

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