It was the honour of Israel, and the greatest preservation of their holiness, that they were a peculiar people, and were so to keep themselves, and not to mingle with the nations, nor suffer any of them to incorporate with them. Now here we have,
I. The law to this purport, which happened to be read on that day, in the audience of the people (Neh. 13:1), on the day of the dedication of the wall, as it should seem, for with their prayers and praises they joined the reading of the word; and though it was long after that the other grievances, here mentioned, were redressed by Nehemiah’s power, yet this of the mixed multitude might be redressed then by the people’s own act, for so it seems to be, Neh. 13:3. Or, perhaps, it was on the anniversary commemoration of that day, some years after, and therefore said to be on that day. They found a law, that the Ammonites and Moabites should not be naturalized, should not settle among them, nor unite with them, Neh. 13:1. The reason given is because they had been injurious and ill-natured to the Israel of God (Neh. 13:2), had not shown them common civility, but sought their ruin, though they not only did them no harm, but were expressly forbidden to do them any. This law we have, with this reason, Deut. 23:3-5.
II. The people’s ready compliance with this law, Neh. 13:3. See the benefit of the public reading of the word of God; when it is duly attended to it discovers to us sin and duty, good and evil, and shows us wherein we have erred. Then we profit by the discovery when by it we are wrought upon to separate ourselves from all that evil to which we had addicted ourselves. They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude, which had of old been a snare to them, for the mixed multitude fell a lusting, Num. 11:4. These inmates they expelled, as usurpers and dangerous.
III. The particular case of Tobiah, who was an Ammonite, and to whom, it is likely, the historian had an eye in the recital of the law (Neh. 13:1), and the reason of it, Neh. 13:2. For he had the same enmity to Israel that his ancestors had, the spirit of an Ammonite, witness his indignation at Nehemiah (Neh. 2:10) and the opposition he had given to his undertakings, Neh. 4:7, 8. Observe,
1. How basely Eliashib the chief priest took this Tobiah in to be a lodger even in the courts of the temple. (1.) He was allied to Tobiah (Neh. 13:4), by marriage first and then by friendship. His grandson had married Sanballat’s daughter, Neh. 13:28. Probably some other of his family had married Tobiah’s, and (would you think it?) the high priest thought the alliance an honour to his family, and was very proud of it, though really it was his greatest disgrace, and what he had reason to be ashamed of. It was expressly provided by the law that the high priest should marry one of his own people, else he profanes his seed among his people, Lev. 21:14, 15. And for Eliashib to contract an alliance with an Ammonite, a servant (for so he is called) and to value himself upon it, probably because he has a wit and a beau, and cried up for a fine gentleman (Neh. 6:19), was such a contempt of the crown of his consecration as one would not wish should be told in Gath or published in the streets of Ashkelon. (2.) Being allied to him, he must be acquainted with him. Tobiah, being a man of business, has often occasion to be at Jerusalem, I doubt upon no good design. Eliashib is fond of his new kinsman, pleased with his company, and must have him as near him as he can. He has not a room for him stately enough in his own apartment, in the courts of the temple; therefore, out of several little chambers which had been used for store-chambers, by taking down the partitions, he contrived to make one great chamber, a state-room for Tobiah, Neh. 13:5. A wretched thing it was, [1.] That Tobiah the Ammonite should be entertained with respect in Israel, and have a magnificent reception. [2.] That the high priest, who should have taught the people the law and set them a good example, should, contrary to the law, give him entertainment, and make use of the power he had, as overseer of the chambers of the temple, for that purpose. [3.] That he should lodge him in the courts of God’s house, as if to confront God himself; this was next to setting up an idol there, as the wicked kings of old had done. An Ammonite must not come into the congregation; and shall one of the worst and vilest of the Ammonites be courted into the temple itself, and caressed there? [4.] That he should throw out the stores of the temple, to make room for him, and so expose them to be lost, wasted, and embezzled, though they were the portions of the priests, merely to gratify Tobiah. Thus did he corrupt the covenant of Levi, as Malachi complained at this time, Neh. 2:8. Well might Nehemiah add (Neh. 13:6), But all this time was not I at Jerusalem. If he had been there, the high priest durst not have done such a thing. The envious one, who sows tares in God’s field, knows how to take an opportunity to do it when the servants sleep or are absent, Matt. 13:25. The golden calf was made when Moses was in the mount.
2. How bravely Nehemiah, the chief governor, threw him out, and all that belonged to him, and restored the chambers to their proper use. When he came to Jerusalem, and was informed by the good people who were troubled at it what an intimacy had grown between their chief priest and their chief enemy, it grieve him sorely (Neh. 13:7, 8) that God’s house should be so profaned, his enemies so caressed and trusted, and his cause betrayed by him that should have been its protector and patron. Nothing grieves a good man, a good magistrate, more than to see the ministers of God’s house do any wicked thing. Nehemiah has power and he will use it for God. (1.) Tobiah shall be expelled. He fears not disobliging him, fears not his resentments, or Eliashib’s, nor excuses himself from interposing in an affair that lay within the jurisdiction of the high priest; but, like one zealously affected in a good thing, he expels the intruder, by casting forth all his household stuff. He did not seize it for his own use, but cast it out, that Tobiah, who it is probable was now absent, when he came again, might have no conveniences for his reception there. Our Saviour thus cleansed the temple, that the house of prayer might not be a den of thieves. And thus those that would expel sin out of their hearts, those living temples, must throw out its household stuff and all the provision made for it, strip it, starve it, and take away all those things that are the food and fuel of lust; this is, in effect, to mortify it. (2.) The temple stores shall be brought in again, and the vessels of the house of God put in their places; but the chambers must first be sprinkled with the water of purification, and so cleansed, because they had been profaned. Thus, when sin is cast out of the heart by repentance, let the blood of Christ be applied to it by faith, and then let it be furnished with the graces of God’s Spirit for every good work.