Nehemiah’s final reforms are found in the final chapter of this great book. Nehemiah had returned to King Artaxerxes 12 years after having left to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. After some time, possibly years, he asked to return to Jerusalem. Upon his return, he was welcomed by a most troubling situation: The people had once again intermarried with the surrounding nations, and many of their children could not even speak the Hebrew language—their entire religious culture was being lost. To compound the situation further, Tobiah, Nehemiah’s old foe, had been given the 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.” (v. 5). Tobiah was living in the court of the temple! He saw that the people of Judah were working on the Sabbath, treading winepresses. The Levites were neglected and had fled to their own fields to take care of themselves, and the house of God was forsaken.
What was Nehemiah’s response?
He got angry. He got really, really angry.
He had Tobiah and all his furniture thrown out of the chamber, and had it cleansed & returned to its proper use.
He confronted the officials and demanded that they not forsake the house of God—he brought everyone together, appointed reliable treasurers over the storehouses, and the people gave their offerings.
He shut down all commerce on the Sabbath day, commanding that the doors of the gates be closed until after it had passed. He saw merchants and sellers camped outside Jerusalem, waiting for the doors to open, but he told them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” And in case you were wondering, “laying hands” is a euphemism for “beat down.” And they left.
He confronted the men who had intermarried with the surrounding nations and he shamed them—He cursed them, pulled their hair and beat some of them! He even chased off the son of Elishiab the high priest, who had married into Sanballat’s family.
And after all this, Nehemiah prays, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (v. 31).
Nehemiah, in this final chapter, shows us the importance of righteous anger.
Did you know that it is not a sin to get angry? It’s true.
There is a certain kind of anger that is good and holy and righteous. When we see injustice, we should get angry. When we see a loved one sinned against, we should get angry. When we see the Word of God maligned, we should get angry. In fact, if you don’t get angry about the injustices and evil that exists in the world, I’d suggest that you might need to seek professional help.
While anger itself is not a sin. Some actions that result from anger are.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.” He went on to say that we must not give the devil a foothold through our anger. What did he mean by that? He was admonishing us to not become bitter in our anger. We need to deal with anger in a way that is holy and righteous. We need to deal with anger the way Jesus did.
Jesus got angry—perfectly angry. In His anger, He did not sin.
A key example appears in Matthew 21:12-13:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
John 2: 15 tells us that Jesus drove the money-changers and the sellers out with a whip. This was not a case of Jesus sitting everyone down for a tea to talk about their feelings: Jesus was ticked. He was consumed with zeal for the Lord’s house, as it says in Psalm 69:9.
Why was Jesus angry? Because people were selling their wares in the temple—and disrupting the worship of God.
Nehemiah also was consumed with zeal for the Lord’s house when he cleansed the temple of Tobiah; he disrupted the worship of God. Nehemiah was consumed with zeal when he saw the Sabbath—Nehemiah was angry when he saw his people once again whoring themselves, breaking their covenant vows and chasing after created things rather than their Creator.
In our day, what demands righteous anger? And, how do we respond in a way that does not lead to sin?
We should be angry with injustice—that men, women and children are being crushed under the weight of poverty and oppression. That Children are sold into slavery and abused by Westerners for their own debauched pleasures. That, statistically, one in three women in North America has been sexually abused or assaulted. That every day, thousands of children die in the name of “freedom of choice.”
These are things we must be angry about.
But we must also be angry about the abuse of Scripture in our churches. The dethroning of Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior, in the name of tolerance and multi-perspectivism. The damnable false gospels that present themselves as Christianity—prosperity theology, therapeutic moralistic deism, “God hates homosexuals, but not the dude sleeping with his girlfriend…” There’s so much of it. Just take a look at the religious podcasts on iTunes and you’ll see how pervasive it is.
So how should we respond?
We seek justice for those who are oppressed and broken. Organizations like International Justice Mission and Compassion are rescuing people from slavery and the crushing weight of poverty overseas. They are freeing young girls from hopeless lives as prostitutes. They are giving hope to people who would otherwise have none.
At home, our churches need to become a place of recovery through the cross of Christ, for those who have been abused and assaulted. We need to be a place where it’s okay to be broken; to be weak.
We need to uphold biblical, orthodox Christianity—that Christ died, in our place for our sins, according to the Scriptures. That He rose again, according to the Scriptures. And that everything is under His dominion. That without Jesus, we are absolutely hopeless and lost and evil. We proclaim this more and louder and clearer. Because if we do not tell people the truth—both about humanity and about Jesus—we do not love them! The absolute most loving thing we can do for anyone is to call them to repentance.
So how will we respond?
Will we seek justice for the poor and the oppressed, and care for those who have been victimized?
Will we hold fast and contend for the faith “that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)?
Will we show our anger to be righteous, by responding in love?