4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 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.Nehemiah 13:4-6
Through the Bible: Nehemiah 11-13, Psalm 126
After all the returning exiles had been through with Tobiah, it boggles my mind that someone thought it would be a good idea to give him a room in the temple. And not just any “someone,” but Eliashib the priest–possibly even the High Priest.1
To review, Tobiah and Sanballat antagonized Nehemiah from day one of his arrival in Jerusalem. Nehemiah 2:10 says that it “displeased them them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.” They mocked the quality of the work (4:3). They slandered Nehemiah, accusing him of rebelling against the king (2:10). They sent threatening letters. They spread false rumors. They discouraged the workers. They forced Nehemiah to divide his volunteers and assign half to security while the other half worked on the wall. Nehemiah mentions Tobiah fourteen times, and the first twelve are as an enemy of Israel.
But now that the walls are built and the temple is completed, Tobiah gets his own room in the temple! Why would they do that? And why would Tobiah want a room in the Temple in the first place? Well, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes that “Since wealth, power and prestige were all connected to the temples of the ancient world, it was not uncommon for unsavory and undesirable individuals to infiltrate and exploit the temple for their own gain.”2
Well, for one thing, Tobiah was somehow related to Eliashab the priest (13:4). Eliashab may have had the attitude of “Sure, he’s been toxic to our community. But he’s family. What can you do?”
Also, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem when the decision was made to let Tobiah have his own room. He had gone back to his day job in Babylon, as the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. And we all know what the mice do when the cat’s away.
Tobiah in the temple wasn’t the only problem. The priests were not being provided for (vs. 11-14). People are not only working on the Sabbath (v. 15), they are bringing in their produce and turning Jerusalem into a farmer’s market on the Sabbath (v. 15-16).
So Nehemiah was furious when he returned from Babylon. According to verse 8-9:
8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 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.
Here’s my takeaway. God’s people have always struggled with permitting ungodly influences to have a place in God’s temple. Now, before you shut me down, this is NOT a post about letting drums in the sanctuary, or using a Bible translation other than the King James. Actually, it’s not about the church at all.
It’s about me.
My body is the temple of the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:16). I am to make my heart and mind a place where Jesus wants to be. And when I allow pet sins or toxic relationships to have a place in my heart, I have given enemies of the gospel their own room in the temple. I have to be as vigilant as Nehemiah about giving any room to Tobiah in the temple of my heart.
And so do you.
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- Scholars are divided on whether this is the High Priest Eliashab, mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1; 12:10, 22-23, or another priest with the same name. Those who take the latter position say that the High Priest would not have had so mundane a responsibility as managing the store rooms. Others such as the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, point out that the High Priest would have had many responsibilities, and the text only mentions this because it is relevant to the story. ↩︎
- Note on Nehemiah 13:8, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2016. ↩︎