Nehemiah: Studies on Leadership | Week 13

inTerpret: Sabbath and Marriage

The narrative continues where Nehemiah saw the Sabbath being broken. Here we see the principle of neither selling nor buying on the Sabbath day. Commercial exercises were being conducted on the day where the Lord commanded that no work be done (13:15–18). Nehemiah invoked their ancestors, just as the prayer of remembrance did in chapter 9, asking, “did not your fathers do thus and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city?” (verse 18). Though Nehemiah commanded the gates to be shut, the merchants waited in food trucks outside the wall. Seeing their intent, he threatened to “lay hands” on them (verse 21), which is not a reference to ordination. [Note again: just because it is recorded in Scripture does not justify the “laying on” of hands in this manner!]

Predictably, the last area of reform that Nehemiah contended for was the area of marriage. Seeing as they were intermarrying with the peoples of the former enemy coalition (Ashdod and Ammon), he was concerned that the next generation would not be able to read Hebrew. Transcending the racial purity argument, Nehemiah was concerned that the inability to understand Hebrew would have an effect on understanding the Hebrew Scriptures, which would prevent the revivals of chapter 8 from occurring. So he “struck some of them and pulled out their hair,” (verse 25) and invoked the story of Solomon and his multiple foreign wives. [Final note: just because it is recorded in Scripture does not justify the plucking out of others’ hair!]

In the two creation accounts of Genesis, the first account climaxes with the gift of the Sabbath (Genesis 1–2:4) and the second account apexes with the gift of marriage (Genesis 2:5–25). “Then marriage and the Sabbath had their origin, twin institutions for the glory of God in the benefit of humanity” (Adventist Home, p. 340). One represented the platform where humanity and divinity could co-exist in the realm of time, while the other was the establishment of two beings co-existing in the realm of matter, or one body.

For Nehemiah, these were more than rules that had to be kept. The temple, tithe, marriage, and Sabbath all symbolized holy institutions that pointed to the teachings of salvation, the preparation for the coming of Christ, and the joy of His communing presence. But these were forgotten by the people and Nehemiah took to extreme measures to protect the covenant of God.