Nehemiah was the Martin Luther of his age, the great reformer of his nation, and never did he feel the need of strong measure to be so great, as when he came back to Jerusalem after his absence in Persia.
Four glaring evils were staring him in the face.
(1) In the temple itself a grand reception room had been prepared for Tobiah the Ammonite.
(2) The people had refused to pay tithes or contributions to the temple service, and the Levites had consequently all left the sanctuary.
(3) The Sabbath day was desecrated and profaned; trade went on as usual both within and without the city.
(4) So common had marriage with heathen people become, that even the very children in the street were chattering in foreign languages.
Four evils, all of them very serious and deep-rooted, all calling for instant reformation at his hand.
How does Nehemiah go to work? Does he shrink from giving offence, or hurting people’s feelings, or calling things by their right names? No, he feels his nation have sinned; the disease of sin is spreading, mortification is setting in, nothing will do but strong measures. The offending members must be cut off, that the whole body may be saved.
He begins first with the temple. Going into the inner court, and taking with him a band of his faithful servants, he throws open the door of the great store-chamber and begins his work. Indignantly he bids his servants to clear out all Tobiah’s goods, nay, he himself gives a helping hand, and leads them in the work. The grand divans, the elegant cushions, the elaborate mats, the bright-coloured curtains are all dragged out and cast forth outside. And then, when the great chamber is empty he has it thoroughly cleaned and purified and put in order, to receive again the temple vessels and stores.
A strong measure certainly, but a very necessary one. If Nehemiah had stopped to think what Tobiah might happen to say the next time he came to Jerusalem, or if he had held back because he was afraid of hurting the feelings of Eliashib the high priest, the sin would never have been stopped, the temple would never have been cleansed.
St. Paul tells all those who are Christ’s, that they themselves are God’s temple.
’Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’
Ye are the temple of God, you yourself God’s dwelling-place. Examine then the secret chambers of your heart. Are any of Tobiah’s goods there? Is there any secret sin hidden away in your heart?
If so, be your own Nehemiah; cleanse the chamber of your heart, or rather cry unto God to do it for you.
‘Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.’
This is an all-important matter, for, unless the hidden sin is removed, you will receive no answer to your prayers, and therefore to attempt to pray is useless.