Nehemiah 10-13

Nehemiah 10:29  they… entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law

King Benjamin gave such a beautiful sermon that the people “cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken” (Mosiah 5:2). Like Nehemiah’s group they declared, “we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things” (Mosiah 5:5). The people are taught the gospel then placed under covenant to keep the commandments.  Doesn’t this sound like what happens at baptism?

This is the Oath and Covenant of the Law of Moses.  The translation, “they… entered into a curse” is unfortunate.  They didn’t enter into a curse; they entered into a covenant which inherently includes a blessing and a curse.  When Moses repeated the law to the children of Israel, the term was “oath” and “covenant,” Moses exhorted the people to “enter into covenant with the Lord thy God and into his oath” (Deut. 29:12).  This language is more familiar and the pattern is exactly what we are used to.  From the end of the last chapter, as if with one voice as Benjamin’s people, “this we make a sure covenant, and write it… and seal unto it.  Now those that were sealed were…” (Neh. 9:38-10:1).

The terms of the Oath and Covenant of the Law of Moses were specifically spelled out in Deuteronomy 28 with Moses warning the people about the “curses that are written in this book” (Deut. 29:20)  as well as the blessings for obedience. Moses had grave concerns about the people keeping the Law.  He predicted, “I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you” (Deut 31:29).  Nehemiah, on the other hand, has more hope that the people will be obedient.  They made a new covenant; they tried hard; and for the most part, they were faithful to their covenants.

Nehemiah 10:30 we would not give out daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons

Not to be prejudiced, but intermarrying had always been the Achilles heel for the Jews.  From the mistakes of Solomon to the days of Ezra, idolatry always followed.  Do you remember Ezra 10, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people… Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them” (Ezra 10:2-3).  In order to maintain the purity of Jewish worship, it was just too dangerous to marry outside the covenant.  It is still dangerous today, but we always hope for a non-member spouse to convert to the gospel.  Yet, how often does the conversion go the other way?

Nehemiah 10:31 we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath

Most of my life, I was raised with the idea that it is wrong to buy something on Sunday.  Not really seeing how this desecrates the Sabbath, I often wondered about this rule.  The most visible way to see another saint breaking the Sabbath was always to see him at the grocery store on Sunday.  Jokes and judgments often followed. Focusing on worldly things and shopping is one thing, but what about going to the store to buy a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread?  Is it really that bad?  I thought, “There is nothing in the scriptures which talks specifically about buying things on Sunday.”

Well, Nehemiah is going to put me in my place.  Here it is in black and white—the scriptural prohibition against buying things on Sunday!  I must repent for decades of secret wondering and occasional purchasing.

Gordon B. Hinckley

Keep the Sabbath Day holy. It is a sad thing to me to see stores open on the Sabbath Day. But we do not need to shop on the Sabbath. Nobody needs to shop on the Sabbath. You can buy enough meat on Saturday to get through Sunday. You can buy enough milk on Saturday to get through Sunday. The bread will not get unduly stale when it is bought on Saturday to be used on Sunday. You certainly do not need to buy clothing on Sunday nor furniture nor anything of that kind. Keep the Sabbath day holy. What a blessing is the Lord's day. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 559)

Nehemiah 10:32 a shekel for the service of the house of our God

The people commit to do the following things:  stop intermarrying outside the covenant, purchasing things on the Sabbath, observe the Sabbath year, pay the annual Temple Tax of a third of a shekel, reinstitute the wood offering, restore the bringing of firstfruits, firstborn, and firstlings to the house of God, and the paying of tithing.  This is a Restoration for the Jews; a restitution of priesthood service, and all of it is focused on the Temple. The final passage of the chapter sums it up, “We will not forsake the house of our God.” 

All of this is wonderful, pleasing to the Lord, and according to the Law of Moses.  However, there is a difference between what these Jews knew and practiced and what we see in the Book of Mormon.  When King Benjamin’s or Alma’s people commit to the gospel, the emphasis is slightly different.  Rather than the statutes and judgments of the Law, the people, “have no more disposition to do evil… and… are willing to enter into a covenant with… God to do his will,” (Mosiah 5:2-5) “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light… to mourn with those that mourn; yea and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:8-9).  What is the difference?

The perspective was different among the Nephites and Lamanites.  They knew that salvation came not from the Law but from Christ, “notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.  Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ” (Alma 25:15-16).

Nehemiah 10:38-39 the Levites take thithes… of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil

Tithing wasn’t paid with shekels; it was paid in kind with the best of your crops.  The Levites had great vessels for storing the corn, wine, and oil brought to them.  Today, we pay tithing primarily with money.  But is there something more real and tangible about paying tithing in kind?  When you give to the storehouse of the Lord with the actual fruit of your labors, does it have greater meaning?  What if we presented the “firstborn of our sons… to the house of our God, unto the priests” (v. 36)?  Wouldn’t that be a more tangible reminder that every blessing we receive comes from the Lord? 

The paying of tithing would feel more like giving back to God what he has already given to us rather than paying taxes. “Whoever will read the history of the ancients with care will find that the law was, that they must pay one-tenth of all in its kind, whether cattle, horses, sheep, or fruits of the field.” (History of The Church, 7: 319 - 320.)

“It is proper to pay tithing in kind but in the case of produce, etc., it may be perfectly proper to pay cash instead. Where one pays tithing in kind upon the products of the orchard, the farm, live stock, etc., he should give to the Lord at least an average of that upon which he pays tithing. He certainly ought not to select the inferior for the Lord.” (Improvement Era, 1921, Vol. Xxiv. May, 1921 No. 7)

James E. Faust

As a boy I learned a great lesson of faith and sacrifice as I worked on my grandfather's farm during the terrible economic depression of the 1930s. The taxes on the farm were delinquent, and Grandfather, like so many, had no money. There was a drought in the land, and some cows and horses were dying for lack of grass and hay. One day when we were harvesting what little hay there was in the field, Grandfather told us to take the wagon to the corner of the field where the best stand of hay stood and fill the wagon as full as we could and take it to the tithing yard as payment of his tithing in kind.

I wondered how Grandfather could use the hay to pay tithing when some of the cows that we were depending upon to sustain us might starve. I even questioned if the Lord expected that much sacrifice from him. Ultimately, I marveled at his great faith that somehow the Lord would provide. The legacy of faith he passed on to his posterity was far greater than money, because he established in the minds of his children and grandchildren that above all he loved the Lord and His holy work over other earthly things. He never became wealthy, but he died at peace with the Lord and with himself. (James E. Faust and James P. Bell, In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 33)

Nehemiah 11:1 bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city

The city planners of Jerusalem have an unusual problem.  Most of the time, the cities are overcrowded; Jerusalem has the opposite problem.  The Temple is completed.  The walls are finished.  The city gates have been hung, but there are no people. 

They apply a tithing-like rule inviting (by casting lots) a tenth of the population to move into the city.  The population of Jerusalem was probably not much more than 10,000 people at the time.  What a small little branch of tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi!  Jerusalem’s millions are now barely several thousand!  Now, we begin to understand the depth of Jeremiah’s pain when he saw the destruction of the city some 150 years earlier, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations” (Lam. 1:1)!


“When Nehemiah saw that the city was thin of people, he exhorted the priests and the Levites, that they would leave the country, and remove themselves to the city, and there continue; and he built them houses at his own expense; and he commanded that part of the people who were employed in cultivating the land, to bring the tithes of their fruits to Jerusalem, that the priests and Levites having whereof they might live perpetually, might not leave the divine worship.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 6:8)

Nehemiah 11:3-24  Jerusalem Census

In this chapter, the list of names becomes a distraction.  The record is merely giving us the population of adult men by demographic.

1. Tribe of Judah (v. 4-6)                 468

2. Tribe of Benjamin (v. 7-8)           928

3. Tribe of Levi (v. 10-18)

            a) priests that did the work of the house (temple workers)                   833

            b) priests that were the chief of the fathers (elders, leaders)               242

            c) priests that were the mighty men of valor (soldiers)                          128

            d) Levites with oversight of the outward business of the temple        284

            e) porters that kept the gates                                                                      172

4. Nethinims worked in the temple but lived outside Jerusalem proper        # not listed

5. Singers paid for their work in the “Temple Choir”                                          # not listed

The total listed is a staggeringly small 3044 men!  If you estimate the total population from the numbers given, the total population is probably between 10k and 15k.

Nehemiah 11:25-36  The inheritances of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi

Eight chapters of the Book of Joshua, chapters 13-21, describe the geographic inheritance of the land by tribe.  After conquering the Canaanites, each tribe is given land except the Levites who were divided amongst the other 11 tribes.  What took 8 chapters in Joshua took only 12 short verses in Nehemiah.  The description of lands inherited by Judah and Benjamin is brief but it shows that Nehemiah recognizes the people are starting over in the land.  He is following the patter of the ancients.  This is a Restoration.  With Zerubbabel, Ezra, Zechariah, and Haggai, Nehemiah’s calling is to restore the gospel (the Law of Moses), the priesthood, the Temple, the city walls, the traditions, the feasts, and the ordinances.

Perhaps they had their own article of faith that read, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive days, namely prophets, priests, city elders, porters, singers, servants, and so forth.”

Nehemiah 12: 1-26 these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel

Nehemiah gives us an expanded list of the priests and Levites who were the first pioneers of this restoration—they came with Zerubbabel from Babylon.  Ezra gave us a list in Ezra 2.  Nehemiah gave us a list in Nehemiah 7, but this list is more complete regarding the priests and Levites.  It seems boring to us, but the future of temple worship depended on a pure Levitical genealogy.  If future generations couldn’t tie their lineage to these names, then they might be banned from Temple service.

Nehemiah 12:27-31 at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem… I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall

Nehemiah priests on wall.jpg

Nehemiah 12:27, 42 at the dedication… they sought to keep the dedication with… singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps… And the singers sang loud


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Nehemiah 12:36 the musical instruments of David the man of God

King David left a musical legacy that we rarely consider.  The instruments were harps, psalteries (harp like stringed instrument), timbrels (tambourine), cymbals, and trumpets (1 Chron. 13:8).  The psalms were likely the lyrics of the hymns they sung using the instruments described. “The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after… Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord” (Ps 68:25, 32).

Nehemiah 12:42 And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer

You know these Jews weren’t Mormons because they sang loud!  Mormons are pretty quiet in their Sacrament Meetings.  Usually the organ is louder than the entire congregation.  There is a lesson here for us to be sure. If you “rejoice with great joy” as did the Jews at the dedication of the walls, the music can be heard “even afar off.”

“Did you ever go to church and sing loud and strong and feel your heart soar with each new song?” (“Katie Did,” Friend, June 1997)

Nehemiah 12:47 stratification of Temple Workers

The people supported the “singers and the porters,” who in turn sanctified things for the Levites, who in turn sanctified everything under their stewardship to the children of Aaron.  Descending from Aaron, not just Levi was an important requirement for the ruling priests and especially the high priest.  This is their hierarchy:  Aaron’s sons (the ruling priests of the Temple), the Levites, the singers and porters, and the people.  The people depended on the priests to make their sacrifices for them.  Those of the tribes of Judah or Benjamin could bring the animal to the priest and perhaps kill it themselves, but the priest placed the animal on the altar and performed the ceremony.  The entire arrangement is symbolic of the need for an individual between us and God.  Without a blood sacrifice, we are not worthy to approach the throne of God. An intercessory sacrifice was necessary.  Jesus was that perfect intercessory sacrifice. Ironically, he was the perfect high priest as well (Heb. 7:15-21).  “Wherefore he (Christ) is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them… Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.” (Heb. 7:25-27).

Nehemiah 13 Summary

“Having fortified the City with a wall of stone, another kind of wall was needed.  The old Solomonic proverb advised, ‘He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls’ (Prov. 25:28). Under the governmental and ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Nehemiah and Ezra, the Law was read in the hearing of the people, religious and moral reforms were carried out, and the great Abrahamic covenant was renewed among the people (see Neh. 8-10). Those who were sealed in this covenant made three promises: not to marry out of the covenant, not to buy and sell or work on the Sabbath, and to pay all tithes and offerings and perform Temple service (Neh. 10:30-39). Following a visit to the Persian capital, Nehemiah returned with his appointment as Tirshatha, or governor, renewed only to find some of the people and even some priests already violating their covenants. He learned that one of his old enemies had been impiously invited to dwell in the sacred Temple area, that the Levites’ portion of the sacrificial offerings had not been given them, that the Sabbath was being desecrated, and that marriages were being made outside the covenant.  Nehemiah boldly expelled the intruder, immediately rectified the injustice to the Levites, testified against the Sabbath-breakers and contended with them, commanded that the gates be shut during the Sabbath, and warned those who lodged outside the gates on the Sabbath of the consequences if they continued the practice.” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 127-128)

Nehemiah 13:3 they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude

The text is rather gentle in the language used to describe these events.  To paraphrase, “When the Law was read to the people, they realized that Ammonites and Moabites were not allowed in the temple.  Therefore they kicked out all the descendants of Ammon and Moab and those who had married with them.”  The phrase, “they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” means that they were cast out of the temple in accordance with the Law of Moses, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.” (Deut. 23:3-4)

Nehemiah 13:4-8 Eliashib the priest… had prepared for him (Tobiah) a great chamber

Do you remember Tobiah?  He was one of the governors to whom Nehemiah had first given letters from the capital (Neh. 2:9-10). Tobiah was “grieved… exceedingly” that Nehemiah sought “the welfare of the children of Israel” (Neh. 2:10). With Sanballat and Geshem, Tobiah had mocked and scorned Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the wall (v. 19).  Nehemiah’s response was according to the words of Deuteronomy 23, “ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem” (Neh. 9:20). The conflict between the two continued; Tobiah was part of the opposition. He conspired to kill those building the wall and conspired to harm Nehemiah.  To which, Nehemiah replied, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (Neh. 6:3) 

Tobiah is an archenemy of Nehemiah.  He had been an archenemy to the building project, but he had friends in high places.  The high priest Eliashib must have known him from before Nehemiah’s appearance in Jerusalem.  Tobiah must have relished the fact that Nehemiah had told him that he had “no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem,” yet he had used his connection with the high priest to have prepared for him a great chamber inside the Holy Temple!  Tobiah is an Ammonite governor with connections and power. He is living inside the temple!  Even the high priest doesn’t have that privilege!  But Tobiah is an Ammonite!  He is strictly forbidden to enter into the congregation (Deut. 23:3), meaning the outer courts, let alone to actually live in the temple where the priests keep the offerings and tithes!  

Would a Temple President invite his anti-Mormon politician/friend to live and sleep in one of our temples?  The idea is preposterous, blasphemous, and desecrating to the holy house!  How could Eliashib have made such a mistake?  Well, of course it was done while Nehemiah was visiting the capital in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes, 12 years after he had first come to Jerusalem.  Nehemiah must have been furious.  Not unlike Jesus of Nazareth, he cleansed the temple by throwing out Tobiah and “all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.” (v. 8)

Nehemiah 13:10 I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them

Nehemiah’s trip to the capital, which was at Shushan of Persia (Neh. 1:1) not Babylon, must have meant less than a one-year absence. During his brief absence, everything falls apart!  He comes back to find that the Levites and singers have moved back to the suburbs because they weren’t getting any living allowance.  Levites were second class citizens compared to the priests and high priest, but they should have been given their share. “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men,” including the ruling priests in the temple, when “they get a little authority… they immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).  Keeping the offerings from the Levites and singers was as wicked as embezzlement of tithing funds!  Mormon would say, “And thus we see how quickly men forget the goodness and mercy of the Holy One of Israel.  In such a short time, they had gone from making sacred covenants to abusing priesthood power.  All this iniquity had come upon them because they did yield themselves unto the power of Satan.” (see 3 Ne. 7:1-8)

Nehemiah 13:21 Why lodge ye about the wall? If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you

Nehemiah is threatening to “lay hands on” which is different than “the laying on of hands.”

Righteousness is defined by placing God before everything else.  Sometimes this means you have to use violence by “laying hands on.” When are threats of violence more appropriate than gentle entreaties?  Well, Nehemiah meant serious business with the merchants from Tyre.  Elijah meant serious business when he slew the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs. 18:40).  Moses meant serious business when he ground the golden calf to powder, made the children of Israel drink it, then sent the Levites out to kill 3000 offenders (Ex. 32:19-33).  Nehemiah’s threat produced the desired result, “From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.”

Later, he got more violent, contending with and hitting those who had married outside the covenant—even plucking off their hair!  You are probably thinking he crossed the line by doing that!  We don’t approve of ecclesiastical leadership using physical violence as punishment for sin.  My feeling is that the Lord was happy to finally have someone take his laws that seriously.  The first commandment had been broken over and over again ever since Moses crossed the Red Sea.  Throughout their history, hundreds of leaders and kings had been passive about the Israelites breaking this law.  Finally, someone is going to get serious and pull out some hair!  Way to go, Nehemiah!

Nehemiah 13:23 Jews had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab

Herein are three great violations of covenant.  Prior to the dedication, the people had been placed under covenant to do three things: 1) not marry outside the covenant, 2) honor the Sabbath, and 3) support the Temple.  This was sealed by covenant; they had “entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law” (Neh. 10:29-32).  Nehemiah returns from the Persian Capital to find that they have broken all three:  They are marrying the Samaritans, working and selling on the Sabbath, and the Temple has been defiled. How depressing!  Like Moses on the Mount, who returned to find the people worshipping the golden calf, Nehemiah returned to find the Jews “had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire” (3 Ne. 7:8). 

How could this have happened?  The record intimates that Nehemiah was gone less than a year.  In one year, they had gone from making covenants with God, dedicating the walls of the city, and worshipping in the Temple, to violating their covenants and going back to the wickedness which landed them in Babylon in the first place!  How quickly do men forget the goodness of God!  How quickly had they “defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood” (v. 29)?

What about us?  Do we forget?  Do you know anyone who has made sacred covenants only to turn from them in a short period of time? Has Satan ever tempted you to turn from that which you know to be true?  He has been doing it ever since the first covenants were made in the Garden of Eden.  He is good at it, as the history of the world attests.  Nehemiah’s job—and ours as well—was to defend and honor those sacred covenants.

Nehemiah 13:28 one of the sons of Joiada… was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite:  therefore I chased him from me

Nehemiah’s legacy was to firmly establish the separation between Jews and Samaritans.  Everything we read in the New Testament about the animosity between the two has its seeds in Nehemiah’s day.  What started out as in important purification later became the basis for severe racial and ethnic bias. It is part of human nature to hate both the sin and the sinner.  We struggle to separate the two, to have love for the sinner in spite of the sin.  The Jews were right to despise Samaritan religion but wrong to despise Samaritan souls.

Part of cleaning house, Nehemiah found a priest in the Temple who was part Horonite and therefore unworthy by lineage to serve in the Temple.  He kicks him out, but Satan uses him to set up his own priesthood.

“In later times the Samaritans viewed Mount Gerizim as the holy mountain in opposition to the Jews who saw Jerusalem as the sacred place (see John 4:19-22). Although it is not specifically stated, the conflict mentioned here in Nehemiah was what led to the establishment of Mount Gerizim as the holy place of the Samaritans.

‘After the return from the Babylonian captivity Gerizim again became a place of importance, as the center of Samaritan worship. A certain Manasseh, son or grandson of Joiada, a priest in Jerusalem (Neh. 13:28), had married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite. Refusing to put her away, he was expelled from the priesthood, and took refuge with the Samaritans, among whom, as a member of the high priestly family, he set up upon Mount Gerizim a rival temple and priesthood (John 4:20).’ (Bible dictionary, s.v. “Gerizim.”)

(Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings – Malachi, [CES: 1982] 338)

Then cometh [Jesus] to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar… Now Jacob’s well was there…

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water:  Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink…

The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews…

The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.

Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. (John 4:5-26)

Nehemiah 13:31 Remember me, O my God, for good

(See also commentary for Nehemiah 5:14-19)  What a great final prayer!  What else can a righteous individual want as he considers his legacy?  We all make dumb mistakes; we just want God to remember our righteous desires, our moments of faith, and years of service in his behalf. “Remember me, O my God… and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God” (v. 14). If we have done as the sacrament prayers ask and “always remember Him,” we can be assured He will return the favor!


So when Nehemiah had done many other excellent things, and things worthy of commendation, in a glorious manner, he came to a great age and then died.  He was a man of a good and a righteous disposition, and very ambitious to make his own nation happy; and he hath left the walls of Jerusalem as an eternal monument for himself.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 6:8