Guests: Brant Berglin and Dave Thomas
Relevant Verses: Nehemiah 13
Leading question: When dealing with backslidden people in his day, did Jesus support or modify the strong-arm methods of Ezra and Nehemiah?
Nehemiah 13, the last chapter in the book, does not finish on a high note, but on a low one. The five examples of “backsliding” are as follows:
- Allowing Ammonites and Moabites to be part of the “assembly of God (13:1-3).
- Allowing Tobiah (an Ammonite, according to Nehemiah 2:10), an enemy of the people, to set up housekeeping in the temple precincts (13:4-9).
- Levites left unsupported (13:10-14).
- Sabbath practices left unprotected (13:15-22).
- Mixed marriages (13:23-31).
Let’s consider each of these in terms of seriousness. And let’s assess the handling of these issues against the teachings of Jesus.
1. Excluding the Moabites and Ammonites. The most striking OT/NT difference is the handling of the Moabite-Ammonite dilemma. And I use the word “dilemma” carefully, for even in the OT, the picture is mixed. Here are two examples:
Ruth. Not only was Ruth a Moabite, she also became part of the royal Davidic bloodline (Ruth 4:17). Her place in Jesus’ genealogy emphasizes the point (Matt. 1:5).
Naamah the Ammonite. Remarkably, not only is a Moabite in the royal genealogy, but also an Ammonite. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was born to Naamah the Ammonite, ironically, the only one of Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines mentioned by name in Scripture.
From the standpoint of canon, both the book of Ruth and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are included in the “Writings,” the third and final section of the Hebrew Bible. The tussle over foreigners, indeed foreign wives, not only haunted the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, but left its mark in the list of books which are part of our Bible.
The Teachings of Jesus. Jesus seemed to go out of his way to welcome foreigners, especially foreign women. The healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter at Tyre and Sidon (Matt.15:21-28) and Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4) are two of the better known examples.
Question: What reasons can be cited for the “harsher” appoach in Ezra-Nehemiah? In the light of Jesus’ teaching and practice, is it appropriate for us to use the earlier harsher methods?
Comment: One could argue that the threats against the Jewish nation at the time of Ezra/ Nehemiah justified the more rigorous separation from the “world.” At Elephantine on the Nile down in Egypt at this very time, a Jewish temple featured the worship of Yahweh and Yahweh’s female consort, an echo of Canaanite practice, for Baal also had a female consort. Clearly, Judaism was in great danger of losing its identity.
2. Evicting Tobiah the Ammonite from the temple. Jesus’ cleansed the temple in his day. Could the cleansing of the temple by Nehemiah be seen as an appropriate parallel?
3. Not paying the Levites. Would Jesus support Nehemiah’s efforts to restore support for the Levites? Most likely.
4. Sabbath-breaking. Jesus got into trouble for healing on the Sabbath. But it is hard to imagine him buying and selling on the Sabbath. Nothing in the New Testament record suggests that he would.
5. Mixed marriages. Next week’s lesson is dedicated to this issue. We will deal with it then.