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Nehemiah 13: Confronting and Overcoming Temptation

Resist it, flee from it, and remove the causes of it. This is how we overcome temptations.

Nehemiah 13 – On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing.  As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.

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 where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.  So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.  Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.  And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers.  Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

 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. And I warned them on the day when they sold food.  Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself!  Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?  Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster[a] on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.  Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.  But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.  Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.  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.  And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.  Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.  Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”

 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.

 Remember me, O my God, for good.

When you hear the word, temptation, what image comes to your mind? For me, it is food. Last week, I asked my wife to remove all of the junk food from our house because when it is easily accessible, it is hard for me to resist the temptation.

In the Bible, temptation is anything and anyone that influences us to disobey God. Therefore, the Bible teaches us to resist temptation and flee from it; sometimes that means removing what causes the temptation. Temptation in and of itself is not a sin but it produces sin and it only prevails when we yield to sinful desires. Therefore, to overcome temptation not only do we need to deny sinful desires; we need to learn to fulfill all our desires in Jesus.

The problem is, although by nature temptation feels wrong yet wrong is what the sinful nature desires and enjoys the most. Only by denying sinful desires and fulfilling all desires in Jesus do believers overcome temptation.

As we finish the series, “Holy Discontent,” from the book of Nehemiah, Israel once again has given in to the temptation to fulfill their sinful desires. In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah removed the cause of their temptation by removing the people responsible for it and put safeguards against falling in temptation again.

The big idea is this: If we want to overcome temptation, not only do we need to deny sinful desires; we must learn to fulfill all our desires in Jesus. Satan needs only one unfulfilled desire in Jesus to tempt us and cause us to sin. This is how he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and introduced sin and death in to humanity.

So, I ask again, when you heard the word temptation what image first came to your mind? Whatever it is, that is what you are predisposed to. That is likely the temptation that you struggle with the most and that’s how Satan is going to get you. The question is, how do we deny sinful desires and fulfill all our desires in Jesus to overcome temptation?

In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah exemplified three truths that will help us overcome temptation: we must confront false gods, false teachings, and false influences.

Confronting False Gods

 How do we confront false gods? By resisting them as in verse 1-9.

In Nehemiah 13:1-4, the Israelites read in the Word of God that they should not be mingling with non-believers, more specifically Moabites and Ammonites. This was commanded in Deuteronomy 23:3-4.

Verse 3 says, “As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.” That is an immediate application. Verse 4 tells us that before this day they were not applying the Word of God and Eliashib the high priest was leading them to sin by harboring the enemy of God, Tobiah the Ammonite, in the temple. He was setting the example to disobey God. In verse 5, he threw the holy things out of the house of God to accommodate Tobiah, the very man who throughout this book tried to destroy Israel.

Verses 6 and 7 tell us when all this was happening— when Nehemiah was not around. Probably after 12 years as the governor of Judah, Nehemiah went back to Babylon to resume his duties in the presence of the Persian King but later at some point he asked the king for another leave to come back to Jerusalem.

What he saw kindled righteous anger in him. Verse 8 says, “And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”

You do not need idols to worship false gods, you do it when you worship God falsely. Israel’s temptation usually was to worship God falsely by making unholy alliances that God forbade. These alliances often introduce idol worship as well.

A few years ago a banker approached me and offered me a large sum for the foundation that I run for the persecuted church. His only condition was he would get his cut. Without hesitation, I declined the offer. Israel failed to resist worshiping God falsely because the leadership made unholy alliances, especially with those God clearly forbade.

How do we apply this to our lives? This image of Tobiah taking residence in God’s house is one of the best descriptions of temptation in our hearts. We dedicate it to the Lord to rule and reign and then some temptation comes along and takes partial possession of our hearts and before we know it, we backslide. Either Jesus is Lord of all or not Lord at all. So, confront those false gods that distract you and influence you to disobey God. The second truth about overcoming temptation is.

Confronting False Teachings

 How do we confront false teachings? By fleeing from them as in verses 10-27.

In Nehemiah 10, the whole nation dedicated themselves to obey God primarily in three areas: giving their finances to God, keeping the Sabbath which again relates to finances because one less day of work meant a loss of income, and not marrying non-believing women, which many scholars believe was done for financial gain.

The root of their temptation was money, and in verse 10:39 they said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” Somehow, false teachings crept in, and they deviated from their vows.

Here Nehemiah confronted three issues:

 First, in verses 10-14, Nehemiah confronted them about not giving offerings and tithing. Verse 11 reads, “So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” As a result, in verse 12, people started giving again. In verse 13 Nehemiah appointed trustworthy officials to watch over tithes, and in verse 14 he prayed to be remembered by God.

Second, in verses 15-22, Nehemiah confronted them about not keeping the Sabbath. Verse 17 reads, “Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?” Verse 18 talks about judgment for breaking the Sabbath. Verses 19-21 lists the safeguards to avoid the temptation to break the Sabbath and in verse 22, he again prayed to be remembered by God.

Third, in verses 23-27, Nehemiah confronted them about not keeping the command about only marrying believers. Verse 25 reads, “And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them ….” In verse 26, he gives the example of King Solomon and verse 27 reads, “Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” This means someone was teaching false teachings about marriage and making it permissible to marry an unbeliever. His point was, how can a union be blessed when it is against God’s commandment?

In my previous church, a beautiful couple came for membership. When the status of their marriage came up, they said the church they came from didn’t teach them that it was a sin to live together without marriage. False teaching is not just preaching falsely but it is also omitting the truth in your teaching of the Word to accommodate the world.

The application is: Confronting false teaching starts with applying the truth to our lives. It should not be limited to giving to God financially, taking a Sabbath day to reflect on God’s goodness, dating, and marrying a believer or not having sex outside of marriage. It should apply to every aspect of our lives.

 Confronting False Influences

 How do we confront false influences? By removing them as in verses 28-31.

 Verse 28 reads, “And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore, I chased him from me.” So, Tobiah and the archenemy of God’s people Sanballat together were influencing Israel.

In Nehemiah 2  and 4, Sanballat the Moabite and Tobiah the Ammonite mocked God and His people for building a wall and even gathered armies of other nations to attack and destroy Israel. The Moabites and Ammonites were the enemies of God in the days of Moses and remained their enemies through generations until the days of Nehemiah and it had not changed because the descendants of the Moabites and the Ammonites now live in the greater region of present-day Jordan.

God knew they would always be enemies of God and His people, so He forbade them from marrying them. In verse 29, Nehemiah prayed again to be remembered by God and finally, the book of Nehemiah ends with verses 30-31, “Thus I cleansed (Taher, “purge, pure”) them from everything foreign (nekar, pagan), and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.”

Nehemiah confronted the false influence with his influence and removed it.

In the last month or so I have heard horrific stories of social media influencers inciting youth in major cities to commit crimes. In our society, those who have money and power are influencing lawmakers and policymakers to take away our right to raise our children according to the Bible. We need to confront false influences with our influence.

 How do we apply this idea of confronting false influence in our lives? Throughout this last chapter, Nehemiah has been confronting the leadership because they were responsible for teaching the truth and protecting the community against false gods, false teachings, and false influence.

Christian men as leaders of your household, you are responsible for teaching the truth and protecting your family against false gods, false teachings, and false influence. Here is the key— not only do we need godly influences in our lives and families, but we need to be the godly influence that is needed today. For that to be true, like Nehemiah, we need to deny our sinful desires by fulfilling all our desires in Jesus.

I read a story about native Alaskans hunting wolves. The story said, that to hunt a wolf, they would dip a knife in the blood of a rabbit over and over again and when it was frozen, they would stand it up in the open. The smell of the blood would lure the wolves in, and they would lick it, and the warmth of their mouth would melt the ice. They would enjoy the blood unaware that the blade had cut their tongue, and they would bleed to death.

Temptation is like that icy knife; it entices you and lures you in only to cut you and while you are enjoying the fruit of your temptation, completely unaware, you are nearing your death. That is what sin does: It gives pleasure but also death, eternal death.

But Jesus gives life, eternal life. If there is someone who has never asked Jesus to come into their life, never asked Jesus to help to overcome their temptation, this is the day. Invite Jesus to come to your heart and save you from sin and its penalty, eternal death.

To believers, let me say this: to overcome temptation not only do we need to deny sinful desires. We must learn to fulfill all desires in Jesus by resisting the false gods, fleeing from false teachings, and removing false influences.

 Stop worrying about pleasing the world— that was Israel’s temptation. Do not give in to the popular rhetoric of tolerance, and inclusion because of the fear of cancel culture. Do not compromise on the exclusivity of Jesus by accommodating the woke culture wave which is mainly against anything that the Bible stands for whether that is the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and family values, or the biblical view of manhood and womanhood.

Today we may not have a temple that needs cleansing, but our hearts, our families, our churches, towns, and nations are in desperate need of deep cleansing with the blood of Christ. Resist the false gods, flee from false teachings, and remove false influences from your lives, and only then will all your desires be fulfilled in Jesus.

Ask yourself what false gods, teachings, and influences distract you from worshiping the one true God in speech and action. Satan knows that He cannot have your soul if you are saved by the precious blood of Jesus, but he will do everything to take away your joy by tempting you day and night with what you bend toward.

Learn what sin you bend toward and why. Whether pride, jealousy, envy, lust, or whatever, whoever it is, resist it, flee from it, and remove the causes of it. This is how we overcome temptations. You do not need to do it alone: we have the Holy Spirit and we have each other in Christian community.

Resist false gods. Flee from false teachings. Remove false influences.

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