The Failure of the Priesthood
Neh. 13:4 ¶ Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah,
Neh. 13:5 prepared for Tobiah a large room 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.
Neh. 13:6 While this was taking place I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king
Neh. 13:7 and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.
Neh. 13:8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room.
Neh. 13:9 Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Neh. 13:10 ¶ I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.
Neh. 13:11 So I remonstrated with the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.
Neh. 13:12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.
The corruption found among the priesthood was a serious problem in Israel. Nehemiah had been working hard to rebuild Jerusalem but in his absence the priest Eliashib abused his situation and power. He misused God’s resources, using them for one of his relatives, Tobiah. Talk about corruption!
This, I’m sure created frustration among the people and we may assume that the people stopped tithing because of what they saw among the leadership and the misuse of funds at the temple. Unfortunately those hurt by this were the Levites — the faithful ministers who were simply trying to do their work on a regular basis. No longer was there enough money to support them and so they had to become bi-vocational. They had to go back to working in fields so that they could survive, for they and the house of God had been forsaken.
When things were set right within the temple the people responded and again brought their tithes and offerings into God’s house.
There seems to be a lot of finger point these days related to giving and finances in churches. People just don’t seem as committed to tithing as they had been in the past, or people want to give to specific causes. Is that really much different than what we read about in this passage today? People were directing their giving elsewhere because they could see that their offerings were going to support the lavish lifestyle of a family member who was living in God’s house! How long do you keep giving to something like that?
There is a misconception these days about the desire of young people to give to churches. Millennials are generous givers — if they believe that what they see is authentic. Could it be that the decrease in giving to churches is a failure in the authenticity of the priesthood? The sad part of this story is that it was the failure of Eliashib that affected the rest of the priests. The Levites were good ministers — the singers were good song leaders — but they were hurt by the failure of Elisahib.
Nehemiah stepped in to act and intercede on behalf of the priesthood. He removed Tobiah from God’s room in the house! He would not allow this corruption to continue and he acted to set things right again! The temple was cleansed and God’s room again became consecrated to him. A priority was made on supporting the Levites, so that they could give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry of God. They were returned to their positions so that the house of God would not be forsaken. Everyone sacrificed to care for God first and when the people of Judah saw the authenticity of the priesthood the tithes began to flow, filling the storehouses.
When the community of faith suffers, the priesthood must examine themselves to see if there is any impurity. Yes, the standard is high for those in spiritual leadership — and it should be! It is a frightening place in which to find oneself and yet it must reveal a greater and deeper dependence upon God. If there is not an increased dependence upon God, even the priesthood will take matters into their own hands and misuse God’s resources, tempted by power and “success.” Convincing words will be spoken, justifying the actions and behaviors.
The challenge is for those of us serving in the priesthood. May God examine our hearts and motives and may we constantly keep our eyes fixed on him, exposing ourselves to his examining eyes. May our behaviors and responses reflect him on a daily basis and may the world experience the authenticity of meeting Jesus in an encounter with the priesthood.
For the laity — pray for the priesthood! If you are withholding your tithes and offerings in frustration, examine and ask whether that is really helping the house of God and the ministers? Is your minister bi-vocational because you are withholding your tithe? Could your response simply be making a difficult situation even worse?
The failure of the priesthood hurts so very many people but somewhere, someone, must be Nehemiah and say enough is enough. Let’s set things right, stop reacting and allow God to once again work in and through his house.
Lord, may those who are called into your service be strengthened by the power of your presence today and live out a life of authentic faith. Amen.