Hulk … SMASH!
Let me offer an image that captures the essence of Nehemiah 13: The Incredible Hulk! Hulk first appeared in a Marvel Comic in the year 1962. Hulk has an alter ego, Bruce Banner, who was famously exposed to Gamma Radiation, giving him super strength. However, there was a catch—to achieve the super strength he turns into a giant, green rage monster—HULK! Do you know what must happen for Bruce Banner to turn into the Hulk? He has to get angry! Whenever something bad happens, Bruce Banner offers a warning …
“Don’t make me angry … you won’t like me when I am angry!”
When Hulk get angry, what happens next? Hulk … SMASH!!!!! Hulk’s anger is temperamental: sometimes he hits the bad guys, other times he causes unnecessary destruction. In chapter 13, Nehemiah gets angry. He gives us a Hulk smash in 13:25 where we read this:
“And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair (Nehemiah 13:25, ESV).”
Is that a Nehemiah smash? What in the world is going on? What made him do this?
What Makes You Angry?
I suspect most of us associate anger with negative emotions. You may think people should never become angry. I want to challenge you: anger is both good and bad. When the Hulk gets angry—sometimes he does something righteous—like save the planet! Other times—he hurts people. The solution is not to avoid anger but to evaluate and channel it properly. The first step is to ask: what makes me angry?
There are two groups of people reading this post today. First, some of us get angry way too often. Yes, some of us get angry way to often—and at the wrong things. When we do, we cause damage to relationships. Second, some of us get angry way too little. If that is you, you might be thinking, “Why would I get angry? Anger is bad!!!” Again, I want to challenge you. Anger reveals something about our heart–We get angry for the things we care about! If we never get angry—we might start wondering if we care about anything.
In Nehemiah 13, we find four areas that makes us angry.
First, our friends sometimes they make us angry—especially if they are being deceptive. The people we keep closest influence our thinking. Sometimes, if we are not careful, they can lead us away from God. Be careful the company you keep! The last part of chapter 12 and the first part of chapter 13 are all about orderly worship in the temple and separating out people who did not worship God. There is a heavy emphasis on God’s glory. Anything, or anyone, who keeps us from worshipping God should be exposed, even if we are friendly with them. In v. 4-5 we meet two characters who cause us to evaluate friendship:
“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 […]” (Nehemiah 13:4-5a, ESV).
Okay, so we learn that Eliashib is a priest, a leader with some authority, but who is Tobiah? Tobiah was an Ammonite—he was not a believer in YHWH God of Israel. In 13:1-3, God just said that Ammonites were not allowed in the Temple. He was also an enemy of Nehemiah. The point: he should not be in the temple!
Where is Nehemiah? In verse 6 we learn that Nehemiah has returned to Persia, to King Artaxerxes to provide a report. He is gone. While he is gone the people of Israel have let their guard down. They have allowed the enemy to enter the temple and, presumably, influence God’s people. This is a big deal!
Is Tobiah in your temple? This is the danger we all face. Our enemy never sleeps. He is always looking for weaknesses in our defenses, trying to get into the sacred places of our heart. Our enemy will try to ingratiate himself to us. He wants us to think he is not a threat. Before we know it, he is in the temple, subtlety leading us away from Jesus. We all have to watch out for TOBIAH!
Have you allowed something deceptive and destructive to become friendly with you heart? The sins of the flesh are very enticing but they make promises they can’t keep. LUST—it promises you love and fulfillment, but it will leave you empty and depressed. GOSSIP—it makes you feel important because you have secret knowledge; knowledge that you leverage against people. However, before long, you will lose relationships and be alone. ENVY—it tells your heart that you deserve that thing you want and it is okay to do anything to get it. ANYTHING! These sins appeal to our flesh—the deceive us! They pretend to be our friends, they woo us to the point where we open the door, let them behind the wall and then, once they linger long enough, we allow them to set up residence in our heart. Before you know it … TOBIAH IS IN THE TEMPLE!
Now, here is the crazy thing, these deceptive friends make us angry because of their false promises but many of us keep them around because they are familiar. Sins like lust, gossip and envy—they all make us feel good in the moment—they blind us to destruction. What we need to do is take a step back, see the destruction, and get angry enough at that sin to THROW TOBIAH OUT OF THE TEMPLE!
Second, finances touch every part of our lives, which is why they make us angry! We get stressed and angry when we don’t have enough money and we get angry when people misuse money. In Nehemiah 10:30-32, there was a covenant promise that focused on money. What did the people of God say?
“We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly […] for the service of the house of our God […] (Nehemiah 10:30-32, ESV).”
This covenant promise revolved around tithing. A tithe was a financial gift offered regularly to support the work and upkeep of the Temple. In the Old Testament, these offerings could add up to 23% of your income. The NT uses the language of sacrificial giving to support the work of ministry. The reality is that building God’s kingdom now requires financial resources.
Giving is an important part of our spiritual life—but most people don’t like to talk about money. Why is that? Because money—and where we spend it—reveals the deep desires of our hearts. How we spend and use money reveals what we care about, where we find security and, ultimately, what we love. Don’t believe me? At the end of the month, when you look at your bank account and tally your spending, ask yourself: what does this reveal about my heart?
Here is something I learned: giving to the work of God reveals how much trust God. Do you believe that God will take care of you if you only have 90% of your income? In reality, God does not need our money—he’s God! He wants to use us for His glory.
If you come back to Nehemiah 13:10, it is revealed that the people of God are not giving as they promised! The finances are being mishandled. Now the Temple is in disrepair. Consider this: Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back from exile to rebuild the Temple and the City—but they need maintenance. Nehemiah confronts the people and then appoints reliable treasurers to correct the problem.
The third compromise for Israel revolves around the Sabbath. It has become very secular. Nehemiah sees this problem in 13:15:
“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 (Nehemiah 13:15, ESV).”
What is the purpose of the Sabbath? Just like tithing is intended to show our dependence on God, Sabbath rest allows us to trust that God will help us accomplish everything we need in six days rather than seven. Additionally, from a NT perspective, Jesus himself tells us that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” We can find our rest in him and stop performing in order to get acceptance. The people of Israel made a covenant promise to keep the Sabbath—and they neglected it. They didn’t trust God. When we choose to place our faith in another functional savior other than Jesus—we are not trusting him with our lives.
The people of God are neglecting the Sabbath and it is causing problems. Nehemiah confronts them:
“Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? […] Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:17-18, ESV)
Is Nehemiah crazy or is he making a point? Why is he so angry? Nehemiah is angry because Israel’s neglect is ruining his life’s work. Nehemiah, and Ezra like him, gave their entire lives to bring the people back and restore the Temple and City. The people entered a covenant with their God! And now … through their actions … it could all be lost! Have you ever had that happened to you? Let me give you an illustration. Imagine you worked hard and sacrificed to save up $200,000.00 for college. Is that even enough today? It was really hard but you did it. Then you child goes to college and all they do is party and flunk out after the first year. Would that make you upset?
Nehemiah is angry because his people are squandering all the effort they have put in. They might experience God’s judgment and wind up right where they were when they started! This needs to STOP! They need to rest in in their God.
Fighting With Our FAMILY
The final problem revolves around family issues. At the end of chapter 13, the issue Nehemiah confronts revolves around passing on the faith to the next generation. His heart is burdened for this and it may be the thing that makes him the angriest of all. We read this is vv. 23:
“In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab (Nehemiah 13:23, ESV).”
Nehemiah is pointing out the problem of, what I will call, spiritual intermarriage. Essentially, the Jewish people, the people of God, were marrying foreign people who had not converted to worship YHWH God. This was a huge deal because false worship was entering their homes. This is where the family is formed.
Let me illustrate why this is such a problem. Many readers are married. Or you were married. Or you will be married someday. Let me just tell you—marriage changes you. The two become one flesh. Your spouse influences your thinking, the things you care about, and the decisions you make. By God’s grace, you raise children together. My point: you are not the same person you were before you got married.
Now, if you marry someone who is not a Christian—or even someone who is a Christian but is not walking with Jesus at the same pace as you—there will be friction. Do you know why? There will be a pull to please your spouse over God. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 7 and 2 Corinthians 5. It will impact your spiritual life and how you raise your kids.
So … when Nehemiah says that the Jews are marrying the Ashdodites, the Ammonites, and the Moabites … he angry because this will seriously compromise the passing on of the faith! Look at v. 24:
“And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people (Nehemiah 13:24, ESV).”
I want you to focus on that word, LANGUAGE. That is crucially important. We are told that the kids spoke a differently language—a language not of the people of God. Not remember at this time, the faith was still passed along orally. Hebrew was the language of the Scriptures. So, if the children did not speak Hebrew they would never hear the story of the Bible. Put another way, their faith would be lost or never materialize.
That is why this was a big deal. The children would miss the message of the Scriptures. The heart of the family would be torn apart because their hearts would not be submitted to the same God.
The Righteous Anger of God
Imagine if your children never heard about Jesus. Would that make you angry? We all need the Gospel. Each and every day, like Israel, we sin. We love other gods and we worship them. We don’t give God the GLORY he deserves! That sin makes God angry. Here is the good news: God, in his righteous anger against sin, decided to do something about it. Before the foundation of world, Paul tells us, God knew this would happen. God knew his wrath against sin needed to be satisfied and he took action. He was so angry and he loved us so much that he chose to spill is blood on a criminal’s cross. Isaiah 50 tells us Messiah’s beard was ripped out on our behalf. Why did Jesus Christ go to the cross? Because he was angry at our sin but he loved us so much that he would take our place and absorb the wrath of God on our behalf. His precious blood was spilt to cleanse the temple of our heart—so he could get the glory!
Did you hear that? Jesus died for you! His blood ran down his face for you! His beard was ripped out—FOR YOU! He did this so we could be cleansed from the inside out for the glory of God. God kept the covenant even when we did not. My prayer today is that you would give your whole life to this God who loves you so much! When we place our faith in Jesus He gives us the power we need to live a holy life as we repent of our sin daily.